Jesus Christ died on the cross as a provision for all people, so that there is forgiveness of sins for all who believe, even though many are not forgiven because they refuse to believe. Jesus Christ tasted death for everyone, so that whoever believes in Him will not taste the second death.
As it is written in Hebrews, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Heb 2:9, emphasis mine).
As Paul wrote to Timothy, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:3-4, emphasis mine).
And also, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time.” (1 Tim 2:5-6, emphasis mine).
And also, “This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.” (1 Tim 4:9-10, emphases mine). Jesus is the Savior of all men, because He made a provision for all men. He is especially the Savior of those who believe, because the benefits of the atonement are only applied to those who believe. The word “especially” shows that the group “all men” includes those who believe as well as those who do not believe.
And as Paul explained in Romans, the extent of Christ’s sacrifice (all men) is the same extent as those who are condemned because of Adam (all men). “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.” (Romans 5:18, emphases mine). Whenever two instances of “all” is used in the same verse as a parallel structure, we know that what is referred to by “all” is the same in both instances. What Paul meant by “all men” in the first phrase is what Paul meant by “all men” in the second phrase. Just as the Fall affects all men, so the atonement is provided for all men. Just as the Fall is universal in scope, so is the atonement. There is not a single person who is condemned as a result of Adam’s trespass, but whose sins are not atoned for by Christ’s death, to be received by faith (Rom. 3:25).
And as John explained, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2, emphasis mine). The words “not only for ours” indicate that Jesus is not only the atoning sacrifice for the sins of John and his audience, but also the sins of the whole world.
If Jesus died for all, then He certainly died for many, so the fact that He died for many does not mean He did not die for all. As Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20). This statement emphasizes that Christ died for Paul, without implying that Christ died only for Paul.
The Bible is also clear that even though the death of Christ is provided for all people, the benefits of the atonement (that is, justification and regeneration) are only applied to those who put their faith in Christ. Moreover, the benefits of the atonement are applied to a person at the exact moment in time he starts to believe. As Jesus explained to Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:15). In Numbers 21:4-9, the bronze snake was given as a provision for all Israelites who were bitten by venomous snakes, but only those who looked at the bronze snake lived.
Jesus continued, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). God gave His Son as an atoning sacrifice for the world. Just like the bronze snake was given as a provision for all Israelites bitten by snakes, Jesus’ death on the cross was a provision for all people bitten by sin. Just as those who looked at the bronze snake were rescued from the venom of the snakebite, those who put their faith in Jesus were rescued from the wages of sin.
The fact that Jesus died for us is not the sole criterion for salvation, for if it were the sole criterion, we would be saved even before we were born, which contradicts salvation by grace through faith. For if we are saved by grace through faith, then we were not saved prior to putting our faith in Christ. Those who believe receive the benefits of the atonement at the moment of their belief, and are no longer spiritually separated from God. Those who die without believing would never receive the benefits of the atonement, and would remain spiritually separated from God forever.
Indeed, many perish in their sins because they refuse to believe. As Jesus said, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:17-18). Even though Jesus died for people who do not believe (indeed, as 2 Pet 2:1 indicates, He died even for false teachers who would one day perish), people who do not believe are condemned already because of their unbelief. Unbelief is the reason for their condemnation. At the Great White Throne judgment, the nonbelievers cannot validly say that they perish because Christ didn’t die for them. Rather, they perish because they refused to come to Him to have life. They have nobody but themselves to blame.