What Christ Accomplished


The Bible portrays the cross event as the center point of history.  Everything in the Old Testament looks forward to this event and everything in the New Testament looks back to this event.





When we use the word “atonement” in the theological sense, we are referring to the work that Christ accomplished on the cross.


1.         A Sacrificial Atonement.


From earliest times, the Jew had built an altar for sacrifice.  To the altar would be brought a lamb, white and without blemish.  The lamb would be laid across the altar and then, as it was held down, the Jewish man would quickly and deftly cut its throat.  As the blood poured out upon the altar, the man would place his hand upon the head of the dying lamb, signifying that this lamb was being identified with his sins and that it was dying in his place.


Later, it was the Tabernacle and then the Temple that became the center for sacrifices.  It was here that the priests began to minister these sacrifices for the people of Israel.  The idea of a lamb being slain was associated with the forgiveness of sins.


When Jesus came on the scene, John the Baptist announced Him as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  The mention of a lamb who was to take away sin was a very familiar concept to the Jew.  He had a vivid picture in his mind what this represented.  Yet there was something that was unique in the lamb described by John.  The uniqueness was in the scope of accomplishment.  The death of this lamb would take away the sins of the world.


None of the other animal sacrifices had been able to accomplish this.  A lamb could be slain for the sins of a man.  A lamb might occasionally be slain for the sins of a family.  There were even times when a lamb was sacrifices for the sins of the entire nation.  But never had there been a sacrifice for the sins of the world.


He was oppressed and He was afflicted,

Yet He did not open His mouth;

Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,

And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,

So He did not open His mouth. (Isaiah 53:7).


...For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed (1 Corinthians 5:7b).


...Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. (Ephesians 5:2b).


Jesus fulfilled the principle of the sacrifice when He died upon the cross.  It was a once and for all sacrifice that never needs to be repeated.  This stands in contrast to the Roman Catholic doctrine of the “perpetual sacrifice of Christ.”  The Council of Trent stated that, since the priesthood of Christ is perpetual, so also the sacrificial offering must also be perpetual.  It went on to say that the mass is the true and proper sacrifice—that the mass is the actual sin removing sacrifice of Christ.  By contrast, the Bible teaches that our sins are removed by His once for all sacrifice.


            10 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; 12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God (Hebrews 10:10-12).


The writer to the Hebrews could not be more explicit.  He notes both that our salvation took place through the once for all offering of Jesus and that this one sacrifice for sins was for all time.  The fact that Jesus subsequently sat down at the right hand of God is a sign that the work has been accomplished and never need be repeated.


2.         A Vicarious Atonement.


The principle of vicariousness includes the idea of a legal representative.  Jesus served as our representative when He went to the cross in the same way that Adam acted as our representative when he sinned.


            18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18-19).


I was not in the Garden of Eden when Adam sinned, yet his sin brought about not only his own fall, but the fall of the entire human race.  He acted the part of our legal representative.  In the same way, the death of Christ on the cross was as a representative for me.  Galatians 2:20 says that I have been crucified with Christ.  I had a legal representative on the cross that died in my place.


3.         A Substitutionary Atonement.


The concept of a substitute was an inherent part of a sacrifice.  Isaiah spoke of One who would come to take sins upon Himself.  Isaiah used the image of a sacrifice to describe this substitution.


All of us like sheep have gone astray,

Each of us has turned to his own way;

But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all

To fall on Him. (Isaiah 53:6).


Jesus died in our place and instead of us.  He was our substitute.  He took our place on the cross, dying the death we deserved.  Then He calls us to take His place as sons and children of God and co-heirs with Christ.


            Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us‑‑ for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” (Galatians 3:13).


When we read the Gospel accounts, we learn that the Romans had originally set aside three crosses.  There were three thieves who were destined to hand upon those crosses.  They had been apprehended, judged, and found to be guilty.  They were placed under the sentence of death.  But one of them never went to the cross.  His name was Barabbas.  Instead, another man went to the cross in his place.


Jesus died upon the cross of Barabbas and Barabbas went free.  It wasn’t that Barabbas did not deserve to be on the cross.  It wasn’t that he was any better than the other two thieves.  He was probably worse.  What made the difference?  A substitute was provided to die in his place.


The cross to which Jesus was nailed had been set aside for the execution of Barabbas.  Barabbas deserved to die.  He was a thief and a robber.  He was guilty before the law.  But Jesus died on his cross instead of Barabbas.


There is a sense in which Jesus died on a cross that had my name on it.  He died instead of me.  He died in my place and the judgment of God that would have been directed against me was instead directed toward Him.


            13 And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14).


It was the custom of that day to post the crimes for which a criminal was being executed on the cross where he hung.  This would serve as a warning to other would-be criminals.  Do you remember the inscription that was on the cross of Jesus?  It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”  The Jewish leaders didn’t like that and they petitioned Pilate to have it changed, but he would not.  And so, it remained.


This passage tells us that there was another inscription posted on the cross that day.  It was an inscription unseen by human eyes.  It was the inscription "consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us."  It was the inscription of our sins.  Don't miss this!  Your sins were nailed to His cross.  This indicates that He died for you.


           Christ died - that's history.

           Christ died for you - that's salvation.


A student was taking a test in college and he wrote on his exam, “Only God could pass this test.”  When he got it back, the professor had written on it, “God gets an A and you get an F.”  Christ took the test and nailed it to His cross.  He passed the test for you.  And then He said, “No more tests!”


4.         A Penal Atonement.


The penal nature of the atonement is seen in the fact that the death of Jesus was a punishment for sin.  It was the payment of a penalty.


            Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us‑‑ for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” (Galatians 3:13).


Sin brought about a curse on the sinner.  Jesus took that curse upon Himself.  As He hung upon the cross, He cried out the word, “My God!  My God!  Why have You forsaken Me?”  There was a reason for the cry.  It indicated that the Father was turning His back on the Son and bringing judgment against Him.


There was a moment in history when the First Person of the Trinity was sonless and when the Second Person of the Trinity was Fatherless—when the innocent Son of God was treated as though He were a guilty sinner.  He took upon Himself our penalty.


5.         A Propitiatory Atonement.


Propitiation refers to that which satisfies anger; that which appeases.  The concept of propitiation is illustrated in the work of the high priest in the temple.  This is brought out by the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews when he likens the work of the high priest to that which was accomplished by Jesus.


            Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17).


When you speak of Jesus being a high priest, that takes you back to the Temple and to the greatest function of the high priest.  The day of the high priest’s ministry took place once a year on Yom Kippur — the Day of Atonement.


Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest of Israel would enter into the Holiest of Holies to come before the presence of God.  He would bring with him a cup of blood from an animal freshly slain.  He would sprinkle that blood upon the Mercy Seat.  And that blood would serve as the satisfactory sacrifice for the sins of the nation.  A common prayer among the Jews was that “God be to me a Mercy Seat.”  The setting for this ministry is described in Hebrews 9.


            Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary. 2 For there was a tabernacle prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the sacred bread; this is called the holy place.

            Behind the second veil there was a tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies,  4  having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant;  5  and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat; but of these things we cannot now speak in detail. (Hebrews 9:1-5).


Notice the phrase “mercy seat” in verse 5.  That is the Greek word ilasthrioV.  Neither is this an unusual translation, for every time you see a reference to the Mercy Seat in the Old Testament, it is translated in the Septuagint in this same manner.


What was the Mercy Seat?  It was the top of the Ark of the Covenant.  This was the seat of God.  It served as the throne of God within the Temple.   It was called a “seat” in that this was considered to be the throne of God.  On either side of this “seat” there were statues of angels.  Their wings overshadowed the seat and their faces gazed down toward the seat.


The Ark itself was nothing more than a wooden box overlaid with gold.  It originally held the broken pieces of the Ten Commandments, a pot of manna, and Aaron's rod.  Each of these was symbolic.


            The Pieces:  The fact that we have sinned and broken God's law

            The Manna:  God's gracious and nourishing provision

            Aaron's Rod:  God's appointment of a Mediator


Once a year, on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), the High Priest would enter past the two veils into the Holy of Holies.  He would come to the mercy seat.  He would sprinkle the blood of goats and calves onto the mercy seat.  This would be a satisfactory payment for the sins of the nation — until next year when it all had to be done over again.  This is a picture of what Jesus did for us.  He is both sacrifice and high priest.


Over the years there had been many high priests.  Generation after generation had served this high office.  Each year, for over a thousand years, a high priest had entered the Temple to offer sacrifices.  But we have something unique.  We have something that no Jew ever had.  We have the High Priest who passed into heaven itself.


            But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered in through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11‑12).


Jesus did not offer the blood of animals in a temple.  He gave His own blood on the cross.  He served as both High Priest and as sacrifice.  And then He entered, not a temple, but heaven itself.  And He is there today as our High Priest.


           Propitiation presupposes the wrath of God (Romans 1:18; Ephesians 2:3).


In the ancient world, when one thought that he had committed some offense against one of the deities, he would go and offer a sacrifice of appeasement.  By doing so, he would try to assuage the anger and the wrath of that deity.  Thus, propitiation refers to satisfying the wrath of one who has been offended.


Your sin has offended God.  It makes you deserving of the anger and the wrath of God.  That is the bad news.  The good news is that Jesus was the satisfaction.  He satisfied the righteous judgment of God.


On the wall of the Supreme Court Building in Washington D.C. is the motto: “When the guilty is acquitted, the judge is condemned.”  If God is to be a just God, then He cannot simply forgive sin.  It must be judged.  Our sin was judged at the cross.



Death of Christ


The Cross


The Remission of Sins


Some people have a problem recognizing the truth of God’s wrath.  That is because they have an inadequate view of both the absolute righteousness of God and the awfulness of sin.


           The price of propitiation was the blood of Christ, although it is appropriated through faith.  Romans 3:25 speaks of how God has displayed Jesus Christ publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.   The blood of Christ is the sign of the death of Christ.  When we speak of the One who shed His blood, we are speaking of a life that was given.


           Even though the result of propitiation was the appeasement of God’s wrath, the initiation of that propitiation was based upon God’s love.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10).


It is not that the Son forced the Father to love us; He already loved us.  Neither is it that the Father forced the Son to die for us; He gave Himself for us.


           The propitiation provided by Jesus was sufficient for the whole world.  Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world (1 John 2:2).  In the Old Testament, the sheep died for the shepherd.  In the New Testament, the Shepherd died for the sheep.


6.         An Expiatory Atonement.


The idea of expiation is closely linked to the concept of propitiation.  These can be understood in contrast to one another.




To appease or satisfy wrath.

To erase or remove guilt.

Directed toward the anger of God.

Directed toward the quilt of man.

The sacrifice in the Temple appeased the just demands of a righteous God... covering the guilt of the sins committed.


When the High Priest sprinkled the blood upon the Seat of Satisfaction, the blood served as a covering to cover the guilt of the nation.  The word “atonement” in the Old Testament is translated from the Hebrew word Kippur—it describes a “covering.”  The death of Christ covered our sins and removed them as far from us as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).


7.         A Redemptive Atonement.


Redemption presupposes slavery.  The institution of slavery was common throughout the ancient world.  Abraham had come out of Ur of the Chaldees owning a small army of slaves.  The Israelites had become a nation of slaves in Egypt.  Slavery was still enforced during the days of Christ.


Under most legal codes of those days, a slave was merely a piece of property with little or no personal rights.  If you killed another man’s slave, you might suffer the same punishment as if your had killed his cow.


There were a number of ways in which a man might become a slave.  He might be born into slavery.  The son of a slave was himself considered to be a slave.  Or he might be captured by an invading army and become a prized captive, led away in chains to a foreign country to be sold as a slave.  Or he might fall into debt so that he was forced to declare bankruptcy.  This involved selling yourself into slavery to pay the debts that were owed.


Picture the situation.  An Israelite living in the land of Canaan is hit with economic disaster.  Perhaps a famine has come over the land and wiped out his crops.  Rather than resort to begging, he can sell himself into slavery, using the proceeds to pay off his debts or care for his starving family.  And so, he becomes a slave.  How can he regain his freedom?  It can only be if the redemption price is paid.


            Now if the means of a stranger or of a sojourner with you becomes sufficient, and a countryman of your becomes so poor with regard to him as to sell himself to a stranger who is sojourning with you, or to the descendants of a stranger’s family, 48 then he shall have redemption right after he has been sold.  One of his brothers may redeem him, 49 or his uncle, or his uncle’s son, may redeem him, or one of his blood relatives from his family may redeem him or if he prospers, he may redeem himself. (Leviticus 25:47-49).


If we look very closely, we can find four qualifications which were necessary for a Kinsman Redeemer to accomplish this redemption.  It was only when a man possessed these four qualities that he was permitted to perform this task.


           He must be a Kinsman.


The passage is very specific that this redeemer must be related to the one whom he is going to buy back out of slavery.  There must be some family connection.


           He must be Free Himself.


A slave was unable to purchase another slave.  The most that a slave might be able to do would be to free himself from slavery.  Therefore, a Kinsman Redeemer must himself be free of the debt and of the bondage which had fallen on the one who was to be redeemed.


           He must be Able to Pay the Ransom Price.


If he did not have the necessary sum of money which was required to pay the purchase price, then he would not be able to redeem his relative.  Good intentions were not enough.  He must have the wherewithal to accomplish those intentions.


           He must be Willing to Pay the Price.


It was not enough to have a kinsman who was able to accomplish the work of redemption.  He must also be willing to make the sacrifice of paying the price.  I imagine that there were a number of slaves with rich uncles who just didn’t want to spend the money to release their unfortunate relative from slavery.


Each of these qualifications was fulfilled in the person of Jesus.  God sent Him into the world’s slave market to purchase men from their bondage to sin.


a.         He was a Kinsman.


This is why it was necessary for God to become flesh - to be born and to grow up and to walk this earth as a man.  It was because only a man could die for other men to buy them back from the bondage of sin and death.


            Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; 15 and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. (Hebrews 2:14-15).


God could not die, for He is eternal life and the source of all life.  It was only by being born as a man and taking on human flesh and becoming a man that He could experience death for us.


b.         He was Free Himself.


Jesus was the only man since Adam who has ever been free from sin.  From the first sin in the Garden of Eden to this day, all men are under this bondage.  Another man could not die for my sins since he would have to pay the penalty for his own sins.  Only someone who is free from sin could be a substitute for the sins of another.


            For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15).


Jesus lived His entire life on earth without committing a single sin.  This qualifies Him as the only free man.


c.         He was Able to Pay the Ransom Price.


Even if there had been a man who had been without sin, his death would not have had the infinite merit to pay for the sins of the whole world.  At best, the sacrifice of a single finite man could atone for the sins on only a single man.


But the death of Jesus was not the death of a mere man.  It was also the death of an infinite being.  It was the death of God in the flesh.  God experienced death.  He died in our place.  Only the death of such a One could have been sufficient to save the world.


d.         He was Willing to Pay the Ransom Price.


            Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.

            And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8).


Jesus learned obedience by coming to do the will of the Father.  No man took His life from Him — He willingly gave up His life for us.


The story is told of a little boy who built a toy wooden sailboat, sanding it and then painting it with great care.  He loved his little boat and was heartbroken when it was stolen.  One day, as he was walking down the street, he happened to see the boat in a craft shot.  He went in and bought the boat.  Holding it in his hands, he said, “Now you are twice mine.”  God created us and then He purchased us for the highest possible price.  We are twice His.


8.         A Triumphant Atonement.


The world looks at the cross and sees a scene of defeat.  They think a good teacher did the best he could and it got him crucified.  But the truth is that the cross was a victory.  It was a triumph over sin.


On the night of His betrayal and arrest, Jesus said:  Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out (John 12:31).  The rest of the New Testament confirms the triumphant victory of the cross.


...The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8b).


            But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. (2 Corinthians 2:14).


            When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. (Colossians 2:15).


In the Roman world, when a general had won a great victory, he was awarded the honor of a Triumph.  This was a glorious parade in which he rode in on a horse, leading a host of captives in chains down the streets of the city.  The Arch of Titus still stands in Rome today as a testimony of his conquest of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and of the triumph that was enjoyed by him.  This same language is used to describe the victory Jesus won in His death, burial, and resurrection.


            7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, And He gave gifts to men.” (Ephesians 4:7-8).


This passage has mistakenly been used by some to describe the Lord moving taking believers to heaven.  But the language does not describe believers.  The phrase “lead captivity captive” was a byword among the Jews that described the conquest of an enemy (Judges 5:12; Psalm 68:18).  This is a picture of Jesus leading captives in victory.  This joining of the victory of Christ with His giving gifts to men has an Old Testament counterpart.


Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,

And He will divide the booty with the strong;

Because He poured out Himself to death,

And was numbered with the transgressors;

Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,

And interceded for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:12).


The conquering king would receive the booty from the battle and then would distribute it to his most valiant warriors.  The problem is that we have not been very valiant.  But the Bible teaches we overcome through our faith.  When we believe, we get to participate in the booty of Christ’s victory.  That booty consists of all the spiritual blessings that we have in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3).




Sacrificial Nature

Inadequacy of animal sacrifices

Vicarious Nature

Adam’s sin

Substitution Aspect

Man’s inability to save himself

Penal Nature

A divine judgment


God’s wrath against sin


Man’s guilt

Redemptive Quality

Man’s slavery to sin

Triumphant Nature

The kingdom of evil





1.         The Atoning Work of Christ was Historically Objective.


The atonement is more than mere theory.  It really happened in a real place and in real time.  If you could have gone back to Jerusalem on the day Jesus died, you could have gotten a splinter in your finger from a real wooden cross.  Furthermore, its accomplishment regarding sin and salvation is no less real.


This is in opposition to the Neo-orthodox position that says it does not matter if there is a historical foundation to Christianity as long as it is “real to you.”  Those sorts of word games fall far short of the Biblical concept of truth.


2.         The Atoning Work of Christ was Final.


The atonement was a “once and for all” event.  This was seen in the final cry of Jesus on the cross.  John 19:30 tell us that He said, "It is finished!" And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit.  What was finished?  The work on the cross.  The work He came to do.  Our salvation.


This is in contrast to the Roman Catholic stance that has a repetition of the Lord’s death in the offering of the Eucharist as well as the addition to Christ’s work through the faithfulness of the saints and the suffering of purgatory.  The truth is that Christ completed His work on the cross and no one need ever add anything to that work.


3.         The Atoning Work of Christ was Unique.


There has not been another Savior.  There may be many roads that lead to Rome, but there is only one that leads to God.


            Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me. (John 14:6).


            And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12).


Jesus said that He is the only way of salvation.  He is exclusive.  Only He is able to atone for sins.  That sounds narrow-minded to our postmodern way of thinking.  But truth is always narrow-minded.  Truth does not involve a popularity contest.  It keeps right on being true even if nobody believes in it.





There are two commonly held views with regard to salvation.  There is the Natural View that says man brings about his own salvation and there is the Supernatural View that says God intercedes on man’s behalf to bring about his salvation.


How is Man Saved?

Natural View

Supernatural View

Man saves himself by self effort

Go accomplishes the work of salvation through the death of His Son, Jesus, upon the cross


How does God save Man?


Sacerdotal View

Evangelical View


Man is saved through the partaking of the sacraments as the church dispenses salvation

Man is saved through the preaching of the Gospel.  The Holy Spirit brings salvation to those who believe.



For Whom Did Christ Die?



For all men equally.

For the elect.


How is a man saved?  The Roman Catholic Church says this salvation is dispensed through the sacraments—the Eucharist, baptism, penance, and confession.  By contrast, the Scriptures tell us that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16-17).


The last question in this chart asks the question of the intended recipients of the atonement.  For whom did Christ die?  There are two possibilities.


1.         He died for all men equally.


If the death of Jesus accomplished the same thing for all men equally, then we are left with two further possibilities:


           All men are saved.  There are some who have assumed the Scriptures to be speaking only allegorically when speaking of the last judgment or that hell is only temporary and that all men will ultimately be saved.


           The atonement only made it possible for some men to save themselves; it did not actually save anyone.


2.         He died for the elect.


This is not to say that the death of Christ was not SUFFICIENT to save all men or even that the offer of salvation is not given to all men.  What it does mean is that the atonement was EFFECTIVE in actually accomplishing the salvation of some.





It has been popular to speak of a “limited atonement” versus an “unlimited atonement.”  But this is misleading.  The atonement is not limited in its power to save men.  It is more appropriate to refer to a “particular atonement” or an atonement that was designed to accomplish the salvation of a particular group of people.


When we speak of a “limited” or “particular” atonement, we do not mean by this that the atonement was not sufficient to save all men, as though Christ would have had to do more upon the cross in order to save more people.


The death of Jesus Christ upon the cross is sufficient to save all men everywhere.  And yet, it does not accomplish this.  Why?  Is it because of some shortcoming in what Christ did upon the cross?  There are two possibilities:


First, we could say that the death of Christ in itself does not guarantee the salvation of ANYONE ‑ it merely makes salvation a possibility for all men (anyone who believes in Christ of his own volition is then saved).  The result of such a view can be summed up like this...


Cross + Man's decision = Salvation


The alternative view would be to say that the death of Christ guaranteed the salvation of those whom God, in accordance with His own plan and purpose, had determined to save.  It is on the basis of the cross that God actively draws some to Himself, making them spiritually alive so that they trust in Him as Lord and Savior.  This view can be pictured like this...


Cross + God's inward call (which results in repentance and faith) = Salvation


1.         The Emphasis of Scripture.


A great many logical arguments have been presented for both the “limited” as well as for the “unlimited” views.  Many of these are extremely convincing.  However, the question is not which might be the most logical, but rather, what does the Bible teach on this issue?  The Scriptures go out of their way to particularize who it is for whom Christ died.


           He died for His people (Matthew 1:21).

           He died for His friends (John 15:13).

           He died for His sheep (John 10:11).

           He died for His body ‑ the church (Ephesians 5:23‑26).

           He died for the Elect (Romans 8:32‑34).

           He died for Us (Titus 2:14).


How does this particularization take place?  Jesus used the image of a shepherd and His sheep to deal with this question.


            I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. (John 10:11).


Many people today seem to think that the reason people are or are not sheep is based upon whether they will believe or not believe.  They would say, “You are my sheep because you believe,” or, “You are not my sheep because you do not believe.”  But Jesus said it differently.  He said...


            “But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep.” (John 10:26).


Jesus made the basis of whether or not they believe dependent upon whether or not they had been chosen by God to be His sheep.  This is just the opposite of the Arminian teaching.




“You are not my sheep because you have not believed.”

“You do not believe because you are not my sheep.”


Another example of this type of language is seen in Ephesians 5:25 where Paul tells husbands to love their wives “just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.”  The command loses much of its impact if Christ loved everyone with an equal love and gave Himself equally for all.  Is a husband to love all women with an equal love?  Not at all!  He is to show a special love for his own wife.


2.         Only a Limited Number Actually Hear the Gospel.


Although the Lord commanded His church to preach the gospel to all the nations, it is also true that throughout the past He has “permitted all the nations to go their own ways” (Acts 14:16).  Indeed, Jesus praised His Father for having HIDDEN the mysteries of the Gospel from certain men.


            At that time Jesus answered and said, “I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes. 27 Yes, Father, for thus it was well‑pleasing in Thy sight.” (Matthew 11:26‑27).


Jesus had just denounced Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum for their unbelief.  Now He turns to the Father and thanks Him that things are still going according to plan.


Sometimes we get the idea that when people hear the gospel and do not accept it, God’s plan has somehow failed.  This is not the case.  God has hidden His kingdom truths from certain people and He has revealed them to others.


3.         The Intercessory Work of Christ was restricted to the Elect.


On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed to the Father.  In that prayer, Jesus is seen interceding on behalf of the elect.


            “I ask on their behalf; I do NOT ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine.” (John 17:9).


Jesus made it a point to differentiate the elect from the non‑elect in His prayers.  He specifically says that He does not ask on behalf of the world.  It is unlikely that He would refuse to pray for those for whom He was about to die.


4.         The Evidence of Faith.


Faith is one of the evidences that the atonement has been effected.  The following Scriptures indicate that faith is initiated by God.


            And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as HAD BEEN APPOINTED to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:48).


            And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purpose fabrics, a worshipper of God, was listening; and THE LORD OPENED HER HEART to respond to the things spoken by Paul. (Acts 16:14).


            For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only TO BELIEVE in Him, but also to suffer for His sake. (Philippians 1:29).


If we have received the gift of faith from the Lord, dare we assume that any of the spiritual gifts which we have received is not obtained as a result of the work of Christ on the cross?  If Christ died for each and every person, then the gift of faith would have been given to all.


5.         The Goal of the Atonement.


In his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul makes the point that men do not come to God on the basis of their intellectual reasonings.  It is not the intelligent who are chosen.  In fact, it is often just the opposite.


Not the wise, but the foolish.

Not the mighty, but the weak.

Not the noble, but the base and the despised.


I think it very likely that Paul sat back for a moment and thought over the status of the membership of the church at Corinth as he wrote these words.  He asks the Corinthians to do the same thing.


            For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble (1 Corinthians 1:26).


Paul is speaking to believers.  He exhorts them to consider their calling.  They have been called to Jesus Christ.  They are among those whom the Father has drawn.  There were very few among the Corinthian believers who were rich or powerful or famous or influential.  To be sure, Paul does not say that there were not any wise, or that there were not any mighty, or that there were not any noble.  But the majority of the members of the church did not fit into those categories.


Why?  Why do most Christians come from the ranks of the foolish and the weak and the base and the despised?  Karl Marx suggested that it was because the oppressed classes and the weak turned to religion as a crutch to hold them up and to stabilize them.  But this is not a Biblical answer.  Paul says the reason Christianity is filled with the foolish and the weak and the base and the despised is because God has chosen those kinds of people to be in His kingdom.  Notice the emphasis on God’s election.  Again and again, Paul repeats that it is God who has chosen.


            26 For consider YOUR CALLING, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but GOD HAS CHOSEN the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and GOD HAS CHOSEN the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised, GOD HAS CHOSEN, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, 29 that no man should boast before God. 30 But BY HIS DOING you are in Christ Jesus... (1 Corinthians 1:26-30).


The phrase “God has chosen” is repeated three times in this passage.  It emphasizes the fact that our calling and our salvation is God’s choice. God has not left these things to blind chance.  Rather, He has chosen to follow a special plan as to who should be called.


This brings us to a question.  Why hasn’t God chosen the wise?  Why have the mighty and the noble been left out?  The answer is given in verse 29.  It is so that no man should boast before God.  The reason God has chosen the foolish and the weak and the base and the despised is so that no man will be able to boast on his own account.


No man can ever say, “I found God as a result of my great intellect.”  No man has ever been accepted by God because he was of noble birth.  No man has ever performed deeds mighty enough to merit his entrance into God’s kingdom.  You cannot even boast that you were saved because you had the good sense to choose God and to exercise faith in Him.  He chose you.


The result of understanding this teaching is that God is glorified.  If a man were saved on the basis of his own decision, then he might boast that he had the good sense to come to Christ and to place his faith in Christ.  Instead, we are taught that we have been chosen apart from any merit that is within us that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31).  The result of a proper understanding of the particular nature of the atonement will be that God is glorified as the One who has brought about your salvation.


6.         The Death of Christ either did away with...


           All the sins of all men.


If this is the case, then it is impossible to deny that all men would be saved.  If all my sins were settled on the cross, then there is nothing left for me to do to obtain my salvation.  It is guaranteed.  If all the sins of all men are forgiven, then all men shall be saved and none shall come into condemnation.  The problem with this sort of universalism is that it goes directly against the clear teaching of the Scriptures (Daniel 12:2; Matthew 13:41-42); 25:31-46).


           None of the sins of all men.


If Christ only made it possible for men to be forgiven but did not actually atone for sins upon the cross, then we are all still in our sins and no one can ever be saved.  By contrast, the Bible teaches that He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross (1 Peter 2:24).


           Some of the sins of all men.


If Christ only died for some of the sins of all men—for example, if He did not die for the sin of unbelief—then we are still in our sins, for it is impossible for us to atone for any of our own sins.


           All the sins of some men.


This is a Biblical position.  The death of Christ accomplished the salvation of those whom God has chosen.





There are certain passages of Scripture that, taken at face value, would seem to teach of a universal atonement.  These fall into several categories.


1.         General Passages.


It can easily be demonstrated that not every passage that uses the word “all” does so in a universalistic sense.  There are times when a general statement is made that obviously has a limited sense.


           Jesus said to His disciples, “You will be hated by all on account of My name” (Matthew 10:22).  That does not mean there were no exceptions to this general rule.


           Paul said, “All the Jews know my manner of life...” (Acts 26:4).  This does not mean that there could not have been certain Jews who had never heard of Paul of Tarsus.  It is obviously a general statement.


           Joel gives a prophecy in Joel 2:28 that God would pour forth His Spirit “upon all mankind.”  Peter quotes this prophecy on the day of Pentecost and states that it is being fulfilled in his day.  Does this mean that all men everywhere had the Spirit of God?  Or does it only refer to all believers?  The answer is obvious.  It refers to all believers.


2.         Christ said that He would draw all men: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” (John 12:32).


Does this teach a universal drawing of all men to Christ?  If it does, then it teaches too much, since Jesus has already used this same term to describe the drawing of certain men earlier in John’s gospel where he said, “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44).  He went on in that context to say that those who were drawn by God will be taught of God (6:45) and that they will certainly not be cast out (6:37).


Why then does John 12:32 say that Christ will draw all men to Himself?  First of all, we should notice that the emphasis given by John’s own commentary on the words of Jesus is not focused upon the universality of Christ’s drawing, but upon the kind of death He should die.  We see this in the next verse:  But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die (John 12:33).


And yet, verse 32 DOES say something about drawing all men.  How are we to understand this?  It must be seen in the context.  Philip and Andrew have just brought some Greeks to Jesus (John 12:20-22).  This is the first time this has happened in Jerusalem.  Up to this point, the ministry of Jesus has been almost exclusively toward the Jews.  When He sent His disciples out, He told them not to go to the Gentiles (Matthew 10:5-6).


Now some Greeks have been brought to Him.  This takes place at the end of His earthly ministry.  He will soon be lifted up and nailed to a cross.  When He is lifted up, He will draw all sorts of men, both Jews and Greeks.


Once Christ has gone to the cross, He will gather into one body both Jews and Gentiles.  There will be no distinction between races or genders or social strata.  His church will draw all to Himself.


3.         Justification to All Men:  So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. (Romans 5:18).


Does this mean that each and every man in the universe has been justified?  It does not.  It anticipates two groups of people and clearly refers to all of God’s chosen people.  This language is similar to what Paul says elsewhere:  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22).


4.         Salvation to all men:  For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men (Titus 2:11).


The context makes it clear that Paul is speaking, not of every man being saved, but of the fact that the gospel is preached to all men.  The previous verses mention all sorts of men as Paul has given instructions to old men, old women, young women, young men, and slaves.  The basis for the instructions to each of these groups is that the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to each of these groups.


5.         God Desires All Men to be Saved.  Paul says this in his first epistle to Timothy.  The context is helpful in determining exactly to whom these “all men” refer.


            1 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  5 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony borne at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:1-6).


The question is asked specifically about verse 4: If God really desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, then why does He not save all men?  Why are some predestined to salvation while others are not?  Why are some saved while others are not?


The Arminian answers this question by insisting it is all bound up in the free will of man.  He maintains that God wants all men to be saved but has decided to do nothing about that desire because He has an even greater desire to allow men to exercise their own free will in choosing or not choosing to be saved.


The problem is twofold.  First of all, the passage does not say or even hint that all men are going to be saved, even though it does say that:


           We are to pray for all men.

           God desires all men to be saved.

           Christ gave Himself as a ransom for all.


What does this mean?  It means that the love and concern of God is offered to all men.  All men are commanded to repent and to believe the gospel.  Furthermore, it means that the Lord grieves over man’s sinful condition.  Jesus wept over the unrepentant city of Jerusalem and God weeps over those who remain in their lost condition.  It also means that the death of Christ was of a sufficient nature to atone for all the sins of all men.  It means that Christ would not have had to spend an extra five minutes upon the cross in order to save an extra million people.  His atoning death was infinite in merit.


Is this a denial of the sovereignty of God or of the particular nature of the atonement?  Not at all.  The same God who weeps over the lost condition of all men also has moved into history to regenerate the hearts of some and to bring them to Himself.


Paul alludes to this in the very next verse when he says, And for this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth (1 Timothy 2:7).   Notice that on the one hand, God desires that all men be saved and Jesus serves as the ransom to that effect.  On the other hand, it is obvious that, while Paul was appointed as a preacher and apostle, this apostolic appointment has not extended to every person.  By the same token, neither is the election to salvation extended to every person.  Yet this is not a sign of some weakness on the part of God, but rather it is in order that God's purpose according to His choice might stand (Romans 9:11).


We can conclude by saying that two things are equally true:


            God takes no pleasure in the final destruction of any.

            God finds pleasure in the salvation of every person who is saved.


God finds no joy in the death of any sinner.   “Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord God, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23).  The question is rhetorical and obviously expects a negative reply.  God is not vengeful or vindictive.  The Creator does not delight in the destruction of any person he has made, not even his enemies.  He calls all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth and He tells us that there is celebration in heaven over every sinner who repents (Luke 15:7,10).  He commands all to come to repentance.  This command is universal.  Paul said that God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent (Acts 17:30).


6.         God Desires all to come to Repentance:  The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).


As we have pointed out, the Lord commands all to come to repentance.  At the same time, we should note toward whom God is said to be patient.  Peter does not say that God is patient toward all men.  He says that God is patient toward YOU.  This is because Peter has just finished describing some men with whom God is not patient.  But He is still being patient with you.  To whom is Peter addressing his epistle?  It is to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours (2 Peter 1:1).  It is to those who have been called and chosen by God (2 Peter 1:10).


If God had not been patient with us, waiting for us to come to repentance, then none of us would be saved today.  He has held off His judgment and He continues to hold off that judgment until all have repented.  It is because of this that Peter instructs us to regard the patience of the Lord to be salvation (2 Peter 3:15).


7.         Christ is the Savior of all Men, but especially Believers:  For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers (1 Timothy 4:10).


This passage is particularly striking because it seems to establish a contrast between two different groupings of people: All men versus believers.


Christ is the Savior of all men


He especially saves believers


Two possible interpretations have been presented for this passage.  The issue revolves around our understanding of the Greek word malista, translated in this passage as “especially.” Two possible meanings have been set forth for this word:


           Most of all, chiefly, especially.


This is the way it has been translated in the NAS, the NIV, and the King James Version in each of the instances it is used.  This is also the way the word has generally been understood.


           Specifically, that is.


The word malista is found a total of twelve times in the New Testament.  All but four of those instances are by Paul.  In most of these instances, the translation could go either way and still make sense.


It must be noted that this is not the normal meaning of the word.  In 1979, T.C. Skeat published an article in the Journal of Theological Studies that proposed this alternate meaning of malista.  George Knight takes this reading in his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles.  If this were the case in this passage, it would be saying that Jesus is the Savior of all men, specifically and by that to mean that He is the Savior of believers.


The problem with this view is that it cannot be proven that malista has this alternate meaning anywhere in the Greek language.  Furthermore, Paul could easily have used the Greek phrase tout' estin to get across the idea of “specifically” or “that is.”  This phrase is regularly used throughout the New Testament to convey this idea (Matthew 27:46; Mark 7:2; Acts 1:19; Romans 7:18; 9:8; 10:6-8; Philemon 1:12).  Because of this, we are obliged the reject Skeat’s rendering and proceed with the normal use of the term.


What is this passage saying?  It is saying that there is a sense in which Christ can be said to be the Savior of the world while, in a special sense, He is the Savior only of those who believe.


In what sense can Christ be said to be the Savior of the world?  It is in the general sense in which He redeems the world by redeeming a remnant of that world.  There is coming a day when “all Israel” will be saved.  That does not mean that each and every Jewish person is going to be saved and it does not mean that each and every human being is going to be saved, but redemption will ultimately come to the world as that world is made new.  This will be seen in greater detail as we examine the next passage.


8.         Christ is the Propitiation for the Sins of the World:  My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2).


Jesus is said to be the propitiation both for our sins (referring to the sins of believers) as well as for the sins of the whole world.  As in the previous passage, this text makes it obvious that there are two distinct groups of people in view.  Who are they?


a.         The world of believers.


This is the interpretation offered by John Murray.  The writer would be saying, “It is not only we disciples who are saved, but all other believers as well.”  Murray defends this view by pointing out that the author uses the plural pronoun in chapter 1 to refer to himself and the other disciples who had seen and heard and touched the resurrected Christ.


However, of the 185 times that kosmos (“world”) is used in the New Testament, not once does it offer such an interpretation.  John uses the term to describe the world of mankind.


b.         Jewish versus the Gentile world.


This view sees John, as the author of the epistle and a believing Jew, speaking of how Christ is the propitiation of he and his fellow believing Jews as well as the propitiation of believing Gentiles.  This interpretation fails to account for how kosmos can refer only to Gentile believers.  Neither is there any indication that John is addressing himself to Jews and not to the church at large.


c.         The Elect versus the non-Elect.


This is the Arminian view.  It states that Christ is equally the propitiation for all men, both saved and lost.  The problem with this view is that if His propitiatory work is equal in all aspects to all mankind and He is the propitiation both for the lost and for the saved, then how can it be of any benefit to the saved?  If Jesus did not satisfy all of the wrath of God toward all sins, then man must do something to save himself and we cannot say that God saves sinners.


d.         The Present Elect versus the Past and Future Elect.


This view would focus upon the perpetuity of the propitiation that Jesus provided—that it extends to all time and is therefore chronologically universal in its extent.  This interpretation is problematic in that the context makes no mention of past, present, or future.


e.         The Exclusiveness of Jesus.


This view suggests that the emphasis of the passage is that Jesus is the exclusive means of propitiation for all men — that without Jesus there is no other means of propitiation.  Jesus is not merely the Savior of John and his little religious group.  He is the Savior of all men who are saved so that there is no other Savior.


The strength of this argument is seen in the fact that Jesus, not the world, has been the subject of the book up to this point and continues to be the subject of the rest of the book.


Each of these passages has described the work of Christ as applying to the world or to all men.  If these verses are taken to guarantee salvation and redemption and justification to all men, then we would be forced to conclude a universal salvation.  I want to suggest that this is exactly what we are to conclude.


This does not constitute a denial of the clear Biblical teaching of the eternal punishment of the damned.  It does constitute a recognition of the Scriptural description of salvation in universal terms.  Consider the following.


            25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and thus ALL ISRAEL WILL BE SAVED; just as it is written, "The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob." (Romans 11:25-26).


Is all of Israel to be saved?  In one sense, we can say, “No.”  There are many who are descendants of Abraham who will find themselves shut off from the kingdom.  On the other hand, we read here that ALL ISRAEL will be saved.  The reason for this is that only those who are saved are identified as being the true Israel.


In the same way, Peter could quote the prophet Joel as he pointed to the Pentecost incident and cited that incident as the fulfillment of Joel’s words.


            “‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all mankind...’” (Acts 2:17a).


Was the Spirit given to all men — literally, to “all flesh” on the day of Pentecost?  Did the emperor of Rome receive the Spirit of God on that day?  No.  And yet, those believers in Jerusalem became representative of all men.  God has formed a new race of mankind — homo electus — the redeemed of the earth.  This is that of what Jesus was speaking when He said:


            “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall ALL be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.” (John 6:45).


At the same time that He was teaching that some men do not come to Him because they are not drawn by the Father, He turned to speak of those who do come and He said that they are ALL taught of God.  This promise of a universal blessing goes all the way back to Abraham.


...and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 12:3b).


Will all the families of the earth become blessed in Abraham?  Yes, in a sense, we can say that they will.  There will be a new heavens and a new earth and all who are a part of that new heaven and new earth will be blessed in Abraham.




We must never think of the atoning work of Christ upon the cross as being insufficient to save all men.  Augustine proposed the formula: “Sufficient for all, efficient for the elect.”  While illustrations can break down, the following might be helpful.  Let us suppose that I have a million dollar line of credit and I go to an automobile dealership to purchase a car.  I pick one out that costs $20,000.  My line of credit has been sufficient for a much greater amount, but it was only efficient for the cost of the car.  In the same way, the death of Christ was efficient to bring about the salvation of God’s chosen people—to God’s redeemed who have been purchased from their sins.


Dr. James Oliver Buswell gives us several points that help us understand this tension between the universal and particular aspects of the atonement.


1.         It is sufficient for all.


Christ would not have had to speak another three hours and forty five minutes on the cross to atone for the rest of the sins of the human race.  His death was both qualitatively and quantitatively sufficient for anyone who believes.


I have occasionally been asked how the death of a single individual could possibly atone for the sins of so many.  The answer, I believe, is found in the nature of the Atoner.  He is the eternal Son of God.  Only such an infinite Being could bring forth such a sufficient atonement.


2.         It is applicable to all.


There is nothing in the events of the death of Christ that intrinsically limit its application to all men.  What is limited is the application of the atonement and its effectiveness of drawing some to repentance.


3.         It is offered to all.


The offer of salvation is made to all men.  Indeed, God commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).  The Bible closes with this invitation to all men:  And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And let the one who hears say, "Come." And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. (Revelation 22:17).


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