Christ is our righteousness, and also our propitiation.  This is a word that hearkens back to the mercy seat in the Old Covenant, where the blood was sprinkled to make atonement for sin.  Propitiation refers to appeasement, to the act of effecting conciliation between two alienated parties.  This is what Jesus Christ did by the bloody offering of Himself upon the cross.  Sin, which had alienated man from the thrice-holy God, must be removed before the guilty sinner could gain acceptance with God.  Since man was utterly powerless to reconcile himself, a sinless offering must be found.  This God provided when He sent His only begotten Son into the world, to act as our Substitute, suffering for our sins, purchasing us with His blood, awarding us His righteousness.  It is of grand and essential comfort to the child of God to remember that Jesus Christ is the propitiation for his sins.  He has put away the one thing that alienated us from the Father, and therefore we may be easy in our minds concerning the state of our souls.

Christ is the propitiation for our sins, and “also for the sins of the whole world.”  This is a favorite verse of those who urge the concept of universal atonement; that the Lord Jesus suffered for the sins of every human being, trying to earn salvation for them.  But this places Christ in the spot of a failure, for if He attempted to save every last human being, He has utterly failed, for He Himself said that “many are called, but few are chosen.”  The character of God cannot admit of the slightest degree of failure in any thing, and certainly not in His great scheme for the salvation of sinners.  Therefore, we must study the word “world” with great care, to discover its usage in the New Testament.  This done, we will find that it is a term that has numerous uses and applications.  The same John who here speaks of Christ being the propitiation for “the whole world,” also records the Saviour as saying of His followers, “I pray for them: I pray not for the world.”  Moreover, even the term “whole world” does not always have a universal application in apostolic writings.  The apostle Paul once commended the Romans that their faith was spoken of “throughout the whole world.”  It is evident that by that point in history, the vast majority of people on planet Earth had never heard the word of the Gospel.  Paul, then, was referring to the world of the churches of Christ, who had heard of the faith of the Romans, and happily concluded that they were true, diligent servants of the Lord Jesus.  More to the point, John himself will write near the conclusion of this epistle, “The whole world lieth in wickedness…”  Clearly, the same phrase used in I John 5:19 as in our present text cannot have a universal meaning, since John is writing to Christians who are no longer under the dominion of wickedness.  Since the phrase “whole world” is very evidently used in multiple places without an absolutely universal meaning, I see no reason to assign it that broad of an extent when dealing with Christ as our propitiation.  Instead, he uses that very broad term to encompass large groups, primarily either all believers or all unbelievers.

This is very likely the sense in which we should take “whole world” here in I John 2:2.  Christ has made propitiation, not just for us as individuals, or for the particular audience to whom John was writing, but to the entire world of sinners for whom Christ died.  Or, perhaps it could be understood to speak of the entire church of God, as comprising both Jew and Gentile.  At that early day in church history, Jewish believers were still prone to think of themselves as somehow elevated above their Gentile brethren, who had trusted in the same Saviour as themselves.  If John was writing to a predominantly Jewish audience, it is very likely that he was reminding them that Christ died not for their sins only, but also for the heathens who would trust in His Name.  Either explanation is more than sufficient to show that Christ’s propitiation is fully acceptable to God for every person for whom it was offered.  To say otherwise is to denigrate the merit and the success of the atonement of Christ.