Universal Propitiation

Dr. Mark Minnick has preached a three-part series on the universal nature of Christ’s propitiatory work rooted in 1 John 2.2.  I finished listening to the series of three messages.  You may find them here.  Below are my notes as I listened.  

What does it mean when God says He gave His only begotten Son (John 3.16)?  Among other things,  it means that He did so to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4.10).  We did not love God, but He loved us.  Let us look at this word propitiation.

My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world (1 John 2.1-2).  

What is the work of propitiation?  Propitiating is a verb.  It is a work of a priest.  No one can do this work for himself.  Propitiation is the turning away or adverting of wrath.  Why is this work necessary?  The answer is revealed from Genesis to Revelation.  

We have all been wearing away our days under the righteous wrath of God.  The whole human race continues to live under the righteous wrath of God.  Everyone dies.  It is the penalty for the guilt of our sin.  

You must never think of God as the pages of a law-book.  He is not impassive.  He is justly swollen with wrath against iniquity and those transgressing His law.  We must have a mediator.  Jesus Christ was sent to be the propitiation not merely to be the propitiator.  The propitiator and the propitiation are one.  Jesus is the Priest and the Lamb of God.  He turns away the wrath of God for me.  

Who are the recipients of propitiation (John 3.16; 1 John 2.2)?  The world or the whole world are recipients according to the Scriptures.  The magnitude of God’s grace is demonstrated in the fact that the whole world becomes the beneficiaries of propitiation.  

How is the sovereignty of God applied to the salvation of men?  There is a debate over for whom Christ actually died.  Some believe that He died only for His elect.  The Calvinist TULIP structure affirms this view of the atonement.  That Christ only died for the elect is deemed limited atonement.  Thus, the Calvinist believes that the “world” referenced in John 3.16 is limited to the world of believers.  

Limited atonement proponents argue 1 John 2.2 in the following way:  “He Himself is the propitiation for our [Jewish elect believers] sins, and no for ours only but also for the whole world [of Gentile elect believers].”  

Let’s go through some Scriptures that influence thinking on this point.  

Leviticus 16.15-17, 21-22, 34 and the Day of Atonement

The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) is celebrated even to this day.  Aaron, the high priest, was commanded to offer two goats on the day of atonement.  

16:15-17

“Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil, do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat. So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness.  There shall be no man in the tabernacle of meeting when he goes in to make atonement in the Holy Place, until he comes out, that he may make atonement for himself, for his household, and for all the assembly of Israel.

16.21-22, 34

Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness. ….This shall be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins, once a year.” And he did as the Lord commanded Moses.

Even though the language is universal in Leviticus 16, there is limitation.  The limitation is that Israel was an elect nation.  Yom Kippur was only for the elect.  When you think about the universality, you must account for this particularity.  Even so, what is apparent is that the atonement was made for people who were not all true believers and never would be.  

What percentage of the people of Israel partook of the efficacious benefits of the atonement?  Hard to say, but it was quite obvious that it was not the majority.  The Messiah is the substance of the shadow of animal sacrifice.  The typology that the Messiah was the fulfillment of was for people that would never truly be Christ’s own.  The blood of goats never truly took away sin.  It atoned for them or covered them.  

OT believers had their sins covered, then the wrath of God passed over the sin of those covered by the blood.  Where did that wrath eventually fall?  The blood of Christ (Romans 3.25).  God could pass over their sins because of a yet future day.  Whose sins were effectually covered in Israel?  How many discovered that their sins were covered when they entered Heaven?  Not the majority.  Yet the atonement was for the sins of all the house of Israel.  It is universal on one level, but only effectual on another level.  OT believers must have faith just as NT believers must have faith.

Isaiah 53.4-6, 11-12 and the Suffering Servant

53.4-6

Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Every Jewish believer who read this passage assumed it was talking about him.  Many times we witness and use this passage and are fully confident it applies to any and everyone we witness to.  If you just read the Bible, you would not come to the conclusion that this passage is limited to a select group of people.  

53.11-12

There is more definiteness in verses 11-12:

He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Thus, in Isaiah we see the two levels of atonement:  1) all are atoned for, but 2) only some are actually justified.  

Part 2

My little children, these things I write to you (the possibility of having unbroken fellowship with the Lord), so that you may not sin (not to be careless and sin). And if anyone sins (it will happen), we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.  John addresses these two verses to believers, but applies it to the whole world.  This is quite a motivation for us as believers as we evangelize.  

To review, Jesus Christ is Priest and Lamb – the propitiator and propitiation for sin.  It is not only the Father’s wrath that must be satisfied, but the Son’s and the Spirit’s as well.  You and I are infuriated when decisions made by politicians which spread iniquity throughout our land.  Multiply that exponentially as God watches His creation fail to give Him glory and multiply iniquity upon iniquity!

The only sacrifice that could possibly satisfy the wrath of God is the sacrifice of the Son of God.  He offered this sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.  Did Jesus offer Himself for every individual or for the elect alone?  He did give Himself for the elect or the believing, but did He do so exclusively?  Those who believe that Christ sacrificed Himself for the elect alone are those who embrace a fully Calvinistic position.  

Most Calvinistic believers prefer the term definite atonement (effectual or particular).  Their concern is that if Christ came and offered Himself an atonement for all, then hypothetically all might reject that atonement.  If this be the case, then His atonement would have been in vain.  But if you take the position that His atone was effectual at the precise moment it was made, it doesn’t mean those people were saved.  But at that moment they are the redeemed.  All of this is confirmed by their future belief.  Thus, there is certainty and definiteness regarding the atonement.  But it leaves open the question of whether or not anyone would accept it this atonement in the future at all.  

Most seminaries begin with a systematic framework of theology.  Very few approach the Scripture with a first-time mentality.  As much as possible, we exposit a passage within its context and the larger context of all of Scripture.  Biblically, who are the beneficiaries of the atonement?  We must have larger passages analyzed in their fulness and allow NT writers to tell us what to do with those passages.

Typologically, on one level the atonement was made for all.  On another, it was secured by the faith of believers.  That is the way sinners approach God in every age, regardless of whether or not they are elect.  Efficacy is conditioned upon faith.  You cannot conclude otherwise unless it is introduced by someone defending a tight system.  And yet people on both sides are desirous of defending the character and integrity of God and His Word.

Atonement is for all, but it’s efficacy is only for those who believe.  God is justified in allowing some to enter Heaven because the covering would be efficacious until Jesus became the final satisfying propitiation.  

Romans 9.3-8 

For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen [kinsman from Abraham] according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.

But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.

There is a distinction between spiritual and physical Israel.  Some are children of God and others are children of the flesh.  They are not all children because they are descendants of Abraham (the seed of Abraham).  What causes those distinctions?  The children of the promise are counted as the seed (9.8-9).  They are children of God as a consequence of their believing response to the promise (see Romans 10).  Secondly, God makes promises and some believe them; others reject them.  Actually, the majority did not become Abraham’s children.  They were Abraham’s sperma (natural descendants) not children of the promise.  

Romans 9.10-13

And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”

So how do you explain that the election stands for some and not for others?  First, the promise is either believed or not believed.  According to Hebrews 11, Sarah herself had to believe that promise or Isaac would never have been born.  On the other side, we have God’s election.  Isaac and Esau represent that “before eternity sovereign choice” of God.  Thus we see irreconcilable doctrines (from a human perspective) of divine sovereignty in election and human responsibility in salvation.  God’s promise before it is received and rejected; God’s choice before one is capable to do good or bad.

Acts 3.17-26 

“Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began. For Moses truly said to the fathers, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you (settles who the Prophet is in Deuteronomy 18).  And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days. You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, [exactly what Paul says in Romans 9] saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed [sperma – physical descendants not tekna (true children)] all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ To you first, (Israel) God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.”

There is no distinction between the resurrection and the atonement and who it is for.  This is the proclamation of this great truth – how to preach it.  We’ve looked at OT type …now OT prophecy.

Isaiah 53.5 ff.

But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. ALL we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked— but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an [guilt] offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.

Who are those people for whom He made sacrifice of Himself?  All of OT Israel.  Nothing in the passage makes a distinction like the one Paul makes in Romans 9.  All Israelites went astray and the Lord cause all the sins of OT Israel to fall upon Messiah.  

“My people do not consider (understand)” (Isaiah 1.3).  The expression is to the totality of the sinful nation and not just to elect among Israel (see Isaiah 1.5).  

We assume that the Ethiopian eunuch was a Gentile.  

Acts 8.31-35

And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. The place in the Scripture which he read was this: “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.” So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.

It is assumed Philip expounded these verses to the eunuch and included him in their reference!  We don’t know for sure he was a Gentile, but he was at least a God-fearer.  Either way, Philip applies the passage to him as an individual.  

Philip is justified in applying this passage to the eunuch even if he is a Gentile.  How do we know this?  Philip said that he could be baptized if he believed.  How could he say this?

Romans 10.8-13

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

The eunuch must believe and confess.  But Paul gives the content in Romans 10 to show how not all Israel received atonement effectually but potentially.  God’s promises are to be believed.  This is the human level of responsibility.  All Israel could be saved if they confessed with their mouths and believed in their hearts (actually anybody could).  

Romans 10.14-17 

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!” [Isaiah 52] But they have not all obeyed [believed] the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Election is God’s determining will.  Belief is human response to prophets and preachers.  We are justified in saying to anyone that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again.  If you believe this, you are saved!  Preach it the way Peter preached it.  God sent Him to you in order to turn everyone of you away from his/her iniquities.  All you must do is simply believe it.  If you, you are one of the elect.

Part 3

John 3.16 paralleled with 1 John 4.9-10

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

This is the love of God – that He sent/gave His Son to be the propitiation for our sins and the sins of the whole world.  Propitiation is priest specific.  It took place in the OT tabernacle and temple.  Finally it took place upon the cross of Jesus Christ.  It is the work of averting the wrath of God …satisfying the wrath of God.  

The wrath of God is manifested against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in their unrighteousness.  God’s wrath is against all the world (Romans 1-2 ).  How do we satisfy it?  That wrath has been satisfied on the cross (Romans 3).  How is it that for people for whom the wrath of God has been satisfied (accomplished fact) still abide under the wrath of God?  

People are by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2.3).  Those who do not believe are condemned already and the wrath of God abides upon them (John 3.36).  The elect are the ones once by nature children of wrath until they believe.  How do you explain that the wrath of God rest upon the elect?  OT typology helps answer that question.

Leviticus 16.15-17 

“Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil (in the Holy of Holies), do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat (the propitiatory; the place of propitiation).  So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness. There shall be no man in the tabernacle of meeting when he goes in to make atonement in the Holy Place, until he comes out, that he may make atonement for himself, for his household, and for all the assembly of Israel.

It is clear that the propitiation/atonement was made for all the assembly of Israel and for all their sins (even the sin of unbelief).  The atonement was national in its scope.  But for whom it was, for whom was it efficacious?  Who was actually and reality no longer the object of God’s wrath?  Abraham ad David are examples in Romans 4.  

Romans 4.5-8

But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered (they have been atoned for); Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.”  The vast of majority of Israel could not say this as a personal reality even though the atonement was made for all of them.  When did it become true for people like David?  They believed (see v. 5).  

The atonement was made for the whole assembly and for all their sins, but only the one who believes (like David and Abraham) realizes the blessing of it.  

1.The atonement is national in its scope.

2.The atonement is effectual when the individual believes.

3.The reality of the atonement (Christ’s sacrifice) operates in the same way.  

Isaiah 53 is the reality of which the goat in Leviticus 16 was the type (prophetically speaking of Christ).

Isaiah 53.5-6

But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray (each and everyone of us not certain types of mankind); we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah speaks of what Christ would do 7 centuries after the fact.  Christ would bear in Himself all the iniquities/transgressions of every single one of us.  

1.Christ’s propitiation was universal in its scope.

2.How can this be and yet some are not saved.  First, not all are elect (Romans 9).  Second, all had the truth preached to them.  However, they did not all heed it (Romans 10).

Romans 10.16 

But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report (that the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all)?” So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Romans 9 is the divine level – God’s election in eternity past (which we cannot apprehend).  Romans 10 is the human level – propitiation is effectual when one believes.  If they don’t believe, it is not effectual.  

1 John 2.2 is the breadth of the grace of God – the propitiation of our sins and the sins of the whole world.  Nothing is effectual until you believe.

Romans 3.10-18 seals the coffin on EVERYBODY.  

Romans 3.19-26 

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Propitiation and redemption come when you believe.  It’s talking about your faith.  

Jesus Christ paid the ransom for you (everyone of you).  I need not say that He propitiated the wrath of God if you’re one of the elect.  I may say what the Scripture says:  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Born a child of wrath, thank God Almighty, I’m a child of the King!