Did Jesus Die for the Whole World? Yes
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
(1 John 2:1-2 ESV)
This passage and others teach that Jesus died for the world. What does that mean?
The Universalist interprets this to mean that everyone in the world will be saved through Jesus. Our job as evangelists is to go throughout the Earth to tell everyone that they have already been saved through Christ, and they should begin to live like it. But no matter how they live, they will be saved.
That interpretation is faithful to these verses alone, but ignores other passages in scripture that teach about the final judgment. Passages such as Matthew 25:31-46 and Revelation 20:11-15 make it clear that not everyone will be saved.
So then, how did Jesus die for the sins of the world? The Arminian position interprets this passage to say that Jesus' death would be effective for everyone in the world if they would believe. His death is the gift, but you must receive it for it to work.
While I have many good friends who hold that view, I don't find it adequate for two reasons. First, I think these passages teach that Jesus' death is an objective work. Propitiation is "Godward". God's anger is turned away due to the death of Christ. If the propitiation applies to everyone without distinction, God would be unjust to punish anyone for their sins. Jesus has already been punished, for him to exact punishment from an individual as well would be double payment.
Second, I think this view comes very close to teaching salvation by works. It could be understood to mean that Christ did 99% of what is necessary to save us, and we must just do the 1% that is left by believing. I know no one intends to teach this, but I think this view cannot ultimately avoid that objection.
So what does it mean that Jesus died for the world?
I believe we have a third option. One that is more glorious than anyone would have hoped. Jesus is actually going to save the world through his death. Not without any individual exception, but with no national exception.
The early Christians were astonished that God would save the Gentiles. They never expected him to save anyone outside of Judaism (Acts 10:34 - 11:18). But God intended to far exceed their wildest expectations.
John wrote: After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
(Revelation 7:9-10 ESV)
Most of the people who first read those words had no idea how big the world even was. They were worshipping in small corners of cities, hiding from Roman soldiers in a small corner of the world. They must of thought that vision was the most unrealistic of all John's dreams in Revelation.
But today, with the benefit of 2000 years of Christian growth, we have the incredible blessing of seeing that vision take shape. Today nearly one-third of the world's population is Christian. If you think most of them live in the United States, you are mistaken. Only 11.3% of World Christians live on US soil.
A list of nations with the most Christians includes: Brazil, Nigeria, Russia, DR Congo, China and the Phillipines (Pew Research). Christianity thrives on every continent! Can you imagine what this world will look like after 500 more years of Christian growth?
Well John imagined it for us. Today and even more on that day, we can say with great joy: Jesus died for the sins of the world! “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”
(Revelation 11:15 ESV)