2:1 (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 One, 2:2 and he himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world.
My dear children – ‘The first thing to note in this passage is the sheer affection in it. John begins with the address, “My little children.” Both in Latin and in Greek diminutives carry a special affection. They are words which are used, as it were, with a caress. John is a very old man; he must be, in fact, the last survivor of his generation, maybe the last man alive who had walked and talked with Jesus in the days of his flesh. So often age gets out of sympathy with youth and acquires even an impatient irritableness with the new and laxer ways of the younger generation. But not John, in his old age he has nothing but tenderness for those who are his little children in the faith. He is writing to tell them that they must not sin but he does not scold. There is no cutting edge in his voice; he seeks to love them into goodness. In this opening address there is the yearning, affectionate tenderness of a pastor for people whom he has known for long in all their wayward foolishness and still loves.’ (DSB)
One who speaks…in our defence – Most translations have ‘advocate’ here. The word is parakletos. It is opposite in meaning to ‘accuser’. The theological question here is whether our risen and ascended Lord continually ‘pleads’ with the Father on our behalf, or, more objectively, his atoning sacrifice continues to provide for our acceptance with God. See Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25. For references to the Holy Spirit as our paraclete, see Jn 14:15-18, 25-27; 15:26-26; 16:7-11,13-15.
‘An advocate differs much from an orator; an orator uses rhetoric to persuade and entreat the judge to show mercy to another; but an advocate tells the judge what is law. Thus Christ appears in heaven as an advocate, he represents what is law. When God’s justice opens the debt-book, Christ opens the law-book. Lord, says he, thou art a just God, and wilt not be pacified without blood; lo, here the blood is shed, therefore injustice give me a discharge for these distressed creatures. The law being satisfied, the sinner should be acquitted. Upon Christ’s plea, God sets his hand to the sinner’s pardon.’ (Thomas Watson)
Atoning sacrifice – propitiation, a term which presupposes God’s wrath against human sin. ‘Of course the wrath of God is not like human wrath, nor is the propitiation of Christ like heathen propitiations. But once all unworthy elements have been eliminated, namely the concept of the arbitrary wrath of a vengeful deity being placated by the paltry offerings of men, we are left with the Christian propitiation in which God’s own love sent his own dear Son to appease his own holy wrath against sin, 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, p28)
For the sins of the whole world – Cf. Jn 1:29; 1 Jn 4:14. It is clear from 1 Jn 5:11-13 (and, indeed, from the whole tenor of the letter) that John was no universalist.
This expression has been understood in a variety of ways:-
- ‘Not only for the sins of us Jews, but also for those of the whole world.’
- ‘For the sins of the Church’. ‘When John says that Christ died for the sins of the “whole world,” what he means is that he died for the whole church.’ (Hilary of Arles, in ACCS). So also Augustine and Calvin (see below).
- ‘Not each and every individual, but all believers throughout out the world.’ This, in essence, is the opinion of B.B. Warfield, as expression in his article ‘Jesus Christ the Propitiation for the Whole World’, in Selected Shorter Writings, Vo. 1, pp167-177.
- ‘Not only for the sins of present believers, but also for those who in future ages shall believe.’
- ‘For the whole world, in that he has provided a propitiation sufficient for all, although not all avail themselves of it. (The ‘limited atonement’ view of ‘high Calvinists’)
- ‘For the whole world’, in that ‘Christ is the atoning sacrifice that the gospel now makes available for the sins of everyone in the world.’ (Grudem, Systematic Theology)
- ‘For the whole world, in that he has provided a propitiation sufficient for all, but efficient only for the elect. (The ‘unlimited atonement’ view of ‘Amyraldian Calvinists’)
Kruse: ‘When the author says that Jesus Christ is the atoning sacrifice for ‘the sins of the whole world’, that includes not only our sins (i.e., the sins of believers) but the sins of the unbelieving world as well.’ Kruse admits that it is easier to say what this expression does not mean (it does not imply universalism, for example) than what it does mean. ‘We might suggest that Jesus Christ is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world because his death was sufficient to deal with the sins of the whole world, but that his sacrifice does not become effective until people believe in him.’
Stott: This means ‘that a universal pardon is offered for (the sins of) the whole world and is enjoyed by those who embrace it.’
Derickson: ‘This is one of the clearest statements of Scripture that Jesus’ propitiatory work on the cross is universal and not limited only to the elect. When Jesus gave His perfectly sinless life to satisfy the just wrath of our righteous and holy God, it was sufficient to provide forgiveness for the whole world (John 3:16; 2 Cor 5:14, 15, 19; 1 Tim 2:4; Titus 2:11; Heb 2:9)…However, dying for sins does not remove them from the unrepentant soul.’
Lightner: ‘One finds it hard to imagine how John could have been any clearer in stating the universal aspect of the atonement than he was in this passage. The normal, unbiased approach to this text evidences the fact that the propitiation was not only “for our sins” but also “for the sins of the whole world.” When it is remembered that propitiation in the Biblical context involves God’s wrath and vicarious substitution, the extending of this to the “whole world” provides strong argument for an unlimited atonement.’ (The Death Christ Died: a Biblical Case for Unlimited Atonement)
M. Henry interprets: ‘not only for the past, or us present believers, but for the sins of all who shall hereafter believe on him or come to God through him. The extent and intent of the Mediator’s death reach to all tribes, nations, and countries. As he is the only, so he is the universal atonement and propitiation for all that are saved and brought home to God, and to his favour and forgiveness.’
Calvin says: ‘Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? [Some] have said that Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole Church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world.’
There appears to be an ‘excluding’ element to this expression. Throughout the wide world, no other way can be found whereby our sins can be dealt with and we can be made right with God. Stott quotes Ebrard: ‘For no man in the whole world is there any other way of being reconciled than that of the propitiation of Christ’.
According to Barnes, this passages teaches:-
- that the atonement in its own nature is adapted to all men, or that it is as much fitted to one individual, or one class, as another;
- that it is sufficient in merit for all; that is, that if any more should be saved than actually will be, there would be no need of any additional suffering in order to save them;
- that it has no special adaptedness to one person or class more than another; that is, that in its own nature it did not render the salvation of one more easy than that of another. It so magnified the law, so honoured God, so fully expressed the Divine sense of the evil of sin in respect to all men, that the offer of salvation might be made as freely to one as to another, and that any and all might take shelter under it and be safe.
Keeping God’s Commandments
2:3 Now by this we know that we have come to know God: if we keep his commandments. 2:4 The one who says “I have come to know God” and yet does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in such a person. 2:5 But whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has been perfected. By this we know that we are in him. 2:6 The one who says he resides in God ought himself to walk just as Jesus walked.
2:7 Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have already heard. 2:8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. 2:9 The one who says he is in the light but still hates his fellow Christian is still in the darkness. 2:10 The one who loves his fellow Christian resides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 2:11 But the one who hates his fellow Christian is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining – According to biblical teaching, history is divided up into two ages: ‘the present age’ and ‘the age to come’. These are sometimes described, as here, in terms of night and day. The new age began with the coming of Jesus the Messiah. The old age, however, has not yet come to a complete end. It is, according to the present verse, ‘passing’, but not yet passed. Accordingly, the two ages overlap for the time being. Those outside of God’s salvation belong to the old age, whereas those who belong to Christ belong to the new age, and have passed into the light, 1 Pet 2:9. They have ‘tasted the powers of the coming age’, Heb 6:5. The transition from the old age to the new age will be complete when Christ returns in glory. The old age will pass away; the new age will be consummated, and those who belong to it will be fully redeemed.
Words of Reassurance
2:12 I am writing to you, little children, that your sins have been forgiven because of his name. 2:13 I am writing to you, fathers, that you have known him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young people, that you have conquered the evil one. 2:14 I have written to you, children, that you have known the Father. I have written to you, fathers, that you have known him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young people, that you are strong, and the word of God resides in you, and you have conquered the evil one.
2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him, 2:16 because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions) is not from the Father, but is from the world. 2:17 And the world is passing away with all its desires, but the person who does the will of God remains forever.
…because of his name –
Do not love the world – The world has been defined as those person, places pleasures and pursuits where God is left out.
‘It is an axiom of the Bible that this world of human beings, the climax of the divine creation, the world that God made especially to reflect his glory, is now in rebellion against him. Through the transgression of one man, sin has entered into it (Rom 5:18) with universal consequences. It has become, as a result, a disordered world in the grip of the evil one. (1 Jn 5:19) And so, very frequently in the NT, and particularly in the Johannine writings, the word kosmos has a sinister significance. It is not the world as God intended it to be, but ‘this world’ set over against God, following its own wisdom and living by the light of its own reason, (1 Cor 1:21) not recognizing the Source of all true life and illumination. (Jn 1:10) The two dominant characteristics of ‘this world’ are pride, born of man’s failure to accept his creaturely estate and his dependence on the Creator, which leads him to act as though he were the lord and giver of life; and covetousness, which causes him to desire and possess all that is attractive to his physical senses. (1 Jn 2:16) And, as man tends in effect to worship what he covets, such covetousness is idolatry. (Col 3:5) Accordingly, worldliness is the enthronement of something other than God as the supreme object of man’s interests and affections. Pleasures and occupations, not necessarily wrong in themselves, become so when an all-absorbing attention is paid to them.’ (NBD)
‘Loving the created world is not wrong as long as our loving God is not diminished. To love the world and fail to love God would be like a bride, who, being given a ring by her bridegroom, loves the ring more than the bridegroom who gave it. Of course, she should love what the bridegroom gave her, but to love the ring and despise him who have it is to rejct the very meaning of the ring as a token of his love. Likewise, men who love creation and not the creator are rejecting the whole mean of creation. We ought to appreciate the creation and love the creator because of it.’ (Augustine)
The ‘world’ hated Christ and shows similar hatred to his followers. And yet God loved the world. Christians do not belong to the world but they live in it. They must not share the world’s attitudes or conform to its self-centred materialist standards. But they must live with those who are in rebellion, because God loves them and Jesus died for them.
Pleasure, profit, preferment are the worldling’s trinity. (John Trapp)
Perilous times! when Christians have time to play with idols; have time to feast the world; to nestle themselves as the world; to go rounds of formality; have time to to pick faults in their neighbours, their brethren; have time to amuse themselves with religious dissipation! (Lady Powerscourt)
No amusement is innocent which takes away the soul from Jesus. (W.H. Hewitson)
I cannot but look upon all the glory and dignity of this world, lands and lordships, crowns and kingdoms, even as on some brain-sick, beggarly fellow, that borrows fine clothes, and plays the part of a king or lord for an hour on a stage, and then comes down, and the sport is ended, and they are beggars again. (Richard Baxter)
‘Temporal good things are not the Christian’s freight, but his ballast, and therefore are to be desired to poise, not load the vessel.’ (William Gurnall)
‘All the danger is when the world gets into the heart. The water is useful for the sailing of the ship; all the danger is when the water gets into the ship; so the fear is when the world gets into the heart.’ (Thomas Watson)
‘Let us not foolishly imagine that our minds can be satisfied and filled with worldly vanities, nor greedily effect and seek after a greater measure, when we are not satisfied with a less, supposing that the access of quantity may bring contentment; seeing the hunger which we feel in our hearts proceeds not from want of earthly abundance, but because it is unnatural nourishment for the mind of man, so that it can no more satisfy our souls’ hunger, than it can satisfy our bodies to feed upon the wind.’ (George Downame)
‘Thorns will not prick of themselves, but when they are grasped in a man’s hand they prick deep. So this world and the things thereof are all good, and were all made of God for the benefit of his creatures, did not our immoderate affection make them hurtful.’ (Sibbes)
‘All earthly things are as salt water, that increases the appetite, but satisfies not.’ (Sibbes)
‘It is dangerous dressing for another world by the looking-glass of this world.’ (William Secker)
‘The two poles could sooner meet than the love of Christ and the love of the world.’ (Thomas Brooks)
The world and its desires pass away – ‘Build your nest upon no tree here; for you see God has sold the forest to death.’ (Samuel Rutherford)
but the person who does the will of God remains forever –
Warning About False Teachers
2:18 Children, it is the last hour, and just as you heard that the antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. We know from this that it is the last hour. 2:19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us, because if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But they went out from us to demonstrate that all of them do not belong to us.
Cf. 1 Cor 11:19
Their going showed that none of them belonged to us – ‘Robert Yarbrough’s outstanding new Baker Exegetical Commentary on 1-3 John has some profound reflections on 1 John 2:19. A woodenly literal translation of the last third of this verse reads “but in order that it might be shown that they are not all of us.” The thought is incomplete; the elliptical sentence has to be finished with something like “they went out.” The NIV, TNIV, NRSV, NAB and NLT mask entirely that there is purpose clause (using hina) here. The NJB and NET hint at the idea of purpose, but turn the passive voice verb “be shown” into an active one, easily creating the impression that the people leaving the church did so intentionally to demonstrate who they really were, when in fact John’s point is that this is God’s intention in the context, irrespective of the specific human motivations. For this verse, the HCSB, ESV, NASB and RSV get it right. Yarbrough explains, “God is continually at work showing forth his glory, and for his people this means their ongoing sifting and purifying. . .When ostensible members of the people of God turn away from the beliefs and practices authorized by God and subsequently depart the community, God is glorified in that the truth of who are his and who are not is revealed” (pp. 147-48).’ (Blomberg)
2:20 Nevertheless you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. 2:21 I have not written to you that you do not know the truth, but that you do know it, and that no lie is of the truth. 2:22 Who is the liar but the person who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This one is the antichrist: the person who denies the Father and the Son. 2:23 Everyone who denies the Son does not have the Father either. The person who confesses the Son has the Father also.
You have an anointing from the Holy One – ‘another way of saying that all have received the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (NBC). Just as Jesus himself was anointed with the Holy Spirit (at his baptism, Lk 4:18; Acts 4:27; 10:38), so also those who are in Christ. The Anointed is the Anointer.
All of you know the truth – lit. ‘you all have knowledge.’ The alternative reading: ‘you know all things’ is less satisfactory.
The point is that all believers, having received the Spirit of Truth, know the truth. ‘There is no enlightened elite on whom all others depend.’ (NBC)
The man who denies that Jesus is the Christ – According to Kruse, when we put together the different elements of the heresy as they are alluded to within this letter, it seems that ‘their Christology involved a denial that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, God’s Son, come in the flesh and whose death was real and vicarious (1 Jn 4:2–3, 15; 5:1, 6–8).’
Such a man is the antichrist – ‘The heretics’ theology is not just defective; it is diabolical.’ (Stott)
He denies the Father and the Son – Because ‘(i) it was the Father who sent his Son (1 Jn 4:10), and (ii) it is the Father who bears testimony to the Son (1 Jn 5:9–10).’ (Kruse)
‘It is no accident that throughout history those groups that have given up belief in the full deity of Christ have not remained long within the Christian faith but have soon drifted toward the kind of religion represented by Unitarianism.’ (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 554)
‘The fundamental doctrinal test of the professing Christian concerns his view of the person of Jesus. If he is a Unitarian, or a member of a sect denying the deity of Jesus, he is not a Christian. Many strange cults which have a popular appeal today can be easily judged and quickly repudiated by this test. The extreme seriousness of the lie is that a second denial is implicit in the first: he denies the Father and the Son, 1 Jn 2:23.’ (Stott)
‘John has in mind more than a private belief and disbelief. As when the same verbs are used by Jesus, a public confession and denial of him ‘before men’ are implied (cf. Matt. 10:32–33; John 12:42; Rom. 10:9–10).’ (Stott)
2:24 As for you, what you have heard from the beginning must remain in you. If what you heard from the beginning remains in you, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. 2:25 Now this is the promise that he himself made to us: eternal life. 2:26 These things I have written to you about those who are trying to deceive you.
Those who are trying to lead you astray – AV ‘Them that seduce you.’
2:27 Now as for you, the anointing that you received from him resides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, it is true and is not a lie. Just as it has taught you, you reside in him.
Children of God
2:28 And now, little children, remain in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink away from him in shame when he comes back. 2:29 If you know that he is righteous, you also know that everyone who practices righteousness has been fathered by him.
Continue in him – Jesus spoke of ‘continuing’, or ‘abiding’ in him, Jn 15:5f.
Here are two results of continuing (remaining in fellowship) with Christ:-
Confidence = freedom to speak, a liberty to give a positive account of ourselves.
Unashamed = not shrinking back with guilt.
On both of these, see 1 Jn 3:21; 4:16-17.
If Christ appeared at this very moment, what would our reaction be? To run and meet him, or to shrink from him in shame?
His coming = ‘parousia‘ – the only occurrence of this word in John’s writings. The word is suggestive of a royal visit, and speaks of Christ’s coming in kingly majesty and glory. See 1 Thess 3:13.
He here is the Father, as the next verse will confirm. god is righteous: he thinks and feels and acts and purposes always according to what is right. He never accommodates or compromises in all his deeds and dealings.
Jesus is our model of righteousness, 1 Jn 2:1. He does what is righteous as his Father’s only-begotten Son.