A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 2:5-6. c). Christ’s death concerns all people (continued).
Paul also changed *pollon* (‘many’) into *panton* (‘all’). It is doubtful, however, if he thereby changed the sense. Joachim Jeremias has argued that, although in Greek contexts *polloi* is ‘exclusive’, meaning ‘many’ as opposed to ‘all’, in Jewish contexts *polloi* is ‘inclusive’, meaning ‘the many who cannot be counted’, indeed ‘all’.
But did Christ die for all? There has been a long-standing debate in the church whether the atoning sacrifice of Jesus was ‘limited’ in its scope (he died for his own people) or ‘universal’ (he died for everybody). It is not difficult to quote texts supporting both positions. On the one hand, the good shepherd laid down his life for his sheep (Jn.10:11, 18) and ‘Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her’ (Eph.5:25). On the other, *he gave himself a ransom for all* (6) and he is ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (Jn.1:29). Various attempts at harmonisation have been made, and both sides have legitimate concerns. The concern of those who defend a ‘limited’ atonement is for the justice of God, that the penalty of sin should not be paid twice, first by Christ on the cross and then by those who reject him and are condemned. The concern of those who defend a ‘universal’ atonement is for the universality of the gospel offer.
As with the statement that God desires all people to be saved, so with the statement that Christ gave himself for all people, it is possible to argue that ‘all’ means ‘all kinds and classes’ and not ‘absolutely everybody’. Yet it is probably wiser to concede that Scripture appears to affirm both positions in an antinomy which we are at present unable to resolve. Whatever we may decide about the scope of the atonement, we are absolutely forbidden to limit the scope of world mission. The gospel must be preached to all, and salvation must be offered to all.
Here, then, is the double uniqueness of Jesus Christ, which qualifies him to be the only mediator. First there is the uniqueness of his divine-human person, and secondly he uniqueness of his substitutionary, redeeming death. The *one mediator is the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom*. We must keep these three nouns together, the man, the ransom and the mediator. Historically, they refer to the three major events in his saving career, his birth by which he became *man*, his death in which he gave himself as a *ransom*, and his exaltation (by resurrection and ascension) to the Father’s right hand, where he acts as our *mediator* or advocate today. Theologically, they refer to the three great doctrines of salvation, namely the incarnation, the atonement and the heavenly mediation. And since in no other person but Jesus of Nazareth has God first become man (taking our humanity to himself) and then given himself as a ransom (taking our sin and guilt upon himself), therefore he is the only mediator. There is no other. No-one else possesses, or has ever possessed, the necessary qualifications to mediate between God and sinners.
What we do not know is exactly how much accurate and detailed information people need about the Man-Ransom-Mediator before that can call on God for salvation. What we do know is that all human beings are sinful, guilty and perishing; that no human being can save himself or herself by good works, religious observances, beliefs or sincerity; that Jesus Christ, being God, man and a ransom, is the only competent mediator through whom God saves; and that therefore it is urgent to proclaim the gospel in its fullness to as many people as possible.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 2:7. d). The church’s proclamation must concern all people.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.