Is there a limit to the mercy of God? Many have for some time now preached that Christ did not die for all the world–that His mercy was tailor made for a select few individuals. Jesus said to His disciples before He went to the cross, “In my Father’s house are many mansions” (Jn 14:2). If there are few saved, why are there many mansions being prepared? When the apostle John saw in a vision those saved by Christ standing before the throne, he described a multitude of people that were too numerous to count from every nation on earth (Rev 7:9). Already, after just a couple of verses, it’s becoming hard to understand why anyone would teach that there is a number limit on salvation by faith in Jesus the Christ.
You say, “well, it’s not so much a limitation on the number, but on the lineage of the people saved?” Why then does Paul say that there is no difference between Jew and gentile (Rom 10:12)? Lineage is nothing. Jesus made it clear that God was able to make descendants of Abraham from the stones upon the ground (Mt 3:9). Now, He didn’t say this to mean that God would actually raise up new physical relations to Abraham from stones, but instead to signify that the true descendants of Abraham are those that walk in the same steps of faith as Abraham (Rom 9:7).
Another will say, “it’s not the lineage, but that those who were saved were predestined to be saved, so there is an atonement for those who were predestined, not for the whole world.” Nothing could so ardently reject the testimony of the scriptures than to say that Christ did not die for the whole world! Consider the first epistle of John and that the apostle says by the Spirit that Jesus has become the propitiation for not just our sins, “but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn 2:2). The Gospel isn’t preached in a corner, neither was anything done in a corner or said in secret: Christ worked His works before the whole world and declared His salvation to anyone who would believe on Him, giving commandment to the apostles to go to all the world and preach to every creature (Col 1:23, Acts 26:26, John 18:20, Mk 16:15).
Christ’s perfect foreknowledge does not in any way limit the atonement. Being by very nature God, Christ’s perfect foreknowledge does not need to limit the atonement; the suggestion that foreknowledge limits the atonement is a non sequitur. It just does not follow. In the same way, Christ’s perfect foreknowledge in no way limits the freedom of man graciously enlightened by the Holy Spirit. It matters not at all at what “time” Christ learned of your obedience to the Gospel, so long as it happened before the owner of the house got up and shut the door. What am I saying? In terms of your eternal salvation, is it relevant to consider when in time Christ understood that you would adhere to the Gospel and believe in His Name? It doesn’t matter a wit to your soul. Here is the truth: the Father loves you with the same love with which He loved His only begotten Son, Jesus (Jn 17:23). One of the characteristics of that love is that it existed before the foundation of the world (Jn 17:24). In other words, the Father loved you as He loved Christ before He ever formed the world by Jesus Christ and sent Him into the world to redeem you from your sins. Yet none of this perfect foreknowledge is able to limit your freedom graciously given by the Holy Spirit, nor is it able to limit the atonement to a smaller group.
When I look at the cross of Jesus, I see the chief priests and the rulers gnashing their teeth at Him and mocking Him even in His death–I see men of importance, of societal standing and of wealth, revealing Christ. What I don’t see is a Christ that is limiting the field. In fact, I see the exact opposite–Christ is expanding the field. Jesus said Himself that salvation comes by the Jews, and He Himself preached that it was the Jews that the Lord came seeking first. It was those very chief priests and rulers that mocked Him at the foot of the cross that He sought first to save; but, when they rejected Him, He sought the gentiles too, in their order. We see the same thing worked out in the ministry of Paul in that he first sought the Jews in every place he went to persuade them that Jesus was the Christ; but, when they rejected the Gospel, he turned to those that were not Jews according to the flesh: “Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46). The rulers watched in awe as Jesus offered His salvation to the thief dying next to Him. He was just a thief. He wasn’t rich or from an important family. As a gentile, he didn’t know the oracles of God, which were entrusted to the Jews. He was a poor man. He was a nobody. He was a sinner. Yet the Father so loved the world that He sent His Son Jesus to die for that one thief.
Implied in the thief’s salvation is the offer of a second chance to those chief priests and rulers that rejected Him. Don’t think so? You can see the effect of it upon the people as Peter preached at Pentecost; he preached to the very same group of people that rejected Jesus, and we know this for a certainty since he leveled the accusation at them that they themselves killed Christ (Acts 2:36). Some of those that heard–those that had earlier rejected Christ–responded at that time to the preaching of Peter and accepted Christ. The thief’s salvation was a type of the sort of jealousy that the Lord still seeks to arouse in the Jews by saving the gentiles, in order to ultimately save all (Rom 11:11). When I attempt to measure the height and the breadth and the depth of this love of Christ, I find that much like His wisdom, it is infinite (Eph 2:7). There can never be imposed upon the atonement of Jesus any limit whatsoever that would have any effect–Jesus tasted death for every man, even the thief on the cross–even you (Heb 2:9).