Thursday, May 23, 2019

Design of the Atonement

"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).

We now come to the last in our series on the objective facts of the gospel and the atonement. Before we can reach a dying world with the gospel we must have a clear sight of who God is and what our Lord Jesus Christ accomplished in His atoning work. Our attention in this post is focused on the question of the design of the atonement.

In a broad sense, all mankind benefits from the atoning work of Jesus Christ. A more pointed question is this: Did Jesus specifically die for all mankind? Did Jesus die for people who ultimately will not be saved but who will spend eternity in hell? The historical Christian faith, especially in its Reformation expression, gives a clear answer to that question: No, Jesus did not die for those who will not be saved. He only died for His own sheep.

The classic Reformation doctrine of the atonement is called “limited atonement” or “particular redemption.” This means that the atonement is limited only to the elect, those who are to be saved. It means Christ had certain people particularly in mind; He suffered for them; He prays for them now in heaven, and since the Father denies nothing to the Son those people will be saved. 

One heretical alternative to this doctrine teaches that Jesus died for all mankind, thereby necessarily saving all. Another alternative to particular atonement is the belief that Jesus died for some people, and prayed for them, and yet they will not be saved. This view assumes that Jesus will be eternally frustrated in His desires. This is an impossible notion which is not taught in the Bible. According to John 17:6 and 9, Jesus only prays for His sheep.

Because Jesus took upon Himself the infinite wrath of the infinite God, His suffering atonement is sufficient for all. It possesses enough value and merit to cover the sins of every person. Because it is not God’s ultimate design to save all men, however (a populated hell proves this), Jesus’ death is not efficient for all people. It is sufficient for all but efficient only for some.

The gospel of Christ’s atoning work is to be offered freely to all, though we know that not all will respond. The preaching of the gospel is God’s appointed means to call those for whom Christ died, and we can know without question that when the gospel is preached, God’s elect will surely respond.

Read John 17:6–26 and listen to Jesus praying for you. Personalize it by including your name where appropriate. What is the relevance of this prayer to today’s lesson?