The Spokesman Who Is the Sacrifice (1 John 2:1-2)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (11:06)

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"1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense -- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:1-2, NIV)

If First John chapter 1 contains a most discouraging prognosis of our sinfulness and blindness to our own sins, the first two verses of chapter 2 contain one of the most powerful and encouraging statements of God's love and commitment to us found anywhere in the Bible.

The Apostle John, is an old, old man, perhaps in his eighties by this time, serving as Bishop of Ephesus, planting and ministering to churches throughout Asia Minor. So he speaks to his readers as "my little children,"[1] a term of affection and love to his flock from an old warhorse in the service of Christ.

"My dear children, I write this to you...." (1 John 2:1)

Don't Sin (1 John 2:1)

John's plea is simple:

"I am writing this to you so that you may not sin."[2] (1 John 2:1)

You might think from 1 John chapter 1 that it is impossible to avoid sin, but that isn't John's point. To live a day without sinning is not impossible, but temptation and sin lie close at hand and all believers have to deal with failure from time to time. So living without any sinning is not likely. He is certainly not trying to give us a way to minimize the gravity of sin. We overuse the same tired phrases to excuse ourselves.

"I'm only human."
"I'm no saint, but...."

The old apostle would never allow that kind of fatalistic and defeatist thinking among his disciples.

Healing the Relationship

In a marriage relationship, if one party injures or offends or neglects the other, fellowship is injured, and if the offence is great enough, the fellowship can be shattered completely. Love requires truth and right action to continue fellowship, since fellowship is a two-sided relationship.

Our sins of injury, offence, rebellion, or neglect of God separate us from him. They move us out of a place of free fellowship. They create distance. The better we know Jesus, the more we feel that distance.

An Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1b)

Unfortunately, we do sin -- at least from time to time. Is there hope for us? Yes, says the Apostle John.

"But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense -- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One." (1 John 2:1b, NIV)

John portrays a scene of the heavenly court arraigned before the Father. Jesus appears as an ardent spokesmen on behalf of guilty sinners.

"One who speaks ... in our defense" (NIV), "advocate" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is the noun paraklētos, the same word used to refer to the Holy Spirit's ministry in John 14, 15, and 16, where it is variously translated as "Paraclete," "Counselor," "Comforter," "Helper." The basic meaning is "one who is called alongside to help," from para-, "near, beside" + kaleō, "to call." From this develops the idea of "helper in court." In our verse, the word denotes, "one who appears in another's behalf, mediator, intercessor, helper."[3] We see this idea elsewhere in the New Testament:

"Christ Jesus ... is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." (Romans 8:34)

"Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them." (Hebrews 7:25)[4]

Jesus stands up for all of us before the Father. Time and again! He continues to heal the relationship and draw us close to himself again.

The Atoning Sacrifice for our Sins (1 John 2:2)

But Jesus is not only our ardent Advocate and Spokesman before the Father. He has a personal stake in the matter. Jesus, the only Righteous One on earth, is also the One who personally atones for our sins. Personally. In his own body.[5]

"He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:2; also 4:10)

The word translated "atoning sacrifice" (NIV, NRSV) is the Greek noun hilasmos. The related verb means, "to gain or regain the favor of, appease, conciliate," that is, to placate, pacify, avert the anger of the deity. As the NIV footnote puts it, "He is the one who turns aside God's wrath...." The God of the Bible expresses anger against sin. However, this must be clearly differentiated from the capricious and arbitrary wrath of pagan gods of the Biblical world, who could be appeased by some kind of celestial bribery.

In the Pentateuch, the God of the Bible explains to his people a clear way to find forgiveness in case of sin. Their sin can be atoned for by presenting an animal sacrifice. The sacrifice substitutes for the sinner and dies in the sinner's place. It bears the death for sin and rebellion that the sinner deserves (Leviticus 17:11). Thus, in spite of God's anger against human rebellion and sin, he offers grace.[6]

For the Sins of the Whole World (1 John 2:2b)

Finally, it is interesting to consider the last part of the verse 2:

"He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:2)

Some argue that Jesus' died only for the elect.[7] However, verses such as 1 John 2:2 convince me that Jesus died for the sins of all human beings. Nevertheless, unless people put their faith in Christ, this atoning death doesn't do them a bit of good. As Reformed theologians once put it, Christ's death is "sufficient for all, but efficient for the elect."[8]

The Spokesman Who Is the Sacrifice

What I find so compelling about our passage is that the Spokesman, the Advocate arguing our case before the Father, is the Atoning Sacrifice himself, the Lamb of God who took my sin upon himself and bore it away. The Righteous One argues for justice for the unrighteous. Since he has already paid for our sins, no additional punishment is due us for our sins.

A prosecuting attorney might make a strong case for our sinfulness, our guilt, our knowing participation in the some of the most gross sins imaginable. Contrary to common opinion, I don't suppose that sexual sins are the worst. The worst is the overweening pride of questioning God and choosing my own course in opposition to his. The sin of being a rival king of my own destiny, rather than bowing before Jesus as my King. Of singing Frank Sinatra's signature song:

"I've lived a life that's full,
I traveled each and every highway.
And more, much more,
I did it, I did it my way."[9]

That pride in ourselves and our independence keeps us from God! That pride, I think, is the worst kind of sin.

You and I need help --  badly. For when we stand before the bar of judgment we will have no excuse. The Apostle John shares a vision he had of the Last Day.

"Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it.... And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life." (Revelation 20:11-12)

This second book is the Lamb's Book of Life (Revelation 13:8; 21:27). Before the throne, the Lamb, the Atoning Sacrifice himself will be there pointing to my name and yours in the Book of Life.

"Yes, they've done all these things," The Lamb will tell the Father on that Day, "but I died for their sins. I bore their sins so they don't have to bear the guilt any longer." He points to one after another. To a man -- "He's mine. His name is written here. I died for him." To a woman -- "She is mine. Her name is written here in my Book of Life." To some children. "They're mine. There names are inscribed in my Book."

And just like that, you and I will walk free into the heavenly kingdom. Not deserving, but redeemed by the Atoning Sacrifice, our Spokesman, our Advocate before the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One. Hallelujah!


References and Abbreviations

[1] The word is teknion (diminutive of teknon, "child"), which is translated "little children" (NRSV, KJV) or "dear children" (NIV) (BDAG 994). It occurs seven times in 1 John (2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21). John speaks to his readers tenderly as children, just as Jesus had once referred in this way his own disciples (John 13:33).

[2] The verb "sin" is hamartanō. The basic meaning is, "not to hit, to miss," and is used figuratively, "to fall short morally, to do wrong" (W. Grundmann, hamartanō, TDNT 1:302-316).

[3] Paraklētos, BDAG 766; J. Behm, paraklētos, TDNT 5:800-814.

[4] "Interceding" (NIV, ESV), "intercedes" (NRSV), "maketh intercession" (KJV) in Romans 8:34 is the present active indicative; and "intercede" (NIV), "make intercession" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) in Hebrews 7:25 is the present active infinitive of entugchanō, "to make an earnest request through contact with the person approached" (BDAG 341, 1a).

[5]1 Peter 2:24.

[6] Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Eerdmans, 1955), chapters 4 and 5.

[7] So-called "5-Point" Calvinism (sometimes called "TULIP" Calvinism) insists on the Limited Atonement or Particular Redemption: that Christ died only for the sins of the elect, not for the sins of all mankind (citing such verses as John 10:11, 14-15; Acts 20:28; Romans 8:32-35; Matthew 1:21). On the other side are those who contend for Unlimited Atonement or General Redemption, that Christ died for the sins of all people (citing such verses as John 1:29b; John 3:16-17; 1 John 2:2; 1 Timothy 2:1-6; 4:10; Hebrews 2:9). For a fair presentation of both arguments, see Walter A. Elwell, "Atonement, Extent of the," in Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Baker, 1984), pp. 98-100.

[8] The wording comes out of the Synod of Dort (1618-19), which clarified and affirmed 5-point Calvinism, cited by Elwell, op. cit., p. 98.

[9] Songwriters: Paul Anka / Gilles Thibaut / Claude Francois / Jacques Revaux, English lyrics ©1968, Chrysalis Standards Inc.

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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