For Whom Did Christ Die?

Not all Christians believe that Jesus died intentionally and efficaciously for His people alone.

The Bible describes Jesus Christ as dying to accomplish every aspect of our salvation. The heavenly choirs praise the Lamb. And in their praise we see the connection between what Christ did—“For you were slain . . . you ransomed people for God”—and what it has accomplished—“you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God”—and what it will accomplish in the future—“they shall reign on the earth.” The eternal song does not say merely that Jesus died. The song also does not say that Christ died only to make redemption a hypothetical for all who choose to believe or a potential salvation for every single man, woman, and child. 

 

Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series on the Synod of Dort. Previous post.

“For you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9–10). What a song. What a Savior! Jesus Christ is the object of our praise because we were the objects of His passion. He gave Himself for us, and so we give ourselves for Him. And we should go on singing this song to this Savior for this reason forever and ever. And we will. Yet in this age, there is controversy. Not all Christians believe that Jesus died intentionally and efficaciously for His people alone. As we come to the end of this series on Christ’s death to satisfy the justice of God, the big question is, for whom did Christ die? I want to examine with you how this song of the saints in heaven answers this complex theological question.

The Biblical Descriptions

Notice two things described in Revelation 5:9–10 that are described by many other biblical passages as well. First, the Bible describes Jesus Christ as dying to accomplish every aspect of our salvation. The heavenly choirs praise the Lamb. And in their praise we see the connection between what Christ did—“For you were slain . . . you ransomed people for God”—and what it has accomplished—“you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God”—and what it will accomplish in the future—“they shall reign on the earth.” The eternal song does not say merely that Jesus died. The song also does not say that Christ died only to make redemption a hypothetical for all who choose to believe or a potential salvation for every single man, woman, and child. In other words, this song does not say Jesus died with the intent to make all people savable but to save no one in particular. No, the reason for praise is that Jesus “ransomed people for God.” He actually paid the price to set particular captives free, to release specific prisoners. Jesus actually “made them a kingdom and priests to our God.” Jesus’ death definitively accomplished something.

There are several more descriptions akin to this one. For example, Jesus Christ’s death is described in the following ways throughout Scripture:

  • As accomplishing the obedience God required for us (Rom. 5:19)
  • As accomplishing expiation—the removing and sending away of our sins from before the face of God (Heb. 1:3; 9:14; 10:10, 14)
  • As accomplishing propitiation—the turning away of the justice and wrath of God toward us (Rom. 3:25)
  • As accomplishing reconciliation—the bringing together of God and us into a relationship of peace and love (Rom. 5:10)
  • As accomplishing redemption—leading us out of the slavery of sin (Matt. 20:28; Rom. 3:24–25; 1 Cor. 1:30; Gal. 3:13; Col. 1:13–14; Heb. 9:12; 1 Peter 1:18–19)

The second aspect to the description of Jesus Christ’s death in Revelation 5:9–10 is that He actually died in the place of particular people. Let me illustrate. It’s hard for us to make the connection between what happened decades ago on D-Day on the beaches of Normandy and ourselves today. That is, we have a hard time thinking of those men so long ago as dying in our place. For the most part, we don’t know them, and they didn’t know us. But when someone in our lives actually steps in front of a car, comes between us and a bullet, or enters a fire to rescue us, it’s personal and it’s powerful. That’s what Jesus did. He is not an abstract person who died for an abstract, faceless mass of people He did not know personally and individually. No, He personally died for each and every one of those He loved from before the foundation of the world.

We hear this in the heartfelt cries of heaven praising the Savior who actually “ransomed people for God,” but notice how specific this ransom was for particular people. The song goes on to say that the ransomed people come “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Literally, the text says the Lamb redeemed out of every tribe and out of every language and out of every people and out of every nation.” He gave His life for those people specifically, and not others. Even more, the song celebrates this with the pronouns: “You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10, emphasis added).

Again, there are many more descriptions just like this one throughout the Bible. Read the following passages and see how they describe Jesus as dying effectually for a particular people:

Jesus did not just make salvation possible for all, but those He saves, He effectually saves: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). “If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:10). “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal. 1:4). “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Eph. 1:7).

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