My children, these things I write unto you in order that you may not sin; and if anyone perchance sin, we have an Advocate with the Father: Jesus Christ the Righteous. And He is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also the whole world.1 John 2:1-2
John now moves from the plural “we” to the singular “I”. This shift is deliberate, and is an example of how the Gospel is the common proclamation of the Apostolic witness, but then must be applied personally.
This Gospel is proclaimed in order that those in fellowship with Christ might not sin. Leonard Ravenhill once pointed out, and I tend to agree, that it says if we sin, not when we sin. While thereâ€™s a tendency in some Christian circles to take a statement like that and begin assuming a sinless perfectionism (which is a doctrine which has stumbled many an immature believe and is not a millstone I want hanging around my neck), the point is helpful if rightly used. Christ has delivered us from sin, we are united with Him, and we enjoy His overcoming power. John builds this out later on in 1 Jn. 5:4. But it is here in seed form.
The saint is delivered from sin. This should be the underlying assumption of the saint in regards to their relationship with sin. John has just stated that the presence of sin isn’t to be denied (Cf. 1 Jn. 1:8, 10); but we also shouldn’t cede territory back to sin by operating as if Sin still has dominion. Thus, the comfort for the believer is that their gracious Savior has freed them from and forgiven them for their sinful state and past sinful actions; furthermore, the comfort extends forward so that if the saint sins in the future, the Lord Jesus remains as their faithful Advocate. The Greek word here means, “one summoned to your side”, implying coming to your legal defense.
Our Accuser is cast down, as John’s apocalyptic vision assures us. Which means you need not heed the Accuser’s voice, when the Advocate’s voice is declaring that the Gospel reckons you forgiven, cleansed, and pardoned. This forms the foundation of Christian assurance. We need not sin, because we’ve been given a new nature; but if we sin, we are no less a saint for Christ the Righteous is our eternal Advocate before the Father.
The word propitiation here is a “bible-ese” word that doesn’t often feature in modern vocabulary. But it is a word of great importance, and so is worth a brief explanation. Propitiation simply means covering. This concept comes down to us through the Mosaic Law’s emphasis on the atoning power of sacrificial blood. One theologian–remarking on this significant aspect of the Sacrificial system of the OT–gives these insightful comments:
“We also understand the covering of sin in the sacrificial worship as a covering by which the accusatory and damnatory power of sin its power to excite the anger and wrath of Godis broken by which in fact it is rendered both harmless and impotent And understood in this sense the sacrificial covering was not merely an apparent conventional expiation of sin which would have been the case if it had been merely removed from the sight of Jehovah but a process by which it was actually rendered harmless which is equivalent to cancelling and utterly annihilating.” 1J.H. Kurtz
So, in plain words, Christ being our propitiation gives us assurance that the wrath of God which sinners are justly deserving of, is covered and absorbed by Christ. Furthermore, this glory is not reserved just for the individual saint, as verse 2 goes on to expound. This covering grace is for the entire world (the word in the Greek here is kosmos).
John asserts that Christ has not only covered our sins, but the sins of the entire world. Calvinists have the odd habit of resembling a Circus side-show contortionist when confronted with verses like this. They twitch at sounding either like a universalist or an Arminian. This verse doesn’t overthrow the doctrine of definite atonement, rather it helps establish it. That doctrine, in short, is that Christ’s blood is only effectual for atoning the elect.
Here is why this verse is a boon, not a burden, to this doctrine. As one insightful commentary points out, “The world that Christ formed (1 Jn. 1:1) is the very world for which he died.” 2 Since Christ purchased the world, with His own blood, He’s King of it. Those are the rules. Jesus overthrew Satan (Cf. 1 Jn. 3:8, Rev 12:10). The Father gave the government of the whole world into Christ’s hands. In that sense, the entire cosmos is now the rightful inheritance of Christ. The atonement which covers the individual saint is here promised to the Church entire, throughout the whole world, through all time. What John is asserting here is that the propitiatory power of Christ’s blood is not restricted merely to the Apostles and their followers. Rather, this atoning blood is efficacious for all the scattered elect both in his day and in all ages to come. The Church shall one day overrun the planet. In this way, the world will indeed be saved.
1 Kurtz, J. H. (John Henry). Sacrificial Worship in the Old Testament. Minneapolis, MN: Klock & Klock Christian, 1980. Pg. 70
2 Beale, G. K., and Benjamin L. Gladd. The Story Retold A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament. Westmont: InterVarsity Press, 2020. Pg. 454
- 1 John 1:1 – A Cosmic Epistle
- 1 John 1:2 – Life Manifested
- 1 John 1:3 – Invitation to Fellowship
- 1 John 1:4 – Silos Full of Joy
- 1 John 1:5 â€“ God is Light
- 1 John 1:6 â€“ Do the Truth
- 1 John 1:7 – Fellowship in the Light
- 1 John 1:8 – Deluded or Delivered
- 1 John 1:9-10 – Forgiven & Not Guilty
- 1 John 2:1-2 – Christ Our Advocate