The shepherd dying for the sheep
What was the purpose of the atoning death of Christ. For whom did Christ die? Did Christ die for all men or for the elect?
The Bible is very clear on this matter although many preachers are not. Christ died an actually sacrificial death on the cross (1 Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 9:23,26; 10:24). It this true statement is understood with all its ramifications, then limited atonement is a fact necessarily and logically.
Christ's death was not a potential payment for the sins of all men who were ever born or ever will be born. If this were so, then Arminians are in the right. But, glory be to God, His Son's death was not in vain. Christ truly and really and historically and absolutely became:
1. Sin (2 Corinthians 5:21);
2. A curse (Galatians 3:13);
3. And a substitute for other, the conjunctions most often used being peri (for, Romans 8:3; 8:32; 14:15; Galatians 2:13,20; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:15; Hebrews 2:9), or dia (as the substitute, for the sake of others, 1 Corinthians 8:11), or anti (in the stead of, or in place of others, Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45).
Thus it is evident that He actually paid the penalty, bore the curse, and died the death for all those for whom He died. If He died for everybody without discrimination, for the sheep and the goats together, then everyone must be saved and will be glorified in heaven. Hell will be vacant of human beings, but the fact is that it is not and it will not be, as Christ makes clear (Matthew 25:46).
Furthermore, it is said that Christ:
1. actually destroyed the works of the devil (1 John 3:8; Hebrews 2:14,15; Colossians 2:14,15);
2. actually propitiated God's wrath for His own. On behalf of the elect, divine justice is forever satisfied (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10);
3. actually reconciled God to men (Romans 5:10,11; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20; Ephesians 2:16; Colossians 1:20,21);
4. actually redeemed believers from the curse of the law and the guilt and power of sin (Galatians 3:13; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; Titus 2:14).
If He died for all mankind collectively, then the sins of all mankind have been atone for. But then all human beings will be saved, something Scripture denies.
The position boils down to this: if Christ died for everyone, for Esau just as much as for Jacob, then salvation is just a possibility for some. But if Christ died for all the elect and for them only, then salvation is a certainty for them.
Everybody limits the atonement: either in extension (Reformed) or else in affectivity (Arminians).
Now God has determined who are the elect and who are the reprobate. Only He knows the eternal destiny of men. But it is most biblical to affirm that the elect are born elect and never become non-elect, while the reprobate are born as such and never become elect.
In God's secret counsel, as decreed from eternity past, the elect will definitely come to salvation, through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15). Christ said that He will not lose one of them. The ridiculous theory that Hitler was elect but chose otherwise is easily refuted by Scripture. In John 10:28 Jesus said: "I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." And earlier on: "And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day" (John 5:39).
If Hitler chose otherwise, then we have to blasphemously conclude that Hitler's will is greater and mightier than God's! But that the human will is not determinative in salvation is again refuted by Scripture: "So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy" (Romans 9:16).
Christ's mission was a thorough success:
1. He died for His sheep, so His sheep are saved (John 10).
2. He died for the church, His bride, so that she will be presented holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:20ff.).
3. He died for His people, to actually save them from their sins (Matthew 1:21).
Regarding the verses which are alleged, by virtue of the presence of some form of the Greek word, pas (all, or every), to teach either a universal reference for the saving work of Christ (John 12:32; 1 Corinthians 15:22; 1 Timothy 2:5,6), it should be noted that such a word is not self-defining. It must always be interpreted within the context of the discourse in which it occurs.
While it certainly can refer to every individual without exception in some contexts (see Romans 3:23; 5:18a; but even here there is one exception), quite often it is apparent that it cannot do so. The analogia Scripturae principle must never be neglected.
The same must be said concerning passages where the word "world" is found. There is good reason for Scripture employing such terms, to show, among other things, the wideness of God's mercy, but these passages must never be stretched to mean the all-inclusiveness of God's mercy, for He "hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth" (Romans 9:18).
Consider also the following:
1. The irreversible condition of lost men already in hell when Christ died.
2. The limited number of people, by divine arrangement, who actually hear the gospel (and the gospel must be heard and believed for salvation, Romans 10:12-17).
3. Christ's high-priestly work restricted to the elect (John 17:9).
4. The implication in the particularity of the gift of faith, a purchased blessing, for Christ's cross work, the procuring act (Acts 13:38; 16:14; 18:27; Ephesians 2:8,9; Philippians 1:29). Whatever we enjoy as Christians we have received (1 Corinthians 4:7).
Salvation is God's work from beginning to end. The Father planned it, the Son accomplished it, the Holy Spirit applies it. The Father's choice is limited; the Spirit's application in the new birth and conversion is limited; why then should the Son's atonement not be limited? God is one, and not in conflict with Himself!
The glory of the cross is that it was endured for the sake of God's children scattered abroad, that they might be gathered into one. For the sheep! But as Christ said to some, "Ye are not of my sheep," the implication being, "You are not within God's saving purpose."