Why is this so important? Think about the last time you spoke with a believer who kept talking about Jesus’ making salvation possible for everyone by His death. This view implies that God had no distinct plan to save any individual sinner through what Jesus did. Yes, Jesus was sent down to die, but His death was not for anyone in particular; it was for everyone in general. Because of that, everyone has an equal ability and opportunity to believe, everyone has a chance to make Jesus their own, and everyone can use their own will to make salvation a reality in their lives. But Jesus did not actually save anyone by His atonement; no one in particular was in view as He hung on the cross.
However, John’s Gospel records Jesus as saying that God has a will. He has a definite, determined, well-thought-out plan not only for the world as a whole but for each and every sinner whom He brings into His kingdom. The Father and the Son had specific sinners in mind who would certainly benefit from the cross of Christ.
The Father Communicated This Will to the Son
Jesus also says in John 6 that the Father communicated this will to the Son. Not only does Jesus say the Father has a plan now, but that this plan was planned out in eternity long before the incarnation: “All that the Father gives me will come to me” (v. 37). As canon 2.8 says, “It was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross . . . should effectively redeem . . . all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father.” To use Jesus’ words, “I have come down from heaven” to do “the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). Then Jesus goes on to say, “The will of him who sent me” was that He “should lose nothing of all that he has given me” (v. 39).
What’s going on here that’s so important for us? In theological terms, some of our forefathers referred to the plan that Jesus is describing as the covenant of redemption. What does the content of this covenant look like? First, in eternity past, there was a deliberate and personal plan between the persons of the Holy Trinity to organize and orchestrate redemption. There was not one will of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit for redemption, with each doing what He wanted. Instead, as the divine nature has only one will, the will of the Father to organize and orchestrate redemption is also the will of the Son and the Spirit to organize and orchestrate redemption. Second, the plan is about individual persons. The canon repeatedly speaks of “his chosen ones,” “them,” “those,” and “a glorious people.” This is the wonder of all our doctrines of grace. That God—God!—thought of me, loved me, and planned human history to rescue me! As we sing:
I find, I walk, I love; but O the whole
Of love is but my answer, Lord, to Thee!
For Thou wert long beforehand with my soul;
Always, always Thou lovedest me.
The Son Executed This Will
Finally, Jesus says that as the incarnate Son, He executed this will of the Father. All that was planned from eternity past concerning the Son of God becoming man and going to the cross and all that was planned to redeem sinners, this Jesus actually accomplished. The Father didn’t plan one thing and then Jesus executed another. No, Jesus did precisely what was planned.
Listen to Jesus again: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). Jesus came to do the will of God in that eternal conversation, and He did it on the cross. Call this “limited atonement” if you must; I simply call it Jesus’ doing exactly what our Trinitarian God planned from all eternity.
As we discuss limited atonement or particular redemption, what really matters is not the number of those who are saved, but what God in His sovereign purpose intended for Christ on the cross.
Think of a light without any kind of cover or shade that’s turned on. What happens to the light? It is dispersed everywhere, isn’t it? So we’ve seen with Jesus’ death on the cross. It is infinitely sufficient to satisfy the infinite justice of God for a million worlds. All that Jesus needed to do, He did; there is no more He would need to do to save even one more sinner. Now, back to that light. Once you put on some sort of a cap or cover you can focus all that light in a particular direction, like a flashlight. Jesus’ death is that ever-spreading light that is intentionally pointed toward certain people. Christopher Ness once said it like this: “Those for whom Christ’s death was intended, to them it must be applied; but it is not applied to all, therefore it was not intended for all.”
The Father intended that on the cross, His Son, our Lord, would actually suffer the infinite punishment of God’s justice for a definitive number of sinners, a group of people the Bible calls “the elect.” And this redemption accomplished for particular persons is also applied to those same particular persons: “The enlivening and saving effectiveness of his Son’s costly death should work itself out in all his chosen ones” in “grant[ing] justifying faith” and “lead[ing] them without fail to salvation.”
That’s the big picture theologically. But how do we know if the will of God in eternity that was communicated from the Father to the Son and that the Son did was done for us personally? If “all” doesn’t mean “all,” how can we be sure? This is why Jesus brings His message home to us. He doesn’t only speak of eternity, He speaks to us personally and says, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40). Do you believe in Jesus? Then be assured that He came to execute that eternal plan of God for your salvation. In that eternal plan, the Father spoke your name to the Son, and the Son agreed to come down for you! Amazing, isn’t it?
Editor’s Note: This post was first published on May 16, 2018.