In my recent blog “How did people go to heaven before Jesus’ death and resurrection?”, the word ‘propitiation’ was mentioned as reference to Romans 3:25. It may not be a word that is spoken of or explained much in church these days as it’s viewed as a deep theological subject which only those going to Bible College or Seminary should learn about. However theology, or the study and learning about God, is not only for people who go to Bible College, but for everyone who professes to follow Christ. How can we grow in our relationship with God if we don’t get to know Him more! The importance and relevance of the word propitiation used in the Bible is a key ingredient to understanding and appreciating God, let alone the Gospel, so let’s have a closer look.
It’s mentioned 4 times in the Bible (ESV) – Romans 3:25, Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2 and 1 John 4:10. In Romans 3:25 it is used in reference to God putting forward Jesus as a propitiation by His blood. Hebrews 2:17 and 1 John 2:2 refers to Jesus being made a propitiation for the sins of the people. Propitiation in the Bible refers to God becoming consistent with His character and just nature in passing over the sins of those He forgives. It refers to the removal of God’s righteous judgment, wrath and condemnation from one onto another. In the later part of Rom 3:25 it says “this was to show God’s righteousness, because in His Divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” Up until the point of Jesus’ death and resurrection, God had forgiven and passed over the sins of those who trusted in Him. Psalm 103:10 says “He (God) does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” That is written by David hundreds of years before Jesus walked the earth. Yet Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death. Death is the just result to all who sin, which is everyone! God would be just if He judged and condemned everyone because we are all sinful.
If we look at when Nathan confronted David after he had slept with Bathsheba and got her husband Uriah killed (2 Samuel 12:1-15), we read “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord’, and Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die'”. Here’s the dilemma – if God is just and righteous, He can not just pass over David’s sin without David being judged for them. A righteous judge would not just let a convicted murderer walk out of the court scott free! This would contradict God’s very nature which He can not do! Hence we read and learn in Romans 3:25-26 that Jesus not only died for the sins of those who died after His death and resurrection, but also for those before. God could justly pass over the sins of those in the OT because of His plan before the ages began to send Jesus to die for their sins as well as ours (2Tim 1:8-9).
It’s important to note here that Jesus was not a helpless victim of humanity or a victim of circumstances and incredible cruelty. Jesus’ life and death were part of a deliberate and premeditated plan by God to save us (Isaiah 53:10). Jesus chose to be a victim of a horribly fallen and wicked world so we could be saved by God. Jesus’ death is the result of God’s wrath and judgment being poured on to Him, the one person in all history who was innocent. It’s ironic how the greatest injustice in history lead to the greatest success story ever! Jesus took the punishment we deserve and therefore that is why through faith in Jesus alone God can justly pass over our sins. That’s how God’s righteousness is upheld and why He can justly and freely save all those who trust in Jesus. That’s pretty much what it means by propitiation. If we don’t understand this we miss the point completely about the whole legal requirement under God’s law as to why Jesus had to die for us so that God could forgive us and yet maintain His just and righteous character and nature.
Where do you stand before our holy God? We are all sinful, no sane person will deny that. So we all have a choice to make. We can either trust in Jesus’ sacrifice for our own lives and be graciously saved from God’s wrath and judgment, enjoying eternity in heaven, or we can choose to reject Jesus and in doing so approach God on our own merits, being righteously judged and condemned for our wickedness forever. It seems like an obvious choice, yet so many proudly and tragically choose to turn from God’s free hand of grace and go it their own way. May that not be the case in your life.