Romans 3:25 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;
1 John 2:2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 4:10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Propitiation is a word that we seldom (if ever) use in our daily conversations and is only found three times in the KJV Bible. However, it is a very important word and we certainly need to understand what it means to us as believers in Christ.
“Propitiation properly signifies the removal of wrath by the offering of a gift.” Propitiation describes the means whereby the wrath of God is properly appeased so that He may express or exercise His love and favor toward humans—through Christ—without violating His Glory.
Some people really struggle with God being angry or full of wrath toward man or man’s sin. They believe that because God is love He cannot also have a component of wrath in his being. However, God is also holy,and the holiness of God cannot ignore man’s sin, nor can the justice of God ignore the necessity for the wrath to be appeased. Read the OT and you cannot miss the wrath of God. God is angry with the wicked every day (Ps 7.11).
Now you may say, why can’t God just get over His wrath? God’s wrath is not based on selfishness, greed, irritation, or any other human like reaction. It is a holy indignation toward all that violates His law and thus His Glory. It cannot be ignored or suppressed without compromising the very character of God. Instead the Son of God was the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4.10).
So then propitiation refers to the act of Christ receiving the wrath that was intended for me, a disciple of Christ, such that I can now experience love, compassion, mercy and grace; instead of punishment, suffering, wrath, and separation from God. It was my sins and your sins that need to be covered or atoned for; therefore, He is my propitiation. In the OT, sins were usually put away from the offering of a sacrifice. This served as a temporary solution and pointed to the work Christ would do on behalf of the believer as our propitiation.
God’s character and glory are inexplicably linked so much so, that His glory would be lost or diminished were He to do anything other then punish man in order to appease His wrath. Only because Christ was without sin was He able to be an acceptable substitute. Thus the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement is directly linked to propitiation, but we shall save that for another short blog in the future.
Aren’t you glad my debt and your debt was cancelled—propitiation—from beginning to end through faith in Christ?
Wood, D. R. W., D. R. W. Wood, and I. Howard Marshall. New Bible Dictionary. Includes index. electronic ed. of 3rd ed., Page 975. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996, c1982, c1962.