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
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
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.
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
Stott, John. The Cross of
Christ. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1986.
Walvoord, John. Jesus Christ
Our Lord. Chicago: Moody, 1969.