In that sermon, and in the first blog post, I referenced a statement by John Owen. I will provide that statement and interact with it in this post. I ask you to bear in mind what we have considered in all of the posts in this series. They have direct relevance and impact on what Owen is saying and what Scripture teaches. (I have repositioned the statements in this quote for the sake of space. I have also numbered Owen’s statements. These numbers do not appear in the original text. I also include some brackets to make Owen’s meaning a little clearer hopefully.)
John Owen, from The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, states:
“The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for, either:
1) All the sins of all men; 2) All the sins of some men, or 3) Some of the sins of all men.
In which case it may be said:
That if the last (#3) be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so, none are saved.
That if the second (#2) be true, then Christ, in their stead suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth.
But if the first (#1) be the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins?
You answer, ‘Because of unbelief.’
“I ask, ‘Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not?’ If it be [sinful], then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did [die for this sin of unbelief], why must that [sin of unbelief] hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins!" (John Owen)
This is a very powerful argument from logic as it relates to what Jesus intended to accomplish and actually accomplished when He died. Let’s look at each argument and try and tie the ideas from this series together.
If in Jesus’ death, He literally died in the place of sinners and paid their sin debt, and if He died for all people indiscriminately, then all people will be saved. God cannot punish Jesus for sin and turn around and punish sinners for the same sins. That would violate His justice and righteousness.
Therefore, if Jesus did literally die in the place of every person that has ever lived and will live, then every person will be saved. That is Universalism, and it has been condemned by the Church traditionally. It has gained popularity in our day in some circles, and especially in the world. However, if Scripture is true that there will be people in hell for eternity, then Universalism cannot be true. Therefore, this first position MUST be rejected.
We will now turn our focus to the other two positions. In all honesty, we have been considering those two positions all along. Either Jesus died for all of the sins for His people, or He died for most all of the sins of all people. There is no other view. Both of these views limit the design of Jesus’ death. You cannot get around this fact!
If Jesus died for most of the sins for all people, then what He accomplished is limited. That is, the effect of His death is dormant unless and until a person exercises faith by his/her own power. We have shown in the other posts that this is impossible because of the Fall.
If Jesus died for all of the sins of some people, then all those for whom Jesus died will be saved. He came to the earth, lived a righteous life for them, and died in their place for all of their sins. While His death is more than sufficient to atone for every single sin of every single person who ever lived or will live, that was never God’s intention and design. Had it been His intention, He would have saved everyone. In that case, we would be back at Universalism.
To state it again, either Jesus’ death was limited in effect or by the number of those to whom it is applied. If it is limited in effect, then He died for no one in particular but died only to make salvation possible for all who would exercise faith by their own choice and power. In this case, Jesus’ death is limited until the person exercises faith. In all reality, as we have already said, the person isn’t truly saved by Jesus. They are saved by themselves when they exercise faith. At best Jesus is “co-Savior.” Jesus’ death made salvation possible, but each person makes it actual and effectual by the exercise of faith.
If Jesus’ death was limited by the number of those for whom God intended it, then Jesus’ shed His blood for those given Him by the Father. He actively obeyed every aspect of God’s Law for His people and earned a righteous standing for them. He also presented Himself as the atoning sacrifice for all of their sins. When He said it is finished, He really meant atonement had been made, and God’s wrath was satisfied. This substitutionary work accomplished everything God intended, including the purchase of faith for all of those chosen by the Father. Jesus, and Jesus’ work alone, is what saves sinners.
As we have done in every post, let’s turn now to Scripture and notice what it says:
When the angel appeared to Joseph in Matthew Gospel account, notice what the angel told him: “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21)
Mark 10:42-45 – “Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”
Mark 14:22-24 - “And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.’”
Isaiah 53:11-12 - Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.
Ephesians 5:25-32 - "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church."
Hebrews 9:24-28 - Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
Here are texts that clearly speak to Jesus’ bearing the sins of many, not every single person in the history of mankind. Again, if Jesus died for every person and actually accomplished atonement, then every person will be saved.
“But what about all of those texts that speak of Jesus dying for all men or everyone?” some may ask. Typically the context will clearly show that what we think the texts intend may not really be what they intend after all. In other words, we see a word, run with it, and create ideas that the text may not teach. Let me illustrate.
Hebrews 2:9 - We see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
Now when we see a verse like this we assume, and understandably so, that the writer intends “everyone” to be understood as everyone in the world that has lived or will ever live. People then form the idea Jesus literally died for everyone in the history of mankind indiscriminately.
Going back to Jesus’ accomplishment on the cross, I hope you see why such a belief would be difficult to hold. However, even more powerfully and clearly from the context, we can see that the writer clarified exactly what he meant. Look at what continues after the verse above.
Hebrews 2:10-18 - For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, 'I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.' And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, 'Behold, I and the children God has given me.' Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Confusion on this issue could be cleared up if instead of stopping at verse 9, one kept reading. If the reading continued, the reader should see exactly to whom “everyone” refers. It refers to “many sons who are brought to glory,” “those who are sanctified,” “brothers” [of the One who died], “brothers” in the midst of the congregation, “the children given” by God to the One who was to die, “the offspring of Abraham,” “the brothers of the One who died,” and “those people for whom propitiation was made.”
The writer isn’t referring to everyone in the world; he is referring to everyone God intended. Every son, every brother, everyone who is a true child of Abraham by faith, and “everyone given by the Father,” is the intention of the writer. Three Old Testament passages are quoted to bolster that! (I noted those with bold italics.) You see that instead of teaching some sort of a universal idea of substitution, it actually teaches the fact of Jesus dying for a specific people.
Consider 1Timothy 2:3-6 - This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
Did Paul really mean that God desires all people, every person in the history of mankind, to be saved? If so, why not allow Jesus to die for them and atone for their sins? That would guarantee it. Why are some people born in parts of the world that never hear the Gospel? If God desired their salvation, why not put up a cosmic billboard to state the Gospel?
Consider one other passage here, 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12. It states:
“The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
According to Paul, the lawless one will be empowered by Satan and will perform false signs and wonders. Those who are deceived by such perish because they refused to love the truth and be saved. Did you pay attention to what it said next? Therefore, God sovereignly allowed delusion to take control over their minds so that they would believe the truth but believe what is false! They will be condemned because they reject the truth. While we cannot fully grasp all of the details of this passage, one thing is unmistakable. God sovereignly chose to allow blindness to take control of these truth-rejecters to the point that they would not be saved.
Now if God earnestly desires every person in the history of mankind to be saved, why does He allow blindness to keep those in 2 Thessalonians from being saved? If “all people” in 1 Timothy means every single person, then it flat out contradicts 2 Thessalonians. Can you see the problems this would cause with the trustworthiness of Scripture?
Let’s look at 1Timothy 2 again, this time adding verses 1-2 in.
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”
What a difference context makes! Paul urged supplications, prayer, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people. Did Paul mean we pray for every single individual that has ever lived or will live? The context seems to clearly says, “No.” If you keep on reading, he says, “for kings, and all who are in high positions.” Probably at this point in history, Nero was in power. He was no friend to the Church. Instead of the Church praying to God to strike him and other such rulers dead, Paul encourages Timothy to tech the people to pray for kings and rulers in high positions. Why?
It is a good thing. God sent Jesus to die for people from all walks of life. He didn’t just die for the materially poor. He didn’t just die for ethnic Jews. He didn’t just die for men. He died as a ransom for all sorts and classes of people. It was for rich, middle class, lower class, Jew, Gentile, men, women, slave, and free. God is redeeming people from every tribe, language, people, and nation (Rev. 5:9-10).
Let’s now look at a favorite of many people to use in objecting to these things, and honestly, one I used to use frequently.
2 Peter 3:9 - “God is not willing that any should perish but all come to repentance.”
Boy how I used to quote this verse. I would quote it to bolster my belief that Jesus died indiscriminately for every single person and was doing all He could possibly do to save people. (Mind you. This was before I understood all of the texts and ramifications I have shared with you. I simply quoted part of a verse, snatched out of context, to put forth what I had always believed.)
For this text, I would ask you to open your Bible or look at it later. I will not quote every relevant idea. 2 Peter 1, Peter begins this epistle by addressing it to Christians. He says, “"Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ (v. 1)." He is clearly writing to Christians. This is absolutely vital to understand and keep in mind.
Throughout chapter 1, Peter constantly used specific nouns and personal pronouns in this address. He speaks of “us,” “you,” “yours,” “brothers,” “we,” and “our.” All of these refer to Christians!
In chapter 2, Peter makes a transition. He begins speaking of false prophets, false teachers, and those who listen to such workers of evil. He begins using “they,” and “them,” repeatedly. This shows that Peter isn’t including these lost and evil people as part of those in chapter 1. He is setting up an “us and them” dichotomy.
In chapter 3, he does still use some of the “they” references, but he also utilizes the chapter 1 references of “us” and “you.” This must be traced, especially in this chapter, because both are present.
Now, lets’ look at verses 8-10 of 2 Peter 3. They state:
“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”
Peter begins with the first word, “But.” He is showing a contrast with what he just said. In verse 3 Peter began speaking of scoffers that question the return of Christ. He continues that until verse 7. Peter contrasts the scoffers with these Christians. Remember 1:1? He tells these believers not to assume that God views time as we do. God is eternal and not bound by time. He is patient and longsuffering. He isn’t slow to fulfill His promises. He is always on time.
Now pay close attention to what he says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (This is the ESV, but the KJV still echoes in my mind. It says God is longsuffering toward usward.” It is the same idea.)
Toward whom is God patient? Peter says “you,” or “usward.” To whom does this refer? It refers to the Christians to whom Peter writes! That cannot be argued. He then says “not wishing that any should perish.” Based on the context of this book (in the “us/them” dichotomy,) as well as the very same verse, does Peter seem to be saying, “God is not willing that any single, solitary person should perish,” or does he seem to be saying “God is not willing that any of you or any of usward should perish?”
If you say any, single, solitary person, you ignore and destroy the context for the entire epistle, as well as the principle of interpreting anything in context. Instead of that, Peter is saying God is longsuffering toward you Christians, whom He purchased with His own blood and keeps by His own power, and is not willing that any of you should perish. The context then flows into the next phrase. He wants all of His people to come to repentance. God is patient, and Christ won’t return until all His people repent and are saved. He is not willing that any of them should perish.
If you still think he means any person, without discrimination, go back to 2 Thessalonians above and harmonize that with this passage. You will find yourself in a quandary.
One more consideration is in order before we end this post. In John’s Gospel, we see that Jesus is the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world (1:29). God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (3:16). God sent His Son into the world that the world might be saved through Him (3:17). These are popular verses to quote. However, we must ask ourselves, “Does the word, ‘world’ always means every single person?” If it does, what do we make of other passages in John?
6:63 – “The bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Does Jesus give eternal life to every single person in the world?
8:26 – “I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” Did Jesus personally declare to every single person in the world, physically and bodily, what He heard from the Father? We have no evidence that Jesus ever met the Apostle Paul face-to-face. How did Jesus speak to every single individual then?
John 12:19 – “So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.’” Did every person in the world begin following Jesus? That is what the Pharisees said.
John 12:47 – “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” If Jesus came to save every single individual, then why isn’t every single person saved? If He bore their sins, as we have shown, then He intended their salvation.
I hope you see what I am trying to illustrate. There are various meanings of the word “world” in Scripture. Many commentators and scholars have noted that there are up to 8 different meanings of the word “world” in John’s Gospel alone! Thayer’s Greek Lexicon is just one of those sources.
I realize this has been the longest post yet, and I will not do another one on this issue that is close to such length. As a matter of fact, I intend only one more. It will be from a personal, pastoral standpoint.
More than anything I hope you have seen that these issues are not just preferences. There are real, multiple scriptural references involved. We cannot and must not write them off or ignore them if we want to show ourselves faithful workmen that want to be approved because of the way we approach, view, and handle God’s holy word (2 Tim. 2:15).