Meditations in 1 John : 11 : Jesus the Righteous One
1 John 2:1,2 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
We have considered the first two sentences of these verses so that only leaves the last sentence, which is one which has received a variety of interpretations, so significant is its content. The crucial words for theologians are ‘atoning sacrifice’. Older versions of the Bible used the word ‘propitiation’ and at least one version used the word ‘expiation’. Unfortunately none of these words are words we use commonly each day and so we need to explain them to see what theologians have been struggling with.
‘Propitiation’ refers to appeasing an offended or angry person. ‘Expiation’ refers to paying the penalty and making amends for. To ‘atone’ means to make amends for and bring reconciliation.
Now the Bible does speak about the anger or wrath of God. Why does God get angry when, it is clear, before the foundation of the world, He knew before He created the world, that Adam and Eve would fall, and sin would enter the world. When we look up instances of God specifically being seen to be angry, we find He focuses His anger on wrong behaviour (see Num 11:10 with the Israelites’ grumbling about manna, and Num 22:22 when Balaam’s actions of going with the Princes of Moab, and Deut 1:34 at Israel’s unbelief about entering the Land.).
Now anger is displeasure expressed strongly. To consider the opposite, how would we think of someone who was utterly calm and indifferent in the face of, say, a gross injustice? Suppose you heard of a gang rape in a street, say, and that there had been a policeman standing by watching, completely indifferent to what he was seeing? I think you would be horrified. Anger is a legitimate and even righteous reaction to gross wrong.
Now of course God knows the wonder of the perfect world that He made and He sees the awfulness of sin and its effects. When Jesus came to the tomb of Lazarus and saw Mary and the others weeping, the text says that he was deeply moved (Jn 11:33,34). The verb there suggests an element of anger was part of that feeling, as well as love and compassion. Jesus was angry with the effect of sin. Put it in its simplest form and we can say that God has strong negative feelings about the presence of Sin, feelings that prompted Him to do something about it. That started right back before the foundation of the world when the Godhead planned for salvation following sin. To see this in its various forms look up Jn 17:24 , 1 Pet 1:20, Eph 1:4, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Tit 1:2. God, knowing that with free will, mankind would turn from Him, was moved to plan for Jesus to come and do what He did on the Cross.
There is, of course, another way of putting this and it is to refer to justice. Justice is all about bringing right to remedy wrong. A child knows all about justice when they cry out, “Mummy, that’s not fair, he’s got more sweets than me.” The child is referring to an innate sense of right and wrong and calls on the mother to correct a wrong situation. This is what justice does, and we all have this sense in some measure. When a serious wrong is committed, we demand that the police take action to catch the culprit and deal with him or her. Of course when it comes to our own wrongs, we excuse them or make little of them, but they are still wrongs. Count them over a lifetime and there will be a lot of them, and there is justice demanding you be dealt with!
Until we took our eyes off God as a nation, we believed in capital punishment for especially serious crimes. Supposing the truth is that THE most serious crime is to turn your back on God – because all other ‘lesser’ crimes follow and flow out of that one? Most of us are blind to the awfulness of that one most serious of crimes and its effect and so we probably need to pray for revelation to understand it, but that is at the heart of the call of the Bible for sin to be punished by death – because in the face of a perfect God and a perfect world that he made, what we have done and become is horrific. How can justice be satisfied?
This is where John comes in. Jesus, the Son of God has died as a sacrifice (a sacrifice is something that didn’t need to die, that had no cause to die, but was put to death for a purpose.) The purpose of the Old Testament sacrifices for sin was to point to what Jesus, the Lamb of God, would do on the Cross.
We were slightly inaccurate earlier on because we hadn’t fully finished with the previous sentence because there Jesus as referred to as the Righteous One. There has been no one in all of history apart from him to whom that description could be applied. It means that in everything he thought, said or did, he was righteous (did what was exactly right!) He had no sins of his own to pay for and so his death was totally unwarranted; he was a perfect sacrifice. Yet he did it because as God, only he was “big enough” to die for every sin in the world, both of the Jews and now of the Gentiles (that’s John’s reference to not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.)
This is why we can approach God today without fear, because Jesus has stepped into our place and taken every single thought, word or deed of ours that has been wrong and he has taken whatever punishment ‘justice’ could dream up for them. We are free and, even more, when we still blow it today and get it wrong, he is there by the Father interceding for us on the basis of all he did on the Cross. Hallelujah!