The Apostle John states in the Bible that, when he was born, Jesus Christ “appeared” among us.
This is an unusual way of speaking about a person’s birth. Imagine a birth notice in the newspaper saying, “Jack and Jill Hill wish to announce the appearance of their baby …”
John’s choice of words alerts us to the fact that Jesus is an unusual person. He existed before his conception and birth. Before he became the son of Mary, he existed eternally as the Son of God. Jesus did not enter existence at his birth: he entered our existence. He left heaven and appeared on earth.
But why? Why did Jesus come to earth and become a human being? According to John, there were two purposes for his appearing.
The first is this: “he appeared to take away sins” (1 John 3:5).
John defines sin as “lawlessness” (3:4). It is essentially the flouting of God’s moral law, which is the expression of God’s moral nature, which is “light” (purity) and “love” (cf 1:5 & 4:8). We sin and become lawless whenever we fail either to practice righteousness or to love others (3:10).
Jesus came to take away all the sins we all have committed. Addressing his fellow Christians, John says of Jesus, “he is the propitiation [appeasement] for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (2:2). Jesus left no one out. He came to address the problem of sin for us all.
John explains how Jesus did this: “he laid down his life for us” (3:16). Again John explains: “the blood of Jesus his [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1:8). Jesus accomplished the removal of our sins by sacrificing himself in our place on the cross. In this way he paid the penalty and made amends for our sins, thereby turning aside the wrath and the condemnation of God.
Jesus’ sacrifice was effective because “in him there is no sin” (3:5). His moral character was pleasing to God and it was the perfect counter to our immoral characters. Unlike any human being before or after him, Jesus was completely pure, sinless and undefiled. He could be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) because his “precious blood” was shed “like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).
The first purpose for which Jesus came, and the means by which that purpose was accomplished, is summed up in this succinct statement: “he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26).
The second motive Jesus had for coming to earth is closely connected to the first. John states, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (3:8).
The devil, or Satan, is depicted in the Bible as a malevolent spirit, the highest of the fallen angels, who is in rebellion against God. His greatest “achievement” is the successful temptation of the first human beings to doubt and disobey God, thereby alienating them and their descendants from God. And ever since that first success, he has been in league with human beings in their rebellion against God. Indeed, his (albeit temporary) success is so great that John states “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (5:19).
Jesus came to break the power of this malignant being. He came to put a stop to his dreadful activities and to overturn his appalling achievements. Indeed, he appeared not only to destroy the devil’s works but also to destroy the devil himself. Another biblical author states that the Son of God became a man so that “he might taste death for every man” so that “through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).
John declares that “the devil has sinned from the beginning”. Satan is the original sinner, and as such he is the father of all sinners. Consequently, “he who commits sin is of the devil” (3:8). In order to free sinners from the power of sin, Jesus had to free them from the control of their father, the devil. This he did on the cross, triumphing over him.
To take away our sins and to destroy the works of the devil: these are the purposes for which Jesus appeared among us as one of us 2,000 years ago.
However, John claims not only that Jesus has come once but also that he will come again. He matches the two references to the fact that Jesus has come to earth in the past (“he appeared”, 3:5 & 3:8) with two references to the fact that Jesus will return to earth in the future (“when he appears”, 2:28 & 3:3).
When Jesus returns his work as Saviour will be completed and his work as Judge will begin. That is why John states in his Revelation that when Jesus personally returns in plain sight of everyone, “all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him” (1:7)
If we appreciate what Jesus did for us when he first appeared, and if we trust ourselves to him in repentance and faith now, we will not fear him when he next appears. John states that “this is his [God’s] commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ” (3:23). He further states that “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” (5:1). God requires us to trust in Jesus, acknowledging him as Saviour and submitting to him as Lord. When we meet that requirement, we become his children and are assured of forgiveness and eternal life. Indeed, John declares at the end of his letter, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (5:13).
If we trust in Jesus because of the things he did for us when he first appeared, we will not shy away from him in shame when he next appears (2:28), but will rather be transformed into his moral likeness (3:3), forever to be pure and good, as he is pure and good. And in this new moral state we will enjoy his friendship and leadership forever in a new world in which righteousness prevails (2 Peter 3:13) and from which the devil is shut out (Revelation 20:10).