A Question I Was Asked:

'Where Are the Scriptures to Show the Wideness of Christ's Atonement?'

The Question:

I was brought up to believe in limited atonement, that Jesus only died for a few....your line of thought is certainly very interesting...you agree that few are coming to Jesus right now ('narrow is the gate,' 'little flock' etc.,) but you only see that as a picture of the present age of the Church, not as an eternal reality. As an eternal reality you believe that most will finally be saved and you seem able to present a very strong case, yet you do not operate as an Arminian, but emphasise the doctrines of grace - something which I find very interesting. What Scriptures can you quote to show that Christ's sacrifice is available for the world and not just for the few, or for the 'elect' as I have always been taught?”

Would Christ Really Allow Satan to have the Last Laugh?

Restrictivism presents a theology in which Satan appears to enjoy the 'last laugh' since it pictures countless millions in an eternal hell without remedy. One leading Canadian evangelical even said that he believes that people - he means the majority of mankind! - will be allowed to go on sinning in hell for eternity! If this were true, the Scriptural picture of Christ's final complete triumph over death and hell and over evil itself would have to be seriously questioned. Moreover, it is specifically stated in Philippians that "every knee" will finally bow to Christ, in heaven, earth and under the earth. Are there any exceptions there?

9. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10. that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11. and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11).

The excessively gloomy view on the prospects of human salvation, however, does not come from the Scriptures, but from the Fatalism of Manichaeism. Manichaeism had been an early and major influence on Augustine, sadly the teaching later went from Augustine of Hippo into much (but not all) Christian theology. It was strong in most fundamentalism, it is strong in hyper-Calvinism, it remains strong in modern evangelicalism as well as in Roman Catholicism, yet Eastern Catholicism (Eastern Orthodoxy) - for the most part - rejects the gloomy negative view. The Eastern Orthodox Church continues to be mostly positive on the prospects of salvation for most people.

My Reply:

Thanks for the warm comments.

Okay, here we go. Underlined sections entirely my emphasis. I have also inserted just one or two bracketed comments. All quotes are from the NIV:

'The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.' (John 1:9)

'The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

'”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 3:6-17) (Please note: Actually, if we are going to be honest, much of evangelicalism believes the opposite of this).

'...We know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.' (John 4:42)

'For the bread of heaven is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.' (John 6:33)

'”...This bread is my flesh, which I give for the life of the world.”' (John 6:51)

'”But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”' (John 12:32)

'...”I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”' (Acts 10:34-35)

'But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. 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. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many (not just a very few!) will be made righteous.' (Romans 6:15-19)

'For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.' (2 Cor. 5:14)

'That God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them...' (2 Cor. 5:19)

'That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.' (Philippians 2:10-11)

'And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace though his blood, shed on the cross.' (Colossians 1:20)

'Who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 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...' (1 Timothy 2:4-6)

'...That we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who believe.' (1 Timothy 4:10) (Please note: Paul was careful here not to entirely restrict salvation to believers!)

'But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.' (Hebrews 2:9)

'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) (Please note: Rather like Paul in 1 Timothy 4:10, John seems very careful not to restrict the efficacy of Christ's sacrifice just to the Church).

'And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world.' (1 John 4:14)

'After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”' (Revelation 7:9-10)

(The Holy Spirit shows us that this “great multitude” are those who will finally be saved from the earth. Earlier in this chapter, the number 144,000 is used as a symbolic number signifying the huge number who will be saved. The number (like all of Revelation's numbers), is not meant to be taken literally but is indicative of an imagination-defying number who will finally be saved.

Also, read the entirety of Acts 10:1-35, Romans 2:6-16, Romans 11:11-15, Titus 2:11 and 2 Peter 3:9. There are other Scriptures too but these are the ones which quickly sprang to mind when this e mail came in.

Pulling All These Strands of Theology Together...

Okay, I am mainly restricting myself to answering this question on this page since we have several other pages which go deeply into the theology of all this, but I will just make the following concluding comments:

It is interesting to note that when Jesus and the Apostles discuss the actual scope of the gospel, that is, the theology of the scope of the Gospel, they are always positive (as in all the above quotes), for example, Jesus is always the Saviour of the worldnever the 'Saviour of the elect' – never the 'Saviour of believers' – never the 'Saviour of the little flock' – never the 'Saviour of the Church', or anything like that. The bread of heaven was to 'give life to the world,' Christ 'died for all' – these things are very clear. Yet – without question – certain other Scriptures (which are not explaining/outlining the theology of the scope of Christ's sacrifice), and which focus on this present age are a little more negative. Not only are we presented with a picture that only a few will become Christians during this Church Age (Matthew 7:13-14; Luke 12:32), but we are also told that God does not even wish many to receive a calling at present, and even allows Satan to snatch the message away from them (Matthew 13: 11-16; Mark 4:15). This can only be satisfactorily resolved by understanding that God wishes the message of the Gospel to be preached and present during this present age - but only as a witness/testimony – not to convert the entire world. This should not be so surprising since this is actually exactly what the Scriptures themselves tell us (Matthew 24:14; Acts 1:22; 4:33; 23:11; 1 John 5:8-12; Revelation 11:3). God calls a smallish group during this Church Age to facilitate this. Born-again Christians thereafter become 'Church' – they don't and can't “join a church.”

But if the 'elect' of the Church is all that there is (as Calvin, closely – though surely unwisely - following Augustine on this point, concluded), then many of the Scriptures which we opened by looking at would be at the very least misleading if not plainly erroneous. Romans 6: 15-19, for example, would be rendered nonsensical if around 85-90% of those who have ever been born into this world are “already concluded” for Hell - moreover, no Scripture even says this! Where would be the final complete victory for Christ, with every knee bowing to Him, if gloomy Restrictivism should be true? The answer is it is not only not true but the Holy Scripture never claims it to be true. Therefore, scrupulous honesty with all of Scripture (not just favoured bits which fit in with our preferred doctrines) is, in my opinion, bound to conclude that there will be a final broad and huge calling of the masses who will, presumably, achieve a lower final status among the saints than those called during the period when Satan was around and actively influencing the world. It seems clear to me that this will be made manifest on the Day of Judgment, although those of a premillenialist view (which I no longer am), would presumably see this as occurring during a future bodily reign of Christ upon this earth prior to that Day (others might pin their hopes on a “second resurrection” but I might question their understanding of Revelation 20).

Robin A. Brace, 2006.