I read a tremendously thought provoking article by B.B. Warfield the other night. I had to pick up it the next morning. It was called “Jesus Christ the Propitiation for the Whole World.” In it Warfield gives his explanation of 1 John 2:2.
“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)
In this little work, Warfield claims that the apostle John is an eschatological universalist; that is,
“he teaches the salvation of the whole world. But he is not an “each and every” universalist; he is an “eschatological” universalist. He teaches the salvation of the world through a process; it may be—it has proved to be—a long process; but it is a process which shall reach its goal.”
He goes on saying,
“at the end, therefore we shall be nothing less than the world saved by him. The contact between the “our” and “the world” in John’s mind, therefore, is at bottom the contrast between the smallness of the beginnings and the greatness of the end of Christian development.”
“It is not merely a world-wide gospel with which he knows himself entrusted: it is a world-wide salvation which he is called to proclaim. For Jesus Christ is the Savior not of a little flock merely, but of the world itself: and the end to which things are working together is nothing other than a saved world.”
Agree or disagree with Warfield’s postmillennialism (I.e. what I see here as the same as eschatological universalism), one cannot deny the ultimate end. Our Lord Jesus Christ is Savior of the whole world. It is not that Jesus merely made salvation possible, but that he indeed saves the world. However, we know this does not mean each and every individual is saved. So, we must make some amends in our understanding that John was talking about a different world than we know at this time.
It is a world that one day will be completely Christian. And it is a world that is not yet in our experience. But it is a world known to the Lord. And it is a world we can hope for. It is a world that Jesus came to save (cf. John 3:17). It is city which Christians look forward to with Abraham (cf. Hebrews 11:10).
For a copy of Warfield's paper see this pdf here.