WHAT IS PROPITIATION?
Do you know what the Bible means when it uses the word propitiation in
Romans 3:25; I John 2:2; and I John 4:10?
First, let's make clear what propitiation is not. It is not simply
forgiveness of sins, a pardoning, or a wiping out of a debt; these all define
another biblical term: "expiation."
Propitiation, however, involves an offending party appeasing or pacifying
anger, wrath, and hatred of an offended party.
A story illustrating propitiation is found in Genesis 32 and 33. The story
involves two brothers. Jacob, the offender, had angered his brother Esau. About
20 years before the story takes place in Gen. 32, Esau said in his heart, "The
days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob"
(Gen. 27:41). Jacob left home before Esau had opportunity to kill him. But in
Gen. 32 Jacob learns that Esau and 400 men are coming to meet him.
Jacob realizes he must turn away Esau's hatred, or Esau will kill him.
Jacob decides to give Esau gifts. Jacob said, "I will appease him with the
present that goes before me. Then afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will
accept me" (Gen. 32:20).
It worked. "Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck
and kissed him, and they wept" (Gen. 33:4).
In the New Testament the Apostle Paul says God displayed Jesus Christ "as
a propitiation" (Rom. 3:25). God is the offended party. Man, the sinner, is the
offending party, and the Bible says all men are sinners (Rom. 3:23). God is
angry and hates sinners. Sinners need something to turn away God's wrath and
hatred; or God will kill them and send them to hell. But unlike Jacob, sinners
do not own a gift that will appease God.
Don't be fooled. God will not accept your gifts. And you cannot bribe God
by attending church, repeating prayers, going to confession, singing in choirs
or any other activities you might believe to be good and moral. You simply have
nothing to give to turn away God's hatred.
Instead, God graciously gives His Son, Jesus Christ, to be a gift or
propitiation. God, the offended party, graciously gives the gift that you, the
sinner and offending party, are unable but required to give to turn away God's
Missionary Dan Shanks illustrates propitiation by explaining how to survive
a prairie fire. When you see the line of flames approaching in the horizon, burn
a patch of grass around you. The prairie fire will come toward you, but you will
be standing inside a patch of burned ground. The flames, having nothing to burn,
pass on by and around you.
Likewise, sinners who see the wrath of God approaching must stand where the
wrath has already burned. Jesus Christ experienced the wrath of God for the
sins of His people. And His people are those now found standing in Christ, the
propitiation that turns away God's wrath.
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