STUDY SEVEN: JESUS CHRIST, OUR ADVOCATE – 1John 2:1 & 2

© Rosemary Bardsley 2022

In these two verses John draws our attention to three truths:

The truth that sin is still wrong, and we ought not to do it. Forgiveness does not change the nature of sin; it changes our standing in God’s presence.

The truth that Jesus Christ is our ‘Advocate’ – our mediator, our great high priest – in the presence of God the Father.

The truth that Jesus Christ is ‘the atoning sacrifice for our sins’.

A. SO THAT YOU WILL NOT SIN – 2:1

Like Paul, John is very much aware that the sinful human heart often reacts to the good news of forgiveness of sins with what is called an ‘antinomian’ (anti-law) response: ‘my sins are forgiven, therefore I can do what I please.’ But John, like Paul, squashes that idea. He is not writing about forgiveness to give us liberty to sin, but the very opposite: ‘so that you will not sin’. As we move through his letter we will find that he is very hard on those who think that the gospel gives them liberty to continue in a life of sinfulness. It is obvious to John that such an attitude reveals a fundamental lack of true belief in Jesus Christ.

What do these verses say about the wrongness of such an attitude?
Romans 6:1

Romans 6:15

Romans 6:17, 18

Hebrews 10:26, 27

James 2:26

The heart that continues to believe that it has the right to sin, is also the heart that has not truly believed that Jesus Christ is who he claimed to be: the almighty Lord. Nor has it truly understood what Jesus Christ was doing as he died on the cross.

John has made it clear in his first chapter:

Jesus Christ is both true man and true God.
We are sinners who sin.
The blood of Jesus has dealt with our sin.

John calls living with the reality of these three truths ‘walking in the light’. Any denial or avoidance of these truths is ‘walking in the darkness’, which he further describes as –

- Not living by the truth – 1:6.
- Deceiving ourselves – 1:8.
- The truth is not in us – 1:8.
- We make God out to be a liar – 1:10.
- His word has no place in us – 1:10.

It is believing the first truth that John gave us in chapter 1 – the truth that Jesus of Nazareth is the eternal God – that brings us into the ‘light’. In that encounter with Jesus we acknowledge that he is the true God, that he is the Lord. And in that acknowledgement, in that recognition, in that belief, we also repent of our rebellion against him, we put ourselves under his divine authority, we acknowledge that he alone has the right to define how we ought to live.

So John says, ‘I write this to you so that you will not sin’. He has given us all of chapter one, not to make us think that sin doesn’t matter, but to help us to realize that sin is, and always will be, wrong. It always has been and always will be outlawed by God and highly offensive to God. If we know God we also know that.

 

B. ‘BUT IF ANYBODY DOES SIN ...’

John as already told us that anyone who claims to be personally sinless and to have not sinned is self-deceived and does not have God’s truth. John knows that we are all sinners by nature and sinners by action. Even though he is writing so that we will not sin, yet he knows that we will. And knowing that, he now explains how Jesus Christ and his death deal with our sin (that is, with all our sins, not just our pre-conversion sin, but our present and future sins).

Before we look at what John now says about Jesus Christ’s mediation and atoning death, we need to pause and look at John’s wording. In both of his references to ‘sin’ in 2:1 John uses the Aorist tense:

‘... that you will not sin’
‘... if anyone does sin

By using the Aorist tense John refers to individual sinful actions, as distinct from a life of habitual sinfulness.

John Stott, commenting on ‘... if anyone does sin...’ states:

‘The clause is significant. It clearly indicates the author’s conviction that acts of sin (the aorist hamarte implies this), as opposed to the continuous sinful habit, are possible in the Christian ... “The thought is of the single act (hamarte) into which the believer may be carried against the true tenor of his life, as contrasted with the habitual state (hamartanei, 3:6,8,9; 5:18)” (Westcott).’ (P80, The Epistles of John, Tyndale, 1966.)

We will see this distinction between individual acts of sin and habitual sin repeated as we move through John’s letter. John consistently outlaws a life of on-going habitual sin, and he does this very strongly. As he understands it, a life of on-going, habitual sin identifies a person as an unbeliever. If we do not recognize this distinction, it is easy to misunderstand John to be excluding everyone who sins (commits individual acts of sin) from salvation. He can very easily be misunderstood to be teaching that salvation can be lost. So it is very important to grasp what he is saying here in 2:1 & 2.

B.1 We have an advocate – 2:1
Rather than exclude a person who commits individual sinful actions from salvation, John makes two strong affirmations that assure us that the salvation truths he has given us in 1:7 & 9 still apply even when we sin. His first strong affirmation is that, even though we should not sin, ‘if anybody does sin (Aorist tense), we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.’ (2011 NIV)

‘...we have...’

This is present tense. At any and every moment ‘we have’ an advocate. There is never a moment, never a nano-second, when the advocacy of Jesus Christ is not active for us.

‘...an advocate ...’ (KJV, and 2011 NIV)

The word here is parakletos. This is the same word used elsewhere only in John 14 – 16 where it refers to the Holy Spirit, whom Christ promised to send from the Father to live within believers. There it is translated ‘counsellor’ (1984 NIV), ‘advocate’ (2011 NIV) or ‘comforter’ (KJV). The word literally means ‘one called alongside’ – from kaleo (to call) and para (along side). About this word Vine comments:

‘It was used in a court of justice do denote a legal assistant, counsel for the defence, an advocate; then, generally, one who pleads another’s cause, an intercessor, advocate, as in 1John 2:1, of the Lord Jesus.’ P208, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Oliphants, 1966).

This representative advocacy of Jesus Christ is taught elsewhere in the Bible.

Check these verses. What do they say about this?
Job 9:32 – 35

 

Job 16:19 – 21

 

1Timothy 2:5

Hebrews 4:14 – 16

 

Hebrews 10:19 – 22

 

In the first reference we see Job longing for someone to intercede on his behalf with God. In the second reference we see Job confident that such an intercessor actually exists and is actively interceding on his behalf –

‘Even now, my witness is in heaven, my advocate is on high.
My intercessor is my friend ...
on behalf of a man he pleads with God
as a man pleads for his friend.’

This is an amazing insight arising out of Job’s knowledge of God and his grace. What he knew only as an undefined hope, we know by name. We know who our intercessor, our friend, is. And we know that our intercessor is one who is both true God and true man as Paul affirms in the Timothy reference. There Paul identifies this intercessor as Jesus Christ – the ‘one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus’.

And in Hebrews we learn about this Mediator:

That because Jesus Christ was fully human, just like us, and did the hard yards of human life, including its pressures, he is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. He knows - not because he is the omniscient God, but because he has lived our human life and experienced our human temptations.

He is in the very presence of God as our high priest. That is, he represents us, he stands as our representative, in the presence of God. He is there on our behalf. Like the high priest, and like all priests, he is appointed by God for this task. This concept of Christ as our high priest takes us right back into the books of Moses. In Exodus and Leviticus the role and responsibilities of the priests and high priests were defined. They were set aside by God to mediate between the Israelites and God. They approached God on behalf of the Israelites because the Israelites were banned from God’s presence because of their sin.

That because of his mediation we have permanent, present, uninhibited, confident access into the very presence of God.

[For more about the role of Christ as our high priest read from Hebrews 4:14 to 9:28, and go to this study.]

So John in 2:1 states with absolute confidence: ‘if anybody does sin, we have an advocate ...’ We have Jesus Christ as our legal defence, our legal counsellor, one who is called alongside us, who stands beside us with his hand on our shoulder in the presence of God the Father, putting himself forward as our defence.

Note: The 1984 NIV translated 2:1 as ‘we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence ...’. This assumes that Jesus is verbally interceding with the Father on our behalf. But what the text says, and what the 2011 NIV correction recognizes, is that Jesus himself, is our Advocate. He does not have to actually say anything. He certainly does not have to verbally speak in our defence every time we sin.

B.2 ‘... with the Father...’ 2:1
We must not assume from the presence of Christ as our Advocate with the Father that the Father is unwilling to forgive us. Rather, the Father sent the Son to do everything that he did to enable and procure our forgiveness. There is no possibility that the Father will not accept the advocacy of Jesus Christ. They are both involved in willing, in desiring, in enabling our salvation.

What do these verses say about the Father’s involvement in the sin-bearing work of the Son?
In what God foretold through the prophet Isaiah concerning the coming Saviour:
Isaiah 42:1 – 7

 

Isaiah 49:1, 5 – 7

 

Isaiah 50:4 – 9

 

Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12

 

 

In what Jesus himself said:
John 3:16, 17

John 6:38

John 8:39

John 8:42

John 16:28

In what the apostles taught:
Romans 5:15 – 17

 

Galatians 4:4

Ephesians 1:4, 5

Colossians 1:19, 20

Hebrews 2:9, 10

Hebrews 10:5 – 7

1Peter 1:18 – 21

Jesus, our Advocate, does not have to persuade or plead with the Father to forgive us, as if the Father is reluctant to do so. All that Jesus does for us is what the Father appointed and sent him to do. As we will read later in John’s first letter: ‘God ...sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him ... God...sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins’ (4:9, 10). As we read in Revelation, Christ promised those who believe that ‘I will write on him the name of my God ... I will also write on him my new name’ (Revelation 3:12). We belong to and are loved by both our Advocate and our Judge. Nothing and no one can undo or reverse their declaration of our permanent forgiveness and acquittal. (As Paul points out in Romans 8:31 – 39).

B.3 Jesus Christ, the Righteous one – 2:1
In the previous study we looked at the word ‘righteous’ – dikaios (translated ‘just’ in 1:9 in reference to God). To be ‘righteous’ is to be legally innocent, legally in the right, legally right. John now tells us that our Advocate in the presence of God the Father, is ‘the Righteous One’.

In identifying Jesus Christ as ‘righteous’ John sets him in stark contrast to us: we are unrighteous. Not one of us is ‘righteous’.

Read these verses. What do they teach about Jesus as ‘righteous’?
Isaiah 53:11

Jeremiah 23:5, 6

Luke 23:4, 13 – 5, 22

John 19:6

Acts 3:14

Acts 7:52

Acts 22:14

2Corinthians 5:21

Hebrews 4:15

Hebrews 7:26, 27

1Peter 3:18

In all of these scriptures we learn that Jesus Christ is the Righteous One. This righteousness of Christ is legally essential for him to represent us in the presence of the Father. And this righteousness of Christ is legally essential for him to take upon himself our sins and their penalty.

B.4 ‘He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins ...’ 2:2
In these few words John goes right to the centre of all that Jesus accomplished on the cross. Here is the one key thing that enables every aspect of salvation.

B.4.1 ‘he is ...’
But John does not speak in terms of what Jesus did on the cross. He does not say ‘Jesus’ death’ or ‘Jesus’ blood’. He says ‘he is’.

He has already identified Jesus as our ‘advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One’ (verse 1). It is Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, who also is ‘the atoning sacrifice for our sins’. It is only because he is ‘the Righteous One’ that he can also be ‘the atoning sacrifice for our sins’. If he were not ‘righteous’ he would have his own sins that attracted both sins’ penalty and God’s wrath.

The way John has constructed his sentence in the Greek puts emphasis on the ‘he’, so that some translations render it ‘he himself is the ...’ (e.g. the New King James Version, the New Living Translation and the New American Standard Version).

The way the sentence reads in the Greek is: ‘he atoning sacrifice is for our sins’. Jesus himself is the atoning sacrifice.

B.4.2 ‘the atoning sacrifice ...’
These two words translate one Greek word – hilasmos. There is debate among scholars about what this word means. Here are some of the various translations, which reflect the translators’ understanding of this Greek word:

NIV (2011): ‘the atoning sacrifice for our sins’

KJV & NKJV: ‘the propitiation for our sins’

ASV & NASV: ‘the propitiation for our sins’

ESV: ‘the propitiation for our sins’

Good News: ‘the means by which our sins are forgiven’

The Message: ‘when he served as a sacrifice for our sins he solved the sin problem for good’

New Living: ‘the sacrifice that atones for our sins’

RSV: ‘the expiation for our sins’

The debate about hilasmos is focused on one question: does it mean expiation or does it mean propitiation?

Expiation refers to the act of dealing with sin’s penalty: Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sins.

Propitiation refers to the act of bringing about a favourable change in a person: Jesus Christ propitiates God so that God’s wrath is no longer upon us.

The reason that some people do not like the term ‘propitiation’ is its unavoidable reference to the wrath of God. They do not like to talk about God’s wrath because it seems to them to conflict with the truth that God is ‘love’. But the ‘wrath’ of God is a biblical concept.

Read these verses. What do they say about God’s wrath?
John 3:36

Romans 1:18

Romans 5:9

Ephesians 5:6

Colossians 3:6

1Thessalonianss 1:10

Revelation 19:15

These verses teach us:

*That being under the wrath of God is the opposite of having eternal life, and that believing in Jesus Christ is the thing that determines the difference (John 3:36).

*That the wrath of God is the reason the gospel of a ‘righteousness from God’ is necessary (Romans 1:16 – 18).

*That Jesus Christ saves us from God’s wrath (Romans 5:9).

That God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient (Ephesians 5:6).

That God’s wrath is coming because of various sinful actions (Colossians 3:5, 6).

*That Jesus Christ rescues us from the coming wrath (1Thessalonians 1:10).

That when he comes in power and glory Jesus Christ ‘treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty’ (Revelation 19:15).

The reality of the wrath of God is affirmed through both the Old and New Testaments. The pressing question is ‘How can we sinners escape this wrath?’ ‘Can anything be done to avert this wrath of God? To change his attitude towards us? To propitiate him, that is, regain his favour?’

*The asterisked points above tell us the answer: that we can escape God’s wrath only through Jesus Christ. So ‘propitiation’ is a valid understanding of 1John 2:2 (and also 4:10).

Propitiation in the Old Testament:
Propitiation (turning away God’s wrath) is involved in four aspects of Old Testament ritual: [1] The altar where ... [2] various sacrifices offered ‘to make atonement’ for sin; [3] the annual Day of Atonement, on which blood was sprinkled on [4] the ‘mercy seat’ (‘atonement cover’), which was the ‘lid’ of the Ark of the Covenant in the Most Holy Place. [You can read about these in Exodus 29 & 30; Leviticus 1 – 7 & 16.]

There are two related Hebrew words involved: The verb kapar – to cover over, to atone, to propitiate, to pacify, and the noun kapporet – a cover, which is also the name of the lid of the Ark – the ‘mercy seat’ (KJV), which the NIV translates ‘the atonement cover’.

In all of the above, with one exception, the death of a substitutionary animal was involved in this turning away of the wrath of God. And all of them involved the work of either a priest or a high priest to act as an intermediary between sinful humans and God.

Propitiation/atonement in the New Testament
When we come to the New Testament we find that the distinction between the intermediary and the offering vanishes. Jesus Christ is both the Mediator/Advocate/High Priest and the substitutionary, sacrificial offering.

What do these verses tell us about this?
Mark 10:45

Romans 3:25

Galatians 2:20

Hebrews 7:22 – 28

1Peter 2:24

Jesus Christ, our Advocate (our high priest) gave himself; he offered himself. Not only did Jesus, the Son, offer himself, but ‘God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement (= ‘propitiation’ - hilasterion – related to hilasmos) (Romans 3:25).

Does the death of Jesus Christ deal with sin’s penalty? Is it expiation? Yes it is. But it is also Jesus Christ giving himself as a sacrificial offering to divert the wrath of God away from us by bearing it himself – that is, it is also propitiation.

Leon Morris comments:

“Jesus Christ is man’s Representative. He appears for man in the presence of God. And this leads right on to the thought of His priestly work in that He ‘is the propitiation for our sins’ (KJV). The word ‘propitiation’ properly signifies the removal of wrath. In this context it reminds us that the divine anger was exercised towards man’s sin, and that it was Christ’s propitiatory death that put the situation right, and made it possible for man to come back to God.” (p348, The Cross in the New Testament, Paternoster, 1965).

“Now if there is such a divine hostility to evil it is obvious that something must be done about it if man, sinner as he is, is ever to be accepted before God. Sometimes Scripture directs attention to the cause of the hostility and speaks of sin as remitted or purged. But sometimes also it points us to the hostility itself, and speaks of its removal in terms of propitiation. ... The writers of the New Testament know nothing of a love which does not react in the very strongest fashion against every form of sin.

“It is the combination of God’s deep love for the sinner with His uncompromising reaction against sin which brings about what the Bible calls propitiation. Since God would not leave man to suffer all the consequences of his sin, Christ suffered. ... in both Testaments the thought is plain that the gift which secures the propitiation is from God Himself. He provides the way whereby men may come to Him. Thus the use of the concept of propitiation witnesses to two great realities, the one, the reality and the seriousness of the divine reaction against sin, and the other, the reality and the greatness of the divine love which provided the gift which should avert the wrath from men.” (Pp210, 211, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, Tyndale, 1965.)

C. THE JUSTICE OF GOD

In 1:9 John affirmed that God ‘is faithful and just’. This raised questions: How can God, who is just, forgive our sins? How can he not punish sins and still remain true to his justice? How can he, in keeping with his justice, acquit us when we are obviously guilty?

These questions are answered in 2:1 & 2.

Jesus Christ is ‘the Righteous One’. That is, he is legally innocent, legally right. We saw this in B.3 above. This legal innocence, this perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, is essential to his substitutionary, representative, saving work. Jesus Christ, the eternal divine Son, became one of us so that he could be our substitute under the just wrath and judgement of God, and so that he could be our representative in the presence of God. And as one of us, he lived a real human life in perfect conformity to the will and the law of God. He himself successfully did all that God requires of every human being, but which the rest of us all fail to do.

On the basis of his own perfect human life:

He had no guilt.
No penalty for sin hung over him: he had no sin.
No condemnation from God was upon him: he did nothing worthy of condemnation.
No wrath of God threatened him: he always did the Father’s will.

But when he willingly took upon himself our sin and our guilt:

He bore the full penalty for our sins, leaving no penalty left for us to suffer.
He took all the condemnation due to us, leaving none for us to experience.
He felt the full fury of the wrath of God that was directed at us, setting us free from that wrath.
He, as our substitute, bore on our behalf, the full application of God’s justice. The result is that God’s justice has been fully satisfied, fully implemented.

And here we need to ask some important questions. Here we need to think about what we believe about the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. John has said ‘he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness’ (1:9), and he has said ‘we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins ...’ (2:1, 2). The two truths in the latter are the basis of the former: God, in faithfulness and in justice, forgives our sins because of Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, the atoning sacrifice (propitiation) for our sins. For God to deny us forgiveness would be either (1) for God to say that the substitutionary and representative work of his Son does not satisfy his justice; or, (2) for God to act unjustly, imposing on us the penalty that he had already imposed on Christ.

Read the questions, then find answers in the verses below:
Did Jesus Christ have any of his own sins?

Was he guilty or innocent?

How much personal guilt and condemnation did he have?

What was his personal legal standing in the presence of God?

How much of your sin and guilt did he take upon himself?

How much of your condemnation and punishment did he bear?

How much condemnation and punishment is left for you?

How much of God’s wrath against your sin did he experience?

How much of God’s wrath is still to be poured out on you?

How ‘just’ would it be for God to punish you for sins for which Jesus Christ has already borne the punishment?

How ‘faithful’ to his purpose in sending Jesus would God be if he refused to forgive your present sin?

Matthew 3:15

John 5:24

Romans 3:21 – 26

Romans 5:6 – 10

Romans 5:18 – 19

Romans 8:1 – 4

2Corinthians 5:14, 18 – 21

Galatians 2:15 – 21

Galatians 3:10, 13

Colossians 1:22

1Peter 2:24

1Peter 3:18

1John 4:9, 10

A further question:
Considering the justice of God, write out your understanding of the justice and faithfulness of God expressed in 1John 1:9.

 

All of this – both the truth that Jesus Christ is our ‘Advocate with the Father’ and the truth that he ‘is the atoning sacrifice for our sins’ – is present and permanent. It happened ‘once-for-all’. Jesus Christ does not die repeatedly for our sins, nor does he repeatedly verbally intercede for us. Both his one death as our substitute under the judgement of God and his one return to heaven as our Mediator in the presence of God have permanent and ever present impact.

John Stott comments:

‘Christ still is the propitiation, not because in any sense He continues to offer His sacrifice, but because His one sacrifice once offered has an eternal virtue which is effective today in those who believe.’ (p84, The Epistles of John, Tyndale, 1966.)

D. BUT ALSO FOR THE SINS OF THE WHOLE WORLD

When John states that Jesus Christ is the propitiation, the atoning sacrifice ‘for the sins of the whole world’ (Greek = ‘for the whole world’), he is not saying that everybody is automatically saved by the death of Jesus Christ. He is not teaching what is called ‘universalism’ – the belief that the death of Christ saves everyone, regardless of whether or not they believe.

He is saying that no matter where you live or who you are or what your religious or racial or national background is, there is only this one Mediator, this one atoning sacrifice for sins. There is no other way to be saved except through Jesus Christ.

This was true for the apostles. It was also true for those who were not apostles.
This was true for Jews. It was also true for non-Jews. (This was a difficult concept for the early church to grasp.)

How do these verses affirm the universal/global relevance and necessity for the Gospel?
Genesis 22:18

Isaiah 49:6

Matthew 24:14

Matthew 28:18 – 20

John 1:29

John 10:16

Romans 1:16

Ephesians 3:6

Revelation 5:9

The advocacy and propitiatory work of Jesus Christ is universal (global, transnational, worldwide) in its necessity and its relevance. But it is limited in its individual effectiveness and application: It saves only those individuals who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Look at these verses. Who receives the salvation provided in Jesus Christ?
John 1:12

John 3:16

John 3:18

John 3:36

John 14:6

John 20:31

John has more to say about this limited individual effectiveness and application later in his first letter.