1 John 2:1-2
My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.
John writes to those he has relationship whether from proximity, or spiritual heritage. He considers them his progeny in the faith, using this relationship to emphasize the spiritual truths he has just shared and will share. He has just written 1 John 1:5-10 so that they would not consciously participate and practice sin. He is not promoting sinless perfectionism, since later he again addresses those who say they don’t sin, calling them liars. After this transition sentence, he also reveals the reality of our sinful nature failing. Thank the Lord, that are acceptance is not based on obedience but grace.
This picture he documents is deep personally, relationally, legally, and eternally. I don’t wish to get in to theological debates, but to exegete the grammar to show these truths. First we understand that we still sin even after our relationship with Christ has been established. This is personal, since we are confronted with our failure and Jesus is no longer Lord at that point since we worship our own desires. Second, the word advocate, paraklete, is familiar from John’s Gospel in reference to the Holy Spirit, but here is referring to Christ, in a subtly different way. This is a legal term, but not one strictly referring to a defense lawyer. Reading through several commentaries, the deduction is more of an innocent representative friend pleading for the other guilty friend. Why is this significant? It shows that Jesus is the advocate for those he has relationship with, not necessarily his decided enemies. Yes, we were all enemies at one time, but that relationship changed at regeneration and faith. He doesn’t advocate for those not in relationship with him. Third, we have partially addressed the legal aspects of him as representative, or on behalf of. The depth of this aspect is further explored in verse 2 with the word propitiation.
The word interpreted here as propitiation carries with it a three fold definition, not a singular one of “wrath appeasing sacrifice.” The word expiation is conveyed with it in its use here also, meaning the removal of defilement or sin. Last, we cannot neglect the word implied of atonement or covering of sin. So in this singular word we see Jesus as the one who has offered himself as the sacrifice satisfying God’s wrath toward rebellion. Christ’s sanguine suffering cleanses us from sin permanently. Last, his righteousness as a perfect offering covers us. This threefold fulfillment should bring us to our knees in adoration, humility, thankfulness and worship. Not only is he our innocent friend representing us, but he in our stead suffered our deserving punishment from righteous judgment, cleansing us from sin, imputing his righteousness, and satisfying God’s holiness for eternal relationship. Which is our last point, the eternality of this act was singular though worked out through time. The advocate has represented his friend and provided a satisfactory testimony to the judge, but has also provided a satisfactory substitutionary punishment thereby allowing us to be exonerated of guilt and shame. We are justified eternally. Oh how great the promises of fulfillment of these two verses!
Back to the grammatical structure…John has just finished some significant “If we” statements about sin, life, and forgiveness in 1 John 1:5-10. Chapter two starts with some other pronouns. John personalizes the church/believer relationship with the pronoun “my” implying his father figure whether personally, pastorally, or both. He then goes on to say that “I” and writing to “you” differing from chapter 1 verse 4, which is “we” write to “you”, likely including his amanuensis (dictation secretary) or accompanying traveler. Though this is nice to consider, notice the pronoun pairing and use now. “If anyone sins, we have…” The structure limits the application the pronouns. Either anyone means everyone, or it is limited in scope to meany anyone of certain group. If it meant everyone, then it would read, “If anyone sins, everyone has an advocate with the Father…” This understanding employs a universalist approach to salvation. The other option would mean that “anyone” is limited in scope by the similarity of the pronoun “we.” So who is we? The we is defined in 1 John 1:5-10, those who walk in the light and confess their sins, meaning those who are saved by grace through faith. Next the use of Father shows existing relationship. Despite God being Creator of all men, He is not Father of all men, but Judge until relationship is transformed through adoption (Ephesians 1:3-5).
Verse 2 employs the pronoun ours which is plural possessive, again limiting the scope of application. It is paired with noun “world.” World commonly has four definitions, first it means this dirt ball or earth, second it means the system of sin and rule in the world, third it means every single person of mankind, and last it generically means a sampling of all mankind. This last definition is what fits. It is easily seen in Revelation 7:9 (NKJV), “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands,…”
So here in 1 John 2:2, the scope of propitiation is limited by two things. First it is limited by the connectivity of ours and world. World is defined by similar characteristics of the pronoun ours referring back to 2:1, and 1:5-10, meaning those who are walking in the light, confessing their sin, walking in truth, understand their sin, and have a relationship with their advocate. Second, the word propitiation is limited in scope to ours and then those of similar relationship with their Advocate though the others are spread throughout the world. If we take the stance that world has a different definition, we become universalists yet again. For if the advocate has atoned for, covered, removed all defilement, and he was an innocent personal representative with just testimony whom the Judge has accepted in both word, life, and sacrifice, why does the Judge still punish the original guilty one? So to say that Christ was the propitiation for everyone who was every created places us in the conundrum of the God’s actions. How does he punish if the sins are paid for? Many say that Christ has paid for all sins, but the efficaciousness of the punishment is in the bank, withdrawn by faith. So it is available to everyone but not applicable to everyone. This makes my head hurt. How can Christ pay for the sins of those already awaiting final judgement before their eternal suffering? Is this double indemnity, or double suffering? However if Christ is the propitiation for ours and the whole world, or those like us in the whole world this makes more sense grammatically. So please don’t through patristic reformation divine names at me. I am looking at the text, wondering how can Christ suffer and die for all of humanity, yet God rejects his suffering and death for their sin and punishes the offender anyways because of unbelief. Or God did love everyone in entire creation and gave his son to die, yet whosoever believes is covered…whoever doesn’t is condemned. Just a few thoughts…