Archive for April, 2007

Thoughts on “His people” in Matthew 1:21

The Calling of Saint Matthew

I want to first thank Caleb for asking me to be a part of this series. I think it’s important that no subject be off limits when it comes to our discussion of Scripture. I’m thankful he asked me to write about Matthew 1:21. I have been living and dining with Matthew’s gospel account for the better part of two years so I have no qualms talking about what is right now my favorite book of the Bible. So let’s get down to business…

Full disclosure: I whole-heartedly believe that the salvation that Christ purchased on the cross is an actual salvation that is not merely promised but fully applied to those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. This means that those who die in unbelief can not claim in any sense the work of redemption. To put this in plain terms, if an individual is in hell today then they can never say, whether potentially or concretely, that Christ died for them. If Christ died for all (without qualification) then their experience of God’s wrath (if an unbeliever) is questionable at best and unjust at worst. This is because those whom the Lord purchased will come to him and He will not cast them out but raise them up on the last day. Also every single one that the Lord predestines will ultimately be glorified (cf. Rom. 8:30). So obviously I believe in particular redemption or what is unfortunately titled “limited atonement.” I would also add that anyone who disavows universalism or inclusivism also affirms to some degree a limited atonement.

All that said I would still add two cautions. One, this doctrine should not be a test of fellowship among those who consider themselves evangelicals in the historic sense of the word (see Lloyd-Jones, What is an Evangelical?). It is sad that so much Christian capital has been squandered with heated exchanges between theologs who claim to be “brothers.” I speak as one who has been on both sides of these exchanges and it pains my heart to know that some refuse to speak to each other based on particular convictions on this issue. Secondly, a person’s commitment to a theological system, no matter what it is, should not be the guiding principle in this discussion. Exegesis and exposition should light the way and theology can then come in to tie-up frayed ends. Therefore, though I hold to a “limited” view I refuse to allow this to come between myself and fellow believers who have different convictions and I also pray that I will not allow my convictions to shade the interpretation of whatever text is in front of me at the moment.

Our text: “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21, NAU, emphasis mine).

The question is, who are “His people” referenced in this text? I want to approach this question from a textual vantage point that takes note of the purpose for Matthew’s writing and the progression (or development) of the Evangelist’s theology in the gospel account of Matthew.

Purpose of this text:
Matthew, a former publican, who in all likelihood was greatly despised by his fellow Jews as a traitor and Roman appeaser (cf. Matt. 9:9-13; 10:3) is the last person that any self-respecting Jew would have picked to deliver the written announcement of the Messiah to the Jewish nation. However, the grace of God is like that. The last written message to the nation though messianically positive still held out a threat of judgment (Mal. 4:6). So some four hundred years later this despised tax collector delivers good news to the nation Israel and it begins with a genealogy. He carefully documents the legal ramifications of who this Jesus is and he makes the case that this One is the long anticipated Messiah. Since Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience he assumes a lot. He doesn’t give detailed explanations of Jewish culture and practices since it would be like explaining sweet tea to a Southerner. He assumes that they have a working grasp of the OT so he quotes and alludes to it liberally with sometimes very little explanation (around 60 times). In this regard it is probably not a stretch to see that Matt. 1:21 is an allusion or free quote of Psalm 130:8 which is specifically addressed to Israel (see Psalm 130:7).

Matthew’s purpose is to announce to the Jewish nation that the Messiah they have looked for has been realized in the God-man Jesus of Nazareth. This is the one who stands in perfect succession to Abraham and David. This is the one who has divine authority to teach and heal like no other. This is the one who is the Son of Man (a divine title, see Daniel 7:13) and this is the one who will do what all the Law, Prophets and Writings expounded and anticipated…He will save His people from their sins. In the context of Matthew 1 and situated within the overall purpose of the Gospel, “His people” in 1:21 is a specific reference to the nation Israel. I would agree with D. A. Carson who notes that “This verse therefore orients the reader to the fundamental purpose of Jesus’ coming and essential nature of the reign He inaugurates as King Messiah, heir of David’s throne” (EBC, 8:76). However that is not the end of the story.

Progression of this text: It would be wrong to put a glass down on the page over Matt. 1:21 like we’re trying to trap a grasshopper and ignore the rest of Matthew’s account. There is a progression in his message that unfolds over time and is solidified with the last scene of Matthew’s gospel (“The Great Commission”). Over time we come to see that “His people” are not merely from the commonwealth of Israel (cf. Matt. 8:11) but from among the nations. So the Gospel ends with the resurrected Christ instructing His Jewish disciples to go to “all the nations” and call more disciples to Christ. Again Carson correctly states, “The words ‘His people’ are therefore full of meaning that is progressively unpacked as the Gospel unfolds. They refer to ‘Messiah’s people.'”

Conclusion: Time and space do not permit us to explore all the ramifications of this reality. However, within the context of Matthew’s gospel account we can safely conclude that “His people” specifically refers to those who are regenerate disciples of Christ whether they be from the Jewish nation or from among the Nations. They are the ones whom the Lord purchased and the ones for whom He laid down His life. May Jesus Christ be praised for such a glorious work of grace and mercy!

(Picture: The Calling of Saint Matthew, San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome)

Some Reflections on the Servant Song of Isaiah 52:13-53:12

These reflections are part of an ongoing series here at Expository Thoughts about the extent of the atonement.

52:13 See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. 14 Just as there were many who were astonished at him—so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals—15 so he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.

The first stanza of this marvelous poem recounts the prosperity and success that the Servant of Yhwh will enjoy, as he shares in the exaltation that is fit only for God (cf. 6:1; 33:10; 57:15). The poem will return to this at a later point, but the subject of the majority of it will be the Servant’s affliction, to which this stanza quickly turns. The author’s point seems to be that the nations shall contemplate with bewilderment the idea that the Servant will be exalted only after having lost all things. The implication seems to be that they will understand the message in the rest of the poem and shutter at the thought.

In this sense (and in keeping with the theme of this series), there is already a hint that the work of the Servant has a worldwide impact.

53:1 Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Already in 52:10, the reader of Isaiah has heard that the holy arm of Yhwh would appear in the sight of all nations, revealing God’s salvation. The point in this stanza seems to build on this and the previous stanza in asking the question, Who would have thought that the salvation brought by the arm of Yhwh would come through one marred in appearance and barely recognizable as human?

As can be seen from the underlined words, there is a shift from “they” and “many nations” to “we.” Most likely, the author is identifying himself with his own people, so that the reference to “we” is referring to Israel, as it does typically throughout the book (e.g. 16:6; 24:16; etc.).

4 Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Continuing from the previous stanza, the reader finds that indeed this man was suffering, but it was not for his own sake. The Servant’s wounds were for “our” infirmities, diseases, and transgressions. If the referent of these pronouns is the same as the last stanza, then it appears that the Servant bore the iniquities of his people, namely Israel. The question we would then need to ask is whether it was exclusively for his people. If we read correctly the worldwide impact of the Servant’s humiliation and substitution as expressed in the first stanza, then the conclusion has to be that there is more impact that just Israel’s iniquities. [On the subject of the extent of the atonement: In my opinion, based on the implied antecedent of the pronoun, I would be cautious reading “us all” in v. 6 as a proof for an unlimited atonement view, because the verse has the people of Israel in view.]

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. 9 They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.

This stanza expresses how the Servant suffered unjustly yet without opening his mouth. On the subject, however, it continues the exclusivity of the previous stanza in that his sufferings were for “my people.”

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the Lord shall prosper. 11 Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

In the final stanza of this magnificent poem, the reader finds (perhaps with surprise) that all of this was not at the arbitrary will of man but part of the sovereign plan of Yhwh. Yhwh will exalt the Servant because of the good work he has done. Moreover, the author seems to abandon the language of national exclusivity and return to the worldwide language of the first stanza. The Servant suffered for “many,” made “many” righteous, and interceded for “the transgressors,” which would include all men.

This is a consistent theme throughout the book of Isaiah: The Servant’s work will reach beyond his own people to all nations. For example, in Isaiah 42:6, Yhwh says of the Servant: “I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations” (see also 49:6). This work of the Servant will bring “justice to the nations” (v. 1) and “justice in the earth” (v. 4). Thus, one of the great themes of the book of Isaiah is that Yhwh’s salvation will reach to all nations, a theme that finds expression here as well.

Furthermore, in relation to the theme of this series on the extent of the atonement, this poem (52:13–53:12) gives no resolution in itself to the question at hand. It’s not that I do not have a opinion about the greater question, but I believe the author’s purpose was to show the atoning value of the Servant’s suffering for both his own people and more surprisingly to all the nations. It’s no surprise, then, that Paul picks up on this more general message in Romans 15:21 (quoting 52:13) and applies this message to the good news for Gentiles.

Let the Atonement Exegesis begin…

Starting tomorrow the meat of this series should begin.  I really do not know what my fellow contributors are going to write.  We may not agree on all the details here but that’s ok…

 Randy is going to give some thoughts from Isaiah 53:1-6, Paul is going to comment on Matt 1:21 and Col 1:20, Rich is going to post on 1 Tim 4:10, I am going to try and offer some insights from 1 John 2:2 and Chris is going to add some helpful thoughts on 2 Peter 2:1.  I will then conclude this brief series on the atonement with a closing post.

 Together for the gospel,

Caleb K

Limited Atonement: A New Heresy?

According to Jerry Falwell i guess so?  Please check out the Founder’s blog below for more detailed information:

Some people talk when they should just listen.  Have a great Lord’s Day! 

Preaching through Jude

I am about half way through my studies in the Epistle of Jude.  I have been studying this book for over a year now and have loved every minute of it.  Don’t worry i have not preached 52 consecutive weeks through this short epistle (like perhaps our good friend Thomas Manton did);  I am an Ast. Pastor so i don’t have the privilege of preaching every week.  One of the advantages that i do have is that i get lots of time to really prepare for each message (I dont have a weekly deadline like most of you men have).  I can spend 40 hours on each sermon and still take care of all my other responsiblities (since like i said I don’t preach every Sunday).  I have spent lots of time in the text of Jude and lots of time reading commentaries on this much neglected Epistle.  I will post some helps on preaching through this book sometime in the future.

For now, here is my Top 10 list for you book lovers

1. Schreiner (NAC)

2. Hiebert

3. Moo (NIVA)

4. MacArthur

5. Davids (PNTC)

6. Kistemaker

7. Bauckman (WBC)

8. Kelly (Black’s)

9. Blum (EBC)

10. Green (Tyndale)

Sufficient for All, Efficient for the Elect

Limited Atonement: Sufficient for All, Efficient for the Elect

As defended by Dr. Curt Daniels  

Curt Daniels points out that “most of the popular books on Calvinism paint the issue (at hand) as an ‘either-or’ choice.  That is they say either that ‘Christ died equally for all men’ or ‘Christ died only for the elect.’”  Dr. Daniels than makes this important statement, “But when more serious research is done into the Scriptures and Reformed theology, it is more of a ‘both-and’ balance with clarifications on both sides.”  In Freedom of the Will Jonathan Edwards writes, “From these things it will inevitably follow, that however Christ in some sense may be said to die for all, to redeem all visible Christians, yea, the whole world by his death; yet there must be something particular in the design of his death, with respect to such as he intended should actually be saved thereby.”  A. A. Hodge went a little further in his theology textbook.  He wrote, “That he (Christ) removed all legal obstacles from the salvation of any and every man, that he thereby removed all legal obstacles from the salvation of any and every man, and that his satisfaction may be applied to one man as well as to another if God so wills it.”  If we permit for a moment the reality that Christ did in fact die for all men, then it is their rejection of that atonement that ultimately damns them; (from a Divine standpoint we know that Christ’s atonement is only applied to those whom God chose).  His election was unconditional and for that matter it was totally undeserved when we understand the implications of total depravity (none of us would ever have chosen God had God not intervened on our behalf).

R.B. Kuiper summarizes this debate in this fashion, “It can be shown without the slightest difficulty that certain benefits of the atonement, other than the salvation of individuals, are universal…Therefore the statement, so often heard from Reformed pulpits, that Christ died only for the elect must be rated a careless one…The particular design of the atonement and its universal design in no way contradict each other.  Nor do they merely complement each other.  They support and strengthen each other.  In final analysis they stand and fall together.”

Daniels believes that the “dual aspects of the atonement helps to match the dual aspects of the grace of God.”  He goes onto to argue that the general, universal love of God for all men is best reflected in the universal aspect(s) of the atonement.  In saying this it does not take away from the fact that God has a special covenant love for His bride.  Dr. Daniels sites 1Timothy 4:10 as a strong proof text to support his SFA viewpoint.  According to R.B. Kuiper, Christ’s death was especially for the elect rather than only for the elect. 

Both the more limited view of atonement proponents and SFA proponents would agree with Spurgeon’s statement that Christ bought some things for all men and all good things for some men.  In other words, common grace finds its roots in the atonement of Jesus.  The fact that God’s judgment is delayed is nothing more than divine grace.  Many Calvinists would also ground the universal free offer of the gospel in the death of Christ.

Atonement: a 2nd footnote

I hope many of you have enjoyed this series on the atonement of Jesus Christ.  One of the great challenges  for me (as the editor) is that no one officially represents the SFA position officially; for that matter John Owen does not ‘officially’ represent the more limited view either. Theirs lots of variations between the SFA position & even among the more limited view.  With that said, I really appreciated Andy Chances comment from yesterdays blog: “I think sufficiency points to the worth of the sacrifice. It does not necessarily mean than the sins of the world were laid on Jesus; it only means that if they were laid on him, his sacrifice would atone for them.”  This is an important statement and I appreciate Andy highlighting it for us.

Some of you have asked if i am going to post some of my own convictions on this issue before this series is over.  I know it is not popular to say this on BLOGS but honestly i am still developing strong convictions regarding the intricacies surrounding this doctrine.  I believe that Jesus’ death on the cross was limited in intent (to secure a particular redemption for God’s elect) and I believe universalism is heresy.  Logically, i think the “more limited” view seems to make alot of sense; textually i find myself more in the SFA camp.  These are some of the reasons why i have taken more of an “editor” role during this series.  I hope our other pastor/theologians will offer us some mind stretching exegesis in the days to come.  Stay tuned for that, I promise it will come.  May we never forget, Scripture is king and we are slaves of one Text.

Limited Atonement: Sufficient for All, Efficient for the Elect

Limited Atonement: Sufficient for All, Efficient for the Elect 

Dr. Nettles does a wonderful job of summarizing the “sufficient for all, efficient for the elect” position(s) in his book By His Grace and For His Glory (note pages 302-05).  He believes this view represents “a majority view among Calvinists” though as I demonstrated in previous posts, is not the position he himself prefers.  From this point on I will refer to the Sufficient for All, Efficient for the Elect view as the SFA position.

The SFA position basically affirms both the sufficiency in the nature of the atonement to save all men and the limitation of the atonement to the elect in its divine intent.  It is unlimited in extent but limited in its intent.  According to the Synod of Dort, “The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin; is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.”  W. G. T Shedd (a Presbyterian theologian form the nineteenth century) wrote, “Christ’s death is sufficient in value to satisfy eternal justice for the sins of all mankind…Sufficient we say, then, was the sacrifice of Christ for the redemption of the whole world, and for the expiation of all the sins for all and every man in the world.” 

This view would say Jesus Christ bore the sins of the entire world (Isaiah 53:1-6) on his shoulders when he died on the old rugged cross.  As the sinless God-man He offered up a perfect sacrifice of infinite value.  The extent of the atonement is universal but the intent of the atonement (to save only the elect) is clearly limited.  Steele and Thomas explain it this way, the atonement was limited in its original design; not in its worth, value, or scope. 

Richard Mayhue believes the atonement of Christ is in some ways a paradox.  He argues that this atonement is limited in some senses, and in other ways it is unlimited.  He believes it is limited in that it does not extend to angels or animals (Heb 2:16); and that it is not effaciously applied to all humans by God’s choice (via sovereign election).  It is unlimited in that its message is extended to all humans in its proclamation; Its sufficiency is unlimited in value; it makes all men accountable in terms of eternal responsibility; It makes common grace available in non-eternal ways to all mankind (Matt 5:45); It benefits all the elect in its redemptive, eternal efficacy.  Mayhue points to the Day of Atonement as a OT picture of this NT concept.  He concludes his essay with the following words, “Christ’s atonement is unlimited in a non-saving sense for all of sinful humanity, but it is limited in its redemptive efficacy only to those who God particularly and unconditionally elected unto eternal salvation.”  According to Dr. Daniels Thomas Boston and the other Marrowmen taught that there were two aspects of the atonement, one general for all men and one particular for the elect alone.

So the argument between those who hold a SFA position and a more limited 5 point view is really over whether or not the atonement of Jesus Christ was truly sufficient for all.  In other words, does Jesus’ atonement really cover the sins of the non-elect?  Is that what Isaiah 53:1-6 mean?  Is that what 2 Peter 2:1ff implies?  Is that the John’s intention when he uses the Greek word holos in 1 John 2:2?  Please stay with me friends the biblical exegesis is just around the corner… 

John Owen weighs in…

The Death of Death in the Death of Christ

By John Owen


“Book III contains sixteen arguments against the “general ransom” idea. All except the third have a directly exegetical basis and aim to show that this idea is inconsistent with the biblical witness to Christ’s work. Between them, they deal with every significant category and concept which the Bible employs to define that work.  These arguments are primarily aimed at “4-Pt” Calvinists and/or Arminians.



  1. From the fact that the new covenant, which Christ’s death ratified, is not made with all men.
  2. From the fact that the gospel, which reveals faith in Christ to be the only way of salvation, is not published to all men. (III. i)
  3. From the dilemmas involved in asserting that the divine intention in Christ’s death was to redeem every man.
  4. From the fact that Christ is said to die for one of the two classes (elect and reprobate) into which God divided men, and not for the other.
  5. From the fact that Scripture nowhere asserts that Christ died for all men, as such (III. ii)
  6. From the fact that Christ died as sponsor (surety) for those for whom He died.
  7. From the fact that Christ is a Mediator, and as such a priest, for those for whom He died. (III. iii)
  8. From the fact that Christ’s death cleanses and sanctifies those for whom He died, whereas not all men are cleansed and sanctified.
  9. From the fact that Faith (which is necessary to salvation) was procured by the death of Christ, whereas not all men have faith.
  10. From the fact that the deliverance of Israel from
    Egypt is a type of Christ’s saving work. (III. iv)

(The next five arguments form a group on their own. They have a common form and are all taken from the biblical terms in which Christ’s work is described.)

  1. (i) From the fact that Christ’s death wrought redemption (deliverance by payment). (III. v)
  2. (ii) From the fact that Christ’s death effected reconciliation (between God and men. (III. vi)
  3. (iii) From the fact that Christ’s death made satisfaction for sins. (III. vii-ix)
  4. (iv) From the fact that Christ’s death merited salvation for men.
  5. (v) From the fact that Christ died for men. (III. x)
  6. From particular texts: Gen. 3:15; Matt. 7:33, 11:25; John 10:11ff;
    Rom. 1:32-34; Eph. 1:7; 2 Cor. 5:21; John 17:9; Eph. 5:25.   (III. xi).”

Atonement: questions and answers

Pastor Joseph Flatt provided the following answers to common objections against particular redemption in a seminar he offered church members last year.

1.  The gospel cannot be offered freely to all men if the atonement is limited.  However, this free offer is valid only a limited basis (salvation is offered, not the provision of it).  Christ’s work and the offer of the gospel made indiscriminately are not necessarily co-extensive with the offer.  Yet, our task is to share the gospel indiscriminately.  We should preach the gospel to all men (Rom 1:16, Mt 28).

2. How can I tell men that God loves them and died for them?  You can’t and you shouldn’t.  This is not how you should approach the unbeliever.  Tell them they’re sinners and must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ in order to be saved, etc.

3.  This view limits God’s love.  Yes, it does.  Rom 9:13; Ps 5:5, 11:5.  If God’s love is measured by how far it extends, then the general redemptionist also limits it (it’s not available for angels . . .).  But God does love every man in a non-redemptive sense; in that he gives common grace to every man.  God has compassion on men everywhere, but this is different from a redemptive love for all men—a distinction in His love.

4. The sin question has been cared for by Christ for all men; people go to hell for their unbelief.  But Scripture lists sins for which people will go to hell.

  1. Rev 21:8 – cowardly, unbelieving, immoral, idolaters, etc., à lake of fire
  2. Rom 2:6-16
  3. Rev 20:11-13
  4. 1 Cor 6:9-10

5. The passages which exhort men to believe and be saved argue for the potential nature of Christ’s death on the cross (the “whosoever will” passages). 

  1. Acts 16:31 – believe and you will be saved (≠ regeneration, which comes first; you must be alive to believe!).  This is not a condition; it is a FACT.  Men can’t and won’t “will” (1 Cor 2:14; John 1:13; John 6:44).
  2. Rom 10:13 – everyone who . . .

Final thoughts: 

Boettner notes, “For the Calvinist, the atonement is like a narrow bridge which goes all the way across the stream; for the Arminian  it’s like a great wide bridge that goes only half-way across.”  There’s a disconnect between a Savior who died for all men and the Father who doesn’t save everyone.  Why the difference?


For a definitive defense of this position please read “The Death of Death In the Death of Christ” by John Owen.

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