Here is the text:
1 “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” ESV
Arminians will yank this passage out of its context in order to say, “See God desires that all be saved, therefore Jesus’ atonement cannot be limited.” Arminians never seem to acknowledge that Reformed folk might possibly have considered this possibility, and read the passage.
Verse 4 is part of a longer sentence that begins in verse 3. Well, verse 3, in turn begins with “This.” To what does that “this” refer? Well, it refers to the prayers made for all people in verse 1. So we see that the “all” in verse 4, must be the “all” in verse 1. To whom does the “all” in verse 1 refer? Well, it has primary reference to the kings and all who are in high places in verse 2. Paul’s concern here, then, is that God does not restrict salvation to only one social class. Rulers can be saved just as common people can be saved. It is easy, when one is in a particular social class, to look down on all other social classes. This can happen whether one is high up on the social ladder, or lower down. This interpretation is confirmed by verse 5, which goes on to note that there is only one Mediator. Someone lower down does not need someone socially higher up in order to be a Christian. He does not need a fallible human mediator, but a divine-human infallible Mediator.
The other aspect of this passage has to do with the will of God. Traditional Reformed theology has always distinguished between the written revealed will of God in the Bible, which can be disobeyed, and the decretal will of God, which cannot be thwarted. If God desired all to be saved in the decretal sense, then all would be saved. But it is quite possible that we are talking about the revealed will of God, where God does indeed call on all to repent and turn from their ways. God does not take delight in the death of the wicked, though it does serve a noble and laudable purpose in God’s will.