Monday, December 24, 2018

For Whom Did Jesus Die?

I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours” (John 17:9).

The question of whether Jesus died for all humanity or only for His elect has often raised controversy in the church. The first important debate over this question occurred in the early fifth century between the followers of Augustine and those of Pelagius. The Augustinians said that Christ’s death was truly effective and definitely secured salvation for those He intended to save. His death had merit for His sheep alone. The followers of Pelagius believed that Christ’s death was designed to make possible the salvation of all men on the condition that they believe through the free exercise of their own wills. Thus, the Pelagians denied the total depravity of the human will and the full efficacy of the atonement of Christ.

This question does not simply concern those who adhere to the Reformed tradition. It has been debated in other traditions as well. In seventeenth-century France, for instance, within the Roman Catholic Church, the Jansenists held to a definite, limited atonement, while the Jesuits argued for a universal atonement.

All classical Christian theology agrees that the atoning work of Jesus Christ was sufficient for all men, and all agree that it is going to be efficient for those who are saved. The crucial question is: For whom was it designed? Was the Atonement designed for people who are not going to be saved?

Clearly not. The Bible in numerous places and ways indicates that God intended Jesus’ sufferings to pay for only the sins of His people. In His high priestly prayer, Jesus made it very clear that He was praying for the elect, not for those who were not going to be saved. This is the prayer Jesus prayed just before He went to the cross, and it reveals to us His mind as He paid for our sins. Isaiah 53:11 says that Jesus would see the travail of His soul and be satisfied. If Jesus suffered for men who spurn His atoning work, how could He be satisfied?

Christ accomplished all that is necessary for salvation. Jesus’ death cry, “It is finished!”, expressed the completeness of His atoning work. As you reflect upon this, consider what this means for your assurance of salvation.