When we study the work of Christ on the cross, we are not studying a simple subject. The glorious transaction that took place in that sacred hour not only has implications for the elect but it has cosmological implications. Therefore, when we study the doctrine of Particular Redemption, we are not studying the essence of Christ’s work on the cross, but we are studying a single facet of Christ’s work on the cross.
Before we study the particular and redemptive aspect of Christ’s work on the cross, I believe that it would be helpful to look at the universal and propitiatory aspect of his work. But before we even begin this study, I would like to define some terms. “Universal” and “particular” are the adjectives that we will be using to define the scope of each of Christ’s works. “Redemption” is the act of redeeming a person out of bondage for a price. This term is used solely of the saints of God who have been freed from their slavery to sin and have been brought under the Lordship of Jesus Christ through his blood (cf. Romans 6). “Propitiation” is the act of turning aside wrath. With respect to God, this is a sacrifice that temporarily appeases the wrathful hand of the just Sovereign of the Universe. In other words, “redemption” is the complete satisfaction of God’s wrath, and “propitiation” is the temporal appeasement of God’s wrath.
One of the lessons that the Great Flood narrative of Genesis has taught us is that Yahweh is a God of immediate justice. That is, without a mediator, God exacts his sentence upon the guilty swiftly and without delay. As for the world during the time of Noah, its terrible wickedness had been presented before the Lord without a Propitiator. We know this because of the outcome of the story: “Yahweh saw the wickedness of man and . . . said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens'” (Gen. 6:5, 7). And this he did. The glorious Justice of God manifested itself in the terrible downpour that destroyed the whole earth and all its life save the righteous Noah and his party.
After the Flood, God blessed Noah and gave his covenant promise to him and his descendants that he would never destroy the world by water again as he had done with the Great Flood. This covenant that God initiated with Noah does not demonstrate a shift in the nature of God, but it demonstrates the arrival of a Propitiator, for God does not change and neither does his ways. Thus God, when he smells the burnt offering given by Noah after the Floor subsides, gives his covenant to Noah, not because of the sufficiency of the burnt offering, but because of the Great Offering that Noah’s offering foreshadowed.
The Apostle demonstrates this point in his letter to the Romans:
For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins (vv. 3:23-25).
Later in his letter, the Apostle reveals the Father’s glorious plan behind his Son’s propitiation of the sins of the world and the Father’s passing over them:
So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory? (vv. 9:18-23).
Therefore, when we look at the universal aspect of Christ’s work on the cross, we must look at it as the temporal turning aside of the wrath of God so that God could manifest the riches of his glory to those whom he had chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.
How do we know that this universal propitiation is temporal? We know this because Scripture clearly teaches that all men will be judged and, apart from Christ, condemned according to their deeds, be they public or private (cf. Romans 2:16; Rev. 20:12, 13). Therefore, when Christ turns aside the wrath of the Father toward the world, its wrath-bearing effect finds its end on Judgment Day and not beyond.
Tomorrow, we will take a look at the temporal mercy and gifts that the work of Christ has brought to all of mankind.