or whom did Jesus die on the cross? If you would find the extent of Jesus’ atonement, you must first discover the intent of his atonement. To answer the one is to discover the other. John the Baptist declares of Jesus in John 1:29 “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus did not provide a potential atonement, on the cross and in his death, Jesus provided a real atonement. Jesus “takes” the sin of the world away. He did not make it merely possible. He did it. He accomplished it. That is what is meant by his words on the cross: “It is finished.” Mission accomplished. So if this is the intent of Jesus’ atonement, what is the extent of His atonement? For whom did Jesus die?
To answer this question look at the text: what is meant by the word “world”? Does it mean that Jesus died for everyone without exception? If that is what the word “world” means in every instance, then Jesus died for everyone, and everyone will go to Heaven. God being a just God cannot punish your sins on the cross, and then punish you forever in Hell. Rather, based on the context of the passage above, the word “world” means everyone without distinction, not everyone without exception. In other words, Jesus purchased salvation for all sorts of people, “from every tribe and language and people and nation”, not just Jews. Revelation 5:9.
The New-Testament word cosmos that we translate “world” doesn’t have just one meaning. In a recent audio podcast on Definite Atonement, Dr. Steven Lawson lists ten different uses for “world”, all from the Gospel of John. The audio is found at www.ligonier.org/rym/ but since the folks at Renewing Your Mind rotate their audio off after it has been on about a month, you may not find it available on the free side by the time you read this. This particular episode comes from a new series entitled The Doctrines of Grace in John, and can be purchases on DVD at http://www.ligonier.org/store/the-doctrines-of-grace-in-john-dvd/
For a helpful resource here is the list of the ten uses for “world” in John’s Gospel:
- Universal, or all of creation: John 1:10
He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.
- The physical earth: John 13:1
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
- This world system: John 12:31
Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.
- All of humanity minus believers: John 7:7
The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.
- A large group: John 12:19
So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
- The general public: John 7:4
For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.”
- Large groups, both Jew and Gentile: John 1:29
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
- The human realm in general: John 3:16
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
- The non-elect: John 17:9
I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.
- The elect: John 3:17
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.