My children, I am writing you these things so that you won’t sin. But if anyone does sin, we have Yeshua the Messiah, the Tzaddik, who pleads our cause with the Father.
Writing these things so you don’t sin. John is encouraging the believers to keep following the Lord. Reading later in this passage, some of the community he was writing to was in apostasy, denying God’s Messiah but clinging to God – perhaps converts to Judaism.
Everyone who denies the Son is also without the Father, but the person who acknowledges the Son has the Father as well.
John calls this a form of apostasy in which such people have neither God nor Messiah. It’s a brash view, but one that may actually line up with the rest of the Scriptures and biblical history. For example, if ancient Israel rejected one of God’s prophets, say Jeremiah, were they not also opposing God? How much more, then, for God’s messianic son?
This warning against sin, apostasy in particular, may be one of the reasons for his letter.
Also, he is the kapparah for our sins — and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.
The kapparah, a Hebrew term for sacrifice, is used here by the translator – David H. Stern, a Jewish luminary of the Messianic world – to highlight the link between Messiah’s death and the sacrificial system of Judaism.
Quite fitting to read this today, at the beginning of the 10 days of awe leading up to Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.
Messiah’s death is the sacrifice for sin. The was also the understanding of numerous authors of the New Testament, I’m thinking in particular those of the gospels (“in Yeshua’s name is repentance leading to the forgiveness of sins…”) and again in Acts.
It aligns with the messianic interpretation of Isaiah 53 – shared in numerous circles of Judaism – in which the suffering servant’s death will bear the sins of humanity:
After this ordeal, he will see satisfaction.
“By his knowing [pain and sacrifice],
my righteous servant makes many righteous;
it is for their sins that he suffers.
Therefore I will assign him a share with the great,
he will divide the spoil with the mighty,
for having exposed himself to death
and being counted among the sinners,
while actually bearing the sin of many
and interceding for the offenders.”
Messiah’s death-as-sacrifice-for-sins, has been abused to create anti-Jewish ideas inside Christianity, seeing Messiah replacing the Biblical sacrificial system. Indeed, many interpret the book of Hebrews as pushing this very idea.
Is it possible to interpret Messiah’s death as something besides replacing Judaism’s sacrificial system? I feel we as Messianic believers need a clear answer to this. Is Messiah’s death a once-and-for-all sacrifice? Or is it for the 2000 year absence of the sacrifices? Is Messiah’s death a replacement for or an addition to the sacrifices? Does Messiah’s death atone for the sins covered by the Levitical sacrifices, or ones not covered by that system? These questions the Messianic movement needs clear answers to.
More interesting still is the timing of Messiah’s death. His death occurred roughly 35 years before the destruction of the Temple – and with it, Judaism’s sacrificial system. Nearly 2000 years later, this same Temple and sacrifice system have never been reinstituted.
This has 2 interesting effects today.
First, it strengthens the argument for Messiah’s death as atonement. Acting in lieu of sacrifices and unable to consider Yeshua, Judaism has had to reinvent its own theology about atonement, reworking itself as a Temple-less exile religion. (This is well-known by Christians, so much so that the Jewish Q&A site Mi Yodea has several canned answers for this often-posed challenge to Judaism.)
And while Judaism certainly has answers to the question of atonement-without-sacrifices, these are later inventions and not authentic to ancient Judaism. Such uncertainty and scrambling for an answer points to the rightness of a more certain and divine answer: Messiah’s death is the atonement for sin, done at just the right time in history, for a purpose that, in its fruition, has seen billions of non-Jews embrace the Tenakh as their own Scriptures, the God of Israel as their own God.
I do wonder whether this Temple-destruction event is what Messiah had in mind when he said,
“Jerusalem, see your house is left to you desolate. You will not see me again until you say, baruch haba b’shem Adonai.”
In this verse, “your house” may refer to the Temple, and desolation to the coming destruction of Jerusalem, finally occurring some 35 years after these words were spoken.
The second effect it has had is, once again, to strengthen the idea of Christianity replacing Judaism, creating the ill-effects of anti-Jewish theology in the Christian world. It does this by saying the Temple and Jerusalem (and thereby all Israel and Judaism) are now left desolate and ignored, while Messiah is glorified in the nations. Jews and Israel and Jerusalem don’t matter – or rather, aren’t exalted any longer – now that the multi-national Messiah has arrived.
One can see quite easily how we have arrived at the status quo, where Christianity is very much separate from Judaism, where Christianity has at times been a vehicle of anti-semitism, and where Jews consider Christianity completely foreign and idolatrous.
This is indeed one area where Messianic believers are called in service to God: to repair this damage. We have a great deal of work ahead.
In the next verse, John urges his audience to obey God’s commandments. We’ll look at that in the next post.