A Problem with the Doctrine of the General Atonement

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
2 Peter 3:9

The idea that Christ died for all mankind is very well-known.  However, because something is well-known does that make it correct?  By no-means is popularity an indicator that something is true.  I would encourage you to read the above verse.  More importantly, I would encourage you to read the above verse in context of the chapter it is taken from in 2nd Peter.  Peter wrote to the beloved of God on the topic of the second coming of Christ.  Peter taught that Christ had made a promise.

The promise Peter was referring to can be found in John 14:3.  Christ said “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”  Christ promised to return to earth for the purpose of gathering people to take them to be wherever He is, never to part.  You may then ask, who are the people He will be coming back to receive?  It could not be all of mankind, because hell will be occupied by people.  If not all people will go to heaven, then who?  Jesus said in John 6:39 “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.”  The answer is simple, Christ promised to come back to gather everyone the Father has given to Him and they are the ones who will live eternally with Him.  Thus, reason from what the Bible obviously teaches concludes that Christ was given a specific number of people to redeem and gather.  The promise found in the Bible is also clear that none of the people Christ possesses will be lost.  What is also revealed is that this group contains no small number of people.  In fact, the Bible says it is so large that no man can number it!  And these people are from all over the world, from every culture, from every race, with every language represented, and from every age of history, from beginning to end (Revelation 7:9).  This is proof that God has given Jesus a very, very large group of people.  This is proof of a limited atonement.

As the title states, a problem arises with the doctrine of the general atonement.  The problem is, if Christ died for all mankind, how could Christ ever return?  When would be the appropriate time?  You see, if Christ has died for everyone, then would not those who could be born after Christ’s return have an issue?  Would not then their opportunity to be saved then be lost by Christ’s return?  You see, the general atonement says that everyone’s sins have been paid for, but those people must also choose to accept the gift of eternal salvation.  If Christ were to return under these conditions, He would have to accept that there would be an infinite amount of people that would never get a chance to accept Him.  Humanity could potentially go on for generations and generations which, according to the general atonement, means that the potential for generations and generations to accept Jesus would then be lost (i.e. perish, go to hell) at Christ’s second coming.  This would place Christ in a dilemma, and thus reveal a problem with the general atonement doctrine.  This quandary does not exist with the limited atonement of the Bible.

If Christ died for a vast and foreknown group of people called the elect (1 Peter 1:2).  And Christ has promised to return and receive them into heaven then it is clear that there is a proper time for Christ to return.  As stated in 2 Peter 3:9, the Father is long-suffering while every single one of His elect come to repentance (i.e. are changed from death to life) by the exclusive and effectual work of the Holy Ghost.  Once God has sovereignly made all of His children alive in Christ, He then has no more reason to be long-suffering.  Who knows when that time will come?  Only the Father knows (Mark 13:32).  But we rest secure in the promise of His return.   And just as sure as there is a definite end to this world, there must be a vast but definite number of God’s people, and by God’s power, none of them will be lost.

Originally published February 2014

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