What Is The Intent Of The Atonement?
Elder Wm. Doyal Thomas
Former Pastor - Philadelphia Baptist Church
Decatur , Alabama

Why does God save sinners? Why does He provide a covering for the sins of His elect and clothe them in the righteous robes which His Son procured for them? Why does He do it?  

The answer to these questions will give us a clearer understanding of the wondrous subject of atonement. And failure to grasp these answers as scripturally provided will leave us in darkness on the matter and cause us to be unappreciative of God’s marvelous purpose and work.  

Please examine Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, and note specifically his assertion of motive in verses 6, 12, and 14 of the first chapter. I quote them here, and ask you to read the entirety of the discourse so that you may see their contextual setting. Verse 6- “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” Verse 12 - “That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.” Verse 14 - “Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.”  

To the praise of His glory is the repeated and constantly stated purpose as to why God does what He does in the behalf of the Ephesian saints. What ever God does for them, He does in order that His glory might be manifested. It is for His OWN glory!  

In verse 6, it is implied that those who have been made accepted in the Beloved have been so blessed of God above all those who have not been made accepted. But it was not done so that those blessed ones could or would desire to receive praise and glory. Rather, it was done so that all the glory and associated praise would be His alone. His alone? His ALONE!  

God’s actions having been taken to make certain sinners accepted in His Beloved Son secures its intended purpose. And this was done in accordance with God’s own covenant that identified the saints as His chosen ones, “according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world ...” (verse4).  

God further states that the chosen ones “should be holy and without blame before him ...” (verse 4), and that He “predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (verse 5).  

Now all this then is said to be “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” And that’s why He did what He did. It was to the praise of the glory of His grace.  

Further study of the verses that follow will likewise yield good and wholesome instruction for the Spiritually enlightened, as we see that the great benefits that are the portion of those elected by God and predestinated unto the adoption of children unfolded before us in verses 7 thru 11.  

There is “redemption through His blood”. There is “the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” There is wisdom and prudence “abounding toward us”. There is the promise that God will make known unto us “the mystery of His will”, and the gathering “together in one all things in Christ”. Then there is the assurance that we “have obtained an inheritance”, and that we have been “predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will:”  

And why all this? “That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ” (verse 12). Why all this? It is to the “praise of His glory”. Ultimately, everything is to the praise of His glory.

Likewise then, verse 13 sets forth what the saints of God have been provided now, and have been assured of in a future time. Namely, when we were caused to “hear the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation”, we were “sealed with that holy Spirit of promise”. The Holy Spirit of promise is our present portion and is said to be the “earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession” (verse 14), and it is still all “unto the praise of His glory”.  

Now, we have been quite lengthy in this exposition of Ephesians 1:1-14, but we trust not overly so. We have sought to give Scriptural proof of God’s own stated motive as to why He has chosen to undertake in behalf of His own. And again we ask, “Why did He?” And we answer, “for His own glory”, and for the “praise of that glory”.  

I ask you to consider also in this matter one verse found in Jeremiah. “The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee” (Jermiah 31:3). THEREFORE, or upon the basis of, or with the motive or INTENT to lovingly draw thee. I loved you eternally, God said, and for THAT reason I have drawn thee unto Myself. Why? For His own glory, that’s why.  

We can correctly assert that the intent of the atonement then is ultimately and finally for God’s own glory, and for the praise that is His as His redeemed ones will forever and eternally offer that praise. God’s glory is the motive for His actions, and He has acted, and does act with intent. Therefore, His intent in providing atonement for His elect is His own glory.  

Of old God spoke to Israel, His chosen people, His representative people, and said unto them: “This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise” (Isaiah 43:21).  

Even in creation, God’s actions in bringing forth a people was with intent to get glory unto Himself and to reap praise unto Himself from His creatures. He has clearly stated His motive and His intent and for any creature to imagine another motive or another intention is to imagine incorrectly. But men do so often times imagine otherwise.  

The design of the atonement, or its intent, then, is to bring glory to God who purposed the atonement in grand and majestic eternal past. In solitary splendor the Eternal Three entered upon agreement in all things to get glory, honor, and praise. This agreement, or covenant was with Themselves, and it was in accordance with the Will that then was, and was to be exhibited to a then uncreated spectrum of creatures, and to a vast inanimate creation.  

The creation then was to manifest the work of God in His intent to atone for the sins of His people, chosen unto Himself, but as then uncreated. The creation was to be the declarative arena from which God would get glory to Himself as He brings about the restoration of His elect to His moral image and likeness, from which they were seen as fallen, even before they were brought forth from the dust of the earth.  

Had God determined to create an infinite number of men, but to keep His elect from falling into sin in Adam with all the rest, He would have gotten glory to Himself from them. He did keep a portion of the created angels in their first estate and did not permit them to sin. And He is now getting, and will get glory to Himself from them.  

But He purposed to allow His elect from among men to sin with all the rest, and to fall from their created estate into a state of death in Adam. From this fallen state, His elect, along with all others now need to be restored to that state of being in God’s moral image and in His likeness so that there can once again be communion and fellowship as there was before Adam, and they, sinned and suffered the consequences of being separated from God.  

Thus, God purposed their atonement with the intent of restoring His elect to Himself, and in so doing, to get greater glory to Himself than He gets from the angels that He kept from falling. He does get great glory from His kept angels. They do utilize the time now, and in all eternity will continue to serve Him, and to sing of His majesty. He does get glory from them, His angels.  

But with the elect of men, God has always intended somewhat differently. He purposed to demonstrate that His foreknowledge of His people would be seen as He does all that He does for them. His foreknowledge of them being His forelove of them, He now manifests to them the vast scope of that love. He loved them, THEREFORE, He came for them, as Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word entered their world to secure to Himself. He came for them, for His own glory.  

It is needless to say that many men and many religious systems put forth a hypothesis relative to the atonement that is different from what is here declared. The fact that there is great disagreement among men in this matter is evident. And we do not plan to delve into each of those systems of men. Rather, we want to be used of God to declare His purpose and intent, and then to rest upon His Spirit to produce what ever result in men as seems Him good.  

We will, by His grace and Divine enablement, ask some pointed questions. We will, by His grace and Divine enablement, declare from the Scriptures what He has said and what He has done concerning the atonement.  

Consider this: Were there spare bedrooms, or other unutilized compartments in the ark that God told Noah to build? Did God permit Noah to design the ark to meet his own imagined purpose? Did Noah express his will in the design of the ark? Was Noah allowed to exhibit a selfish attitude and to provide space for his family only, to the exclusion of the multitudes who perished in the judgment flood?  

Whose design was used in the construction of the ark, the place of provided safety? Look to Genesis for the entirety of the account of the flood of judgement and of God instructing Noah and in His dealing with him and with his family.  

Please note that in Genesis 6:14, God tells Noah, “Make thee an ark ...” Then in the next several verses, through chapter 9, God refers to this same ark as “the ark”, at least 26 times. The ark that God designed was first “an ark”. And from that point onward, it is simply “the ark”. Never another ark, but “the ark”. The same ark. Never another ark. Is that significant?  

Next, take note of verse 18 of Genesis 6. “But with THEE will I establish my covenant; and THOU shalt come into the ark, THOU and THY sons, and THY wife, and THY son’s wives with THEE” (Genesis6:18). (Emphasis mine - WDT). 

Doesn’t the preciseness of the language of God strike a wondrous note of assurance for us? Can you find fault with the exact terms that God chose to express His design, or intent, or purpose here? Did God know what He was saying? Did He make a mistake in His choice of words?  

As you hear the positions of men and their systems concerning the atonement, you are, no doubt, led to imagine that if the thoughts of men are true, then those sinners who perished outside the ark did so with provision having been made for them, and with space aplenty available for them inside the ark.  

But is this the case? Read verse 18 again and then ask yourself these questions. Who was commanded to enter the ark? With whom did God establish a covenant? Does the answers to these questions surprise you? Does the answers to these questions startle you? Or anger you? Is God precise in His declarations? Is there assurance for you? I pray that there is. I pray that God will give you assurance of His love for you.  

What was the stated purpose of the ark that God in meticulous, particular, precise detail instructed Noah to build? “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear to the saving of his house; ...” (Hebrews 11:7a). It was to the saving of his house. It was not to seek to save others. It was not to offer to save others. It was “to the saving of his house”.  

This intent or purpose was so clearly stated that it seems to be totally foolish for anyone to miss the point. And yet, because of the darkened mind of men, there remains to this day great confusion within the realm of professing Christendom. There is uncertainty on every hand as to what God intended to do in the matter of atonement.  

Especially is this true as to those for whom atonement was intended. Was it for all men without exception that Christ came and suffered and died? Many there are who say so, without considering what this would mean if indeed God’s intentions were such. Have you thought this thing through to its conclusion? What if it was God’s intention that His Son would come and die for the sins of all men, without exception?  

There is only one conclusion that could be rationally arrived at, were this true. And that is, God failed in His purpose or intent. We say this, not without reverence for God, and not with malice toward any man who says this is what God intended. We do not seek to be argumentative, for the sake of being argumentative. Rather, we say this desiring that all God’s people everywhere have the truth.  

If God intended that the sacrifice of His well Beloved Son, the Darling of His Bosom, was to procure atonement, or reconciliation for all of Adam’s race, then He was not successful in carrying out His purpose. All men are not saved, nor will they be saved.  

Did Christ, in His glorious Person and in His grand work fail? Did He declare, with strength unimpaired, “It is finished” (John 19:30)? Did He dismiss His spirit, and lay down His life, of His own will? Or, was His life taken from Him, against His will? Was His work finished, as He said, or was there remaining work that He needed to do, but didn’t, or couldn’t do? Was there work for others to do?  

The disturbances of the human mind would be endless had it been, as many men declare, that Christ came to render all men savable, but that they just will not let Him have His way. Were this the case, then there could never be rest and assurance. If Christ meant to die for all men, and did die for all men, then those in hell He died for too. Why are they in hell? Are they being punished for sins that He had previously and perfectly paid for. If He paid for them at all, then He paid for them perfectly, for He is perfect in all His ways and work. If the sins of those in hell were paid for, but somehow, imperfectly paid for, then it is not Christ who paid. Then who?  

Were this the case, what assurance would there be for you and I? How could we be assured that His work was able to secure us for time and eternity? Could we preach and could we believe that Christ did for us what we needed?  

If but one man, one son of Adam, can be scripturally proven to be in the judgment fires of hell, then one of only two possibilities concerning that man exists. Either he is in hell with his sins atoned for, and with God’s intent and purpose in regard to him unmet, OR Christ did not pay for his sins at all.  

And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:22, 23).  

If there be any who read these words who believe that Christ died for all men, without exception, then you are saying that He died for the rich man of Luke 16. You are saying that this man is in hell with his sins atoned for. Why is he in hell? I know what you are thinking. You imagine that Christ died for all the sins of all men EXCEPT for the sin of unbelief. Isn’t that your position?  

Is unbelief a sin? Will one sin, even the sin of unbelief, constitute one a sinner? What is the end for sinners? Let’s examine these three questions according to Scripture.

1.) Is unbelief a sin? “... for whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23b). What is faith? “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, evidence of things not seen ...” (Hebrews11:1). But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews11:6). Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: FOR ALL MEN HAVE NOT FAITH(II Thessalonians 3:1-2) (Emphasis mine – WDT.) 

2.) Will one sin, even the sin of unbelief, constitute one a sinner? “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that BELIEVETH NOT is condemned already, because he hath NOT BELIEVED in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). (Emphasis mine – WDT.) 

How many sins did Adam commit before he was constituted and denominated a sinner? Was Adam’s sin a sin of unbelief? What was the result of Adam’s sin? “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; AND HE DID EAT. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons”, (Genesis 3:6, 7). (Emphasis mine – WDT.)

Was Adam’s action sinful? Had not God said, “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:16, 17).  

3.) What is the end for sinners? Note please that as soon as Adam did eat, (not when Eve had eaten), the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. The eyes of them both were opened when Adam sinned. They both were then made aware that they were naked in body, and they knew shame because of the sin of Adam. And they sought to cover their physical nakedness. They both knew because Adam was the federal head of Eve. She knew because she was represented by him, and when he sinned, she sinned. She had eaten before he ate; but she sinned when he sinned.  

What they did not know, because sin had darkened their minds and rendered all their faculties impotent, was that they were exposed to the judgment of God against their sin that they had sinned against Him. And they, at that same moment, began to act like depraved sinners. They thought that if they could cover their physical nakedness they would be all right. They did not discern their actual condition as being exposed to the judicial pronouncement of God. THEY DID NOT KNOW, THEY DID NOT BELIEVE!  

But remember that God had said, “... in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”. And die they did. That same exact day, they died spiritually. Therefore, they could no longer discern spiritual things (c.f. I Corinthians 2:14).  

Again I ask, “How many sins did Adam commit before he died under the penalty that God had announced?” One sin you say? And correctly you have said. Just one sin. And what was the nature of that sin that Adam sinned? Was it not a sin of unbelief, as all other sins against God are sins of unbelief when reduced to their lowest point. Unbelief and rebellion are the sins of men against God.  

And what is the end for sinners? Separation from God is the immediate end for sinners. And separation and punishment is the lasting and permanent end for sinners except they be reconciled to God; except they be brought back to God; except their sins be covered, or atoned for. Except God intervene, sinners are doomed to an eternal punishment in the lake of fire. Except God take up their case, they are doomed to a just and lasting banishment.  

How can we be scripturally assured that God’s elect will each receive the benefits of the atoning work of Jesus Christ? How can we know that we will not be left in our fallen state as captives to Satan and to sin? It is this aspect of the work of Christ that we now turn our attention.  

In the Old Testament, God has given His people positive assurance that He will, in mercy and grace deal with their sin, and as a consequence of His intent to deal with their sin, and of His actual dealing with their sin, He will deliver them from its bondage and penalty. He will set them free.  

The book of Leviticus contains much discussion on the matter of redemption. Both the redemption of possessions and of persons is here spoken of, and the assurance given that God will undertake their redemption. He had said, “For the life of the flesh isin the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11).  

In Leviticus, chapter 25, the details of redemption of possessions and of persons are clearly laid out for our instruction and for our edification. A kinsman may redeem. But only a kinsman. No other may redeem. A ransom must be paid by the kinsman. Not just any ransom, but an exact ransom; a precise ransom.  

This ransom that must be paid by the redeeming kinsman must exactly correspond to the obligation that was owed, or that would be owed when the final accounting or reckoning would take place. Reckoning must be made from the amount that obligation or debt was first incurred until the final accounting time. That is, past debt, present debt, and future debt must be included in calculating this required corresponding ransom price.  

When the calculated ransom price was determined, its value must be presented by the kinsman to the one to whom the debt was owed; to the one who held the obligatory note that demanded that payment be made.  

On the day of accounting, or at the time appointed to effect redemption, the kinsman appeared with the suitable ransom price, and in the presence of acceptable witnesses paid what was demanded. He paid the exact price that corresponded to the debt that was owed. He did not come short in the payment value, nor was more demanded of him than what was owed.  

The reckoning had been completed so that the obligations past, present, and future were included. Nothing that was justly owed was overlooked, or neglected. No future charges that could possibly be brought up were ignored. All was accounted in the reckoning and corresponding price was established. There was not lack. Neither was there over plus. The price corresponded to the demand.  

The result of this reckoning and paying was this: When the ransom price which corresponded to the debt owed was rendered, the captive went free. There was no doubt. There was no haggling. The captive went free. And this was because, and only because the ransom had been paid. No debt lingered, nor would there be future charges. The account is settled.  

In the case of the sinners for whom Jesus Christ stood Surety, or Kinsman, their debt was charged to Him, and He assumed their obligation to pay. And their obligation was to God, against Whom they had sinned - thus incurring the debt. It was to the Father, Jehovah God then that Jesus Christ, God the Son rendered obedience and paid what was owed.  

This is why we can declare without fear that each and every one of God’s elect will be redeemed, purchased, ransomed, and set free. This is why Paul declared the security of the believer in Romans 8:35-39. If you will read Romans 8:35-39 you will find this to be the case.  

And you will also find when you readRomans 8:28-34 why there is security. It is because redemption has been based upon God having determined to save His people from their sins. Here it is: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:29-31).  

Since God had declared His intention to save His people, by redeeming them, He has never wavered from that purpose. And He will not alter His purpose. For He is God. He changes not.  

But you may ask, “When did God declare His intention to save His people by redeeming them?” And here is the answer: “And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou has done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:14, 15). 

By sending the “Seed of the woman” to bruise the head of the serpent, God has announced that He intends to overcome the sin that came upon His people. He has declared that He will get the victory, and that the power of His enemy, Satan, will be rendered impotent to withstand the Omnipotent One who will defeat him.  

When the forerunner of the “Seed of the woman’ came, he announced this same intent or purpose. He said, “Behold the Lamb of God”. And it was the Person of Jesus Christ, and none other that the Baptist pointed to when he made that thunderous announcement.  

Even before this event, God had sent His messenger to Joseph, the espoused one to the virgin, to give him comfort, assurance, and instruction concerning this One who was coming. The angel of the Lord said to Joseph, “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).  

Now how, or upon what terms does Jesus save His people from their sins? Do you remember, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11).  

Upon the authority of God’s word we declare that the basis of the atonement is the blood. It is only upon the blood. It is upon no other basis. It is upon no combination of elements, or ingredients. It is solely and totally upon the blood.  

The blood is given. It is the blood of Another. It is the blood of “the Seed of the woman”. The blood is given upon the altar, and this altar is the altar of God, where Sacrifice is made to effect appeasement and to pay the demanded and essential redeeming price. It is Christ dying for us as He sheds His blood in our behalf so that He might ransom, redeem, and purchase back “His people”.  

What is the intent of the atonement? The atonement was designed and intended to atone for the sins of God’s people. And there was in no sense any intent beyond this. There was no effort made, nor intent to provide that all men without exception would be offered opportunity to have a right standing before God. Atonement is not on the basis of “opportunity”, but is on the basis of the sure mercies of God, in Christ Jesus.  

It is true that all men of Adam’s race were, and are in need. It is also true that all men of Adam’s race were in need because they all were, and are sinners. But it is not true that God has done everything with the intent of recovering them all from their fallen state. Otherwise, we would be forced to the position of acknowledging that God failed to accomplish His intent or His purpose.  

For the universal or unlimited atonement advocate, we say that were your hypothesis correct, then God is a failure. Were you correct, then God would have attempted to make all sinners clean and would have found himself unable to do so. Does this sound like God? Does this fit the declarations that God has made concerning Himself?  

Let me ask you to consider this. When God instructed Moses to tell the children of Israel to shed the blood of sacrificial lambs so that blood be applied to the door posts of the houses where Israel dwelt in Egypt, did He likewise, or in any wise, tell Pharaoh or any other Egyptian to do so? Did He? Why didn’t He? Was it God’s intent to provide a blood sacrifice to make an atonement for any except His people? Was it? Why wasn’t it? Did He provide any blood sacrifice for any other than His own people? Why didn’t He?  

It is clear that God intended to save His people from their sins. It is equally clear that He had no intention of seeking to save any others. God acted with intent when He, by eternal covenant stipulation, caused His Son to stand as a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. God acted with intent. God acted upon purpose. And what He has done is exactly what He intended and purposed to do.  


The atonement is a stupendous doctrine. It is wondrous in its scope and in its accomplishment. It is so because it is God’s work, and because He has determined to do that great work to bring back His people to communion and fellowship with Himself.  

Now there are only two possible positions that one can take concerning the scope of the atonement. One of these positions is that God provided a universal atonement, but found it to be only partially successful, for not all men are saved. The only other position that one can be brought to is that God intended to make atonement for the souls of His people, and for them only. This is the correct position. 

The atonement that God provides truly does its work and actually atones for the souls of those for whom it was intended. It does not come short of its design and purpose. It does not find itself impotent, but rather it is able to accomplish its design. Thank God for His Atonement. Thank God for Jesus Christ, our Passover, our Mercy Seat.

(The Baptist Herald - August, 1990)

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