Propitiation – Joey Davis

Propitiation – Joey Davis

Every precious soul enters this world innocent of sin. Sin is the violation of God’s Will by those who are capable of understanding (1 John 3:4). The words of Ezekiel to the king of Tyre ring true, “you were all perfect in our ways from the day we were created, till iniquity was found in you” (Eze. 28:15). Isaiah spoke of a period of innocence, “For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good…” (Isa. 7:16). There is a period in our lives when our sense of free moral agency is not fully developed and expressible without impunity. Tragically, at an age of accountability for sin, we all indulge. Paul wrote, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23) and “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). This pivotal moment facilitates our downward spiral into sin. This change in our state and relationship with God is pivotal because the “wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Isaiah said, “…your iniquities have separated you from your God” (Isa. 59:1-2). This means that we orchestrate our own spiritual death through our sins. Therefore, we are on the docket to appear in the eternal courtroom of God our righteous judge (2 Cor. 5:10) who shows no favoritism (Rom. 2:11), never disregards justice, portrays no moral ambiguity, and by His very nature must ensure that the consequence of sin is satisfied. No lawyer, not even God Himself, could change our guilty verdict. Ezekiel reported, “The soul who sins shall die” (Eze. 18:4).

If we understand this universal predicament, then we are closer to understanding propitiation. There appear to be six verses in the New Testament where a form of this word (hilaskomai) is used; four of these reveal Jesus Christ is our propitiation (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10; Luke 18:13; Heb. 9:5). The general idea of propitiation is “atonement” or “the initiative taken by God to effect removal of impediments to a relationship with God’s self” (BDAG). Notice, it is the initiative of God to counteract the consequences of our sins without violating His own righteous and just nature. How did God do this? Consider Romans 3:21-26:

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

In 1929, E.A. Elam wrote regarding 1 John 2:2, “Propitiation has the force of satisfaction of the sinner’s penalty. Hence, the death of Christ paid the penalty for man’s sin…Man receives the benefit of this upon terms of the Gospel.” This word also appears in Hebrews 9:4 and is translated as “mercy seat.” The mercy seat atop the ark of the covenant was the place where atonement for sin was made under the Law of Moses (Lev. 16). In a sense, Jesus serves as our mercy seat, our place of atonement. God allows a way back through what Jesus did to propitiate for our sins. This really highlights the force of John 14:6, Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Finally, a form of this word is used in the temple scene where juxtaposed with the self-righteous Pharisee; the contrite tax collector “standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’” (Luke 18:13). Similarly, when we come to grips with our sins and cry out for God’s mercy, we are not asking God to ignore our sin or to pretend that we did not do anything wrong. Instead, we are acknowledging our irreversible, self-created predicament, and we are asking God to apply the blood of His Son to our situation so that we may come into His favor and not experience what we deserve.  In our willingness to submit to Jesus Christ and to obey His Gospel, God honors that plea. In the very simplest terms, that is propitiation.