Who are “the lost?”
It’s common, in the world of evangelical Christianity, to call everyone who is not redeemed, lost. Is that how the Bible uses the word “lost?” This word is found 14 times in the HCSB New Testament and three of them have nothing to do with being separated from God: Mark 2:22 is talking about mixing old covenant theology with new covenant theology, using wineskins as metaphors. Luke 22:18 shows the care of God in preserving His saints during trials. 1 Corinthian 3:15 reveals that some work done in this life by the saints will be burned up (lost) in the judgment.
What of the other 11 uses? They show up in 10 verses, each providing insight into who is “lost.”
Matthew uses this term three times, referring to those to whom Jesus was sent; no reference to those left to themselves. Jesus’ initial ministry was to national Israel, as these passages reflect. But God’s plan of redemption has always included people from every nation and tongue, as many passages reveal.
Matthew 10:5-6 Jesus sent out these 12 after giving them instructions: “Don’t take the road leading to other nations, and don’t enter any Samaritan town. Instead, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Matthew 15:24 He replied, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Matthew 18:11 For the Son of Man has come to save the lost.
Luke uses the word 6 times in 5 places; in each case, the person or thing described as lost is that which was searched for and found. The parables of the lost sheep, coin, and the prodigal son all get summed up in the last passage. Salvation has come because Jesus had come to seek and save the lost! No mention of that which was lost staying lost.
Luke 15:3-7 So He told them this parable: “What man among you, who has 100 sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it? When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’ I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don’t need repentance.
Luke 15:8-10 “Or what woman who has 10 silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she finds it, she calls her women friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found the silver coin I lost!’ I tell you, in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.”
Luke 15:24 because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate.
Luke 15:31-32 “‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Luke 19:9-10 “Today salvation has come to this house,” Jesus told him, “because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.”
In John’s gospel we find this word two times, including the one use of “lost” to describe someone that was not sought out and saved; Judas was lost. As the Pulpit Commentary points out, Judas was a specific exception, having been appointed by God to serve his role as the son of destruction or perdition. Rather than having been lost then found, Judas was seemingly found and then lost. But as the second passage shows, Judas was not given to Jesus to be kept, because Jesus claims to have lost none – not even one – of those given Him by the Father. This is why the Pulpit Commentary is right and it explains why Judas does not provide grounds to call all the unbelievers “lost.”
John 17:12 While I was with them, I was protecting them by Your name that You have given Me. I guarded them and not one of them is lost, except the son of destruction, so that the Scripture may be fulfilled. The Pulpit Commentary: And I guarded (them) - ἐτήρουν signifies watchful observation; ἐφύλαξα, guardianship as behind the walls of a fortress - and not one perished - went to destruction - except that the son of perdition (has perished). Christ does not say that the son of perdition was given him by the Father and guarded from the evil one, and yet had gone to his own place; the exception refers simply to the "not one perished."
John 18:8-9 “I told you I am ⌊He⌋,” Jesus replied. “So if you’re looking for Me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the words He had said: “I have not lost one of those You have given Me.”
Summary. This last passage does not use “lost” but it shows two things: First, Jesus came to do the Father’s will, which was stated Matthew 18:11 and in Luke 19:10: For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost. Second, He will lose none of those given to Him by the Father. Every person who is lost will be saved; none who are saved will be lost. This does not say everybody will be saved, for not everyone is “lost” – only the unconverted elect are. Everyone who is not, today, a child of God is unconverted. Some of them are lost and will be found; the rest will face judgment without a refuge.
John 6:37-39 Everyone the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me: that I should lose none of those He has given Me but should raise them up on the last day.