Studies in the
First Epistle of John
1 John 2.1-2
"An advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (v 1). The word that is here translated 'advocate' is the same one that is rendered 'comforter' in John 14 and 15. Jesus foretold the coming of the Holy Spirit to the help of His disciples in the words "The Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name…".
The Greek word 'parakletos', means, literally, one called or sent to stand beside a man in his time of need. It was the word used to describe the pleader or 'defending counsel' in the Greek courts of law and its application here is very obvious. When the Lord was about to leave His disciples He promised them that He would not leave them helpless; He would send a parakletos, one to stand alongside and be their ever-present help in time of need. We all bear witness to the fulfilment of that promise. We all testify to the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, guiding, guarding, illuminating, instructing, and at the end making us spiritually fitted for the inheritance of the saints in light". That is the office of the Holy Spirit during this Age and this work of the Spirit has been accomplished in full degree. The word 'comforter' in the A.V. does not adequately express the meaning of the term. The Holy Spirit is a guardian, a defender, an instructor, a counsellor, a source of power and a vital force that makes the weak strong and the timorous courageous. Even the more modern version of 'helper' does not express all the meaning; in fact no one English word can possibly define the many-sided work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Perhaps we do well to think of all the terms which express the full manifestation of this wonderful power by which we live and by which we will, one day, gain the victory.
Now the use of the same word "parakletos" in its application to our Lord, Jesus Christ the righteous, has a rather more restricted meaning. John is here talking of one aspect only of the Christian life, albeit a most important aspect. He is telling us of the Christian who has stumbled or turned from the way and has committed sin, and he says that such an one has a "parakletos", an Advocate, with the Father, Who is the Supreme Judge.
Now here the term is used obviously in the strict legal sense that it bore in everyday life in John's time. If any man sins, he has a 'defending counsel' in Jesus, one to stand alongside and plead his cause. The basis of the defence is that the offender has already been justified by faith in Christ and has now sincerely repented and seeks to claim again that justification by a renewal of faith. The Advocate does not take up the case of one who is unrepentant. This whole passage concerns only the Church, the believers in Christ Jesus.
Justification and consecration of the believer has placed him in a position where the Father accepts his sincerity of heart and his purity of purpose and intention instead of demanding perfection of conduct. He does not hold against him that error and sin which is attributable to the weakness of the flesh. The Advocate urges the principle enunciated by Paul in Romans 7, that sin, dwelling in the flesh, leads the believer to do those things that of his own will and desire he would not do, and precludes his doing fully the good that he would do. This is evidence of the believers' desire and intention to do good and his capability of doing good when, at the end, the hindrance of the weakened human flesh has been removed. The Father has already said that He has no pleasure in the death of him that dies, but would that he turn from his wickedness and live. Thus He assents to the rightness of the Advocate's presentation of the matter, and counts the sin that has been committed as those that had already been blotted from the record at the time of justification. So the Advocate stands beside every member of His Church, claiming each as one for whom He died and who has accepted that death for himself and in the power of that acceptance has become one of Christ's own.
The Apostle proceeds in his exposition of this great truth by going on to say "and he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world!" (v 2). John is not particularly talking about the world in this chapter. He is in fact not talking about the world at all. However, lest any should think from his main theme that Jesus is the propitiation only for those who are His now, the members of His Church, John hastens to add that He is in fact such for the sins of the entire race of mankind. The death of Jesus is equally applicable to all, whether or no they come to God during this Age; all will receive its benefits, either now, or in the future Age.
This word 'propitiation' is capable of misunderstanding. The modern meaning of the word is to conciliate an offended or angry person by means of offerings or bribes, to placate. That has arisen from the use of the Greek word (hilasmos) in the early centuries to denote the giving of offerings and sacrifices to pagan gods in order to "propitiate" them, to turn away their anger, to cause them to look with favour upon their devotees. From this the idea has grown up quite naturally that Christ was a propitiation for our sins in that He gave Himself as a blood-sacrifice to an angry God who thereby appeased His wrath and turned to look with favour and graciousness upon the former objects of His displeasure. Now that may be all right with pagan gods but it is certainly quite out of accord with the known character of our God. Mediaeva1 theology made much of this idea in its conception of the doctrine of the Atonement, and much of it has survived into our own day. But the appeasement of Divine wrath by the offering of a blood-sacrifice has nothing in common either with justice or morality, and the Divine Plan is solidly founded on both. It was a farseeing man of God who declared, long before these times of John. "thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it; thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise"(Psa. 51.16-17). So that particular meaning of propitiation for which we are indebted to the pagan worship of Rome and Greece is one that we must definitely reject, hallowed though it is by long usage.
The Lord Jesus gave His humanity as a 'corresponding price' wherewith to redeem man out of the bondage of sin and death, and make fallen man His own, that He might enjoy the legal as well as the moral right to raise all men from the dead, teach them of His ways and present them at the last before the Father's holiness, perfect and sinless. Paul's picture in 1 Tim. 2.5-6 is taken from the Roman custom of manumission, the system by which slaves could be freed. The ransom money for the slave was paid into the temple treasury and from thence to the owner of the slave, who in this manner, by means of a kind of legal fiction, sold the slave to the god. The slave thus regained his freedom by becoming the property of the god. So, says Paul, "Christ died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living". The price He paid in the giving of His human life was the price whereby Adam, and all his posterity, condemned in him, are redeemed from the power of sin and become the subjects of Christ.
A much more accurate understanding is ours if we keep to Bible usage and compare the equivalent meaning of the word in the Old Testament. The act of 'making reconciliation' upon the Brasen Altar (Lev.8.15) or of sprinkling the blood of the sin-offering 'to reconcile' in the Most Holy (Lev. 6.30) or to "make an atonement for sin" (Lev. 16.6) is denoted by the Hebrew word kaphar. Now kaphar means, primarily 'to cover' and its derivative words are used in the sense of covering over the Ark of Noah with pitch (Gen.6.14) or of obliterating the writing on written documents. From this comes the thought of atonement being a covering of the sin so that it is no longer seen or recognised by God. The place in the Most Holy where the High Priest sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice was called the kaphoroth or 'place of covering' for this reason (translated 'mercy seat' in Exodus and Leviticus in the Authorised Version).
When the translators of the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, came to this word "kaphar" they used the Greek hilasmos and its allied words as its equivalent and so convey the same meaning. This is why the "kaphoroth" or "mercy seat" of Exodus is called the 'hilasterion' or 'propitiatory' in Hebrew 9. 5. The real thought behind the word propitiation as used in the New Testament is that of a covering for sin and a means of reconciliation with God and not that of a bribe intended to allay Divine wrath. This makes John's words clearer and connects the two verses together. If any man sin, we have an Advocate, one to stand beside us to help us before the Father - and that Advocate is the One who both covers that sin and is the means of the reconciliation of the sinner with God
(To be continued) AOH