Understanding 1 John 2:2

Posted on November 28, 2012

1 John 2:2 is a verse used by many to oppose particular redemption (limited atonement). They assert that this verse is proof text that Christ died for “the whole world”, meaning every individual.

It is critical to understand the nature and efficacy of the atonement so that one truly understands the grace of God in salvation. Not understanding, or denying, the many intricacies of God’s work in salvation may lead to a very man-centered understanding and preaching of the Gospel.

I made the following comment in response to a professing Arminian who follows the blog. The comment can be found in its entirety in Christ’s Death Guarantees the Justification and Glorification of the Elect. Though brief, I hope it is helpful to you in rightly understanding 1 John 2:2.

1 John 2:2 reads,

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Firstly, propitiation means to satisfy the wrath of God – that is what Jesus did on the cross when He satisfied God’s wrath against the ungodly. It does not make sense if God satisfied His wrath through Jesus and will also satisfy His wrath through those same sinners in hell. That would be double jeopardy and would make God unjust.

So Christ satisfied “our sins”, John writes – so who are the “our”? Well, John is a Jew. Looking back to John 10, we see Christ speak about laying His life down for His sheep, meaning the remnant of Israel, and He also has sheep who are not of His fold, meaning Gentiles:

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

Returning to 1 John 2:2, it is now easy to understand that John, a Jew, is explaining that Jesus did not only die for the remnant of Israel (Christ’s sheep), but also for the whole world (meaning sheep “not of this fold” – elect Gentiles from every tribe, nation, and tongue).