Gems in the Letter of 1 John
Part 101 – 1 John 2:1
We come now to two very important verses in the thinking of John. He is deeply concerned about the people in his fellowship. I will call them the ‘In’ group. They are being got at by the ‘Out’ group, who are people who have left the fellowship. They are mentioned most clearly in 2: 19 where John says, ‘ they went out from us’. We do not know with absolute certainty what happened but by far the most likely thing is that they had become Gnostic in their thinking. They had decided that there were special things they knew that made them superior to the In group. For them belief in Jesus and following his teaching was no longer enough. Their religion was therefore very similar to that of many of the other small religious groups common in those days. That would probably have had the advantage of making them much safer physically because they would not have appeared to the authorities to be as dangerously different as the Christians seemed to be.
The Out group were trying to persuade members of the In group to join them. In the eyes of John what the Out folk were teaching was so far adrift from what Jesus had taught, and the main line of the early church were teaching, that they were idolatrous and therefore very sinful. So we get the two verses 2:1,2: ‘My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—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.’
Here, in the first of these two verses, we get the word that appeared several times in the farewell message of Jesus in chapters 14 – 16 of John’s gospel that was translated in the NIV as ‘advocate’ and in several different ways, including ‘counselor’ and ‘helper’ in other versions,. There is much less problem here. An ‘advocate’ is ‘one who speaks on behalf of another’ or ‘one called alongside to help’ and that is the more straightforward meaning here.
Bur there is a problem: in what sense can we say that Jesus was alongside to help these people and indeed, can be alongside to help us today? The answer lies in the whole purpose of the ascension of Jesus after his death and resurrection. He did not go back to heaven to do nothing. Of course it is quite impossible to describe precisely what goes on in heaven in earthly terms so we get slightly different pictures of what he is doing in the books of Hebrews and Romans. The writer to the Hebrews has a static picture of what Jesus is doing. He says Jesus is sitting at the right hand of the Lord God, establishing by his presence there the eternal validity of his sacrifice on the cross. He is sitting there as the Great High Priest, much superior to all human high priests in the effectiveness and eternal duration of his sacrifice on the cross. We see that in Hebrews chapters 4 – 10 and particularly in 9: 11 – 15 where he says: ‘But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.’
And the writer to the Hebrews sums up the effect for us by saying in 7: 25, ‘Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.’
Paul has a more dynamic picture when he says in Romans 8:26, ‘ In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.’ He refers to the Holy Spirit rather than Jesus but, of course, the two pictures are more or less interchangeable in this context.
When we talk about our prayer life some people even boast about how extensive and effective their prayers are, but all that fades into insignificance before what the Lord is doing for us. He is praying for you and me, talking about us with his Father, in heaven right now. He is continuously reminding the Father about us, our strengths and weaknesses, our triumphs and our failures – known as sins (not that the Father has a bad memory, but how else can I emphasize what he is doing?). Why he can do that so effectively we are told in the next verse – but that is for next time.