“Dear friends, I am writing this letter to you so that you may not sin. However, if anyone does, we have an advocate who pleads our case with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He himself is the sacrifice for our sins, even the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).
Having made it clear that all are sinners and to claim otherwise is to lie, John now writes the young church (“my little children” NET) that it need not be so. However, if they do sin, Jesus is our advocate pleading our case before the Father, in fact, he himself is the sacrifice for the sins of everyone. This is rich theology and provides the foundation for a way of living that pleases God.
Of the several points that speak to this issue there are two that stand out prominently. One is that we have an advocate before the Father and that one is Jesus Christ. The Greek word is parakletos, and describes “one called alongside.” The English cognate “paraclete” is being used increasingly today to designate those individuals who seem always to “come alongside” in difficult times. In our marriage vows (which we wrote) we both vowed to be the other’s paraclete, to cherish, guard, and defend. We are one another’s “sanctuary zone.” It is interesting that in scripture, it is John alone, the “disciple whom Jesus loved” who uses the term (5 times). It appears there is a close connection between loving a person and protecting them! What remarkable protection Christ provides, the very the One who gave himself as an atoning sacrifice for us who now pleads our case before God. He can say, “Is there any question but that they should be forgiven because I myself died for the sins of everyone of them?” What a lawyer and how solid a case!
The other issue is highly theological and understood in different ways. In several translations the term hilosmos is understood as “propitiation” (KJV, ESV) and in others as “expiation” (RSV) or “atoning sacrifice” (NIV). The issue is whether the background of the word is pagan literature where it was commonly used as a sacrifice to appease he wrath of an angry god, or to represent the place of sacrifice, the mercy seat, where the blood of Christ was shed to atone for our sin. In 1965 this word (along with several other points) was a definite factor in launching a new major translation, the NIV (I was there and involved). Apart from the nuances of theological correctness, what is clear is that in addition to being our advocate, Jesus was, on the cruel cross of Calvary, the sacrifice that atoned for the sins of the world. It was that moment in time when forgiveness and restoration was made possible for a world that had turned its back on its Creator. It is in Christ, and in him alone, that we are brought back to the joys of Eden.