John says of Jesus: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). What is the significance of this?
One thing that stands out is the fact that John does not say that the atoning sacrifice for our sins is Christ’s death but rather Christ Himself. He means to say that the very identity of Jesus as a person is an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.
Sometimes certain people are characterized by one thing. We might say of someone that he “lives and breathes” University of Alabama football. Or we could say of John Muir that he “lived and breathed” the outdoors. The identity of such persons is seemingly entirely wrapped around one thing. This one thing is what they are best known for. It became the meaning of their life.
John seems to be saying something similar of Jesus. His whole life is a matter of making atonement for the sins of the whole world. Jesus “lives and breathes” reconciling sinners with God His Father. This is evident in the depiction of Him in the Gospels. From His baptism until His ascension into heaven, nothing seems to preoccupy Jesus so much as calling human beings back to friendship with their Creator.
This issue can also be appreciated from another point of view. Sometimes people do things for a time that is not really representative of who they are later. I have worked jobs in fast food, retail, and landscaping. These lines of work are not really great indicators of who I am as a person! People likewise go through “phases” in their youth. They act a certain way or associate themselves with a certain social group for a time. Yet later they leave this and act differently. This is an ordinary human phenomenon. Sometimes people do know “what they’re about,” so to speak.
John means to tell us that Jesus is different than this. It is not just His death as an isolated moment in His life that atones for our sins, as if Jesus was at one time the sort of person who would die for sinners but is no longer that way. It is rather Jesus Himself who is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. His death on our behalf was not a “phase.” It is perfectly representative of who He is as a person at all times. Jesus is always the sort of person who loves sinners so much that He will die for them to make atonement for their sins. He “lives and breaths” reconciling wayward creatures with God their Creator and Father.