Propitiation

Shannon Baptist Church
101 N.
Broad St
Shannon, Illinois 61078
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written by Pastor David Wood

PROPITIATION

Propitiation is one of those words seldom used anymore in the English language. Yet, it's significance should be great to the believer. Propitiation refers to the wrath of God satisfied by means of the covering that He himself offered.
The English word propitiation has a Latin derivative propitius which means "favorable." How is it that God could look on sinful man in a favorable way? The answer comes in the way God chose to satisfy his wrath.
The word used in the New Testament language Greek for propitiation pictured a satisfaction of God's wrath (Miethe 168). Propitiation in the Bible clearly consists of a full satisfaction of any demand; God's judgment on sinful man is satisfied based on the work of Christ on the cross.
God's wrath is evident in the Scriptures: it is mentioned over 580 times. This wrath is like that of a dad angered over a wayward son, yet longing for that son to do right. This anger is much more than a vulgar urge to "get even" as some have depicted, but rather a loving father's response to intolerable wickedness in his children (Walvoord 172).
Interestingly, the word hilasterion in Hebrews 9:5 is translated "mercyseat:"
And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly. Hebrews 9:5
That same word, hilasterion, is translated in Romans 3:25-26 as propitiation. Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

To understand the Romans passage one must also understand why hilasterion is translated mercyseat in Hebrews and propitiation in Romans. Christ has been set forth as "our propitiation through faith in his blood. . ." because Christ's blood was the fulfillment of the covering of the mercyseat in the Ark of the Covenant.
The Ark of the Covenant was essentially a large box with a lid on it and two angels on top facing each other. The Cherubim picture God's watchful eye over man's sinful ways. Proverbs 15:3 states that "the eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good." The mercyseat, the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, covered the items inside the Ark. The items in the Ark symbolize man's rejection of God. The tablets of the Law symbolize God's moral holiness which man rejected. The Golden Pot of Manna symbolizes God's physical provisions which man detested. The Budding Rod symbolizes God's judicial leadership which Israel spurned.
Once a year on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest sprinkled blood on the Mercyseat depicting the covering the coming Messiah's blood would provide for man's sin (McLachlan 17).
Man's sins–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–depicted by the items in the ark are permanently propitiated (I John 2).
The certificate of debt has been erased (Col. 2:14). Whom God hath set forth reveals who took the initiative in propitiation (Romans 3:25).
Nothing man can do will persuade God to think kindly of him. God's propitious satisfaction of His own wrath came of His own will. "Sin aroused wrath needed love sent propitiation" (McLachlan 16).
The fact that man's sin incited God's wrath proves critical to the debate over the necessity of the propitiation principle. Because of God's holiness He is totally "antagonistic" to man's sin (Stott 173). Yet, because of Christ's propitious covering our sin with his blood, God looks kindly on the believer. "The New Testament doctrine of propitiation is God's answer to the problem of His righteous judgment upon the sinner" (Walvoord 173). Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation [propitiation] for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:17).
Believer, take comfort in the propitiation principle found in Scripture. If you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, you have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. You are not totally "antagonistic" to God when you are covered by the propitious "mercyseat" of Christ's blood for salvation.


Works Cited

McLachlan, Douglas. "Rediscovering Our Doctrinal Foundations." Northland Baptist Graduate School. Dunbar, Wisconsin, 1993.

Miethe, Terry L. The Compact Dictionary of Doctrinal Words. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers 1988.

Stott, John. The Cross of Christ. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1986.

Walvoord, John. Jesus Christ Our Lord. Chicago: Moody, 1969.

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