Who Did Jesus Die For?

, posted by Kevin Jackson

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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. -John 3:16-17

Who did Jesus die for? Did he die for everyone as Arminians believe (Universal Atonement), or did he die for the elect as Calvinists believe (Limited Atonement)?

There is overwhelming evidence in scripture that Jesus died for everyone, And there is little to no evidence in the Bible to support the Limited Atonement view. Out of the five points of TULIP, L is the weakest link. It is a point that consistent Calvinists must argue out of philosophical necessity without the affirmation of scripture. This is no doubt why there are many 4-point Calvinists – people who love the logic and elegance of Monergism, but can’t bring themselves to advocate a view that is so contradictory to what the Bible teaches about the extent of Jesus’ sacrifice for humanity.

The Bible is clear: Jesus died for everyone. It is a simple truth. Scripture is so clear on the universality of the atonement that it is amazing that anyone who reads the whole Bible can attempt to limit the love and sacrifice of Jesus.

There are no verses in the Bible that specifically state that Jesus died only for the elect. Limited Atonement proponents instead refer to passages that speak of Jesus dying for “His sheep” (John 10:27) or for “His Church” (Eph 5:25). Calvinists argue that if Jesus died for a specific group, that precludes the possibility that He died for everyone. This is a weak argument because it comes from the necessity of the Calvinist system, and ignores the many passages that clearly do state that Jesus died for everyone. The Bible is full of verses that state Jesus died for all (John 1:29, John 3:16, John 4:42, Romans 5:15-18, Col 1:19-20, 1 Tim 2:5-6, 1 Tim. 4:10, Heb. 2:9, 2 Pet 2:1, 1 John 2:2, 1 John 4:14).

We need to look at scripture in context, without imposing an unsupported philosophical system upon it. If we look at the big picture, it becomes absurd to attempt to limit Jesus sacrifice based on the misreading of a verse that mentions a specific entity for whom Jesus died. For an example let’s apply the limiting logic to Galatians 2:20 (bold mine):

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.

If we look at the small picture in this passage, Paul says specifically that “[Jesus] loved me and gave himself for me.” Without referring to the overall context of the Bible, one might legitimately argue that Jesus only gave himself for Paul. However, when we look at the big picture we know that this is a false limitation imposed on the verse. Jesus died for more than just Paul, because other verses say that he did.

This same truth applies to any verse that states Jesus died for a specific entity. It is necessary to look at the big picture to fully appreciate the sacrifice that Jesus made. It is not reasonable to limit the atonement based on passages that state Jesus died for “Paul” or for “sheep”, when other passages clarify and enlarge the context, and clearly state that Jesus did indeed die for all.

We know that Jesus died for the whole world, because the Bible says so. That is an assurance we can build on.