In my previous article on the atonement, I offered the following argument:
PI. The atonement has a final cause.
PII. That final cause is redemption.
PIII. But all people are not redeemed.
C. Therefore, the atonement and the redemption it accomplishes are limited in scope.
No one will object to (P1), since all Christians everywhere agree that God does all things with purpose (1 Cor. 14:33; Ecc. 3:1; Is. 53). Some may take issue with (P2), instead understanding the final cause of the atonement of to be an offer to all people. In other words, the purpose of the atonement is to offer atonement or redemption, but is not redemption itself. If this were the case, then the atonement has achieved its goal even if the number of people atoned for is indefinite, since the atonement, it is thought, is only to be offered yet not definitely applied.
There are a few issues with this conception of the atonement. In Isaiah 53:4 we are told, “Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows…” Who’s sorrows? Who’s griefs? Does Christ’s coming have a purpose? Surely it does, and it is to carry our sorrows. This is not a mere offer, this is a definite action, born or carry (נָשָׂא) being in the perfect tense in v. 4a. In v. 4b, the same is true with the expression, “carried our sorrows.”
If this is something Christ has definitely achieved, has He achieved it for the whole world? If so, is the whole world saved? No. For we are told in Matthew 25:41 and elsewhere (Jn. 5:29) that those who are resurrected unto judgement will be thrown into the everlasting fire. Thus, (PIII) appears to hold true.
In Isaiah 53:5, things become clearer: “But He was wounded for our transgressions…” Was He really wounded for or because of transgressions? If so, who’s transgressions? The transgressions of the whole world? Again, this is not merely an offer of Jesus’ wounds to cover a person’s transgressions. This is a direct statement that tells us Jesus has performed a work for some purpose beyond a mere offer. Verse 5 ends, “And by His stripes we are healed.” Again, healed, as with bore and carried, is in the perfect tense which, in Hebrew, signifies something that has been completed or accomplished.
In Isaiah 53:8b, we learn, “For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.” This ought to be the nail in the coffin. Here is a direct statement, corroborated by others such as Ephesians 5:25, which declares the purpose of Christ’s Sacrificial, priestly work, and that purpose is confined to a people, not people in the abstract. Christ gave Himself for His church. The atonement, while offered to all in evangelism, does not have a final cause of atoning for all people, nor is its final cause to merely serve as an offer. It has achieved something, that is, to “make an offering for sin (Is. 53:10),” or to atone for the people of God (v. 8).
This all amounts to Christ coming for a purpose, that is, to bear our guilt and to bleed for our sins. The question, therefore, becomes, Did He really do this? The Bible declares that He has (Jn. 19:30).