The verb "takes away" conveys the notion of bearing off.62 It is perhaps not specific enough to point to anyone particular means of atonement, but it does signify atonement, and that by substitution. "Jesus bears the consequence of human sin in order that its guilt may be removed" (Hoskyns). It is removed completely, carried right off. John speaks of sin,63 not sins (if. I John 1: 9). He is referring to the totality of the world’s sin, rather than to a number of individual acts. The expression "the sin of the world" does not appear to be used prior to this passage. The reference to "the world" is another glance at the comprehensiveness of Christ’s atonement. It is completely adequate for the needs of all men. Right at the beginning of his Gospel John points us forward to the cross and to the significance of the cross.
Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1971), 148. [Some minor reformatting; some spelling modernized; footnote values and content original; and underlining mine.]
[Credit to Derrick Merkel for the find]
62The verb is αἴρϖ, which John uses more than any other New Testament writer (26 times). It is found with the object ἁμαρτημα in I Sam. IS : 25, and ἀνοημα in I Sam. 25: 28, both times in the sense "forgive." The idea of bearing sin in Heb. 9 : 28; I Pet. 2 : 24 is conveyed by αναϕερϖ, but there is not likely to be a great difference in meaning. MacGregor, agreeing that the verb αἴρϖ means not "take upon oneself", but "take out of the way," yet says, "But the latter thought, while enriching the former, also includes it, for a lamb can only ‘remove’ sin by vicariously ‘bearing’ it, and this Christ did." J. Jeremias sees two possible meanings of the verb in this passage: "to take up and carry" and "to carry off". He says, "In both cases it is a matter of setting aside the guilt of others. In the former, however, the means of doing this is by a substitutionary bearing of penalty ; in the latter sin is removed by a means of expiation" (TDNT, I, pp. 185f.). In the Johannine manner probably both meanings are in . mind. For the concept of sinbearing see my The Cross in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, 1965), pp. 322ff.
63John’s interest in the sins of men should not be missed. He uses the noun ἁμαρτια 17 times, the same total as in i John. The only New Testament books which use the term more are Romans (48 times) and Hebrews (25 times).