Propitiation

by Paul Franco on June 1, 2010

Rom 3:25 “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.”

Two questions must be answered in this passage in Romans concerning the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ.

1. How can God forgive us? You will say by the wiping away or the putting away of sin by Christ.

2. How can God (justly) forgive us? It is not so easily answered.

The whole Gospel hinges on the proper answering of question #2! Propitiation is not simply the wiping away or putting away of sin. However, these are words and terms which are part of propitiation, but this is not in a sense the foundation of propitiation.

The definition of (Propitiation) is a wrath appeasing sacrifice. To give an adequate justification or gift/present/price to avert the wrath of someone.

Paul is not referring to the (mercy seat) in Romans 3:25, and even if he is, he’s referring to much more than the mercy seat. Christ is the mercy seat and the sacrifice at the same time, but this is not the central point of my argument. There is much more here in view in Romans 3:25 than just the furnishings of the Tabernacle in propitiation.

Propitiation in Romans 3:25 is used as a (noun) and refers to a sacrifice which propitiates. In Hebrews 2:17 it is used as a (verb). We must understand the usage of the term in Greek, to understand it’s meaning in the English. In Greek, when applied to a deity, it was to appease the anger of the deity against the offender. This is an attitudinal word and it’s usage here in Romans is to affect a change in God’s attitude and feelings. The sacrifice of His only begotten Son affects His emotional health (holiness) towards His people. Now I tread lightly when I say this, and I am not insinuating that God’s feelings are out of whack. Human feelings are often times out of balance, but God’s feelings are always in perfect harmony with His character. When we study other biblical words which have to do with our unity in Christ such as, justification, sanctification, forgiveness, etc. we understand them to affect the human being. But when we look at propitiation, we must understand this term to affect God. God is angry and must be appeased! It is a wrath appeasing sacrifice!

If God is righteous, holy, just, and angry at sinners, then how can He justly forgive?

Paul tells us, by publicly displaying His Son as a wrath appeasing sacrifice. Now we see one of the most amazing aspects of the cross of Christ in the word propitiation. As we behold a public display of the wrath of God. How glorious is this eternal sacrifice of God the Son in appeasing the anger and wrath of God the Father against ungodly vessels. This understanding of the word propitiation will of course lead us to the love of God. This is what we see when we read in John when the earth was dark for 3 hours, which is representative of all that Old Testament imagery of God’s wrath coming into judgment and being poured out on His Son. We no longer hear the voice of God thundering with great anger, but the Father is now pouring out his wrath and anger on the Son, “why oh God hath thou forsaken me!” God has demonstrated His own love toward us that He gave His Son to be the PROPITIATION for our sins!

The definition hinges on this question, In requiring the blood sacrifice rituals given in the law of Israel, did God intend to teach this idea of propitiation, that His wrath needed to be appeased?

God has prescribed a specific means by which His wrath and anger is to be dealt with in Leviticus 10 with Nadab and Abihu. They entered into His Holiness by some other means and encountered an unpropitiated God, and they experienced the expression of His wrath. Leon Morris said “once aroused He is not easily assuaged, and dire consequences may follow.” This is one of the themes of the Old Testament, as we see it over and over again in passages like Ex 32:7-32; Num 16:41-50. However, God relented- “for He passed over the sins previously committed” (for He was never propitiated).

The context of Romans 3:25 begins in Rom 1:18, 32; Rom 2:2-5, 8-9, 12; Rom 3:5; Rom 4:15; Rom 5:9. The revelation of the wrath of God is not against only Israel, but against all humanity. When God puts sinners to death He is emotionally angry, and again I tread lightly when speaking of God in this manner. Moses and Aaron knew this and in Romans 2:8-9 (speaking of the final judgment), THE GOD OF ISRAEL IS A GOD OF WRATH AGAINST EVIL AND SIN! This is the context of Romans 3:25.

The public display of Christ as a propitiatory sacrifice to avert and appease the wrath and anger of the Father is the most profound declaration concerning the Gospel. To the Jews a stumbling block and Greeks will mock it and refer to it as foolishness. If one rejects the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ as appeasing the wrath of God, he is not a Christian.

In the same manner, if one rejects the justifying work of Christ as redemptive, one is not a Christian.

There is an understanding which must be attached to the hearing of the truth of God’s Word (Luke 24:45) see also Matt 13:13-16; Matt 15:20; Matt 16:5-12; Luke 8:9-10; John 8:43; 12:36-41. Socinianism, better known as protestant liberalism has preached a defective concept of God’s attributes by preaching that God is love and it removed God’s wrath from the gospel message. But God is not ashamed of any of His attributes. Paul attaches Christ’s Justifying and redemptive work to propitiation. These are God’s Words for salvation and no man should dumb them down in order to preach in a non-offensive way. Neither should any preacher keep the cookies on the bottom shelf, assuming that God cannot grant understanding of His own Word to His elect. God grants ears to hear and a mind and heart to understand. Matt 7:15-27 but “beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” For these are diseased trees bearing bad fruit which teach false doctrines and are not holding to the sound doctrines of the apostles. And many will say “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” We know you and believe in you they will say to Christ, and He will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” Now God has publicly displayed His Son in order that He may justify the ungodly, which is to impute His righteousness and judge the believing sinner by pronouncing him righteous! This is what is in view in John 3:14-15, when Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness (a public display), and the ones who beheld the serpent on the pole were saved. Christ was lifted up as a public display, and the ones who behold Him upon the cross are saved. Those who have denied this definition of propitiation have denied the Gospel. They may talk all day long of the love of God in their glowing terms and they will never truly know it.

The true Christian finds the glory of God in the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ and this is why Paul writes in 1 Cor 1:29 “That no flesh should glory in His presence”. No mere human being can appease the wrath and anger of God almighty, save the Son.

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