In the western world there are thousands of well-meaning men and women who espouse a cause such as animal rights or the interests of a minority language group. They promote that cause energetically and often raise funds to further its ends. They may describe themselves as advocates of that cause. But that is not the sense in which our Lord Jesus is called our Advocate. In Scotland, in important legal cases, an advocate pleads the case of his or her client. The advocate the equivalent of the barrister in England - is the Scottish term for the lawyer pleading in the higher courts. The Bible term "advocate" found in 1 John 2.1 describes One who acts on behalf of others in the very court of heaven.
The Greek word translated "advocate" occurs five times in the New Testament, all of them in Johns writings. It literally means "one called alongside to aid another". In secular Greek it would be used of one acting as a mediator, or intercessor, or representative on behalf of a client or friend, but rarely of a lawyer pleading a clients case in court. In the AV it is translated "Comforter" to describe the Holy Spirits support for Christians after Christs exaltation (Jn 14.16,26; 15.26; 16.7). It is used once of the Lord in 1 John 2.1, where Darby translates "patron". The Lord Himself introduced the word into the disciples vocabulary, whilst they were in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, on the night in which He was betrayed in Gethsemane. We learn a great deal of the term in the Lords first recorded use of the word: "I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter" (Jn 14.16). The request of the Father was that they be given a Comforter like Christ Himself. Over a period of more than three years the Lord had been available to them in every circumstance they had known: so too the Holy Spirit would be "with" them to provide the guidance, the strengthening and the understanding they had been finding in Christ. Their Advocate, the Holy Spirit, would be "with" them to meet their need (Jn 14.16), whilst their Advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous would be "with the Father" (1 Jn 2.1).
As he approaches the sensitive matter of a believer sinning, John manifests something of the tenderness and understanding the disciples had always found in their Lord. He uses the first person singular pronouns, "my I" (1 Jn 2.1), and describes his first readers as his "bairns" (AV "little children"); they are the fruit of his ministry and come to know the sincerity of his love for them. John is not referring only to immature saints in contradistinction to "fathers [and] young men," as he will at vv.12,18. John owns the possibility of sin, but does not expect a believer to sin. Therefore he does not say "When any man sins " but " if any man sin1 ". Sin is not a necessity in a believers life. Sin is forgivable but not excusable. John carefully writes, " if any man sin " (v.1)2, so that his readers would know he wrote hypothetically of a single act of sin, not of sin characterising a man who keeps on sinning. Every Christian should be as careful, as John was, lest any sin begin to characterise the whole tenor of his life. Christs one righteous act of obedience has made many righteous (Rom 5.19), each of whom God expects will practise righteousness and be "righteous, even as he [Christ] is righteous" (1 Jn 2.29; 3.7). The Christian is righteous in Gods sight because of Calvary, and the tenor of his life is to be one of practical righteousness.
John knows the seriousness of sin. Indeed he will later say that "sin is lawlessness" (3.4, RV, JND), i.e. sin is "unrestrained self-will" (W Kelly). The intrusion of sin into a Christians life is serious. It does not undermine the security of the soul (Jn 10.28), nor diminish the believers acceptance in the Beloved (Eph 1.6). However, sin does affect our communion with the Father. Where there is a sensitive soul, sin will be readily detected, leading to an earnest exercise to restore communion. Where there is delay in responding to sin in the life, the outward aspects of the Christians life may seem unchanged but the inward reality will be lacking, and disaster may lie ahead. In all cases, the Father has provided for the restoration of the erring one.
What provision has the Father made for sin in the believers life? He has provided an Advocate Jesus Christ the righteous. Is that Advocate available to every saint who sins? The provision of advocacy is there for "the entire Christian company", as Johns phrase, "we have an advocate", declares without qualification. The Father has made the same provision for all of us, lest we sin: "We have a great high priest" (Heb 4.15); and, if we sin, "we [also] have an advocate". The Great High Priest understands our weakness and "knows what sore temptations are, for He endured the same". He upholds us that we might hold fast and that we might not sin. The Advocate is there, if we sin. The Priest appears in the presence of God for us (Heb 9.24); the Advocate is "with the Father" (1 Jn 2.1).
What are the credentials of the Advocate who acts if we sin? John identifies two particular features of our Advocate that singularly equip Him for the task of restoration: first, He is "Jesus Christ the righteous" (v.1); second, He is "the propitiation for our sins" (v.2). How appropriate that this One should be designated to deal with the breach of relationship that sin has caused. Although the child of God who has sinned may not have realised it, sin is a breach of relationship in the family of God. Jesus Christ the righteous, who in life and death fulfilled every responsibility as a Man to God and as a Son to His Father, never underestimates the serious nature of a shadow between the child of God and the Father. We recall that Jesus Christ the righteous addressed His Father as "Holy Father" and "righteous Father" (Jn 17.11,25). Jesus Christ the righteous is well able to restore communion with the Father whose righteous requirements were not respected.
That restoration of communion has to be on a righteous basis, so we read that "he is the propitiation for our sins". (Note that the words "the sins of" at the end of v.2 in the AV are not in the original. Nor should they be introduced.) We know that Gods wrath against sin has been revealed and so God must be propitiated to vindicate His character, thus allowing Him to forgive and draw the sinner near to Himself. As Vine observes, "the advocacy of Christ is based on the abiding efficacy of His atoning sacrifice".
If a brother or sister sin, when does the Advocate intervene? Is it when the sinner repents? The text of 1 John does not indicate that heaven waits until the repentant heart aches and turns to the Father in unmistakeable contrition to confess with the prodigal: "Father, I have sinned" (Lk 15.21). Immediately the sin is committed the Advocate intercedes for the sinner before the Father, so sin is forgiven on the ground of Christs own sacrifice. The Advocate also deals with the one who has sinned that he might be brought to judge the root of the sin itself in order that communion with the Father might be restored; and that he might know that sin has been forgiven. The advocacy work of Christ is therefore not to win back for us a place before the Father but to restore to us the enjoyment of the Fathers unchanging love.
The Advocates work humbles the soul. It removes the props that would support independence of God. It may initially bring bitterness of spirit but that bitterness turns into "godly sorrow [that] worketh repentance not to be repented of" (2 Cor 7.10). It brings the assurance that the soul knows God, if he keeps His commandments (1 Jn 2.3). It brings a joy in keeping Gods Word, and in that repentant soul "the love of God [is] perfected" (v.5). It restores the capability to "walk, even as he (Christ) walked" (v.6). It enables the sinner to say, "He restoreth my soul" (Ps 23.3).
To be continued.
1 The verb is subjunctive, thus indicating that the case is hypothetical.
2 The verb "sin" is an aorist subjunctive.