1 John 2:2
"My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."
I know of basically three different explanations of what this verse means. The Arminian point of view maintains that Christ died for every individual that ever existed or will exist. The Arminian viewpoint, when logically and consistently followed through, teaches that Christ's death on the cross actually redeemed no one in fact, but only potentially. To avoid teaching a universal salvation, they insist that the redemptive work of Christ only becomes effectual when we choose to place our personal faith in Him.
A Word Study of “the World”
Let’s go ahead and take the typical definition of the word “the world” and see how it plays out in the gospel of John. Does the definition of “every single person without exception” fit? What do you think?
In John's Gospel, the term "world" must always refer to every single person without exception. Therefore:
1. Every single person without exception followed Jesus
John 12:19 -”The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him....”
2. Every single person without exception is unable to receive the Holy Spirit
John 14:17 - “Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.”
3. Every single person without exception hated the disciples
John 15:19 - “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.”
John 17:14 - “I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”
4. Every single person without exception rejoiced at the death of Jesus
John 16:20 - “Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.”
5. The Father is unknown by every single person without exception
John 17:25 - “O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me.”
6. Jesus spoke to every single person without exception
John 18:20 - “Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing.”
Or how about these verses. Do they refer to the physical creation we call the world or to every person without exception?
John 1:9 "every man that cometh into the world", John 1:10 "He was in the world and the world was made by him", John 3:17 "God sent not his Son into the world", John 3:19 "light is come into the world", John 8:23 "ye are of this world, I am not of this world", John 9:5 "As long as I am in the world", John 9:39 "I am come into this world", John 10:36 "him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world", John 12:25 "he that hateth his life in this world", John 12:46 "I am come a light into the world", John 13:1 "his hour was come that he should depart out of this world", 13:1 "having loved his own which were in the world", John 16:21 "for joy that a man is born into the world", John 16:28 "I am come into the world; again, I leave the world, and go to the Father", John 17:11 "And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world", John 17:12 "I was with them in the world", John 17:13 "these things I speak in the world", John 17:18 "As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world", John 17:24 "Thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world", John 18:36 "My kingdom is not of this world", John 18:37 "for this cause came I into the world" and finally John 21:25 "I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen."
The Arminian point of view neglects two important issues - The meaning of propitiation and how we come to believe the gospel.
A propitiation is a blood sacrifice that in fact atones for sins and appeases the wrath and justice of a holy God. 1 John 2:1-2 teaches that Christ IS the actual, effective and complete sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.
"It is finished" John 19:30.
If Christ IS the propitiation, and not just "offers" propitiation or "hopes to make" or "tries to provide" or "makes available" but he IS the propitiation, then all the sins of the "world" are atoned for and forgiven.
Secondly, the Scriptures clearly teach that God Himself gives us the faith to believe the gospel. Romans 12:3 "God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith", Phil. 1:29 "unto you it is given to believe on Him"; Eph. 2:8 " by grace through faith, and that not of yourselves; is the gift of God"; 1 Cor. 3:5 "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase."; Heb. 12:2 "Looking unto Jesus the Author and the Finisher of our faith"; 1 Peter 1:21"who by Him do believe in God", Titus 1:1 "the faith of God's elect"; Acts 3:16 "the faith which is by Him hath given him this perfect soundness", 13:48 "as many as were ordained to eternal life believed"; Acts 14:27 God "opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles"; Acts 16:14 " Lydia...who's heart the Lord opened"; 18:27 " helped them much which had believed through grace."
Another common view is that presented by John Gill, the Geneva Bible marginal notes, Matthew Henry and Arthur Pink.
"And he is the propitiation for our sins,.... For the sins of us who now believe, and are Jews: and not for ours only; but for the sins of Old Testament saints, and of those who shall hereafter believe in Christ, and of the Gentiles also, signified in the next clause: but also for [the sins] of the whole world; that is, not for the Jews only, for John was a Jew, and so were those he wrote unto, but for the Gentiles also."
The apostle John begins his epistle speaking in the plural. "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life." Most likely this refers to the 12 Jewish apostles who walked with Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry, and are now sent out to teach and establish the believers.
The apostle John, along with James and Cephas (Peter) were to go to the circumcision, the Jews, and Paul and Barnabas to the heathen, the Gentiles, as far as the general thrust of their ministries was concerned. See Galatians 2:9.
Geneva Bible notes
" For men of all sorts, of all ages, and all places, so that this benefit being not to the Jews only, of whom he speaks as appears in 1 John 2:7 but also to other nations.
" By the extent of his plea, the latitude of his propitiation. It is not confined to one nation; and not particularly to the ancient Israel of God: He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only (not only for the sins of us Jews, us that are Abraham's seed according to the flesh), but also for those of the whole world; 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."
Arther W. Pink
"When John added, "And not for ours only, but also for the whole world", he signified that Christ was the propitiation for the sins of Gentile believers too, for, as previously shown, "the world" is a term contrasted from Israel. This interpretation is unequivocally established by a careful comparison of I John 2:2 with John 11:51, 52, which is a strictly parallel passage: "And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad". Here Caiaphas, under inspiration, made known for whom Jesus should "die". Notice now the correspondency of his prophecy with this declaration of John's:
"He is the propitiation for our (believing Israelites) sins".
"He prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation".
"And not for ours only". "And not for that nation only".
"But also for the whole world" -That is, Gentile believers scattered throughout the earth.
"He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad".
The above interpretation is confirmed by the fact that no other is consistent or intelligible. If the "whole world" signifies the whole human race and every individual without exception, then the first clause and the "also" in the second clause are absolutely meaningless. If Christ is the propitiation for everybody, it would be idle tautology to say, first, "He is the propitiation for our sins and also for everybody". There could be no "also" if He is the propitiation for the entire human family. Had the apostle meant to affirm that Christ is a universal propitiation he should have then omitted the first clause of v.2, and simply said, "He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world." But instead it is written: "not for ours (Jewish believers) only, but also for the whole world"- Gentile believers, too.
Compare John 10:16 "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold:(this would be the sheep from among the Gentile nations) them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd." Also in John 17:20 we find a similar thought when Jesus says: "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word."
Remember that propitiation means a blood sacrifice that atones for sins and removes God's wrath. So if " the whole world" means "every person to ever live," then everybody would be saved, since they would all be, by definition, rescued from God's wrath. We know this is not a biblical teaching. For example, John 3:36 - "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life: but the wrath of God abideth on him."
"the whole world"
There is a third view that strongly recommends itself to my understanding and is consistent with both the meaning of "the whole world" and the rest of the Scriptures. This is what I believe 1 John 2:2 means.
The particular combination of Greek words that form the expression "the whole world" is "ho kosmos holos" and this phrase is found only 8 times in the New Testament. It is of interest that eight is the number of a new beginning. In every case it describes the physical creation and all it contains.
"What is a man profited, if he shall gain THE WHOLE WORLD, and lose his own soul?" Matthew 16:26; Mark 8:36; Luke 9:25, and "Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in THE WHOLE WORLD" Mat. 26:13; Mark 14:9, and Romans 1:8 "First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout THE WHOLE WORLD."
The expression is found twice in 1 John. In chapter 2 verse 2 and in 1 John 5:19. There we read: "And we know that we are of God, and THE WHOLE WORLD lieth in wickedness.".
This last verse can be understood as meaning that through the entrance of sin into the world, the curse has fallen upon all creation. We live in a fallen world of sin, sickness, evil and death. This world will soon be consumed with fire and there will be a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.
Galatians 1:4 describes Jesus Christ as He "Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world." Ephesians 5:16 tells us to redeem the time "because the days are evil."
God's eternal covenant includes not only the redemption of His people from their sins but also the redemption of the physical creation from the effects of sin.
The first mention of the word covenant is in connection with Noah and his family. This historical event is also a picture or a type of the covenant made between the Father and the Son of God. God made the covenant with Noah, his family, the earth and the animals in it. "I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth....And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh...the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth." Genesis 9:13-16.
We know that "as by one man sin entered the world, and death by sin" Romans 5:12. With the entrance of sin into this physical world God cursed the ground and it brought forth thorns and thistles. The animal kingdom also was affected by sin and death. It is marked by bloody tooth and claw. Animals devour one another; many species kill and eat their own kind. They steal food from each other, are selfish, vicious and aggressive. Their very natures reveal the damaging effects of sin.
The physical earth is affected by sin. "The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, an they that dwell therein are desolate." Isaiah 24:5-6.
Numbers 35:33-34 "The land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it. Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit, wherein I dwell."
Jeremiah 51:5 "For Israel hath not been forsaken, nor Judah of his God, of the LORD of hosts: though their land was filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel."
2 Chron. 7:14 "then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."
Part of the covenant of grace includes the redemption of the physical world. Romans 8:20-24 tells us: " For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body."
When the new heaven and the new earth are created the original order of the animal kingdom will be restored. "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea." Isaiah 11:6-9, See also Isaiah 65:17, 25.
On the great Day of Atonement, mentioned in Leviticus chapter25, we are told that the land would return to the original owners, and that the land could be redeemed. Lev. 25:23-27. Fields and lands could be redeemed as noted in Lev.27:19, 20; Jeremiah 32:7,8, and in Ruth 4: 5-10. Boaz not only bought Ruth to be his wife but redeemed the land as well. The two formed a package deal and he had to buy both at the same time.
This same idea is seen in Matthew 13:38-44. The field is the world. Christ says "the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field."
The treasure is Christ's people. He sells all that He has, gives His life, and buys not only the treasure but the field as well.
The gospel tells us that Christ not only redeemed His people but also the physical creation of the world. "That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him." Ephesians 1:10.
"And having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself: by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven" Colossians 1:20.
"Behold, the lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world." John 1:29.
Does the epistle of 1 John use the word "world" in the sense of the physical earth and the creation in which we live? Most certainly is does: 1 John 2:15 "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world", 1 John 2:17 "And the world passeth away", 1 John 3:17 "whose hath this world's good", 1 John 4:1 "many false prophets are gone out into the world", 1 John 4:3 "even now already is it in the world", 1 John 4:9 "God sent his only begotten Son into the world", 1 John 4:17 "because as he is, so are we in this world" and 1 John 5:19 "the whole world lieth in wickedness."
In the light of all these verses, it is quite possible to see 1 John 2:2 as teaching that Christ not only is the propitiation for our sins but also for the sins of the whole world, meaning that He not only takes away our sins but also purchases and redeems the physical creation of this world as well.
Great short video cartoon that demonstrates the truth of 1 John 2:2
Office Theology 108 - I John 2:2
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