Easter was celebrated this most recent Sunday, and I love having Holidays set aside specifically to celebrate Christ's birth and Christ's resurrection: Celebrating Christ's purpose on this earth, and celebrating the completion of that purpose. Of course, we celebrate Christ's resurrection every week implicitly, but setting aside one day to focus on that one event is more than appropriate. In the Old Testament, God had His people setting aside many days a year for sacred feasting and celebration.
Leading up to Easter, I heard the reading of the full chapter of John 17, which is a record of Jesus' prayer the night before He was crucified. In this prayer, Jesus prays for His own glorification, for His disciples which the Father had given Him, and for all who would believe in Him in the future. I feel that there is no way to summarize the chapter and do it justice, so I recommend that you read the chapter itself in addition to simply reading this blog about it.
Noteworthy quotes (in order):
“Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.”
For His earthly disciples:
For all future believers:
“...that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
Before I move one, I just want to highlight a few notes here. Jesus prays for the Father to glorify Him, states that He is glorified through His disciples, prays for the whole world to see that God sent Him, and states that He wants those who are His specifically to behold His glory. The glorification of Christ is a main theme here, and a main request from Christ to His Father right before His own death.
Also, we see repeatedly that believers are also those whom God the Father has given to Christ – this is speaking of the past, present, and future elect – the ones who will believe in Christ, and are predestined from the foundation of the earth to be conformed into the image of Christ. I believe that God elects individuals, and elects them conditionally (upon belief). For those who would like to debate whether election is conditional or unconditional, I will save that topic for another time because it is not actually addressed in this specific passage.
Thirdly, Christ prays for His disciples in this world that they would have His joy, that they would be sanctified, and that all future believers would experience unity with the Trinity, even as He experiences it. In His prayer for the blessings of joy and sanctification to be given, Jesus explicitly excludes "the world" of nonbelievers. Later in his prayer, He specifically for the whole world in the capacity of them ultimately believing that He is from God. There is some debate as to whether He is praying for them to believe in Him as Lord (and thus repent and be saved) or referring to the end times when every knee will bow and every tongue confess - yet because they have to, and do not repent.
Now here's the question:
Why did Jesus only pray for the elect, and not for the whole world?
I've had many Calvinists argue that Jesus only died for the elect, and only loves (in the sense of desiring the well-being of) the elect. To prove it, they point to this passage and say something to the effect of:
“If Jesus died for all, He would have prayed for all. If He had desired for the world to be saved, He would have prayed for the world here. But He doesn't. He specifically excludes the world. The *only possible reason* for this is that He does not want all to be saved, and did not die for all.”
In this blog, I will address that argument. I will not be addressing other arguments, such as “If God picks people, it must be unconditional, so this passage clearly teaches unconditional election,” or “there are other passages which prove that Christ did not die for all,” or “if Jesus died for all, then He secured the salvation of no one.” I will not be addressing any of those argument in this blog. Some of these topics I have already written about in other blogs, and some I have not yet written about. But you can't tackle everything all at once – you have to address one point at a time. So the point I am addressing is the claim that the only possible reason for Jesus to pray only for the elect before He died is that He only died for the elect and did not want everyone in the world to come to repentance and be saved.
Right off the bat, let's list a few possible reasons for Jesus to only pray for the elect in that situation:
Possible reason #1 – He was not able to die for the whole world, and therefore did not pray for them, and specifically excluded them. He was able to die for the elect only, and therefore prayed for them only. Not praying for the world means that Jesus did not desire the salvation of the world.
Possible reason #2 - Christ was praying for specific blessings upon those who were His; obviously He wouldn't do X-and-such spiritually blessing to those who don't believe.
Possible reason #3 - The Lamb of God has an extra special love for those who are His, and still cares about those who He was not praying for at the time.
Possible reason #4 - Jesus was about to die, and was looking forward to the joy set before Him: His own glorification and the salvation, oneness with, and blessing upon those who would benefit from the cross: the elect, the bride of Christ.
Which of these possibilities are plausible, implausible, or supported by other Scriptures?
The first possibility seems rather doubtful in the light of some other Scriptures. I'll try not to bore you, so I'll just list a few that seem to contradict the first theory:
Does God love the world?
Does God want all to be saved?
“Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:14)
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men...” (Titus 2:11)
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4)
Did Christ really die for all, or just the elect?
“This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe.” (John 1:7)
“For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves...” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)
“For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time,” (1 Timothy 2:5-6)
“For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:10)
“But we see Jesus, who... by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrews 2:9)
And finally, this reason is founded upon the idea that Jesus did not pray for the world. It is certainly true that in part of the prayer He did not pray for the world. It is also true that in part of the prayer, He did pray for the world, that they would at least believe that He is from God (though repentance is not specifically mentioned):
Now, based on those passages and many others, possible reason #1 seems rather implausible, simply because it would contradict so many other passages. And we know that God does not contradict Himself. What about the other possibilities?
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