Did Jesus die for everybody? This question seems rather simple on the surface, but if you peel back a layer of Scripture you’ll find it’s a pretty complex question. Theologians debate, friends argue, and the layperson doesn’t even know it’s a question.
So, did He die for everybody? The short answer is No. And, in my opinion, the Bible is pretty clear on that. There is a plethora of passages to visit, but let’s focus on the over-arching theme that makes this question easier to understand: substitutionary atonement.
Jesus was our substitute, in life and death (2 Corinthians 5:21). And by our, I mean, Christians. And because He was—and is—our substitute means He didn’t purchase a theoretical salvation on the cross, but salvation itself. In other words, Jesus didn’t die to simply make salvation possible, but died in place of real names.
He had the names of His elect, His church, in mind when He died on the cross—for He is our substitute. He lived in our place; He died in our place. Jesus’ death was a substitutionary death—that is central to the gospel!
With this glorious truth in mind—and if we are focused on the text of Scripture and not any biases—it doesn’t require a big leap to conclude that Jesus only died on the cross for those He was the substitute for—the church.
Think about it. If Jesus was the substitute for every single person, then everybody would be saved. But we know, from the Bible, that’s simply not reality. Hell is real and people are there. And it doesn’t make sense for Jesus to be the substitute of everybody—because salvation wasn’t a mere possibility.
You were truly saved when Jesus died on the cross. That’s what Jesus was proclaiming by saying, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Salvation was paid for! Of course, your salvation would still need to happen in your life—you’d still need to make the decision to repent and believe—but your salvation was actually purchased on the cross.
I say all that to say this: if we understand that the atonement was specific, not merely general, then it should be easier to believe Jesus only died for His people, the church. This is not to say that the offer of salvation isn’t available to all people—it is. If you repent of your sins and place your trust in the finished work of Christ, you will be saved. Period. End of story.
We can think of it this way. From a human perspective, Jesus did only die for the church, but the offer of salvation is still to all people since we don’t know who the elect are. When proclaiming the gospel, Christians must present it to all people. From God’s perspective, Jesus’ had one mission: to save His people. Jesus did not sacrifice his life for individuals who would never believe in Him.
And please understand, this idea isn’t coming from out of the blue. It comes straight from Scripture (Matthew 1:21; Matthew 20:28; John 10:11, 15; Acts 13:48; Acts 20:28; and more). To be fair, there are a few texts that, on the surface, seem to contradict the notion of Jesus only dying for the church, specifically 1 John 2:2. That could be another blog for another day, or just research it yourself.
Nonetheless, friends, I don’t bring this topic up to debate. I bring it up for us to marvel—marvel at God’s love, marvel at Jesus’ redeeming sacrifice, marvel at the Holy Spirit’s sovereign regenerating work. Believer, take this to heart and cherish it: Jesus died specifically for you on the cross. Your salvation is purchased, paid for. Live like it’s so.