For whom did Jesus die?

Calvinist, Jay Adams: “As a Reformed Christian, the writer believes that counselors must not tell any unsaved counselee that Christ died for himfor they cannot say that. No man knows except Christ himself who are his elect for whom he died. But the counselor’s task is to explain the gospel and to say very plainly that God commands all men to repent of their sin and believe in Jesus Christ.”  (Competent to Counsel, p.70, emphasis mine)  

This is the resulting by-product of the Calvinist doctrine of a Limited Atonement. What he is saying is that the Gospel is not an offer, but just a command, which only the Calvinistically elect will obey, through an Irresistible Grace. However, the glaring error is that God would be commanding (again, not an offer) that the alleged non-elect submit in repentance to a Savior who was never theirs to begin with. The implication of the command to repent and believe, naturally implies that they do have a Savior to receive such repentance and faith. 

Scripture makes it clear that Jesus died for “all men,” and also for the Church. However, it should be pointed out that the Church is a subset of “all men.” Therefore, saying that Jesus died for the Church, does not negate the fact that He died for “all men.” Saying that Jesus died for the Church, demonstrates the purpose for His sacrifice. Jesus died for the Church, and desires that “all men” become part of the Church, having made it possible through His sacrifice at Calvary. The error of the Calvinists is that they often seize upon texts which speak of Jesus dying for the Church, without taking into account the fact that the Church is nonetheless a subset of humanity, and that the texts never say exclusively the Church. 

Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer: “This simply means that Christ did not die for all men in general but gave himself only for the church, the elect.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.183, emphasis mine)

Erwin Lutzer: “If God from all eternity purposed to save one portion of the human race and not another, the purpose of the cross would be to redeem these chosen ones to himself. We can know whether we belong to that number.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.187, emphasis mine)

(1) As stated above, saying that Jesus died for the Church, and died for all humanity, are not mutually exclusive. 

(2) Whether Jesus died for all men, or some men, is answered at 1st Timothy 2:3-6, which states: “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.” Calvinists try to define “all men” to mean “all believers,” and by extension, “the Calvinistically elect,” though they run into trouble at 1st Timothy 4:10, which further clarifies the meaning of “all men” by saying: “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 menespecially of believers.” If “all men” means essentially believers, then why does the text say, especially believers? What this tells us is that “all men” cannot mean only believers. Jesus died for everyone, so that anyone, can be saved, that is, whosoever believes in Him.

(3) If God did not purpose to save all humanity, then what was His intention for the portion of humanity that was allegedly not purposed for salvation? Hell? If that’s what Calvinists think, then they need to refer back to Matthew 25:41, which states: Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.’” But if the Calvinist doctrine of a Limited Atonement is true, then Matthew 25:41 would be false. If Jesus purposely did not die for them, and purposely created them for something other than Heaven, then that leaves Hell as the only other option, for what God intended for them, and we know from Matthew 25:41 that that cannot be the case, so if you factor this back into the equation, you are left with the Arminian doctrine of an Unlimited Atonement. Often in these cases, Calvinists will use the technique of the False Alternative, by suggesting that unless you agree with them, your only alternative is [insert some heresy]. In this case, Calvinists will insist that unless you agree with them about a Limited Atonement, you must necessarily be a Universalist. However, what the Calvinist is doing is trying to get you to think inside their 5-Point box. Just because Jesus died for someone, does not automatically mean that they are saved, but that’s exactly what the Calvinist wants for you to think, so that when you consider that not all are saved, the result must naturally default to a Limited Atonement. But this is a False Alternative, since people are not saved simply because Jesus died for them, and they are not condemned because they don’t have a Savior. People become saved when they believe in the Savior who died for all men, and people are condemned when they spurn the Savior who died for them. Besides all of this, the apostle Paul explained that his Gospel message included telling people that Jesus died for them. (Compare with 1st Corinthians 15:3.)

Now consider the most important piece of information concerning the Lord’s Atonement at Calvary, that is, His own illustration:

Jesus states: As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15)

Numbers 21:6-9: The LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. So the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us.’ And Moses interceded for the people. Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.’ And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.

4-Point Calvinist, Ron Rhodes: “John 3:16 cannot be divorced from verses 14-15, wherein Christ alludes to Numbers 21 with its discussion of Moses setting up the brazen serpent in the camp of Israel, so that if ‘any man’ looked to it, he experienced physical deliverance. In verse 15 Christ applies the story spiritually when He says that ‘whosoever’ believes on the uplifted Son of Man shall experience spiritual deliverance.” (The Extent of the Atonement: Limited Atonement Versus Unlimited Atonement)

Calvinist, D. James Kennedy: “Our faith and our repentance are the work of God’s grace in our hearts. Our contribution is simply the sin for which Jesus Christ suffered and died. Would you be born anew? There has never been a person who sought for that who did not find it. Even the seeking is created by the Spirit of God. Would you know that new life? Are you tired of the emptiness and purposelessness of your life? Are you tired of the filthy rags of your own righteousness? Would you trust in someone else other than yourself? Then look to the cross of Christ. Place your trust in him. Ask him to come in and be born in you today. For Jesus came into the world from glory to give us second birth because we must--we MUST--be born again.” (Why I Believe, p.140, emphasis mine)

The phrase, “...look to the cross of Christ, seems to echo John 3:14, as it relates to Numbers 21:6-9. Jesus gave an illustration of Calvary which depicts an entire group, equally suffering, equally poisoned, equally dying, and then presents the solution, without qualification for any special group. So the question that Calvinists need to ask themselves is this: Does Jesus illustration help or hurt their argument? Simply ignoring it, is not the solution. If Calvinists want to know the truth, then they should dig honestly and humbly into Jesus’ illustration, and let the facts speak for itself.

​Question: What good is Jesus dying for every single person who had ever lived if not every single person hears the voice of the shepherd?

Answer: First, this question comes from the Calvinist perspective that Calvary was selective, in that the atonement was only provided for a specific number of individuals. Arminians aren’t approaching the matter from the perspective of “why doesn’t God add more people to the list?” Arminians believe in a General Atonement for all men, without it being selective, but as a catch-all, similar to Numbers 21:6-9, as it relates to John 3:14. In this way, the provision is for all, but only those who look upon Him in faith, receive the healing/saving properties and benefits of His provision. (You could also ask why the serpent on the standard of Numbers 21:6-9 included those who might never look upon it?, and the same reasoning applies, being a general provision.) As for those who never heard the Gospel, Jesus addresses this at Luke 12:48.

Calvinists have a maxim that is commonly expressed this way: 

Calvinist, R.C. Sproul: “To be sure, Christ’s propitiation on the cross is unlimited in its sufficiency or value. In this sense Christ makes an atonement for the whole world. But the efficacy of this atonement does not apply to the whole world, nor does its ultimate design.” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.177, emphasis mine)

John Calvin: “Georgius thinks he argues very acutely when he says: Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world; and hence those who wish to exclude the reprobate from participation in Christ must place them outside the world. For this, the common solution does not avail, that Christ suffered sufficiently for all, but efficaciously only for the elect. By this great absurdity, this monk has sought applause in his own fraternity, but it has no weight with me. Wherever the faithful are dispersed throughout the world, John extends to them the expiation wrought by Christ’s death. But this does not alter the fact that the reprobate are mixed up with the elect in the world. It is incontestable that Christ came for the expiation of the sins of the whole world. But the solution lies close at hand, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but should have eternal life (Jn 3.15).”  (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, pp.148-149, emphasis mine)

Calvin continues: “The evangelist John sets forth the office of Christ as nothing else than by His death to gather the children of God into one (Jn 11:52). Hence, we conclude that, though reconciliation is offered to all through Him, yet the benefit is peculiar to the elect, that they may be gathered into the society of life. However, while I say it is offered to all, I do not mean that this embassy, by which on Paul’s testimony (II Cor 5:18) God reconciles the world to Himself, reaches to all, but that it is not sealed indiscriminately on the hearts of all to whom it comes so as to be effectual.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.149, emphasis mine)

​Question: What do Calvinists mean by “sufficient for all, but efficient for only the elect”?

Answer: First, Calvinists reject the idea that one must believe in Christ, in order to experience the saving/washing/redeeming/regenerating effects of the atonement. Instead, Calvinists believe that Calvary is applied to a person monergistically, that is, not applied through faith, but instead, resulting in faith. Ultimately, then, the Calvinist maxim means that the atonement could otherwise save all men, if God had chosen to apply it to all men, which really just brings everything back to the old Limited Atonement. One thing that you will discover, is that Calvinists have a number of techniques in order to try to straddle the fence, and another example is Compatibilism, in its attempt to bridge Determinism and Free Will.

One Calvinist explains: “The implication of [the Arminian] approach is that the sacrifice of Christ doesn’t actually redeem anyone; not until that individual exerts some sort of power in __fill - in - the - blank (i.e. believing, confessing, choosing, etc, etc) and THEN the sacrifice of Christ is applied to that individual.”

It is not just the Arminian explanation, but Jesus’ instead, as per John 3:14, as it relates to His illustration of Numbers 21:6-9, in that the general provision is made for all those afflicted, but only becomes applied to the person once a person looks to the provision (i.e. your-fill-in-the-blank). 

John 3:14: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.

Numbers 21:6-9: “The LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. So the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us.’ And Moses interceded for the people. Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.’ And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.

Question:  For whom did Jesus die?

Answer:  Jesus gave an illustration of Calvary at John 3:14, as it relates to Numbers 21:6-9. Therefore, this becomes the most critically important piece of information concerning Calvary.