"Christ died for His elect only."
"Christ died to benefit all the people in the world."
The statements sound mutually exclusive. But a close reading of the words of Paul to the Colossians regarding Christ's work of reconciliation show that both are, in different and specific senses, true.
One of Paul's obvious intentions in Colossians 1 is to assert the sovereign authority of Christ over all other persons "in the heavens and on earth." With this intention in mind, Paul writes of Christ, the "first-born of all creation" (vs.15), being the one by whom all things are created and for whom all things were created (vs.16), being before all things and the one in whom all things hold together (vs.17). Plainly in all these phrases, the Greek word translated "all" refers to "all without exception" rather than the some time appropriate alternative "all without distinction." (e.g. I Timothy 6:10 "For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil..." NASB) Careful attention to the details of the letter reveals that after these all-encompassing statements about Christ's authority, Paul directs the attention of the Colossian Christians to Christ's specific authority over the church. Verse 18 says "He is also the head of the body, the church, the first-born from the dead." The conclusion follows: "so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything." The logic is: He is head of all things in general. He is the head of the church in particular. Therefore, He is the head of everything.
At verse 19, Paul moves on from the authority of Christ to the reconciliatory work of Christ. In the four verses that follow, Paul uses the same logical sequence as we observed in verses 14-18. You could say, he uses an argument of the same shape. First, he writes of the work by which Christ reconciles "all things to Himself. Note the details. This work of reconciliation was accomplished by making "peace through the blood of His cross." Lest any reader miss the universal nature of this reconciliation, Paul adds "...through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven." He then goes on in verse 21 and 22, as he did identically in verse 18, to consider the same aspect of Christ (in the former case: His headship; in this case: His reconciliation), in regard to the church. "And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death..." We ought to notice that here the details regarding the work of reconciliation differ from the details previously mentioned. In verse 20, it was "peace through the blood of the cross." Here in verse 22, it is reconciliation "in His fleshly body through death." A different sort of reconciliation; a different "target group" (Actually a subset of the former "target group"); a different means of reconciliation.
If this reading is correct, we have here in Colossians 1:14-22 a clear
statement of Christ's accomplishment on the cross regarding the entire human race, and
next to it, a clear statement of Christ's accomplishment on the cross regarding the elect
of God. The general crowd are reconciled in some general sense. This can be thought of as
the purchase of "common grace" by which the entire world is entitled to
"live and move and have its being," even though it is ruined and defiled by sin
and must live, if allowed to live at all, in the presence (The omnipresence!) of the holy
God. The "smaller crowd," the multitude from "every tongue and tribe and
people and nation," receive, as a result of Christ's death, an even more amazing
grace by which their sins are eternally forgiven and they are accepted into the
household of God as "sons through faith in Christ Jesus."
The significance of this "twofold reconciliation" is that Christ is the source of every kindness received by every human being in all time, and that no human being will ever be entitled to say "I owe nothing to Christ for I have received nothing from Him!"
"Christ died to benefit all the people in the world?" "Christ died for His elect only?" In fact, both statements are true!