There are many different views on who Christ died for. He died for sinners, this much is made very clear, but who receives this is not as clear. Who you think receives redemption depends on many different factors of your beliefs. For example, if you believe that God already knows and has chosen who will accept Him and his redemption, and that redemption only comes to those who accept it, then you might believe that redemption comes only to those already predestined to receive it. Perhaps you believe that redemption is only for those who repent, then those are the only people who receive. The big question with that is, do people have a choice whether or not they repent. Could repentance be predetermined and predestined by God? Does He even know who will repent? Does He have the ability to know and choose not to? Is it completely free with little to know influence from God? These are many questions that need to be asked before we can even begin to ask more complex questions on redemption.
Once you have a stance on repentance, and who repents, then you can start more reasonably asking questions on redemption. Is Jesus’s death solely for those who repent? If he died for all of us then should we be automatically saved? If this is not the case, then how did He know who to die for in the first place? Did He die for everyone but then withhold redemption from those who chose not to repent and accept it? I personally think that this is such the case. I believe that Jesus died for all of us, but we don’t receive redemption unless we choose to repent and accept this gift. Probably the most oft-quoted verse on this subject is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This verse would seem to indicate that redemption is given on a belief-based system. He gave Jesus so that Jesus could save and bring eternal life to whoever believes, to whoever repents.
Another important question to be asking is what did Jesus’ death actually do? There are more than just a few theories. Some of the most prominent of which are the Ransom Theory, Penal Substitution, Christus Victor, Moral Influence, Satisfaction and Governmental Theory. Some are extremely popular, some not so much, but all extremely prominent theories.
Probably among the most popular views and most likely (based on scripture) today is the Ransom Theory of Atonement. It states that Jesus paid a ransom for our sins. Not everyone agrees on who the ra
nsom is paid to. May believe Satan, even more still believe that He paid the ransom to God, our final judge. Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” This is the verse that many use to prove the theory of ransom. That Jesus was a form of payment for our sins. (For more information on this see http://www.theopedia.com/Atonement_of_Christ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ransom_theory_of_atonement)
Another popular belief is Penal Substitution. This Theory is very similar to the one preceding it. It believes that Jesus wasn’t merely a ransom for sins, but he was the ransom. Jesus actually took the penalty of the law for sinners. He took our place. He took our sins as His own and paid the price for them. So it’s very similar in that He paid for our sins, except in this case He took the punishment instead of simply paying the ransom for them. (For more information on this see http://carm.org/dictionary-penal-substitution)
Christus Victor is also along these same lines. It teaches the victory of Christ. It teaches that He did not ransom us or take the pr
ice of our sins for us, but He rescued us. We were under the influence of Satan and his demons and Jesus ripped that power away from the Devil in a holy victory. This is done through the death on the cross. (For more information see the first 5 minutes of the video provided Christus Victor and http://www.theopedia.com/Christus_Victor)
The next three take different approaches to the theory. The first of these is Moral Influence. This says that Christ did not die to take our place, to ransom us or to vanquish an enemy, but to warn us. It says that God chose to have Jesus die on the cross in order to teach us to be more moral, to repent and to improve ourselves, lest we suffer the same punishment. (For more see http://www.theopedia.com/Moral_Influence_theory_of_atonement)
The next of these is the Satisfaction theory. Basically this states that all humans can do is what we’re supposed to do. we can’t do anything more than that and when we sin we do much less than that. So if God wants to be satisfied, honored and glorified He had to make an alternative way to do that. He chose to do that through making someone more than human yet still human, Jesus. All God, and all man. That is how He got his satisfaction, through Jesus. (For more go to http://www.theopedia.com/Satisfaction_theory_of_the_atonement)
The last theory is the Governmental theory. This is an interesting one. This says that Christ’s did nothing. In this way it is similar to the Moral Influence theory. Christ’s death did not ransom, did not pay the penalty for or in any way atone for our sins. He took a blameless person, his son and punished him, made him to suffer, like a sacrifice. Except this sacrifice was a demonstration of the penalty for sin. It showed God’s seriousness concerning and abhorrence for sin. (Dig deeper at http://www.theopedia.com/Governmental_theory_of_atonement)
Ultimately I believe that John 3:16 and Romans 10:9 (If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.) show that the Ransom Theory and Penal Substitution are the most likely to be correct. However nobody can truly know unless God reveals that to them. What we know is what the Bible says and at the end of the day, that’s all anyone really knows.