For whom, did Jesus die?

Virtually every evangelical Christian will answer “for the whole world, all mankind without exception.” But is this what Scripture teaches?

Let's first start by assuming that God actually did die for all mankind without exception and see the implications of the assumptions.

Save or make salvation possible?

Most people will say that, Jesus died for all man, but His death becomes applicable to you only if you believe in Him. This would mean that Jesus didn't die to save anyone in particular, He only died to make salvation possible to all man. Let's look at the Scriptures and see whether He died to make salvation possible or to actually save some people:

“And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”” (Matthew 1:21)

From the above text, it seems that Jesus' purpose was to save people, and virtually all verses referring to the atonement refer to it as a definite atonement, in that the atonement fulfills its purpose.

If Jesus died for all mankind, then He also died for everyone who was in hell before He came to earth, for example Pharaoh. So in what way did He shed His blood for Pharaoh? Does Jesus deliver Pharaoh from His sins (cf. Mat. 1:21)? No! Does He deliver Him from the wrath to come (1 Thes. 1:10)? No! Did He save Him from this present evil age (Gal. 1:4)? No! So then, how did Jesus die for Pharaoh? The arminians (see Arminianism) would say, He died for Him, but Pharaoh didn't choose to receive it? Ah, herein lies the problem, Pharaoh didn't do something that we did.

“For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)

Faith is a gift from God (cf. Eph. 2:8-9) so is repentance (2 Tim. 2:25). So to say Pharaoh didn't receive the gift is to say we are saved by works, that is, Pharaoh didn't choose, but we did.

God's Purpose

If Jesus wanted to save all men without exception, and with so many people hell, we must then conclude that He failed miserably. But is that what the Bible teaches? No, God's purposes always come to pass (cf. Isaiah 46:9-11).

Scripture however tells us that Jesus came to save men, not make salvation possible.

“And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”” (Matthew 1:21)

Let's ask ourselves something. We read in Ephesians 1:4-5 that God elects some for salvation, and grants them to come (John 6:65) and gives them the gift of faith and repentance. We also know that the Holy Spirit does not regenerate all men and He doesn't open the hearts of all men (cf. Acts 13:48, 16:14). So why then would the Son die for all men without exception, wouldn't that be putting the Godhead in conflict with each other? Wouldn't it mean that the Son has a different will from the Father and the Holy Spirit?

This view also dethrones God, by making Him a mere man; didn't God know the future when Jesus died? Well, if He's omniscient then He should have known. So then would God still punish His Son for the sins of People He knew would never believe? No, not one blood of the Saviour was shed in vain.

Double jeopardy

Lastly, if Jesus died for all men without exceptions, why do people still go to hell? If Jesus suffered the wrath of God on the cross, why do people still suffer it in hell? That wouldn't only mean God is unjust for punishing sin twice, but also, the Son would have suffered for nothing.

For whom then did Jesus die?

Scripture teaches us that He died for His sheep (John 10:11,15), many (Mat. 26:28, Isa. 53:12), His friends (John 15:13-14) and the Church (Eph. 5:25-27, Acts 20:28). (One thing one must notice is that all the purpose of the atonement is accomplished in these, all whom Jesus died for are saved from their sins, they are all saved from God?s wrath and this present evil age.)

In a word, Jesus died for the elect. Who are these elect? Those whom the Father foreknew (loved before), “predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son”, “called”, “justified” and will “glorified” at the end (cf. Rom. 8:29-30).

What about John 3:16?

You're probably asking, doesn't John 3:16 say that He died for the whole world? Well no, John 3:16 says:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

Before we interpret this verse let's look at other places where the word “world” (Greek “kosmos”) is used.

“The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!”” (John 12:19)

“We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19)

“And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” (Luke 2:1)

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15)

As you can see, “world” here is used in different ways. My point that we can't just conclude “world” means all humanity without exception, we must look at the context of the verse.

Let's look at it again:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

We find these words at the end of the verse “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Here is the purpose of the Father sending the Son, Green's literal translation renders the verse this way: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that everyone believing into Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”(John 3:16). John 3:16 says more about the purpose of the Father sending the Son, rather than the magnitute of people He sent Him to. The usage of the word “world” in this case is not really about the “magnitude” of people, but about that of their sinfulness. This can be seen from the verse that follows:“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:17. Though the world was deserving judgement from God for its wickedness, God sent His Son to save it.

“I know that some try to take kosmos (world) here to refer to the elect. But that really will not do. All the evidence of the usage of the word in John's gospel is against the suggestion. True, world in John does not so much refer to bigness as to badness. In John's vocabulary, world is primarily the moral order in willful and culpable rebellion against God. In John 3:16 God's love in sending the Lord Jesus is to be admired not because it is extended to so big a thing as the world, but to so bad a thing; not to so many people, as to such a wicked people. ..On the axis, God's love for the world cannot be collapsed into his love for the elect.” D.A. Carson

Sometimes “world” is be used to refer to humanity without distinction (both Jews and Gentiles). An example of this is in 1 John 2:2 where Christ is said to be the propitiation of the sins of the whole world i.e. gentiles also, this can also be supported by Revelation 5:9 “And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,”

But God does love all man in the sense that “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Mat. 5:45), But He didn't die for all of them, He died for His church, His elect.

1 Timothy 2:6

Let's examine other texts that may seem to support a universal atonement:

“who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time,” (1 Timothy 2:6)

Like “world” in John 3:16, we must interpret the “all” in its context, let's read verses 1-2:

“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Here we see that the “all” means all kinds of people (including “kings and all who are in authority”). There is but one God for all men, there is no God for kings and another for slaves, and there is also one mediator for God and man, Christ Jesus (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5) and God desires to save all man (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4), i.e. all kinds of men, both slaves and free.

You see, when read in its context the verse doesn't mean that Jesus paid a ransom for all men without exception, but all men without distinction. This is applicable to virtually all verses that use “all” and “world”. It simply means all without distinction, not all without exceptions.

“The atonement, we believe was a real, actual, substitutionary? atonement, not a possible, theoretical one that is dependent for its efficacy upon the actions of man.” James White

Conclusion

Jesus died for His elect, whom the Father had given Him and all of them will be saved. And Jesus died for all man without distinction.

Soli Deo Gloria