“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
> 1 John 2:2 (ESV)
“He (Caiaphas) did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”
> John 11:51-52 (ESV)
Many will cite 1 John 2:2 to support their claim that Christ died indiscriminately for the sins of all men. And while on the surface this does indeed appear to be exactly what it says, upon closer examination within the context, using the reasoning skills God has blessed us with as humans, and in light of John 11:51-52 (written by the same John) amongst other passages, we have reason to think otherwise. First of all, we must ask ourselves, what exactly is a propitiation? It is a sacrifice (specifically of Christ) that effectually appeases, satisfies, turns away, or averts wrath for those the sacrifice is being made for. Now, in the book of Revelation, we have a very clear picture that in the end, there will be people both in heaven and in hell (Revelation 20:11-15). If Christ died to “appease, satisfy, turn away, or avert wrath” for all people for all time, then we must ask ourselves, why are there people that will still experience this wrath if Christ died effectually to take away that wrath for all men? Seems to me that if this is the case, God didn’t accomplish all He had in mind, and that there are conflicting interests within the Godhead. But this just isn’t the case. John Piper and Bethlehem Baptist Church, in the article entitled What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism, states of 1 John 2:2:
“If ‘the whole world’ referred to every individual in the world, we would be forced to say that John is teaching that all people will be saved, which he does not believe (Revelation 14:9-11). The reason we would be forced to say this is that the term propitiation refers to a real removal of wrath from sinners. When God’s wrath against a sinner is propitiated, it is removed from that sinner. And the result is that all God’s power now flows in the service of his mercy, with the result that nothing can stop him from saving that sinner. Propitiated sins cannot be punished.”
Someone will now object to this and say the reason some will be in hell and others will be in heaven is that those in hell didn’t have faith, they didn’t believe in Christ, and that’s true. But why does one person believe while another doesn’t? To shed some light on this, I would like to quote from the same document:
“Which of these statements is true?
1. Christ died for some of the sins of all men.
2. Christ died for all the sins of some men.
3. Christ died for all the sins of all men.
No one says that the first is true, for then all would be lost because of the sins that Christ did not die for. The only way to be saved from sin is for Christ to cover it with his blood.
The third statement is what the Arminians would say. Christ died for all the sins of all men. But then why are not all saved? They answer, Because some do not believe. But is this unbelief not one of the sins for which Christ died? If they say yes, then why is it not covered by the blood of Jesus and all unbelievers saved? If they say no (unbelief is not a sin that Christ has died for) then they must say that men can be saved without having all their sins atoned for by Jesus, or they must join us in affirming statement number two: Christ died for all the sins of some men. That is, he died for the unbelief of the elect so that God’s punitive wrath is appeased toward them and his grace is free to draw them irresistibly out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
But aside from the logical reasoning above refuting the idea of a universal atonement, spefically refuting this idea within 1 John 2:2, we also have the passage of John 11:51-52 that goes against the idea proported by universal atonement advocates, written by the same author, using the same grammatical structure, using different wording. And we know that John did not contradict himself, mainly because God-breathed Scripture doesn’t contradict itself, and neither does John. Now before I talk about those verses in particular, we need some background on the context of this passage. The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together to figure out what to do about Jesus because so many people were believing in Him and they were afraid that if everyone believed, Rome would come and take away their land. John 11:48-52 states, “‘If we let him (Jesus) go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.’ But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.’ He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”
Now with that context, we come upon verses 51-52 that states, “… [Caiaphas] prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad,” and in comparing this with 1 John 2:2 that says, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world,” we have very similiar language that essentially states the same thing, that Jesus came to die for the sins of not only the readers of John’s letter in 1 John (namely the Jewish believers, but also to gather into one the children of God scattered abroad (i.e. over the whole world), or the Gentiles. John was not saying that Christ died to effectually take away the sins of every individual person in the world, but rather that God would gather to Himself and purchase men for God from every tribe, language, people and nation. And in fact, in Revelation 5:9 (this book also written by John), the four living creatures and the 24 elders cry out this very thing by saying, “Worthy are you (Jesus) to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
So when we read 1 John 2:2, based on these other verses in Scripture that were also divinely inspired by the same author, the Apostle John, he’s not stating that Christ died to effectually take away the sins of all men for all time (mainly because that’s not what will happen in the end, Revelation 20:11-15), but rather that He would purchase men for God, who were given to Christ by the Father (i.e. chosen before the foundation of the world to receive divine, judicial, merciful pardon through Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross, John 6:37, Ephesians 1:3-7) from every tribe, language, people and nation (i.e. the whole world, Revelation 5:9).
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