Gems in the Letter of 1 John
Part 102 - 1 John 2:2
The sacrifice on the Cross
The second of these so important verses says: ‘. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.’
There is, in the original an even more important and difficult word to translate here than we had in the last verse. It is, in the Greek, ‘hilasmos’. The NIV, and also the NRSV, have chosen to translate it as ‘atoning sacrifice’, which is a very neutral choice, as we still have to work out what that means! Other versions are often bolder. Some have ‘propitiation’ (that is: an action which turns aside the wrath of an angry God, NASB, ESV, HCSB). Many have argued that should be ‘expiation’ (that is: an action which deals with a persons sins which are preventing their approach to a holy God). Other less difficult words are used in some other translations: ‘the means by which our sins are forgiven (GNB)’, or ‘ the sacrifice that takes away our sins” (CEV, JB). As if all that is not enough none of these are the basic meaning with which the word is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament that most of these New Testament writers used. That basic meaning is ‘mercy seat’, referring to the gold covered lid of the covenant box which was placed in the deepest and most holy part of the tabernacle and then of the temple. At either side of the lid were two cherubim who spread their wings over the centre of the seat thus creating a kind of cavity. Moses was specifically told that that was where the Lord would be when he met with him and from where he would be given further instructions as to how he was to proceed. Thus in Exodus 25: 22 we read, ‘There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.’ The great significance of that is that it was then considered to be the place where the Lord God was - in a very special way.
If we then realise that this is the image we are being given of Jesus and his work it is not only about the great sacrifice Jesus had made on the cross but also a clear indication that it was in him that God came to earth and communicated with mankind.
This marvellous verse is telling us that it is in and through Jesus, the advocate with the Father, of the previous verse that we – yes – you and me – have contact with the Father God! In a real way that has to come before and with the work of atonement that Jesus effected through his death on the Cross. It came from the moment Jesus came to earth.
Note that this also explains why John says it was ‘for the whole world’. This is not saying that everyone will be saved but that a new era of human life opened up as Jesus lived and died. From that moment on the ‘mercy seat’ became available for all mankind. Before that only a few very special people, mainly Jews, had had any possibility of approaching and communicating with God. Now the way was open for all peoples, all nations, all races, everyone in the community you live in, your neighbours, YOU and me, to approach and communicate with the Lord God. The only qualification was, and is, active belief and trust in Jesus. Wow!