If predestination and election are true, then with John 3:16 did Jesus die for the world for only for the elect? Same thing with 1 Timothy 2:4, it says that God desires ALL men to be saved. Doesn’t this contradict predestination?
Before we are able to respond to the question, we need to remember that predestination and election are true. There is no biblical wiggle room considering Romans 8-9, Ephesians 2, the Old Testament themes of the election of Israel, among many others. The question is not if election is true but how is it true.
How do we understand it and how does it work its way out through the mind of God?
“Clear texts clarify unclear texts” is an important tool to use in understanding the Bible. The precedent is clearly set throughout the Bible that some are in right relationship with God, others are not, and those that are not will be judged according to their sin. We need to look at passages like John 3:16 and 1 Timothy 2:4 through the lens that considers all of the Bible.
Let’s look at the John passage first. John 3:16 is a paradigmatic verse about how God offers us salvation through his Son Jesus. God loved the world so much that he gave His only Son Jesus to die and rise again so that we may have forgiveness of sins and new life.
The second part of that verse provides stipulation for having forgiveness and new life. It says, “whosoever believes in me shall not perish but have eternal life.” This is a conditional verse, so one must profess faith in Jesus to have eternal life. The doctrine of election says God gives saving faith as a gift to those he chooses, thus allowing them to believe. God gives the gift of salvation to the ones who believe. God can love the whole world but some will not believe in Jesus.
Now let’s look at 1 Timothy 2:4. This verse is one of the most difficult to understand in light of the doctrine of election. 1 Timothy 2 is encouraging the church to pray for all people, including those farthest away from God like the Roman leaders, kings, and the like. We are to pray for all people because God “desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” John Calvin, a 16th century theologian, says this passage refers to all different types of people. He tells Timothy to “pray for all people,” but of course this is impossible. The author’s instruction to Timothy is to lead his church in praying for all types of people, which include kings, rulers, etc. God is saying that he desires and will save all different types of people, not every person.
This is in line with what we see in the book of Revelation 7, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”
It is good news that God has prepared people from all over the world to come and know him. We must be praying for people all over the world to come to faith in Jesus, and we need to be praying if God wants us to leave this country and serve Him in an unreached people group. The Joshua Project website is a great tool to find out about unreached people groups and how to pray.