The Extent of Christ’s Death

11 Mar

I was recently asked the question, “For whom did Christ die?” Did he die just for the sins of believers or for the whole world? Is the atonement limited or unlimited?

In answering the person’s question, I was reminded of a chart I put together several years ago when I was teaching a course on the doctrine of the church. I looked up all the verses in Scripture that dealt with the subject in order to find an answer. You will find my work below.


Questions to wrestle with:

  • Did Christ die for the whole world?
  • Did Christ die for only the elect?
  • If for the whole world, why are not all saved?
  • If for the whole world, in what sense?
  • If for the elect only, then what about the justice of God?

Limited Atonement

Christ Died for The Elect

Unlimited Atonement

Christ Died for The Whole World

1 Timothy 4:10

10 For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.

1 Timothy 4:10

10 For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.

Matthew 20:28

28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

1 Timothy 2:6

6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony borne at the proper time.


John 17:9

9 “I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine;

Titus 2:11

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men,

Ephesians 5:25

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her;


Hebrews 2:9

9 But we do see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.

2 Timothy 1:9

9 who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity,

2 Peter 3:9

9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.


Revelation 13:8

8 And all who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.


1 John 2:1-2

1 My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.

John 3:16

16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.

John 3:16-17

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

John 15:13

13 “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.


1 John 4:14

14 And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.

Acts 20:28

28 “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

Isaiah 53:6

6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.


Matthew 1:21

21 “And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.”

2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 18-20

14 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.

18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

John 10:11, 15, 26-27

11 “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep…15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep…26 “But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep.27 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;

John 1:29

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!


Passages which indicate that some of those for whom Christ died will perish:

Romans 14:15

1 Corinthians 8:11

Hebrews 10:29

2 Peter 2:1

Passages which indicate that the gospel is to be universally proclaimed:

Matthew 24:14

Matthew 28:19

Acts 1:8

Acts 17:30

Titus 2:11

If Christ died only for the elect, how can the offer of salvation be made to all persons without some sort of insincerity, artificiality, or dishonesty being involved?

Matthew 11:28

2 Peter 3:9

“Christ died for the elect, not only in the sense of making salvation possible for them, but also in the sense of providing it for them when they believe.”

Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 241


“The sense in which Christ is the Savior or the world may be thus summarized: His death secured for all men a delay in the execution of the sentence against sin, space for repentance, and the common blessings of life which have been forfeited by transgression; it removed from the mind of God every obstacle to the pardon of the penitent and restoration of the sinner, except his willful opposition to God and rejection of him; it procured for the unbeliever the powerful incentives to repentance presented in the cross, by means of the preaching of God’s servants, and through the work of the Holy Spirit; it provided salvation for those who do not willfully and personally sin (i.e., those who die in infancy or those who have never been mentally responsible) and assured its application to them; and it makes possible the final restoration of creation itself.”

Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 241-2

“Those who hold to limited atonement assume that if Christ died for someone, that person will actually be saved.  By extension they reason that if Christ in fact died for all persons, all would come to salvation; hence the concept of universal atonement is viewed as leading to the universal-salvation trap.  The basic assumption here, however, ignores the fact that out inheriting eternal life involves two separate factors: an objective factor (Christ’s provision of salvation) and a subjection factor (our acceptance of that salvation).  In the view of those who hold to unlimited atonement, there is the possibility that someone for whom salvation is available may fail to accept it.  In the view of those who hold to limited atonement, however, there is no such possibility.  Although John Murray wrote of Redemption—Accomplished and Applied, in actuality he and others of his doctrinal persuasion collapse the latter part, the application, into the accomplishment.  This leads in turn to the conception that God regenerates the elect person who then and therefore believes.

Advocates of limited atonement face the somewhat awkward situation of contending that while the atonement is sufficient to cover the sins of the nonelect, Christ did not die for them.  It is as if God, in giving a dinner, prepared far more food than was needed, yet refused to consider the possibility of inviting additional guests.  Advocates of unlimited atonement, on the other hand, have no difficulty with the fact that Christ’s death is sufficient for everyone, for, in their view, Christ died for all persons.

The view that we are adopting here should not be construed as Arminianism.  It is rather the most moderate form of Calvinism or, as some would term it, a modification of Calvinism. It is the view that God logically decides first to provide salvation, then elects some to receive it.  This is essentially the sublapsarian position of theologians like Augustus Strong.  Those who would construe this position as Arminianism is not the view of the relationship between the decree to provide salvation and the decree to confer salvation on some and not on others.  Rather, the decisive point is whether the decree of election is based solely on the free, sovereign choice of God himself (Calvinism) or based also in part upon his foreknowledge of merit and faith in the person elected (Arminianism).”

Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, p. 851-2

We conclude that the atonement is unlimited in the sense that it is available for all; it is limited in that it is effective only for those who believe.  It is available for all, but efficient only for the elect.

Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 242


I came to the conclusion that Scripture teaches both sides. I tend to agree with Thiessen that salvation is sufficient for all, but efficient only for those who believe. Christ died for the sins of the whole world, but only those who receive the gift will be saved.


Posted by on March 11, 2019 in Jesus, Scripture, Theology


2 responses to “The Extent of Christ’s Death

  1. David Guilbert

    March 12, 2019 at 10:14 am

    Best explanation I’ve heard. Thank you for that.

    It’s confirmed what I’ve read in the Bible, learned and believe.

    David Guilbert

    • wheelsms

      March 12, 2019 at 1:48 pm

      Good to hear. Glad you found it clear and helpful. Mark

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