Question and Answer
Does 1 John 2:2 teach universal atonement?
Does 1 John 2:2 teach universal atonement?
By atonement, we understand that both God's justice and his wrath needed to be satisfied. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23) and God hates sin (Rom. 2:6-8). Therefore it was necessary for Jesus to die for sin in order to satisfy God's just judgment against sin. "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3). It was also necessary for Jesus to set aside God's wrath against sin. "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God" (Rom. 5:8-9).
Therefore, when you ask whether 1 John 2:2 teaches universal atonement, I understand you to ask whether that passage teaches that Jesus died to satisfy the justice and wrath of God for everyone in the human race.
First of all, we know God is the author of all Scripture (1 Tim. 3:16) and we know that he is not a God of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). We therefore may be certain that no two passages of Scripture are going to teach something contrary to one another.
Second, the angel told Joseph that Jesus, "will save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). Jesus said that he laid down his life for the sheep (John 10:15-18) and Paul writes in Titus 2:13-14, "Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works."
We see from these passages that Jesus died only for "his people," "his sheep" and "a people for his own possession." Therefore 1 John 2:2 cannot teach something contrary to these passages.
Also, it cannot be said that 1 John 2:2 is teaching universal atonement unless it is also claimed that it teaches universal salvation, which it clearly does not since John goes on to write about those who love the world and are passing away (1 John 2:15-17) and the antichrists who have departed from God's people and who deny that Jesus is the Christ (1 John 2:18-23), and those who abide in sin and therefore are of the devil (1 John 3:6-8).
If 1 John 2:2 is not teaching universal salvation or universal atonement, what is it teaching?
When we look here at God's Word it must be remembered that the words "all" and "world" do not always mean "every member of the human race." Acts 19:10 says, "This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks." Do we think that Paul personally preached to every single man, woman and child living in Asia? No.
Again, in 1 Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23, Paul says that all things are lawful for him. Would he really mean that he is permitted to practice idolatry and sexual immorality? No.
Therefore when John writes "not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" first, he is building on what he wrote in the first chapter. He is showing that the message of salvation has gone out from the apostles to all those who have heard it (in the whole world) so that they can have fellowship with the apostles and with the Father and Son (1 John 1:1-4). It is a message that has gone out to all of the nations of the world.
Here then in 1 John 2:2 he reminds them that in their struggle against sin they can continue to find forgiveness through Jesus Christ. The forgiveness and propitiation for sins that is only through Jesus Christ is the only means by which those who are in the world can ever be forgiven—not just the apostles who knew Jesus, but everyone in the world—that is, all those who have fellowship with the Father and the Son (1:5) and who can know that they know him because they keep his word (2:3-6).
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