The apostle John reminds his readers that as Christians they have an advocate with the Father, and that their advocate is Jesus (1 John 2:1). Perhaps we are surprised by that information. After all, have they not been forgiven all their sins by their heavenly Father? So why do they need Jesus as an advocate?
Perhaps the problem we have is caused by us assuming John has in mind the roles that advocates play in our legal system. In our courtrooms, an advocate stands before the judge because he has no say in the verdict. It is different with Jesus because he sits alongside the Judge on the heavenly throne – he sits on the same place as where God the Father is.
Moreover, when an advocate takes part in a court case, he does not know what is going through the mind of the person he represents. He may suspect that the accused person is guilty of the crime, yet his task is to persuade the jury and the judge that the accused is innocent. Nor does the advocate know if the judge is interested in the person on trial; after all it is likely that the judge and the accused have never met before.
With Jesus, it is very different. He knows everything about his clients and about the Judge, his heavenly Father. Jesus knows that his clients are guilty, in fact he has a policy of only representing those who are guilty. And when he speaks about them to the Judge he stresses that they are guilty of their sins. Jesus also knows that the Judge loves them as his children.
An advocate in our courtrooms, when he senses that the case for his client is bad, will look for mitigating circumstances to try and reduce the sentence. Jesus does not present any mitigating factors: he does not base his argument on our regret for past errors or our good intentions for the future. Instead, Jesus points to the wounds that mark his body. Those wounds are the permanent reminder in the heavenly courtroom that the price of sin has been paid. Unlike earthly advocates, Jesus does not have to make a speech urging clemency. Indeed, he does not have to say anything because his wounds speak very loudly.
Murray McCheyne has recorded how he interpreted this verse: ‘I feel, when I have sinned, an immediate reluctance to go to Christ. I am ashamed to go. I feel as if it would do no good to go, as if it were making Christ a minister of sin, to go straight from the swine-trough to the best robe, and a thousand other excuses; but I am persuaded they are all lies, direct from hell. John argues the opposite way: “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father.” I am sure there is neither peace nor safety from deeper sin, but in going directly to the Lord Jesus Christ. This is God’s way of peace and holiness. It is folly to the world and the beclouded heart, but it is the way.’