Feedback: If Christ Died For Those Who Ultimately Perish, Do Unbelievers Receive Any Benefit From the Atonement?

This week’s feedback:

Question: ‘If Christ died for those who ultimately perish, as Arminians believe, do unbelievers receive any benefit from His death?’

Answer: Quite simply, no.  But such does not militate against the Arminian view of the atonement at all, for the fact that those who ultimately perish do not receive any benefit is not because their (potential) salvation was not provided for by Christ’s death, but is because of their own rejection of said provision.  When we look to three Old Testament foreshadows of Christ, this truth is plainly seen:

The Passover Lamb

The blood of the Passover lamb (Ex. 12:6, 21) was provided for all of Israel (Ex. 12:3), without a hint of it being only for an ‘elect’ group within Israel.  But the fact that the blood of the Passover lamb was provided for all Israel didn’t automatically guarantee that all Israel would benefit from it.  The blood became effectual only after it was applied to the door posts (Ex. 12:7, 22); the blood itself didn’t save anyone.  Any Israelite who failed to apply the lamb’s blood to their doorpost would thus have failed to receive any benefit from the death of the Passover lamb, in spite of the fact that they could have, as they were provided for.

It is obvious that even if an Israelite did fail in receiving a benefit from the death of the Passover lamb, it wouldn’t follow that such a person fell outside the scope of the provision of the lamb. The failure to receive benefit is rooted in the rejection of the provision, and not in the provision itself.

The Serpent in the Wilderness

Because the people of Israel became impatient and complained against God and Moses (Num. 21:4-5), God sent fiery serpents among the people, and the serpents bit the people, so that many people died (Num. 21:6).  When the people acknowledged their sin, they asked Moses to pray to God for them (Num. 21:7). God answered Moses’ prayer, saying,

“‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’  So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.” (Num. 21:8-9)

The bronze serpent was a provision for “everyone” and “anyone”. But the fact that the bronze serpent was provided for all Israel didn’t automatically guarantee that all Israel would benefit from it.  The bronze serpent became effectual only after someone looked at it by faith. The serpent itself didn’t save anyone. Anyone who refused to look by faith at the serpent would thus have failed to receive any benefit from the bronze serpent, in spite of the fact that they could have, as they were provided for.

It is obvious that even if an Israelite did fail in receiving a benefit from the bronze serpent, it wouldn’t follow that such a person fell outside the scope of the provision of the serpent.  The failure to receive benefit is rooted in the rejection of the provision, and not in the provision itself.

The Cities of Refuge

The cities of refuge were a provision for the manslayer (Num. 35:9-15). Furthermore, it was a provision for any manslayer – the people of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the sojourner (Num. 35:15).  But the fact that the cities of refuge were provided for any manslayer did not automatically guarantee that any manslayer would benefit from them.  The city of refuge was only effective as long as the manslayer entered, and stayed within, the boundaries (Num. 35:26-28).  Any manslayer who refused to either enter in (in the first place), or remain in, the cities of refuge would thus fail to receive any benefit from said cities, in spite of the fact that they could have, as provision was made for them.

It is obvious that even if a manslayer did fail in receiving benefit from the provision of the cities of refuge, it wouldn’t follow that such a person fell outside the scope of the provision of the cities. The failure to receive benefit is rooted in the rejection of the provision, and not in the provision itself.

Jesus Christ

And so it is with Christ, our Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7), our Serpent in the Wilderness (John 3:14), our City to whom we have fled for refuge (Heb. 6:18). Christ was provided for the whole world (Isa. 53:6, cf. Acts 8:30-35; Jn. 1:7-9; Jn. 3:16-17; Jn. 4:42; Jn. 6:33, 51; Jn. 12:32, 47; Rom. 3:23-24; Rom. 5:6, 15; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; 1 Tim. 2:3-6; 1 Tim. 4:10; Titus 2:11; Heb. 2:9; Heb. 10:10; 1 Jn. 2:2; 1 Jn. 4:14, etc.).  

But the fact that Christ was provided for all does not automatically guarantee that all will be saved. The blood of Christ our Passover Lamb becomes effectual only after it is applied; our Serpent in the wilderness becomes effectual only after we look to Him in faith; our City of Refuge becomes effectual only after we enter into union with, and remain in union with, Him.  Christ’s death itself doesn’t save anyone. And anyone who refuses to apply the blood of Christ, anyone who refuses to look to Him in faith, anyone who refuses to enter into union with Him or remain in union with Him will receive no benefit from His death, in spite of the fact that they could have, as provision was made for them.

The refusal to accept a provision, and thus, any benefit that would have otherwise been obtained, does not militate against the quality of, or the scope of, the provision itself.  So we see that even though those for whom Christ died may yet ultimately perish, and thus, receive no benefit from His death, there is no reason to believe that because such is reality, the atonement must be for the elect and the elect alone.

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One thought on “Feedback: If Christ Died For Those Who Ultimately Perish, Do Unbelievers Receive Any Benefit From the Atonement?

  1. The Seeking Disciple October 9, 2012 / 2:10 pm

    Calvinusts tend to assert that if Christ died for all, His atonement was in vain. They assert that only in a limited atonement does Jesus’ death save sinners. The problem is that both us Arminians and Calvinists agree that none are saved apart from personal faith in the cross (Rom. 5:1). Therefore, we both agree that only those who place their faith in Jesus are saved thus He died so we could be saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9).

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