Monday, December 30, 2013

Jesus Died for ... You?

Over the last few years, I've held to an understanding of the atonement of Christ known as "sufficient for all, efficient for some." In other words, my answer to the question, "Did Jesus die for every human being or only those who God chose for salvation before the foundation of the world?" is "Yes."

Yes, Scripture teaches that Jesus died for the elect in such a way that not only makes our salvation possible, but secures it.

But I believe Scripture also teaches that Jesus died for every human being in such a way that makes salvation possible for every human being (e.g. Hebrews 2:9).  Therefore, we really can tell non-believers, "Jesus died for you", and mean it with all our hearts.  Even though many people will reject Jesus all the way to hell, it's as though He hung on the cross with arms wide open, offering Himself to any who would turn to Him and inviting any who would come.   And it's this rejection of the greatest possible gift that was fully paid for and freely offered to all that will make God's enemies most worthy of final judgment.

While discussing this with a friend of mine, he asked me "Does anyone in the Bible tell an unbeliever that 'Jesus died for them'?"  And that question really got me to thinking.

The one place in the New Testament where we have sermons recorded which were being addressed primarily, if not exclusively, to non-believers is the book of Acts.  So I began to read the book of Acts with that question in mind.

I didn't expect what I would find when I got to chapter 3.
And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.
Acts 3:17-21 (
emphasis added)
Notice a couple things here.

First, Peter mentions that God foretold by the mouth of the prophets that Jesus would suffer and He fulfilled it (verse 18). He's most likely referring to passages like Isaiah 53. But, even if not, the point he's making is that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God fulfilled what He had spoken by the mouth of the prophets.

Second, notice that Peter says that this Christ is appointed for "you" (verse 20).  You? That can only mean his non-believing hearers. Appointed? Christ is just another word for Messiah, which was an office that Jesus fulfilled. And all throughout the whole Old Testament the main role of Messiah was to save His people from their sins through His life, death, and resurrection.

In other words, Peter is saying to his non-believing hearers, "Jesus is the one who was appointed to suffer on the cross and rise from the dead for you and thus save you from your sins".  And Acts 4:4 tells us that many--not all--who heard this message believed.  There were some who heard Peter say "Christ was appointed to suffer for you" who walked away and did not believe.

When we tell a non-believer "Jesus died for you", is that not to do the same thing Peter did when he told his non-believing hearers that Christ was appointed to suffer for them?

One could argue that Jesus was appointed for the nation of Israel as a corporate whole, but not for every individual within the nation.  True.  But that doesn't change the fact that there were some individuals within that group who heard Peter who were a part of the nation of Israel and yet didn't believe.  If we hold that Jesus was appointed to die for the nation of Israel as a corporate whole, then using John 3:16 for example, we could also say that Jesus was sent to die for the world as a corporate whole, even though we know that many people in the world will never believe in Him.  And in the same way that Peter could tell his hearers who identified with corporate Israel that Christ was appointed for them even though many would still persist in unbelief, today we can tell our hearers who identify with the world that Jesus died for them even though many will still persist in unbelief.

I can't improve upon the way D.A. Carson summarizes this biblical conviction concerning the atonement:
I argue, then, that both Arminians and Calvinists should rightly affirm that Christ died for all, in the sense that Christ's death was sufficient for all and that Scripture portrays God as inviting, commanding, and desiring the salvation of all, out of love. Further, all Christians ought also to confess that, in a slightly different sense, Christ Jesus, in the intent of God, died effectively for the elect alone, in line with the way the Bible speaks of God's special selecting love for the elect.

--D.A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God
For further study on this position of the atonement--including key biblical texts to wrestle with--consider Bruce Ware's essay outline on the atonement arguing for what he calls the "Multiple Intentions" view.

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