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Propitiation

Propitiation (hilasterion) is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that satisfies the just demands of God's holy Law on the believing sinner so God can forgive him and turn away His wrath.

Hilasterion is used as a "propitiatory sacrifice" ("sacrifice of atonement" (NIV), or "propitiation" in Romans 3:25. In Hebrews 9:5 the same Greek word is translated "mercy seat," (NASB) or "propitiatory place" ("the place of atonement" (NIV).

God gave His Son as the means of propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2; 4:10). A holy God required atonement for sin and provided the perfect sacrifice.

A word of caution is called for because the New Testament does not include the idea of a pagan offering a sacrifice as a means of appeasing the anger and displeasure of his gods.

In the New Testament it is the LORD God who is propitiated by the vindication of His holy character through His own provision that He has made in the vicarious sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ. Based upon the death of Christ, God can now show His mercy to the believing sinner. The barrier that sin interposed between God and man is broken down and removed. Christ by His death annulled the power of sin to separate God and the believer.

Jesus Christ is the hilasmos in that He became the sacrifice which perfectly met the demands of the broken law. According to the New Testament usage, hilasmos is not that of placating the anger of a vengeful God, but the satisfying of His righteousness so that His character and government might be maintained, and at the same time His mercy might be shown to the believer in Jesus Christ.

The Scriptural background for the idea is found in the Jewish Day of Atonement and the sprinkling of sacrificial blood to cover or atone for Israel's sin (Leviticus 16:15), and thus satisfy a holy God for another year. In the New Testament, Jesus' death is viewed as the final sacrifice which completely satisfies God's demands against sinners, and the turning away the wrath of God from all who believe on Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is God's propitiatory sacrifice for sin. Jesus had to die on the cross in order to satisfy the Law and justify lost sinners. Jesus suffered the wrath of God on the cross for the sins of the world and fully met the just demands of God's Law.

The Ark of the Covenant contained the testimony of God which consisted of the tables of stone upon which were written the Ten Commandments, a piece of manna and the budded rod of Aaron. The high priest went into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement and sprinkled the sacrificial blood on the golden cover or lid on top of the Ark of the Covenant. When the blood of the sacrificial victim was sprinkled on this Mercy Seat, it ceased to be a place of judgment and became the place of mercy. The blood came between the violated Law of God and the people who violated it. The Old Testament rite is a beautiful picture of the blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God that satisfies the just requirements of God's law, and paid the penalty of the sinner in full.

There is no denying the fact that "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). However, the New Testament teaching on the propitiation is far removed from the pagan idea which appeased the anger of the gods because the broken Law of God has been satisfied by Jesus Christ. "and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). It is true the Law demanded of every person perfect obedience or death (Romans 6:23; Ezek. 18:4). But Jesus Christ is both the Mercy Seat and the perfect sacrifice which transforms the judgment seat into the throne of mercy.

Our salvation is free, but definitely is not cheap. It came at a tremendous cost to God. G. Campbell Morgan said wisely, "It doesn't cost me anything to be saved, but it cost God the life of His Son."

The saving work of Jesus Christ is appropriated "through faith in His blood" (Romans 3:22, 25). "Even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction. . . . whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed" (Romans 3:22, 25).

By the death and shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ the penalty for our sins has been paid in full, and the righteousness of God has been satisfied. The wrath of God has been propitiated. The believer places his or her faith in Jesus Christ and God counts it as righteousness. "Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him" (Romans 5:9).

How could a holy God "be just and at the same time justify the ungodly"? The LORD God must be consistent with His own righteousness and the just demands of His own Law against all sinners, and at the same time demonstrate His grace, love and tender mercy. Both needs are perfectly met in the propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

The Old Testament sacrifices could never take away sin, but God sent His Lamb who would lift up and take away our sins (John 1:29). God would "pass over" the sins of the past knowing Jesus Christ would come and finish the work of salvation. Jesus "redeemed" sinners by purchasing them and setting them free.

Key Scriptures

Romans 3:25-26; 1 John 2:2; 4:10; Hebrews 9:5; Leviticus 16:15

Abiding Principles and Practical Applications

1.  It is important to emphasize that the benefits of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ are only available to a person when he places his faith in the efficacy of the shed blood. Faith is the sole condition on man's part because the perfect sacrifice of Christ.

2.  Because God must be perfectly consistent with His own righteousness He cannot break the Law or violate His own nature, therefore He sent His own Son to suffer the wrath of God on the cross for our sins.

3.  The Old Testament saint looked forward to the coming of the perfect sacrifice of atonement, whereas the New Testament saint looks back upon that satisfaction. In God's eyes it makes no difference with Him whether He saves sinners before or after the death of Christ.  The cross of Jesus and His death is an eternal fact in God's reckoning. Jesus Christ is the satisfaction of God's righteousness.

4.  The mercy of God was bestowed on the basis of the justice satisfied by Jesus Christ. The believing sinner is saved by the satisfied righteousness of God. His sins have been paid in full and God's justice satisfied.

For Further Study

Christ Our Propitiation
Exodus 25:17-22 God's Throne of Grace
Exodus 12:1-51 Christ our Passover
A Right Relationship with God Romans 3:21-4:25
Romans 3:25-26 The Vindication of God's Righteousness
Leviticus 17:11 Blood of Atonement
Romans 3:21-26 Our Perfect Union with Christ
Exodus 26:31 Jesus is the Veil of the Temple
Justification by Faith and Imputed Righteousness
One Perfect Sacrifice for Sinners
Ephesians 2:8-10 Saved by Grace Alone
God's Eternal Purpose: Redeemed by the Lamb
Our Eternal Position in Christ

Message by Wil Pounds and all content on this page (c) 2005 by Wil Pounds. Anyone is free to use this material and distribute it, but it may not be sold under any circumstances whatsoever without the author's written consent. Scripture quotations from the New American Standard Bible (c) 1973, and 1995 Update by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. 

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