(1Jo 2:1 ESV) My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
Now, John had just said in 1:8 and 1:10 that everyone sins. How could he be saying that he expect us not to sin? Well, his point is that the grace he’d just described in 1:7 and :9 is not a license. He’s making clear that the forgiveness we have in Jesus is not license to sin.
The idea that Jesus is our “advocate” is an interesting one. In John’s Gospel, “advocate” or “Helper” or “paraclete” is applied to the Holy Spirit. To grasp the idea, we need some background.
Thayer’s gives as the primary definition:
one who pleads another’s cause before a judge, a pleader, counsel for defense, legal assistant; an advocate”: Demosthenes, p. 341, 11; Diogenes Laërtius 4, 50, cf. Dio Cassius, 46, 20.
Dear readers, “advocate” means lawyer. More particularly, it means “defense counsel.” Yes, it’s true: the Bible compares lawyers to Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
But the idea here is about more than a lawyer, who pleads the merits of his client’s case. Here, the Advocate pleads his own merits. This is why John refers to Jesus as “Jesus Christ the righteous.” It’s the righteousness of Jesus that Jesus pleads.
So, how else does Jesus serve as our “advocate” or “helper”? Is it just that he pleads his sacrifice in God’s court?
(1Jo 2:2 ESV) 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
This is a very controversial passage. “Propitiation” translates ilasmos. Outside the Bible, ilasmos can mean a gift given to take away the anger of a god. This is the meaning of “propitiation.” But this isn’t how the word is used in the Septuagint.
In the Septuagint, we first run into the term in —
(Lev 25:9 ESV) 9 Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land.
(Num 5:6-8 ESV) 6 “Speak to the people of Israel, When a man or woman commits any of the sins that people commit by breaking faith with the LORD, and that person realizes his guilt, 7 he shall confess his sin that he has committed. And he shall make full restitution for his wrong, adding a fifth to it and giving it to him to whom he did the wrong. 8 But if the man has no next of kin to whom restitution may be made for the wrong, the restitution for wrong shall go to the LORD for the priest, in addition to the ram of atonement with which atonement is made for him.”
The “ram of atonement” is described in —
(Lev 6:2-7 ESV) 2 “If anyone sins and commits a breach of faith against the LORD by deceiving his neighbor in a matter of deposit or security, or through robbery, or if he has oppressed his neighbor 3 or has found something lost and lied about it, swearing falsely–in any of all the things that people do and sin thereby — 4 if he has sinned and has realized his guilt and will restore what he took by robbery or what he got by oppression or the deposit that was committed to him or the lost thing that he found 5 or anything about which he has sworn falsely, he shall restore it in full and shall add a fifth to it, and give it to him to whom it belongs on the day he realizes his guilt. 6 And he shall bring to the priest as his compensation to the LORD a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent for a guilt offering. 7 And the priest shall make atonement for him before the LORD, and he shall be forgiven for any of the things that one may do and thereby become guilty.”
The “ram of atonement” is the price of forgiveness. Thus, by declaring Jesus our ilasmos John is comparing Jesus to the price to be paid for forgiveness. He pays the price for us.
Propitiation is essentially a process by which one does a favor to a person in order to make him or her favorably disposed, but in the NT God is never the object of propitiation since he is already on the side of people. Ilasmos and ilasterion denote the means of forgiveness and not propitiation.
Hence, the NIV translates “atoning sacrifice.” I think the NIV is right. Although there are plently of smart people who’d disagree with me, I don’t think the Bible pictures a wrathful God, anxious to damn, whose anger is satiated by Jesus’ sacrifice. In fact, God sent Jesus to die for us — because he wants to forgive us.
We can’t leave this verse without dealing with “but also for the sins of the whole world.” There are two ways of taking this.
* John could be declaring that everyone will be saved. Indeed, this is a favorite proof text of universalists.
* John could be declaring that God wishes to save not only those presently in the church but everyone — this being a push for missionary action.
I think John’s thought parallels —
(Rom 10:10-17 ESV) 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
Paul’s point is that salvation comes from faith in Jesus, faith comes from hearing, and hearing only comes from preaching. Therefore, we must send missionaries.
Also parallel is —
(John 3:16-18 ESV) 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Jesus (or John — translators don’t agree) plainly declares that God wants the entire world saved, but only those who believe will be saved.
[Teachers — Missions Sunday is the following Sunday. Please spend a little time on this point.]