I have affirmed that God intended to secure infallibly the salvation of his elect and only his elect in the atoning work of Christ. This is a doctrine known as “Particular Redemption” (so named because of the particularity of the saving intention behind the cross). I do not mean that Christ did not die, in some sense, for all people. Nor do I deny that the gospel should be preached to all (I will address those questions later). But I do affirm a particularity in God’s saving intention in the cross of Christ. Here is one biblical reason why (to be followed by two more in the next post):
(1) In John 10 Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd. In verse 11 he says, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (see also v. 15). Here Jesus himself describes the objects of the saving intent of his death as a particular group of people: his sheep. Here Jesus defines his mission in laying down his life exclusively in terms of saving those who have been given to him by the Father.
Of course, the common response to this reading of the verse is that Jesus does not, in fact, exclude others from the scope of his saving purpose. He just mentions his sheep in particular, but he could just as well have died for all, including his sheep. The point is within the realm of logical reasoning, but it does not fit the context of John 10. Notice all of the other things Jesus says about his sheep in this chapter:
“the sheep did not listen to [the thieves and robbers]” (v. 8).
“I know my own and my own know me” (v. 14).
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (v. 27).
“I give them eternal life” (v. 28).
“they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (v. 28).
“My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (v. 29).
Every single statement listed above pertains exclusively to those who belong to Christ, namely, his sheep; no statement applies to those who remain in unbelief. If, when Jesus said, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” he really meant, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, among others,” then that would be the only statement in the whole chapter that would be read that way, which seems foreign to the context. That interpretation would, in fact, obscure the true uniqueness of the blessing that Jesus’ sheep receive from him. It would thereby undercut the full depth of Christ’s love for those who are his sheep. When I say, “I love you,” to my wife, I do not mean, “I love you, among others.” Do I love other people? Sure. But I love no one else in the world in the exact same way that I love my wife. The same is true of Christ’s atoning death (which is his love on display, 1 John 3:16) for his sheep. To universalize it in the context of John 10 is to empty it of its meaning.
I will make two more biblical arguments for Particular Redemption in the next post.