In the last two posts, we’ve looked at the death of Christ from the standpoint that it was a definite action, in agreement with the Father’s choice of some to be saved, a choice, just to emphasize what we wrote earlier, without which no one would be saved. Christ died to pay for their sins, and theirs alone. He died for “His sheep,” not for “goats.”
However, in spite of all we have said about the death of Christ and its particular, definite and successful purpose, there are those who will exclaim, “Well, I believe John 3:16!!”
We do, too. In this post, therefore, we want to look at verses which refer to “the world,” “all,” and “every,” verses which are often used against what we’ve taught so far. These verses are the reason many people who agree with what we’ve written otherwise simply cannot or will not agree with us on the death of Christ. Do these verses contradict our view? What does the Scripture say?
C. The Death of Christ with Reference to the World.
1. John 3:16, 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.
Those who use this verse often put a heavy emphasis on “the world,” and define it as “every single person who ever lived, is living, or will live.” Christ died for all of them, without exception.
In order to understand this verse Biblically, we need to look at to whom Jesus was talking. Nicodemus was a Jew, a Pharisee, a member of a group which believed that it was responsible to keep Israel from being corrupted by outside influences, and to keep Israel faithful in following the Mosaic Law. To this end, they believed that when Messiah came, He would destroy all Gentiles, no matter how “good,” and He would save all Jews, no matter how “bad.” All that was necessary was to be a descendant of Abraham, cf. John 8:39-41.
Our Lord was correcting this too-narrow view: “Nicodemus, you’ve got it all wrong. God’s love and grace extend far beyond Israel. Whoever believes in Me will not perish.” He had already told Nicodemus that physical birth and lineage didn’t count for anything. One needed to be “born again,” that is, from above. Men and women need something Mom and Dad can’t give them; something they can’t do for themselves; something only God can give them and do for them.
On the other side, there are those who claim that “the world” in John 3:16 is really only “the world of the elect.” I think they make the same mistake Nicodemus did, only in a different sense. Nicodemus limited God’s love nationally, that is, He loves only Jews. Those who believe God only loves the elect limit His love spiritually.
I once held the second view, but, with further thought, it seems to me from Scripture that God does have a redemptive love for mankind, considered as a whole, as a race, that is, humanity in general. The Scripture clearly says that God desires all men to be saved, 1 Timothy 2:4. While this verse doesn’t teach what those who believe Christ died for everyone say it teaches, (that is, that God is doing all He can to save everyone, but they won’t let Him,) it is in agreement with Ezekiel 33:11, which says that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his evil way, and live. Had He not loved the race, He would never have chosen any of its members to be saved. Had He not intervened in this way, we would all have certainly perished because we would never come to Him on our own. As a result, the race would have perished.
However, let us be clear. Even though we believe there is in God a great redemptive love for mankind, a love which moved Him to do incredible things to save it, individually we only experience that love through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Timothy 1:14; Romans 8:38, 39. Otherwise, there is only “wrath,” John 3:17, 18. This is why the apostolic church never preached “the love of God,” as we saw in an earlier post. Apart from the Lord Jesus, it will not and cannot be experienced.
2. 1 John 2:2, And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.
As with John 3:16, emphasis is placed on the whole world. And again, “world” is defined as every single person.
However, even John twice used the phrase elsewhere in his writings in such a way that it can’t mean “every single person.” In 1 John 5:19b, he wrote, the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one. That is, it’s under his control and subject to him, cf. Ephesians 2:2. In the first part of v. 19, John wrote, we know we are of God. There is a comparison between believers, who are of God, and unbelievers, who lie under the sway of the wicked one. I believe the word “and” which separates the two clauses could be translated, “but,” to show the distinction even more clearly.
Then, in Revelation 12:9, John refers to that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world. Though a different word is used of “world,” the thought is the same. The Devil is the god of this world, 2 Corinthians 4:4, and the whole world lies under his sway.
Since believers have been delivered out of the power of darkness and conveyed into the kingdom of the Son of His love, Colossians 1:13, the term “the whole world,” doesn’t and can’t automatically mean “every single person,” and we don’t believe that it does in 1 John 2:2.
In order to Biblically understand what John is saying, I think the word “propitiation” is key. He didn’t use a word meaning, “redemption,” or “salvation.” The word means, “appeasement.” A poor example might be the bouquet of flowers a husband brings home to soothe an offended wife. The death of Christ was an appeasement to the offended justice and wrath of God.
We believe that it’s the death of Christ that is the basis for the Great Commission. His death appeased that wrath of God which had withdrawn grace in general from mankind, Romans 1:18-32, and had channeled it through one man, Abraham. Even though Israel was to be a witness to the nations, Isaiah 43:10-12 (which has nothing to do with that group calling themselves “Jehovah’s Witnesses”), still there was no “Great Commission” in the OT. Only in the NT after the death of Christ do we find such a thing.
3. 2 Peter 2:1, …there will be false teachers among you, …even denying the Lord that bought them.
This verse is often used to teach that there are some whom the Lord “bought,” who will “deny” Him.
In the last verse of ch. 1, Peter wrote that holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, and continues in 2:1, BUT there were also false prophets among the people, EVEN AS there will be false teachers AMONG YOU….(emphasis added). Peter is simply comparing the situation in OT Israel with the situation among the believers he’s writing. There will be those who truly speak for God, but there will ALSO be false teachers present. This is why John wrote in 1 John 4:1, Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into this world.
John wrote that the test of false prophets would be what they taught about the Person of Christ, who He was. Peter’s emphasis is on the work of Christ, what He did. Both are important. If He isn’t God manifest in the flesh, then what He did on the Cross is of no benefit.
These “false teachers” are known as Christians. Nevertheless, in teaching false doctrine, they deny Him, all the while professing to believe in Him.
4. 2 Corinthians 5:14, 19, …One died for all…. God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their sins to them.
Actually, the whole section from v. 9-21 should be carefully read. It seems to me that these verses present more “problems” to those who believe that Christ died for everyone than they do for those who don’t.
For example. some place heavy emphasis on the word, “all.” However, consider what Paul says in the verse, …if One died for all, then all died. In other words, the “all” for whom Christ died, also died. Whatever effect His death had on those for whom He died, that effect happened when He died, not at some later time, like when they “accept” Him.
As to v. 19, pay close attention to what Paul wrote: God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself. Can it really be said of every single person that their sins aren’t imputed to them? Leaving aside the question of whether hell actually exists or what it is, will an unbeliever who dies suffer in Hell for his sins? If they’re not imputed to him, having been imputed to the Lord Jesus, how can he be condemned for them? Why is he in Hell?
It won’t do to say that he’s in Hell for his sins because he didn’t “accept the Lord.” Are his sins paid for, or not? Were they “purged” on the Cross, Hebrews 1:3, or not? We occasionally hear a story about a certain man who was pardoned for some crime or other, but refused to accept it. The court ruled that he couldn’t be forced to accept it. So, it is said, we can refuse the death of Christ, and there’s nothing God can do about it. However, we’re not talking about American jurisprudence or what some human court has decreed.
We’re talking about the justice of God having been satisfied in full. If God punished Jesus for a person’s sins, on what basis can He also punish the sinner for those sins? Unless we’re willing to say that Jesus didn’t actually pay for salvation on the Cross, thus denying the Scriptures which say that He did, then the only alternative is to say that God demands payment twice for the same sin, once from the Lord Jesus and once from the sinner, something even true human justice wouldn’t do. God’s justice under that view is really injustice.
5. Romans 5:19, For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience shall many be made righteous.
The whole section of vs. 12-21 should be carefully studied to see Paul’s judicious and inspired use of “all” and “many.” This section is about “the federal headship of Adam,” that is, that when he fell, he represented his descendants, that is, the whole human race, as well. Paul teaches that the Lord Jesus was also a representative, as we’ve studied, but of a redeemed race – believers, or the elect.
Many people lean heavily on the word “all,” but don’t pay any attention to “many,” believing that it, too, refers to “all.” However, this section isn’t about mere numbers, it’s about effect. The “effect” of being in Christ, “being made righteous,” is as certain as the “effect” of being in Adam, “being made sinners.” If, as many insist, they both do refer to “all,” as in every single person, then, according to Paul, those who believe in universal salvation are right.
6. Hebrews 2:9, that He by the grace of God should taste death for everyone.
The KJV translates this as “every man,” however, there is no word for “man” in the original. So, for every “who” or “what” did Christ taste death? V. 10 refers to many sons. V.11 mentions brethren. V. 13 says, “Here am I and the children whom God has given Me.” So we are justified in saying that Christ tasted death for every “son,” for every “brother,” for every “child,” not haphazardly, but in accord with the will and purpose of the Father.
7. John 12:47, “…for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.”
We’ve already noted the Jews’ belief about the Messiah: that He would destroy all Gentiles, or “the world.” Jesus is refuting that belief. Make no mistake, He said, there is coming a time of judgment, but now is the acceptable year of the Lord, Luke 4:19, or, as Paul put it, now is the day of salvation, 2 Corinthians 6:2. Here, as well as in other places, Jesus emphasized that His mission extends to “the world,” that is, to men and women out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, Revelation 5:9. This is the “world” for whom the Lord died. See also John 4:42 and 6:63.
8. John 1:29, “…Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
This was John’s exclamation at the approach of Jesus after His baptism and testing in the wilderness. Even he recognized the wider scope of the Lord’s ministry, something the Jews and the early church had difficulty accepting.
The question is, who is “the world”? Is it every single person, as many believe? Well, what is said of this world? It is said that the Lord bears away their sin. Can that be said of every single person? That their sin has been taken away? No, that can’t be said Scripturally, though many do say it.
Thus, a brief view of some of the verses used in contradiction to our view. However, Scripture is never given merely to be academic or to defend one “school of thought” or another, so this brings us to our last section.
D. Christ and the Individual.
“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will in no wise cast out,” John 6:37.
Actually, John 6:37-40 is a precious mingling of the truths of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The Lord never sought to “reconcile” these two truths, which to so many are irreconcilable, or to “explain” how they work together. He just said they were both true.
Examples in multiplied instances of the divine will affecting and effecting the human will, the sovereignty of God in everything including salvation, and the activity of man in making and following his own thoughts and decisions, may be found in almost every book of the Bible without thought of contradiction, embarrassment or explanation.
As we said above, it’s never the intent of Scripture merely to be academic or to promote one school of thought over another.
Nor is Scripture preaching about the extent of the atonement, it’s always about the intent. We’ve already seen that NT preachers never told people to believe on Jesus because He had died for them. Our Lord Himself put it like this, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance,” Matthew 9:13; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:32. NT preachers preached repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, Acts 20:21. Never a word did they breath about God’s love.
On the other hand, there’s not a word about election in their preaching, either. Some men can’t hardly preach without getting their doctrine in there, whether their text warrants it or not.
No, no. NT preaching is about sin and a Savior of sinners. After all, that’s how the elect become known – not because they believe the right doctrine, but because, by the grace of God they understand that, apart from the Lord Jesus, they stand condemned before God, and Jesus is the only One who can do anything about it. They understand that they need to be saved from their sin and themselves. They come to Christ, trust Christ, believe on Christ, to do this. And to believe ON Christ is not the same thing as believing ABOUT Him.
When it comes right down to it, salvation is all about works. Yours won’t get the job done and His can’t fail.
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, Acts 16:31.
1. Does the Scripture contradict itself?
2. What was Jesus’ message to Nicodemus?
3. What was Jesus’ message to the Jewish nation?
4. Does “world” automatically or necessarily mean every single person?
5. What is “propitiation”?
6. Just because people belong to “church,” does that mean that Christ died for them?
7. Did the death of Christ affect those for whom He died – at the time of His death?
8. Can or will God punish the same sin twice, once in Christ and once in the sinner?
9. What is the “effect” of being “in Adam”? “…in Christ”?
10. What does the Lord Jesus mean to you?