The Bible’s Answer
Jesus’ death on the cross was an event of cosmic importance. He didn’t simply die as an innocent martyr, but offered himself, through the Holy Spirit, as a perfect sacrificial offering to God the Father, to satisfy his righteous and holy wrath against sin (Isaiah 53:5–6; Ephesians 5:2; Hebrews 9:14). Therefore, when Christ offered up his sinless life on the cross, sin was forever atoned for (Hebrews 9:26). But this then raises the following important question: whose sins were atoned for when Christ died? Did Jesus come to die only for the sins of the elect (those chosen by God before the foundation of the world to receive saving faith1)? Or did Jesus die for the sins of everyone in the world, both believers and non-believers?
Jesus Died For All People’s Sins
Although there is disagreement amongst Bible-believing Christians regarding the extent of Christ’s atonement, the Bible is clear on this issue: Jesus died for everyone in the world, not just the elect. Consider the following scripture:
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)
It’s a pretty self-explanatory passage where John clarifies that Jesus not only propitiates (pays for) our sins as believers, but the whole world’s sins. If John wanted to say that Christ propitiates believers’ sins only, he could have easily left it at that; but he didn’t. He said: “not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world”. Let’s examine some other Scriptures. John the Baptist announced that Jesus is the one who “takes away the sin of the world”:
The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)
Jesus didn’t come to pay for some sins only, and leave the rest of the world in its corrupt, wretched condition. That would be leaving the job unfinished. According to John, Jesus came to completely take away all sin of the world, which would include sins committed by both believers and non-believers. Another Scripture which teaches this is John 3:16–17, which says:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16–17)
Here, we see that God’s desire is that the whole world comes to salvation, because he loves everyone in it. That was the whole purpose of sending his Son, Jesus, into the world. It is only possible for the world to come to salvation, however, if Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. If he didn’t, then God only sent his Son into the world for the elect. However, that’s not what the passage says. It clearly says that he sent Jesus into the world so “that the world might be saved through him”.
Jesus Is Also the Saviour of Those Who Reject Him
Another passage which teaches the same thing is 1 Timothy 4:10.
For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:10)
In this passage, Paul also clarifies that God is the Saviour of both believers and non-believers, however, he notes “especially of those who believe”, because believers are the ones who will inherit eternal life. While non-believers will not inherit Heaven, God is still their Saviour because Jesus bore their sins on the cross in spite of their disbelief, and they can still be forgiven, provided that they believe in Jesus. Let’s examine one last passage. 2 Peter 2:1 says:
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. (2 Peter 2:1)
In this passage, Peter tells us that false teachers and prophets, in other words, non-believers, will creep into the church and deny Jesus, who bought (redeemed) them. Here, we see a clear instance in which Jesus atoned for the sins of those who are not one of the elect, since we are told they will bring “upon themselves swift destruction”.
So who did Jesus die for according to the Bible? He died for your sins. He died for the sins of everyone in the world. And he rose again that we may be certain of this (Acts 17:31). While it is true that only the elect will believe and thus be saved—since if God chose not to give saving faith to anyone, no one would believe (Ephesians 2:1–5)—this in no way negates the fact that Christ still died for the sins of non-Christians, too. In doing so, God demonstrates his eternal and undying love for every individual in the world, even though he knew beforehand that many of those for whom he would one day die would reject him till the bitter end.
Don’t worry that you’re not good enough for God, or that you’re not worthy of his love, because “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” He lived the perfect life in your place, and paid for all your sins on the cross, whether you’re a Christian or not, since “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” If you would like to receive forgiveness from God, and have eternal life with him, then it’s not too late to trust in Jesus right now for your salvation, because “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”.