As Christians learn more about Jesus, they discover many things about his love. In what ways had he shown love for them?
His love for them was a receiving love in the sense that he gladly accepted them before time as a gift from his Father. The Father and the Son entered into an eternal agreement which involved the Son acting in various ways on behalf of an innumerable number of sinners that the Father gave to him. Before he did anything for them, the Son loved them as the Father’s gift to him. So they love him because he received them lovingly in this way.
His love for them was a representative love in the sense that from then on he did everything as their agent. This is a profound mystery and very difficult to understand, nevertheless it is the case that his people were in his mind as Jesus, with the Father and the Spirit, engaged in the works of creation and providence. Each Christian can say that Jesus worked to prepare that individual’s personality and situation. Their genetic make-up is the outcome of generations of development, but Jesus has been in charge of it, all the time having his eye on each of them. The situations in which they found themselves when they met him through the gospel were arranged by him just as certainly as was the character and situation of Levi when Jesus recruited him into his group of disciples. The universe was created by Jesus for them as the location in which he would meet with them.
Of course, his representation of them is more particular in the sense that he came to earth in order to live a perfect life on their behalf and then take their place when he paid the penalty of their sins as he suffered on the cross. Think of the details in the Gospels in which Jesus interacts perfectly with sinners. Then imagine how you would have reacted when you have met similar persons. At one level, Jesus is dealing with them personally, at another level he is keeping the law on behalf of his sinful people, and as they read about how he did so, they love him, even although they have not seen him.
When we turn to the cross, we see that his love was a redeeming love that rescued them from slavery to sin. What matters is not that they never saw him on the cross – after all, many people saw the crucifixion and received no benefit. Instead what matters is that they have received the benefits of the cross, and they include deliverance from sin’s bondage, pardon for their rebellion, cleansing from defilement, and promise of a rich inheritance. As they realise such blessing that came from the one who loved them, they love him in return.