The Context and Correlation of 1 John 2:2
Sadly, 1 John 2:2 remains one of the most misinterpreted verses in the Bible, along with John 3:16 and 2 Peter 3:9. The question raised in the interpretation of 1 John 2:2, is, “Did Jesus suffer the wrath of God, on the cross, with the imputed sins of every soul that has ever been conceived?”
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world (1 John 2:1–2).
If we answer the question, affirmatively, then Jesus was also reconciling to God, every soul ever conceived. He successfully redeemed every soul. He forgave everyone, everywhere, and at all times. If this is true, why would anyone waste their life preaching the Gospel?
Because the Bible does not support the idea of universal salvation, then, why is everyone not saved? Jesus did everything necessary for everyone to be forgiven, redeemed, reconciled, and delivered from the wrath of God. Jesus even claimed on the cross, “It is finished (Jn 19:30).” Was Jesus lying? Did He not finish His work, including propitiation (absorbing the wrath of God for others)?
No one wants to deny Jesus finished His work of redemption, so now we must look at the application of Christ’s active and passive works, on behalf of a certain group. That group is either His church or the world.
The Arminian claims that man must take salvation into his own hands. He must apply the merits of Christ to himself because Jesus stopped short of saving anyone. In this view, Jesus came to make eternal salvation a mere possibility.
If Jesus is a shelter for everyone, but not everyone is sheltered, then the issue is how one actually comes to be under the shelter of Christ. The Arminian claims that God has set up a sort of game for everyone to play. God sends preachers with a well-meant offer of the Gospel, and spiritually dead men must make a spiritually and eternally consequential decision for themselves.
Judges make decisions in legal matters. Salvation, lest we forget, is a legal matter because God’s Law has been broken, and punishment is due. The Arminian positions each man as the judge of the merits of the Payer and His payment. He attributes man’s position on the bench to the grace of God. It is fascinating that Almighty God, Creator of the heavens and the earth, would position sinful men as judges of His work in propitiation, redemption, reconciliation, and the forgiveness of sins. Totally depraved men judging Jesus’ Person and works…well, it makes men to be like gods (Gen 3:5). One wonders who could have contrived such a scheme of man-elevated theology?
Rather than being judges of God in Christ, the very context of 1 John 2:2 has Jesus Christ as an Advocate with God the Father, on behalf of sinners (who we are trying to identify: church vs. world). Apparently, according to the context, sinners are not actually in the position to judge Christ and His meritorious works. Criminals, which we are, actually need a Lawyer. Christians have a Lawyer, does the world?
The Apostle John is affectionately addressing the church, “My little children.” John’s purpose in writing is for the Christians not to sin. Still, he knows these believers are not perfect, and they do sin. The solution for the children of God, who sin, is Christ, the Advocate. John calls Him, “Jesus Christ the righteous (1 Jn 1:1).”
It is right to say that there is only one Man in history who secured right standing with God, by His works. Therefore, the Apostle Paul insists, “But to him who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness (Rom 4:5).” In other words, Christians do not work for their right standing with God. It is an imputed gift of God, granted to them when the Holy Spirit comes to baptize them (Mt 3:11). Can the world receive the Holy Spirit? Jesus answers that in John 14:17, “that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.”
So Jesus Christ is our shelter from wrath (propitiation), and to be sheltered one must be transferred from outside the shelter, and into the shelter, who is Christ. The Arminian is convinced that it is his own decision to transfer himself. In contrast, the Bible instructs us that it is by God’s will (Jn 1:13) and by His doing that one is repositioned into Christ Jesus (1 Cor 1:30). It is God who transfers the sinner (Col 1:13). God’s decision for His chosen people, to come under Christ’s shelter is by His gracious choice (Rom 11:5), according to the kind intention of His will (Eph 1:5, 9).
The better interpretation of 1 John 2:2 is the one that better fits the context of the passage, and correlates best with the other verses, forming the sound doctrine of the sovereignty of God in salvation (Ps 3:8; 115:3; 135:6; Jon 2:9; Rev 19:1).
First, every pronoun in the passage (1 Jn 2:1–2) speaks to and of the church, not the world. John is writing that Christians may not sin, but Christians have an Advocate, who is the propitiation for the sins of Christians, not just John and his immediate audience, but for Christians in the whole world, who are later identified as the people from every nation, tribe and tongue, and who are worshiping God and the Lamb in heaven (Rev 5:9; 7:9).
Second, John and his audience do have an Advocate, why doesn’t everyone, everywhere? It is because they do not have the Spirit of Christ (Rom 8:9), and he who does not have the Spirit does not belong to Christ (Jn 10:26); and he who does not belong to Him, does not believe in Him whom God sent (Jn 3:16); and this is because he does not have ears that have been opened by the Word of Christ (Rom 10:17).
God does not wish for any of His elect, beloved to perish (2 Pet 3:9); therefore, in His love for those He predestined to adoption as sons (Rom 8:30; Eph 1:5), He sent His only begotten Son into the world, not to judge an already condemned world (Jn 3:18), but to save His people from their sins (Mt 1:21).
Jesus lived in sinless perfection for these people, and Christ died for them — His bride (Eph 5:23, 25), His church (Mt 16:18), the sheep of His pasture (Jn 10:11, 15), who did not choose Him, but whom He chose (Jn 15:16). He reconciled them to God (Rom 5:10–11), by redeeming them with His precious blood (1 Pet 1:19), granting them forgiveness (Mt 9:1–6; 26:28; Acts 10:43; Eph 1:7), and providing shelter from the just judgment and wrath of God (Rom 3:25; 1 Thess 1:10; Heb 2:17; 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10).
The Father and the Son have sent the Holy Spirit to whomever they wish (Rom 5:21), to give them life abundant and eternal (Jn 10:10, 28). The Holy Spirit is not constrained by the will and choice of spiritually dead men in sin (Jn 3:1–8; Eph 2:1–3). He came to some, but not to all at Jerusalem (Acts 2). He came to Saul of Tarsus, but not to his traveling companions (Acts 9). The Spirit is as selective as Jesus was in His earthly ministry.
As the Word of God is preached promiscuously to all, only those who receive the Spirit of Christ can hear the voice of their Good Shepherd (Jn 10:27). These obey His command to follow Him because they have been made alive (Eph 2:5; Col 2:13); their hearts have been changed (Ezek 36:26); they have been given the mind of Christ (Rom 12:2; 1 Cor 2:16) because they have the indwelling Spirit of God (Rom 8:9, 11), who causes them to repent (Acts 5:31; 11:18); grants them faith to believe (Phil 1:29); sanctifies them with God’s Word of truth (Jn 17:17); and glorifies them on the day of Christ Jesus (Rom 8:30; 1 Cor 15:42, 52).
“He saved us (Titus 3:5);” by His will (Jn 1:13); by His gracious choice in election (Rom 11:5); by His finished work (Jn 19:30); and by His Spirit, so that no man may boast in himself, or in his most excellent decision-making skills (Jer 9:23; 1 Cor 1:29), as a dead man apart from Christ (Eph 2:1, 12), without whom he can do nothing (Jn 15:5).
John wrote his letter to a group of people, Christians, and rejoiced with them that together, he and they, along with all the saints around the world and across the pages of history, have an Advocate, who paid their debt of sin, and absorbed God’s wrath for them. This, the world does not have, which is why these questions are posed by the Bible, “Who will deliver you from the wrath to come (Mt 3:7; Lk 3:7); and how will you escape the sentence of hell (Mt 23:33)?” This is the context and correlation of 1 John 2:2.
Spokane Valley, Washington
October 28, 2022