What if the debate around general versus particular atonement is starting from the wrong paradigm, and therefore failing (on both sides) to do full justice to the biblical revelation?
Trevin Wax thinks this is the case.
A first corrective, says Wax, is to recognise that the meaning of Christ’s atoning death is not to separated from that of his glorious resurrection (see 1 Cor 15:17, 18).
A second corrective is reclaim the biblical emphasis on God’s restoration of the entire cosmos (Rom 8:18-25; 2 Cor 5:19), and not just the salvation of individual souls.
If we reframe our discussion of the atonement to take account of God’s ultimate purpose for Christ to be ‘all in all’ (1 Cor 15:28), then we can work back from there to consider the question of the extent of the atonement.
The gospel is primarily a proclamation concerning Jesus (Eph 1:16-23). He is the King, the Lord. His resurrection is the firstfruits of God’s new creation, 1 Cor 15:20f), and God’s declaration that he is both ‘Lord and Christ’ (Acts 2:36).
The Scripture speaks of the atonement as being ‘limited’ in that Jesus’ blood covers only those who put their trust in him. In this sense, Jesus is Lord over his church, those who have been called out from among all tribes and nations.
The Scripture can also speak of the atonement as ‘unlimited’ because Jesus did not die only for the sins of the elect, nor even for those of all people, but in order that the entire cosmos might be restored to the purpose for which it was originally created.
According to 1 Tim 4:10 Jesus is the Saviour of all. How can this be, since not all confess him as such? The answer is that Jesus is Lord and Saviour whether people trust in him or not. This does not mean that they are saved (Scripture does not teach absolute universalism).
Just as a president of a country is president regardless of whether or not all the citizens submit to his authority, so the statement that Jesus is ‘Saviour of the world’ (1 Jn 2:2) is true does not depend on every person’s confession of that fact.
The day is coming, however, when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess his lordship, Phil 2:11.
When Scripture teaches that Jesus is Saviour of all, and ‘especially of those who believe’, 1 Tim. 4:10) it is affirming that
the entire world benefits from Christ’s death on the cross through common grace, the blessings of living under Christ’s rule, the influence of the Church, and the beginning of new creation.
More specifically, however, only the elect experience the saving benefits of Christ’s death through forgiveness of sins, membership of God’s people, and participation in the blessed life to come.