Haunted. Convicted. Blessed. Condemned. These are words that often describe people’s response to Jesus’ death.
But before we can even talk about that, we first need to establish what Jesus’ death accomplished.
We need to talk about propitiation.
What DID Jesus’ Death Accomplish?
Propitiation. Big word. Probably means nothing to you. But this is the New Testament term for what Jesus’ death on the cross accomplished for you.
You can find propitiation four times in the New Testament:
Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. Romans 3:25
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
Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. Hebrews 2:17
What Does Propitiation Mean?
In a nutshell, propitiation means a gift that satisfies God’s wrath.
Unlike the pagan conception of gods–moody, volatile and violent gods and godess, prone to punishing humans with disease, drought and death at the drop of a hat–God’s anger is not irrational or unpredictable.
Neither is God inactive in this appeasement like pagan gods. God Himself stepped out on His own and provided the sacrificial offering that covers human sin and makes reconciliation possible.
That’s propitiation. God took the first step towards us.
The Overwhelming Problem of God’s Wrath
Propitiation–and the idea of God’s wrath–may offend some people. [Like Bertrand Russel.]
They have a difficult time wrapping their head around the idea of a personal, loving God being so furious at them that they needed a sacrifice to avoid the terrible consequences.
However, there are two good reasons to face this truth about propitiation:
1. The problem of sin. God is without sin. We are steeped in sin. And though God loves us, he hates sin. In fact, God is so profoundly troubled by sin that he feels both sorrow and anger over sin. Detests it. The Bible says God’s anger at sinners is so severe that He hates them. Even hides His face from them. So, by definition, a loving, holy God is required to be angry at sinners who destroy that which he loves.
2. The problem of the Bible. Eh? This is what I mean: The Bible speaks of God’s anger, wrath, and fury toward sin more than His love, grace, and mercy. Nouns for wrath are used some 375 times to describe God’s anger in the Old Testament. And though less frequently, these words and concepts are found in the New Testament.
Verses 18, 24 and 26 in Romans tells us that God’s wrath begins in this life. And the place of God’s unending active wrath is hell, which Jesus spoke of more than anyone in the Bible as an eternal place of physical torment.
Mark Driscoll points out that Jesus described hell like someone getting flogged, butchered or burned.
Incomprehensible debt. Unconceivable punishment. No picture could prepare us for the biblical experience of God’s wrath.
We have to deal with it.
Propitiation Is the Supreme Answer to God’s Wrath
But, because God is loving, merciful, and kind, He has chosen to save some people. So, to both demonstrate His hatred of sin and love for sinners, Jesus averted the wrath of God by dying on the cross as a substitute for sinners.
That’s why salvation is defined as deliverance from His wrath. The anger of God is diverted from us to Jesus. What this does is show how Jesus fulfilled the OT system of sacrifices and thus replaced it with His own work on the cross.
If you think about it, one of the most poignant pictures of propitiation is the Passover story in Exodus 12. The angel of death “passed over” all houses that had lamb’s blood on their door posts and lintel.
In the same way, if you are a repentant believer who trusts in Jesus, your sins are covered by Jesus’ blood–that is, his death–and God passes over you in his wrath and judgment.
Why Does Propitiation Matter?
There are a number of good reasons to allow this seemingly abstract truth to penetrate your soul.
1. Believers often punish themselves when they sin, thinking they are paying God back. Think hair shirt. Punitive fasting. What propitiation teaches is that the penalties for our past, present and future sins are taken care of. They are covered. Our response when we fall into sin is to simply ask for forgiveness. That’s it.
3. When we suffer, God is not punishing us. Sometimes it might be the case that he’s disciplining us so that we might grow in holiness. But never is he using suffering to punish us for our sins. That’s not what the Bible teaches.
And with Christmas looming, this doctrine seems all the more relevant to me. Think about it: The birth of Christ is the first step of propitiation.
Without the birth of Christ, we’d have no substitute. No sacrifice. No savior.