What does it mean and how is it used in the New Testament?
Propitiation means to appease, turn away, or satisfy. But, that definition is like raking leaves. We are going to dig for gold. Digging for gold is going to involve looking at four New Testament passages where it is used. There’s gold to be found in this dig. So, have you got your hiking boots on? We will start with
1 John 2:1-2.
- My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
In this verse propitiation in Greek is a noun meaning: an appeasing, the means of appeasing.
1. In verse 1, who is our advocate? Jesus Christ 2. What is He in verse 2? The propitiation for our sins. 3. Who is He appeasing? God the Father
He was the perfect sacrifice for sin, so He could turn away God’s wrath from us, the guilty. But, it’s not just that He turned it away. No, He absorbed it. Let this sink in. He didn’t just deflect the wrath and send it out to space somewhere. He took it all in. He felt it. He experienced it. He took the punishment so that the Father’s wrath toward sinners was satisfied. He truly suffered the wrath! Wrath had to be suffered for justice to be done. And so justice was done. Sin was dealt with. But also, this word includes conciliation. Because of the perfect sacrifice, not only was God’s wrath appeased, but He can now look favorably on those who will trust, rely on and believe in His Son for their redemption. Now the Father could freely pardon.
John again talks of this in 1 John 4:10. Propitiation is also a noun in this verse.
I John 4:10
10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
4. Who is sending who? God the Father is sending Jesus His Son. 5. Why is the Father sending the Son? Because He loved us. 6. What did He send the Son to do? Be our propitiation. To appease God and absorb His wrath we deserved.
John gives us more information about God’s motivation for sending His Son.
7. What was God’s motivation? Love
If you ever doubt God’s love for you, read 1John 4:10. There is no greater way God could demonstrate His love for us. Paul echoes this in Romans 5:8-10.
8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
The love John and Paul are talking about is not our love, but it is God’s love for us. God is the Lover, we are the responders. John says, “We love because he first loved us” (1John 4:19).
Pause, breath, and think about this. Propitiation is a profoundly beautiful word. It is worth the extra time. It shouts infinitely deep echoes of love down from the ancient hallways of Heaven directly to your heart today and forever.
Hang on; we have two more verses to explore.
17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
In Hebrews 2:17 propitiation is used as a verb. In 1 John we saw that Jesus was the Propitiation, now in Hebrews He is making propitiation.
8. Why did Jesus have to be made like His brothers? So that He might become our merciful and faithful high priest to make propitiation for the sins of His people.
As in the Old Testament the high priest made sacrifices for his own sins and the sins of the people, so Jesus is our high priest making the perfect once for all sacrifice and He is the sacrifice.
Let’s look at one more passage in Hebrews before we go back to Romans.
Read Hebrews 10:1-14.
9. What were the Old Testament sacrifices a reminder of? Sins 10. What could the blood of bulls and goats not do? Take away sins.
The Old Testament sacrifices were only a shadow of the one great sacrifice yet to come. These sacrifices could not save anyone. They only reminded the people how sinful they were.
11. What is meant in Hebrews 10:6 when it says God took no pleasure in the offerings and sacrifices? They could not take away sins. They could not appease Him. 12. Who did please Him in Matthew 3:17? His beloved Son. 13. How have we been sanctified (set apart for holy use)? Christ’s sacrifice. Offering of His body once for all. 14. Verse 11 tells us the priests offered daily sacrifices, from the time of Moses until the Temple was destroyed in AD 70, which could never take away sins. Why did the priests do it? (See verse 1) The Law commanded them too. So, that God would pass over their sins. 15. According to verses 12-14 what did Jesus’ one time sacrifice accomplish? Perfected for all times those who are sanctified (holy set apart).
Back to Romans. Paul uses our word in Romans 3:23-26.
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
We start with the fact that we have all fallen short of the glory of God. What does that mean? Sin despises the glory of God. It tramples on it. If you are not familiar with David’s sad episode with Bathsheba, you might want to take a few minutes and read 2 Samuel 11 and 12. After adultery and murder, Nathan, a prophet, gets direction from the Lord to confront David with his sins. And this is the question God directs Nathan to ask David: “Why have you despised me?” John Piper points out, “All sin is a despising of God, before it is a damage to man.”
16. But, despite our despising God’s glory by our sin, He justified us. How was that accomplished? Through the redemption of Jesus Christ received as a gift of grace.
In verse 25, we come to our word “propitiation”. It is a noun meaning Jesus was the propitiation.
17. In verse 25 who was responsible for Jesus being the propitiation? God 18. How did Jesus accomplish propitiation? By His blood. 19. How is it received? By faith. 20. Why did He put forward Jesus as a propitiation in verse 25? To show God’s righteousness.
The former sins of verse 25 were those of people who lived prior to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
21. Why did God need to show forth or demonstrate (NAS) His righteousness? He had not punished former sins, but passed over them.
Before Jesus’ sacrifice, God over-looked the sins of the people in the past. He did not give them the immediate and ultimate punishment they deserved. It was God’s free and sovereign choice to look over sins from the time of Adam and Eve to the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus and see the Cross. He had planned that one day His Son would pay the price for all the sins of His people. “In the fullness of time God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law” (Gal.4:4)
John Gill wrote on Romans 3:25 and described God’s righteousness in this way.
“The righteousness of God the Father, his faithfulness in his promises relating to Christ, his grace and goodness in the mission of his Son, the holiness and purity of his nature, and his vindictive justice, in avenging sin in his own Son, as the surety of his people: the execution of this was threatened from the beginning; the types and sacrifices of the old law prefigured it; the prophecies of the Old Testament express it; and the sufferings and death of Christ openly declare it, since God spared not his own Son, but sheathed the sword of justice in him.” (John Gill’s Exposition of The Bible)
Paul, the supreme teacher that he is, repeats the phrase, “to show his righteousness” in verse 26, but he adds at this present time, or now, for the first time in the Gospel, in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ was the propitiation for our sins by His sacrifice on the Cross. He stood in our place and was our substitutionary atonement, and so became God’s solution to vindicate His righteousness before the world because of past sins committed that He choose to forbear and pass over.
So, dear friend, this was a long hike, but I hope you found it worth the journey. We have much gold to carry away with us.