By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER TWO (Lesson XVI) 04/14/21

Michael Eaton (1942-2017) points to five encouraging aspects of John’s teaching here in verses one and two:

            …if anyone sins

            …we have an advocate

            …with the Father

            Jesus Christ the righteous

            …the propitiation for our sins

It is encouraging, says Eaton, that God is realistic about our continuing tendency to fail. So, there is no reason for us to pretend to be other than we are. God sees the best and worst in us, yet He accepts us as His children.[1]

William R. Loader (1944) says that John may be using the imagery of atoning sacrifice without specific allusion to the First Covenant, especially the theories about how offerings achieve their intended effects. From the time of Abel and Cain’s sacrifices resulted in a favorable and unfavorable response from God. It was the same as feeding an angry god or appeasing an offended deity to offset their possible punishment or wrath. Unfortunately, the same mindset was in Judaism, carried on until sacrifices became nothing more than a business.[2] [3] And today, instead of sacrifices on an altar, some view holy Communion, and holy Mass, as a necessary thing to do to show God they are good Christians. That way, He will not punish them for the sins they committed. But that’s not why Jesus died. He makes this clear at the Last Supper.[4]

David Guzik (1984) tells us that “propitiation” has the idea of presenting a gift to the gods to turn away their displeasure. The Greeks thought of this in the sense of man essentially bribing the gods into doing favors for them. But in the Christian idea of propitiation, God presents Himself (in Jesus the Anointed One) to turn away His righteous wrath against our sin. As a result, propitiation implies that the Anointed One has, as our sin-offering, reconciled God and us by nothing else but His voluntary death as a sacrifice, and thereby averted God’s wrath away from us.[5]

I want to add here to what Clement Bailhache said earlier, and David Guzik says above, and John W. (Jack) Carter writes here about “propitiation.” Many misunderstand this verse, notes Carter, simply because the Greek noun hilasmos rendered “propitiation” is unfamiliar to many.  To reconcile is merely to gain the favor of another by doing something that pleases them. This term is often confused with expiation, which is to pay reparations for having committed a crime.  Consequently, we find both terms used to describe the atoning act of Jesus on the Cross of Calvary. When we understand expiation in this context, the word refers to the nature of Jesus the Anointed One and His work of advocacy performed for those who have faith and trust in God.

As Jesus, the human incarnation of YaH (“I AM”) WeH (that “I AM”), says Carter, the Son of God, He found favor with the Father with whom He is in a family relationship. As the One who is entirely man and fully God, Jesus serves as a form of intermediary between God and mankind. By His willing submission to death on the Cross of Calvary, Jesus took upon Himself our punishment for sin. Consequently, for all who place their faith in God, He now serves as our High priest making expiation (reparations) before the throne of God’s grace. That takes away the condemnation for sin, freeing a people who love the Lord. His work as our Advocate allows God to refer to His people as His “delight.”[6] [7]

Ben Witherington III addresses the Anointed One as a propitiation to God on our behalf. He tells us to notice that it does not merely say that He provides this, but instead that He is this. Of course, the big question is how to translate this term as “propitiation” or “expiation,” or should we choose a more specific term such as “atoning sacrifice?” A propitiation is an act that appeases God’s wrath against sin or some offense offered by a human being. Expiation, by contrast, is not something of which God is the recipient or object, but rather the believer, referring to the divine act of removing the contamination of or cleansing someone from sin or covering or protecting someone from the consequences of sin.

In part, we can probably determine the meaning here by the preposition used: peri (“for”) rather than hyper, says Witherington. The preposition peri means “with respect to” rather than hyperon behalf of.”[8] It suggests that propitiation is at least one of the things in mind here. If so, then the picture would be similar to what we find in Hebrews, where we learn of Jesus, the High priest in heaven offering intercession, indeed, presenting himself as a sacrifice to God, His death doing the pleading for sinners. On the other hand, in 1 John 1:7, the idea seems to be of expiation, of the sinner being cleansed of sin by God through the Anointed One. Here, however, in 1 John 2:1-2, we are talking about offering God something, and so propitiation is more likely in view. Some have resorted to translating this term as “atonement” or “atoning sacrifice.”[9]

2:3a If we obey what God has told us to do, then we can be sure that we are best friends with Him.


Here John echoes the word given to Isaiah that the Anointed One will be satisfied after all is said and done. And because of His experiencing pain and sacrifice, God’s righteous Servant will make many righteous; it is for their sins He will suffer such agony.[10] And for the Apostle Paul, what the Anointed One did on our behalf was like what happened when God said, “Let there be light in the darkness.” So, He made this light of the Gospel shine in our hearts, so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus the Anointed One.[11]

But this is also contingent upon our obedience to what the light shows us. It is in line with the intelligent young writer of the longest Psalm who said, “Then I will never feel ashamed when I look closely at Your Word.” Furthermore, he also pledged: “I will follow the way presented in Your Word, for You, will give me a willing heart to obey.”[12] And the Apostle Paul was not hesitant to tell the Thessalonians that they too should live in such a way that God is pleased with them. They didn’t have to guess what to do; they were already taught by the authority of the Lord Jesus.[13]

After all, our obedience is not too much to ask when we consider, as the writer of Hebrews states, that because our Lord’s willingness was perfect, God was able to offer eternal salvation to all who obey Him.[14] And in his revelation, John heard these words: “How blessed are those who wash their robes. As such, they will be allowed to enter through the gates of New Jerusalem to eat from Life’s Tree.”[15] Not only that, but the subject of having robes washed white reminds us of what John said in his Revelation.[16]


Clement of Alexandria (150-216 AD) makes an interesting point about the Gnostics who said they knew about God but did not know Him personally. It’s much like a person saying they know all about a particular science but are not scientists themselves.[17] Not much has changed since then. People today can tell you they know about God but cannot tell you anything about Him.

In another place, Clement states that the one who understands will also do the works which pertain to the duty involved. But someone who does the job is not necessarily among those who know the effect of their work, for they may understand the difference between right and wrong but who does not know the divine doctrines. Furthermore, knowing that some people do the right thing out of fear of punishment or for some reward, John teaches that a person with a clear understanding does these things out of love. [18]

Early church writer Didymus the Blind (313-398 AD) mentions that often in the Scriptures, the word “know” means not just being aware of something but having personal experience of it. Jesus did not “know” sin, not because He was unaware of what it is but because he never committed it Himself. In other words, Jesus would not be able to keep from sinning if He didn’t know what sin was. For although He is like us in every other way, He never sinned. Given this meaning of the word know, it is clear that anyone who says that they know God must also keep the commandments, for the two things go together.[19]

[1] Eaton, Michael, 1, 2, 3 John, op cit., pp. 45-46

[2] See Matthew 21:12-13

[3] Loader, William R., The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., pp. 14-15

[4] Matthew 26:26-30

[5] Guzik, David: Enduring Word, op. cit., loc. cit.

[6] Deuteronomy 30:9; Psalm 16:3; 149:4; Jeremiah 9:24

[7] Carter, Dr. John W. (Jack). 1,2,3, John & Jude, op. cit., pp. 34-35

[8] See 1 John 3:16 (“for us”)

[9] Ben Witherington III. Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, op. cit., (Kindle Locations 6146-6156)

[10] Isaiah 53:11; See John 17:3

[11] 2 Corinthians 4:6

[12] Psalm 119:6, 32; See John 14:15, 21-24; 15:10, 14

[13] 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2

[14] Hebrews 5:9

[15] Revelation 22:14

[16] Revelation 6:11; 7:9, 13-14.

[17] Clement of Alexandria: Comments on the First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 1162

[18] Clement of Alexandria Bray G. (Ed.) 1-3 John, Adumbrations, Adumbrations, p. 178.

[19] Didymus the Blind, Bray, G. (Ed.).  1-3 John, p. 178

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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