Monday, June 9, 2014

The Extent of the Atonement: Whosoever believes...

The Extent of the atonement

The first question we must ask when determining the extent of the atonement is,  “Did Christ provide an actual atonement or hypothetical atonement?” “Did His atonement hypothetically save all, or actually save some?” We must first deal with the passages in John 3:16-21. Comments such as, “God died for whosoever…” And, “God died for the world,” are merely surface-level descriptions of the overarching deed. Such phrases shall not be used to argue against particular atonement. Using such tactics are merely sound bites which cause inflammatory diversions. We must deal with the act. The act to which we refer is this: God sent His Son to save sinners, by sending Him to die upon the cross and to be resurrected for their justification. This is not simply an academic, second-tier, theological exercise; rather, we are discussing the scope and reach of the cross. Hyper-Calvinist straw men aside, this writer believes fully that the Gospel must be proclaimed to all men. All men must hear the glorious ultimatum before they can be regenerated and converted. The sinner must be given the gift of repentance and faith to respond rightly to this appeal.

The extent of the atonement is first a matter of dealing with the doctrine of Election.  The inescapable reality is that God has chosen some unto salvation. Paul wrote to the Ephesians:

Eph. 1:3   Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in bthe heavenly places in Christ, just as aHe chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the 2kind intention of His will,  6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

As Paul affirms, God has chosen those whom He will save “before the foundation of the world.” In fact, elsewhere Peter (1 Pet. 1:20) and John (Rev. 13:8) mention “the Lamb” who was slain before the foundation of world. This provision is made for sin, before the fall in eternity past. Peter’s Sermon on the Day of Pentecost clearly and emphatically states that God planned the atoning death of His Son at the hands of ungodly men (Acts 2:23). This must be first mentioned to lay the groundwork for the reach and scope of the atonement. Here, we return to our question: “Did God provide an actual atonement or hypothetical atonement?”

God clearly has selected and predestined some to be saved out of a wicked generation of rebellious sinners (Romans 9:21), according to His sovereign purpose. Now to the key verse of epic dispute,

John 3:16   “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 “For God adid not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

First let us deal with the obvious distinction in the verses that follow. Namely, that not all will be saved. Many will reject the Son who has been sent by God. They are identified in the following verses as those who have already been judged (vv. 18-19). They are not among those who are saved by the coming of Christ into the world. They are those who have rejected God and stand condemned before God. It is thus illogical to conclude that this second group is both saved, and condemned. This group is among the broad road of those who hate God. Did Christ come to die for their sins? If He has, do we believe that there is any weakness or deficiency in the salvific work of Calvary or in the predetermined salvation plan of God? If there is a deficiency in the plan, we must conclude that there is a deficiency in the Planner. We will return to this notion.  
Two questions must first be answered, “Who is ‘the world’”? And “Who is ‘whoever' {whosoever}”? Since the Gospel of John was originally written in koine (common) Greek, we must first engage the word “world” by its Greek definition.

The World

The verse can be understood as saying, “For God so loved the cosmos (gk.).” Here the word, “cosmos” refers to a specific world order, system. This cannot mean a general populace of the entire world. How do we come to this conclusion? Take the example of the verse in Revelation that says the whole world (KJV) or earth (NASB) followed after Antichrist. The Greek explicitly mentions that the whole general populace or inhabited earth followed after the antichrist. Rather than using a limiting term like cosmos in this verse, John uses a term of generality. Whereas in John 3:16, he uses cosmos as a term of specificity. The cosmos (world order/system) will also be redeemed with the coming of Christ, and groans until such restoration has taken place (Romans 8:22).

When the Pharisees mention that the “whole world” is following after Christ. They do not mean the entire population. In fact, Christ was rejected by the majority, the closer He came to suffering upon the cross. John the Apostle indicates that the Pharisees were speaking in exaggeration, but were still being specific, and limiting in their estimation. The whole world of Israel and other Gentiles in closer regions were following after Christ. Since, the way is narrow and few find it, we cannot surmise that the Pharisees were saying that the general populous upon all the face of the earth were following Christ. Had they meant cosmos in this way, he would not have been crucified (John 18:36). We also know that the majority despised Christ in His first advent (coming) (Is. 53:3).

We have established that there are two categories in John 3:16-18; those who believe and those who are already condemned. Since the Bible must not be read through selective proof-texting, rather progressively and in context, we must go beyond Jesus' encounter with Nicomedus and onto the Garden of Gethsemane. Who was Jesus committing to prayer before the Father in John 17? There are those He refers to as given to Him from out of the world (cosmos). A specific people is whom God has selected to give to His Son is the focal point of the Son’s prayer. In John 17:9, Jesus says,

9 I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. 10 And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.

Here Jesus is referring to a limited and particular people who are given to Him and that He will be glorified in them. The distinction is that Christ is not praying for the entire world populace of both believers and unbelievers. He is praying for believers who will remain in the world system. These are those given to Him, and these are those whom He, in a matter of hours, will go to the blessed cross and make a perfect sacrifice unto the Father.

Who is the ‘Whosoever’?

The term whosoever must be qualified. Are we to say that ‘whosoever’ is comprised of believers and non-believers? Emphatically, we must not! The text says, “Whosoever believes…” Therefore, whosoever is not a hypothetical group of people who may reject Christ if they so choose. There is already a category for such persons in John 3:18. They are the ‘already judged’ who ‘hate the light’. Thus, the whosoever are those who are drawn by the Father to salvation, away from sin and death, and given to Jesus Christ (John 6:37). The whosoever are an actual people who are granted eternal life for their belief, not a hypothetical group who may or may not believe upon the blessed Christ of salvation. The whosoever is granted eternal life. They do not remain dead in their sins. The whosoever are not believer and unbeliever, lest we believe in the false doctrine of universalism which says that all will enter heaven. We may look no further than John 3:18 to recognize the awaiting judgment of those who reject Christ. A specific group of redeemed men and women from every tribe, nation, and language have been elected unto salvation. Thus the ‘whosoever’ are those who are recipients of God’s electing love. Here we must briefly examine John’s later writing. Specifically, 1 John 2:2 says,

1John 2:2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

The question we must pose is this, “Has the wrath of God been satisfied for every person upon the earth, whether now or prior, whether in heaven or hell? Have the condemned received propitiation (satisfaction of God’s wrath)? Are not the condemned experiencing the wrath of God at the present moment and for all eternity? All sinners who reject Christ are abiding in the wrath of God (John 3:36). The wrath of God is revealed against them for their ungodliness and unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). Is John the Apostle referring to the whole general populace for all time? The very term propitiation speaks of definiteness and actuality. A definite satisfaction and actual atonement has been made with the death of Christ. God’s satisfaction of the blood shed by His Son is not a hypothetical satisfaction. The former animal sacrifices of the priests, as insufficient as they were, were not hypothetical sacrifices for hypothetical Jews. Thus, do we believe that the atonement of Christ was definite and all sufficient? The writer of Hebrews reminds the Christian that His atonement has been orchestrated by God, rendered in blood, definite, all sufficient and actual (Heb. 9:13). Theologians refer to this as vicarious atonement.

The scope and reach of atonement is applied to everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord (Acts 2:21). But the whosoever can only call upon Christ if the Lord enables to them to cry out. The crying out is only done where there is the preaching of the Gospel (Rom. 10:14). Thus, this writer must not succumb to the emotionalist misrepresentations that this view does not aim to call every man under heaven to repentance and faith in Christ. Every man must be confronted with the utter rebellion of sin and the necessity of salvation in Christ. However, the whosoever is the elect of God who calls upon the name of the Lord and are redeemed. The bible is clear that not all will call upon the name of the Lord. Some will hear the gospel proclamation and turn away hardened in their sin. However, only those predestined to salvation will call out. Therefore, we preach to the cosmos, and expect that only the few will be saved. The rest are condemned for their rejection. Only God knows who are His elected. Thus, we are those who cry out to every human being, and God thus determines if He may draw them or leave them in their rebellion (Rom. 9:16). Whosoever comprises not hypothetical believers, or a rebellious, undecided majority. The whosoever comprises of a definite people, responding to a definite Savior, by His vicarious death and resurrection. Whosoever are the elect of God, called to Him and predestined unto salvation. This is an actual predestination by way of an actual and particular atonement.

His Slave, 

Doron Gladden

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