When you hear the question, “For whom did Jesus die?” what do you think?
The answer may seem obvious: for the world. After all, John 1:29 says that Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. And John 3:16 declares that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” As a result, many interpreters assert that Jesus died for the entire world, and not for a predestined number of people.
But what does the term “world” mean when used in association with Jesus’s death? Does it refer to everyone without distinction or to everyone without exception? There is a difference.
Everyone without distinction would mean that Jesus died for all kinds of people from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation. Everyone without exception would mean that he died for every single individual person without any exception. This latter view asserts that even those who die rejecting Jesus can say that Jesus’s blood was for them because those for whom Jesus died may or may not have faith in him.
I believe the Scripture teaches that Jesus died for all people in the world without distinction — meaning, Jesus died for all kinds of people from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation. And he died not only to give a bona fide offer of salvation to all, but to actually purchase and effect the final salvation of his elect. In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul teaches that Jesus’s death actually achieved the benefits of salvation for those for whom he died. Paul does not present Jesus’s death as hypothetically accomplishing the salvation of all people without exception, but as actually accomplishing salvation for all for whom he died.
Jesus’s Blood and Justification by Faith
In Romans, Paul states that Jesus’s death justifies (declares righteous) sinners by faith in Christ and connects justification by faith with Jesus’s blood (Romans 3:24–30). He asserts that God justifies sinners by faith because he offered Jesus to die for their sins. All sinners must be freely justified by God’s redemption provided by Jesus because all (Jews and Gentiles) have sinned (Romans 1:18–3:24). Justification is God’s gracious gift and comes to all sinners freely through the redemption accomplished by means of Jesus’s blood (Romans 3:24–25).
Justification by faith in Romans 3:21–22 and in 3:24 is connected with “redemption” (3:24) and with the idea of bloody sacrifice (Romans 3:25). This connection suggests that Jesus’s blood accomplished liberation for those for whom he died. In light of Paul’s remarks inRomans 3:20, that the law justifies no one, and in Romans 3:24, that all people must be graciously justified through redemption in Jesus Christ, Paul explains in Romans 3:25–26how God justifies sinners through Jesus’s redemption. He states (literally) that God “offered Jesus to be an atoning sacrifice,” that this sacrifice is received “by faith,” and that Jesus’s “blood” accomplished justification for the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:25–26).
The security of those justified is even clearer in Ephesians 1:4–5 and 1:7 when we examine election, predestination (Ephesians 1:4–5), redemption, and forgiveness of sins with the blood of Christ (Ephesians 1:7). A straightforward reading of Ephesians 1:4–7 suggests that God chose some Jews and Gentiles to be in Christ before the foundation of the world and predestined them in love to be in God’s family, and that Jesus redeemed those whom God chose and predestined by accomplishing their forgiveness of sins.
Six Reasons for Your Joy
Jesus’s death as a death for all elect Jews and Gentiles without distinction should encourage all Christians. Here are six reasons that we should find joy in the doctrine that Jesus died to save the elect.
- Christians can be confident that Jesus’s blood will conquer the power of sin and death. Everyone for whom Jesus died will receive the saving benefits of his death by faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus’s death victoriously liberates sinners from sin and disarms the power of the devil. Both of these truths become apparent when those for whom Jesus died respond to his saving work in faith and obedience.
- When people die in unbelief, this does not prove that God’s plan to save the world through the death of his Son failed. Jesus both universally and exclusively died to save his sheep (John 10:11–16). Yes, it is true that everyone who wants to be saved can be. And it is equally true that everyone for whom Jesus died will be saved. This is, in fact, a fundamental reason for which he died.
- Jesus’s blood guarantees that his elect will be saved when the Spirit awakens them after they hear the gospel. Jesus came from heaven to seek, find, and purchase his elect sheep. The blood of Jesus secures a place in the sheepfold. Christians should, therefore, cling to the blood of Jesus Christ as our only hope in life and death, along with his victorious resurrection.
- Christians can evangelize with confidence in God’s redemptive plan to redeem everyone for whom Jesus died to redeem. Jesus shed his blood to save the elect whom God chose to be in Christ. The verbal proclamation of the gospel makes known to the elect the salvation accomplished by Christ for them, and the Spirit — when he’s willing — will create faith in the hearts of all the elect and apply the benefits of the death of Jesus specifically to the elect for whom Jesus died. Evangelism, then, is simply the Christian act of announcing to all sinners what God has done in Christ to save them. And Christians should proclaim this message to anyone who will listen. The Spirit will create life in the hearts of the elect and apply the benefits of Jesus’s death to them when he’s willing.
- Jesus’s death for the elect should assure Christians of their salvation. Many Christians doubt their salvation. However, since Jesus’s blood was shed specifically for elect Jews and Gentiles, we can be confident that the blood of Christ will cover all of our sins. We can also be certain that Jesus’s blood alone is sufficient to plead for us before the throne of God above.
- Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, shed his blood for elect Jews and elect Gentiles. Therefore, the church of Jesus Christ should relentlessly pursue gospel racial reconciliation in such a way that the death of Jesus (and the resurrection) is at the very center of all calls for racial harmony and justice. Jesus’s shed blood for the elect from every tongue, tribe, and nation creates the necessary motivation for Christians from every ethnic stripe to strive toward gospel unity with all people in the church.
May God’s people take great courage and joy in the fact that Christ Jesus died for all of the sins of the elect. And everyone for whom Christ died will be saved — and will be kept by the power of God and the blood of Christ.