What did God the Father intend to accomplish through the atoning work of his Son? I affirm at least two divine intentions in the atonement, which I state as follows:
(1) God intended to secure infallibly the complete salvation of all of his elect, who were chosen from eternity unconditionally to be saved through Jesus Christ.
(2) God intended to secure the benefits of common grace (divine favor that is given to believers and unbelievers alike) for all people, one of the benefits of which is a bona fide conditional promise and proclamation to any and all who hear that, if they believe in Christ, they will certainly be saved.
In other words, God intended to save his chosen ones, and he intended to send the gospel to all people indiscriminately. Both achievements depend on the completion of Christ’s atoning work. In the first sense, Christ died for his elect, his sheep, his bride. In the second sense, Christ died for all.
Some who affirm, like I do, multiple intentions in the atonement will say that Christ suffered as a substitute for all people, elect and non-elect alike. I do not agree with that statement. I think that particular way of stating the purpose of Christ’s atonement changes the meaning of substitution. If Christ suffered as a substitute for someone’s sins, then I believe his sufferings have effectually secured the forgiveness of that person’s sins, and thus the benefits of the application of the atonement will certainly come to that person in time. But the non-elect never experience the benefits of the application of the atonement. This being the case, I conclude that Christ did not suffer specifically as a substitutionary sacrifice for their sins. Did he die for them? Yes, in one sense. The gospel must be proclaimed to them, it is their duty to believe it, and if they believe they certainly will be saved. But did Christ bear the wrath of God in their place, thereby forever removing it from them, as he did for the elect? No. Were that the case, there would be no Christian doctrine of hell, for the wrath of God would have been forever removed from humanity in toto.
In the next couple of posts I will discuss the biblical teaching upon which my view is based and address some objections.