1. Introduction
   a. Greek words and where they occur
   b. Word-group definition
   c. The Greek and Jewish concept of propitiation
   d. Objections to ‘the wrath of God’
      i. Impersonal reaction?
      ii. Love negates wrath?
2. Sin, anger and judgment
3. God’s wrath and judgment rest upon all men
4. Propitiation in Christ
   a. The source of propitiation
   b. The One who makes propitiation
   c. The offering that achieves propitiation
   d. The place where propitiation takes place
   e. The reason for propitiation
   f. The reception of propitiation

1. Introduction

Propitiation is an unusual word in today’s society, it being confined normally to just a handful of theologians that seem to have little more to do with their time than to use long words that seem to confuse the issue. But the concept that propitiation conveys is vitally important for us to understand if we’re to grasp the fulness of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Therefore these notes will, hopefully, simplify the teaching on the subject and present to the reader why the New Testament writers took a word in everyday use and applied it to another aspect of the cross.

It would be quite straightforward and much shorter than it is now if we were to concentrate solely on the subject in question, but so much doubt has been cast upon its foundations in recent years that a fairly lengthy introduction is necessary in order to satisfy ourselves that the teaching is still valid and not, therefore, erroneous.

Even Bible translators struggle with the words that they can plainly see as having been written by the authors of the NT and there are different words used to mask the obvious meaning, the RSV that I use normally changing the word to ‘expiation’ (another word that’s no longer in common usage and which we would also likely gloss over as being unintelligible!).

But the difference between ‘propitiation’ and all the other words employed is important. Either the NT writers saw Jesus’ work on the cross in terms of propitiation or they didn’t. If they did (and their use of the word and their description of the concept make it plain that they did) then we need to come to grips with what that work means for us and what’s now available that wasn’t there before.

a. Greek words and where they occur

There are just three Greek words that are used in the NT to convey the meaning of propitiation. As they only occur a total of six times, we could misconstrue the importance of the word but, as will be seen, even when the words aren’t used, the concept of propitiation is often described and expounded. As there are only six occurrences, it would be good if, at this point, you turned to them and had a quick read (noting the context) before going on any further with this study.

The three transliterated Greek words are:

hilaskomai (Strongs Greek number 2433)
Used in Luke 18:13 (where the RSV translates it with ‘be merciful’) and Heb 2:17 (‘to make expiation’).

hilasmos (Strongs Greek number 2434)
Used in I John 2:2 (‘the expiation’) and 4:10 (‘the expiation’).

hilasterion (Strongs Greek number 2435)
Used in Rom 3:25 (‘an expiation’) and Heb 9:5 (‘mercy seat’).

b. Word-group definition

Propitiation isn’t a word in day-to-day usage, so a brief definition needs to be given. It refers primarily to the process whereby someone’s wrath is either ‘averted’ or ‘satisfied’, resulting in ‘mercy’ being received. The RSV’s rendering of the word with ‘expiation’ obscures the true meaning for this word is interpreted as ‘making amends for a wrong’.

Kittels is concerned to state that

‘...hilasmos [is] the propitiation of deities, demons, or the departed’

in the Greek world but that the word (along with another dissimilar one)

‘...lose their significance or undergo psychological reinterpretation’

What Kittels actually means by that is that the concepts of ‘anger’ that were originally inherent in the word were not, in later times, present when the word was being used - expiation being the concept that’s chosen in its place by which to translate the Greek occurrences.

However much we would like to explain the concept of ‘God’s wrath’ away (and whether the Greek world had stopped understanding propitiation in terms of anger we cannot be certain), the concept of propitiation is present in passages throughout the Old and New Testaments where God’s personal anger is described and related.

Personally, I see no reason to lessen the force of the words as they occur in the NT though, if I was shocked into believing that God’s anger was an impersonal reaction to earthly events, I may well be tempted to do so. Therefore, we take ‘propitiation’ to mean the act whereby someone’s anger is either averted or satisfied - resulting in mercy being received in the case of it being averted or judgment in the case of it being satisfied.

To give a natural example, if you stayed at our house and decided that you wanted to smear the entire contents of your chocolate wrapper all over the living room carpet then you can rest assured that I would be angry (who wouldn’t?). But, should you then arrange for a brand new carpet to be bought for us and did the hard work of removing all the furniture out of the room and arranging to be in when the carpet layers arrived, then my anger would be ‘averted’ and you would have received ‘mercy’.

Of course, had you not offered to replace the carpet I may have attacked you (which I almost certainly wouldn’t have done - this is hypothetical!) and then it could be said that my anger had been ‘satisfied’, even though you wouldn’t have received ‘mercy’ but ‘judgment’ (And you deserved it, too! Look what a mess you made of the carpet!).

However, in this instance, the root cause or the root effect that had caused me to be angry continues to exist so I may well become angry again after a temporary satisfying of my anger. In that case, my reaction hasn't propitiated for your action and my anger could only be dealt with by your action in putting the matter right.

But the classic NT use of this word doesn't find itself described in either of these two actions. I would have to vent my anger on 'something' to satisfy it while, at the same time, deal with the root cause that sparked my anger so that propitiation wouldn't need to be made again.

This is why, when we think about eternal judgment and the continuation of God's Wrath being directed towards a person who has died with no faith in Christ, there will necessarily be an outpouring of anger against that person but no longer any way for the person to have the root cause of that outpouring dealt with. Salvation that comes through Christ is only available prior to death.

In Christ, while God's anger may be averted from a believer, it must also be satisfied by being poured out on Christ, while the root cause of that anger, sin, is dealt with so that there remains nothing for God to grow angry about in the future.

But, we're getting ahead of ourselves!

c. The Greek and Jewish concept of propitiation

Zondervan writes that

‘In classic pagan usage, the word propitiation...was used of averting the wrath of the gods. Renewed favour with heaven was won for the offender by his offering a gift or sacrifice to atone for his trespass’

while Morris comments that

‘ was often held that the gods became angry with their worshippers and that they had to be appeased by choice offerings’

In the Greek world, the words translated by ‘propitiation’ were used in conjunction with the gods of a particular area, nation or even of an individual.

The ancients looked at the disasters of life around them and saw the hand of their gods in them - each incident (whether personal or corporate) was to them a demonstration of their wrath. But no-one was quite sure why the gods got angry. So they tried to propitiate them (turn away their anger to gain divine favour) by various acts of piety and service such as sacrifice, rituals, vows, dances and, even, games.

So, for instance, a failed crop of the staple diet of that nation or tribal group couldn’t go uninterpreted as the result of the anger of their chosen god - and there became the necessity to ‘appease’ their anger by certain actions. There was also a necessity to continuously offer to the gods to try and keep in their favour, so we see annual rituals (such as the celebration of the solstices) that tried to convey to their gods the reverence and awe in which they were held.

But still the people weren’t always certain just what made their gods angry - trial and error may give pointers in certain directions but there was seldom a time when they could pin-point a particular action that, if they were to do it again, would provoke a similar response.

However, with YHWH (the transliteration of the OT revelation of God’s name), the God of Israel, it was different. He told His people that it was sin that caused His anger to burn against individuals and groups. That when His will wasn’t put first above all else (and the revelation of what His will was had been given to His people through Moses at Mount Sinai), then they could reasonably expect Him to be angry with them.

And, in case they thought that they could sacrifice a few lambs or bulls or perform some other similar pious act to win back His favour, He made sure that He told them that no sacrifice was ever going to be a sure way of appeasing His anger (Amos 5:21-24, Is 1:12-17). Mercy wasn’t something they could earn by good works, by thinking that propitiation was a matter of ‘cause and effect’ (Ex 33:19, Rom 9:18, Ps 51:1-2) - mercy was a gift of God, something that He bestowed upon a repentant people (see the study on ‘Repentance’).

A servant of YHWH knew exactly where he stood with his God and what caused Him to be angry (disobedience to a revealed - not a hidden - word) or be pleased (obedience to the revealed will of God) with an individual’s life. There could be no mistaking His anger.

d. Objections to ‘the wrath of God’

Because of the use of ‘propitiation’ with regard to the pagan deities of the Greek world, many have taught that the whole concept of ‘the wrath of God’ is merely to be thought of as an impersonal process - that a God who gets angry is an incompatible trait of a God who has revealed Himself to be total Love (I John 4:8).

Sometimes the arguments are compelling, relying as they do upon our modern day understanding of what ‘love’ is and not upon that concept that we find in the Bible. Those of us who have been the wrong side of human anger may also be similarly convinced that no anger could ever be considered to be demonstrated ‘in love’.

This modern day concept of both ‘love’ and ‘wrath’ are the main grounds for the theories that have sprung up from the Bible’s very obvious statements concerning God’s anger but, as far as I can see, the actual substance of the objections fall in to two camps:

i. Impersonal reaction?

The first objection to be considered here, then, is the assertion that the wrath of God is a natural result of sinful actions - that is to say, it’s an impersonal consequence of a wrong moral choice.

So, a man sins and he gets sick - an equation that couldn’t help to be applied to the subject of homosexuality and the AIDS virus. Or a man steals from his employer (whether in small measures or large, it makes no difference), gets caught and so is sacked from his employment.

God’s anger is viewed, then, as a consequence of our own actions. Morris comments that

‘[CH Dodd] develops the ingenious argument that [the wrath of God] is a kind of shorthand. It’s a quick way of describing an impersonal process in which sin is followed by disaster. Where we might think of an automatic process, the ancients preferred to speak of “the wrath of God”’

and CH Dodd (quoted in Leon Morris) writes

‘...sin is the cause, disaster the effect...’

But the Bible just can’t be read this way without doing a great injustice to vast portions of the text. For instance, in Num 11:1 we read that

‘...the people complained in the hearing of YHWH about their misfortunes; and when YHWH heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of YHWH burned among them, and consumed some outlying parts of the camp’

The text states quite plainly that ‘his anger was kindled’ and, besides, it’s very difficult to see how complaining to an ‘impersonal’ god could ever provoke a natural response that causes parts of the ground to burn.

Of course, don’t take my word for it - go out in to the garden or some field where you live and do a bit of griping before YHWH and see if your favourite plant suddenly gets consumed by fire for no other reason than your words made it happen (regardless of the work of a personal God).

Wrath is plainly a response of the character of God directed upon all sin - the Bible takes great care in pointing this out (and well it might, not only as a warning but as a demonstration of how straightforward it is to know the will of God and to know what both pleases Him and causes Him to be angry).

God is a person who gets angry when His Creation is disobedient to Him.

ii. Love negates wrath?

The second objection often made is that it’s necessary to see in the statement ( I John 4:8)

‘God is Love’

a denial of the concept of the wrath of God. As PK Jewett in Zondervan perceptively points out

‘The logical implication of the denial of propitiation as unworthy of God is the teaching that God will ultimately manifest His forgiving love to everyone, regardless of how one is related to Christ’

A god who will not become angry when His will is rejected because he is all love cannot therefore sentence anyone to a place of eternal punishment because he doesn’t have it in Himself to do it. If this god is full of the highest type of love that we can imagine in this life, one that has no aspects of displeasure attached to it, then we’re free to develop our own theories of how this life is but a training ground that we’re travelling through and that, no matter that some of us have failed to grasp what could be theirs, should they only listen to what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, the end result of each our lives is a state of everlasting ‘bliss’ from a god who cares so much about us that he wouldn’t punish any.

Though this is being extremely unkind to the proponents of such a view, the people I’ve met who hold it have obviously not attained perfection because, when ‘wrong’ is done against them, they become extremely angry...obviously not a reaction of the god they serve.

The problem, as stated above, is not that both love and wrath can coexist within one individual (that is, God) but that our concepts of what the words ‘love’ and ‘wrath’ convey make it impossible for this to be so. The fault, then, doesn’t lie in the Biblical text but in our own understanding of the words used.

We cannot deny, therefore, either the existence of God’s personal wrath directed toward sin or of the need for propitiation (or of the existence of God’s personal love directed towards all men and His desire that each one might return to Him to be healed), for to do so would be to radically dismember the teaching of the Bible and to create a god who conforms to our own image but not His own.

Before we can go on to look at the NT teaching on the subject of propitiation, we must briefly satisfy ourselves that, according to the Bible, the wrath of God is a personal reaction of YHWH to man’s sin and, further, that the ultimate outcome of that wrath is a work of judgment.

2. Sin, Anger and Judgment

If the above ‘equation’ is correct, then there should be ample Scriptures to back it up.

This is, of course, the wrong way to go about studying the Scriptures. We should, rather, come to the Bible trying to lay aside any preconceived ideas we have about what we’re expecting to find and then allow the passages to speak for themselves. Therefore, we need to be even more careful as we read passages in case, somehow, we’re imposing our own belief system on what’s before us - this should also be the intention of those who deny that the wrath/anger of God is a personal reaction to sin.

In the following Scriptures, I’ve marked the parts of the passages that directly relate to the above equation. In this way, you’ll be able to easily identify the parts of the chart as they occur.

The three notations are:

(a) which refers to man’s sin,
(b) which refers to the anger of God, and,
(c) which refers to the subsequent judgment of God upon man’s sin.

Though this section has turned in to a list of quoted Scriptures with no subsequent interpretation and expansion of that which is quoted, please persevere with it to prove in your own mind, at least, that the above equation is an accurate one for, in subsequent sections, we’ll be using this chart as the basis of the teaching on where man stands before God and how Jesus Christ has satisfied God’s anger by the act of propitiation through the cross.

Ex 22:22-24
‘(a) You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you do afflict them, and they cry out to Me, I will surely hear their cry; (b) and My wrath will burn (c) and I will kill you with the sword and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless’

Deut 6:14-15
‘(a) You shall not go after other gods...(b) lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you (c) and He destroy you from off the face of the earth’

Ezek 8:17-18
‘Is it too slight a thing for (a) the house of Judah to commit the abominations which they commit here, that they should fill the land with violence, (b) and provoke Me further to anger?...Therefore I will deal in wrath, (c) My eye will not spare, nor will I have pity...’

Jer 6:10-15
(which I haven’t quoted here because of its length) (a) v.10,13-15a. (b) v.11a. (c) v.11b-12,15b

Ezek 7:3,8-9
‘Now the end is upon you (b) and I will let loose My anger upon you, (c) and will judge you (a) according to your ways; (c) and I will punish you (a) for all your abominations...’

Num 16:41-46
v.41 (a) They murmured before the Lord so that ‘...(b) wrath has gone forth from the Lord, (c) the plague has begun.’. The Israelites’ murmurings kindled God’s anger against them and, as a result, a plague came upon them which killed 14,700.

Zeph 1:17-18
‘I will bring distress on men...(a) because they have sinned against the Lord...(b) In the fire of His jealous wrath, (c) all the earth shall be consumed’

See also Ex 32:7-9, Num 11:31-34.

There are numerous other Scriptures where this threefold equation will equally apply and where it serves as a good explanation of the events that are taking place even when each of the three characteristics are not mentioned.

The Jews didn’t experience disaster and afterwards interpret it in the light of Divine displeasure though that was the practise of many of the nations that dwelt around Israel.

But the Jew was warned first by His God that his lifestyle had kindled God’s anger so that he had opportunity to repent (Ezek 18:23). This was the role of the prophets in OT Israel, coming to the people to make known God’s displeasure at the things they were doing before Him and warning them of what was soon to take place should they continue in their course of action.

The prophetic word, therefore, was often conditional and not an absolute statement of what was going to happen regardless of the reaction of the hearers of the message. Should it be met with repentance and a turning away from sin (see the subject ‘Repentance’) then God withheld the judgment that had been promised to fall, restoring and healing His people into the blessings of the covenant relationship made at Sinai through Moses.

When there was no repentance, however, God’s judgment was inevitable (Ps 7:11-13) even though it was often delayed for various reasons.

On one occasion, specifically, repentance couldn’t stop the judgment of God from falling upon the nation Israel (II Chr 34:19-28, II Kings 24:3) even though Josiah was told by God that it would be postponed to a later date because of the way he was serving the Lord and honouring him in the things he was doing. There’s a situation, then, where a man may find himself where the judgment of God cannot be revoked.

But our concern in these notes is to show the more likely situation where an individual, by receiving the work of the cross, finds God’s anger against him satisfied.

3. God’s wrath and judgment rest upon all men

The same three aspects that we’ve established as being an accurate interpretation of Scripture in section 1 can be seen in the passage Rom 1:18-32. Comments on each of the three concepts follow the chart.

Sin of man
Rom 1:18b-23

Paul isn’t saying that because men do wrong they find that the impersonal consequence of their own actions is that something ‘evil’ happens - that may indeed be true to a certain extent, but because men are disobedient to what can be plainly perceived about God, God’s anger must rest upon them - it’s a personal Divine reaction not an impersonal consequence.

Indeed, what may be a reference to sexually transmitted diseases (Rom 1:27 - though the vagueness favours a wider interpretation to include not just this) is spoken of after God’s anger has already been outlined and shown to be demonstrated by His withdrawal from mankind. What may be an impersonal process of cause and effect in this case is a result of a personal withdrawal of the restricting presence of God previously.

Wrath of God
Rom 1:18a

Paul’s argument not just here but throughout the first few chapters of Romans is to show that both Jew and Gentile are the objects of God’s wrath already. It’s not some futuristic concept of which man has no experience in the present. But (Rom 3:23) because

‘...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (that is, God’s perfect standard)’

God is angry with all men now.

Even though we would like to confine the wrath of God to one day in the future when Jesus will return and judge the earth (and perhaps like to think, unScripturally, that the judgment can only be for the ‘really bad ones’), God’s anger is present in this world today directed towards all who reject what can be plainly known about God in the things around them. John 3:36 is a Scripture in point here. It reads

‘He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him’

Notice that the Scripture doesn’t say that the wrath of God ‘will rest’ but that it ‘rests’. God’s wrath, therefore, rests presently upon those individuals who don’t obey the Son.

While God may be angry with mankind in general because they’ve rejected the plain and obvious revelation of what He’s like, there remains a further demonstration of His anger directed towards those who refuse to obey Jesus Christ - the judgment as outlined in Rom 1:18-32 probably being very similar.

Judgment of God
Rom 1:24-32

The Church has often looked upon some of the things here listed by Paul as being man’s sin, his responsibility (for instance sexual immorality and a whole list of characteristics that Jesus outlined as coming from within a man in Mark 7:21-23). Indeed they are.

But the reason such sins take a hold in a person’s life is because God’s restricting influence withdraws from men and women. These sins are, in themselves, a Divine judgment upon that far greater sin which is the refusal to acknowledge the truth about God that an individual can plainly perceive.

Left to itself, society will gradually degenerate and disintegrate so long as it refuses to accept what little revelation it has. Because all men sin in this manner, there can be no moral uplift, just greater wrath and greater judgment which leads to even greater sin and even greater judgment.

Man’s sin initiates a process that leads only to increasing degeneration within civilisation. We can represent this process by the chart below

Revivals throughout history have been the means whereby God has brought Himself back into society to bring salvation and to restrict sin. If He’d not intervened, an overthrow of that society becomes inevitable to protect what’s left of the image of God in the earth.

On the other hand, therefore, the example of the Canaanites having to be removed by Israel from the promised land shows us what happens to a people who have strayed so far from the image of God that they must be removed (Gen 15:16, Deut 9:4-5). It was the Canaanites’ sin that caused Israel to be the instrument of God’s judgment to wipe them out for the sake of the rest of the earth, to protect what was left of the image of God.

Leviticus chapter 18 is a case in point here and represents the first series of Laws in the book of Leviticus that’s tied in with the expulsion of the current inhabitants of Canaan (18:1-5, 24-30). This will be repeated in Lev 20:22-26 where the passage sits as a conclusion to another series of statutes that have, at their centre, sexual immorality as here.

This makes the statutes rather important - we’re not dealing with legislation designed at keeping the nation ceremonially pure before God (even though the word for ceremonial uncleanness is used in v.19,24,25,27 and purity was to be maintained by the observance of these laws) but with legislation that would maintain their presence in the land of Canaan.

But, even more than this, the transgression of this moral code is seen to be the reason why the Canaanites were to be forcefully expelled from the land by the invading armies of the Israelites (the mention of the Egyptians as being transgressors in this matter appears in Lev 18:3 but no punishment is there related to that nation as a result of their sexual relationships).

We read (Lev 18:24-25,27 - my italics)

‘Do not defile yourselves by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am casting out before you defiled themselves; and the land became defiled, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants...for all of these abominations the men of the land did, who were before you, so that the land became defiled’

Even though the Canaanites hadn’t received the statutes of the Law as given to Israel, they’re here described as being morally responsible for their sexual promiscuity and immorality - they had no written code delivered to them by God on these matters and yet He’s judged their actions and decided that they must be expelled from the land.

This is significant for it shows us that the legislation given to Israel is that which God has laid upon the nations, it’s not covenant-specific to keep the nation clean (though the maintenance of the covenant and the continued presence of Israel in the land is the reason for the legislation - Lev 18:26-28) but universal in scope and application.

For this reason, it seems right to assert that the entire list of rules which run from Lev 18:6-23 are equally binding upon all nations and peoples of the world - that God holds mankind responsible to maintain sexual purity if they expect to remain within the land in which they find themselves resident. There doesn’t seem any reason that I can see to think that God’s reaction to the transgression of these laws is any different under the New Covenant age as it was under the Old Covenant and before (the transgression of the inhabitants of the land is spoken of even before the Covenant with Israel is made as being the reason for their expulsion - Gen 15:16).

Notice here that the punishment mentioned in these transgressions is only corporate - and it’s in this context that we should interpret them (individual punishment is spoken of in Lev 18:29 but how that’s worked out whether through removing the offenders from the land or through execution will be detailed in Leviticus chapter 20. Here, the general solution is given - that the transgressors must all be removed from the holy nation by the holy nation in order to show to God that they will have nothing to do with Israelites or non-Israelite residents who practise such lifestyles - so keeping themselves pure and resident within the land).

A nation or region that sets itself against sexual morality and indulges in promiscuity and immorality (though I must repeat that the legislation here is primarily dealing with marriage ties) stands before God in the same position today as both Canaan who are condemned under the Law and Sodom and Gomorrah who were condemned before the Law (Gen 18:1-19:29).

Sexual transgression, therefore, is not a matter of breaking a written code (of having what is unacceptable in God’s sight written down to be able to read and observe) but it does demand a response by God against any nation that chooses to sell itself out in that manner.

The actual laws may be upheld by many people - both God-fearers and God-haters (and there’s good evidence within genetic research to uphold them) - but, if these laws are to be considered binding upon men and women today, the law that a man should not lie with a woman when they both know that she is in her menstrual discharge is equally applicable and mustn’t be glossed over.

The Church may uphold sexual relationships only within defined parameters and condemn both bestiality (Lev 18:23) and homosexuality (Lev 18:22), but there’s an obligation laid upon all who are married and having sexual intercourse within that relationship to make sure that it doesn’t occur within the woman’s discharge period.

‘Sex laws’ are also mentioned in the New Testament though they’re there mainly directed towards the christians, the believers, to remind them to keep pure before God - see, for instance, I Cor 5:1-2 for a case of incest, Gal 5:19 which speaks against fornication and I Cor 6:9 which speaks out against both the adulterer and the homosexual as being incapable of inheriting the Kingdom of God. The early Church also decided that sexual immorality was still necessarily to be avoided (Acts 15:29).

Though each and every case mentioned in the Old Testament is not mentioned in the New, there are sufficient representative types of sexual sin outlined to consider the Old Testament laws as being equally binding using the authority of the situations that are commented on.

Though God would have wanted the Canaanites to turn back to Him, there came a time when He had to step in to history and judge to protect what was left.

The state of mankind in general, then, is that God’s anger rests upon us because what is plain and obvious about God has been rejected for an image (a way of life that projects an image of God into the world that is of our own making) that is not His.

This, then, is the state of mankind throughout the earth and from which God must deliver mankind if His wrath is not to continue to be demonstrated towards us.

There needs to be a short explanation about the image of God being ‘projected’ into the society in which a person lives. We’ve previously seen that the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all who reject the revelation that they can plainly perceive around them about God. But we need to ask ourselves just how that revelation is rejected or how we can see that rejection in everyday life. It may be simple to say that a person who says

‘I don’t believe in God’

has rejected what truth was obvious to them but there are many who would believe in the existence of ‘God’ and yet still live as enemies of the One that they allegedly believe in.

How, then, is this rejection shown?

God created man in His own image (Gen 1:26-27), that he would be a reflection of what He’s like wherever man may find himself and in whichever situation confronts him. As we’re supposed to be God’s image into this world, so we can see just what image a person has of God by the way they live their lives.

If we’re created to be God’s image to the world, then the image we have of God is the image that we ourselves portray. When a person chooses a course of action then they (unwittingly perhaps) project that image all around them to be witnessed by whosoever. When you look at a person’s life, you observe the ‘image of God’ that a person believes in because what is broadcast out from them by the things they do and by the person they are is a reflection of that belief.

This, then, is a good indication of how a person regards God and to what extent a person has either rejected or accepted the truth about God that can be plainly perceived in the objects that have been created.

4. Propitiation in Christ

Since the claims of the Gospel are so bold, it’s quite impossible that there could ever be an alternate way of salvation (a way back into a relationship with God and of the removal of any judgment incurred) that would be successful. Neither is it possible within the framework of time for there ever to be an alternative sacrifice that would gain acceptance when one sacrifice has accomplished all that’s necessary for all mankind in every situation that they may find themselves in. As Rommor writes

‘...since the wrath of God is being revealed against all sin, there can be no way of salvation other than the way that deals with sin, that is, the Gospel’

If, as we have previously shown, the anger of God rests upon all of mankind and, subsequently, the judgment of God is currently being poured out upon both individuals and groups of men and women whether in tribes, cultures or nations, then we need to understand the work of Jesus Christ that satisfies the anger of God and removes His judgment from us.

a. The source of propitiation
The love of God
I John 4:10 - ‘[God] loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins’
Rom 3:25 - Christ ‘...whom God put forward as a propitiation...’

As can be seen from both these Scriptures, the initiative is with God, not man. Though man may try to propitiate God by various sacrifices and offerings, the ultimate propitiation for an individual’s sin comes as a result of God taking it upon Himself to solve the ultimate problem.

The origin of the propitiation is God’s love. We’ve looked in section 1 at the objection that some commentators have raised to the wrath of God being a personal response to the sin of man and noted that it seemed inconceivable to the objectors that the love of God was compatible with a God that was also able to demonstrate anger.

We noted that the problem lay not with God but with our wrong concept of what the wrath of God is. The same can be said of our concept of ‘love’ which is so tarnished by that which is labelled ‘love’ in the world that we need to go back to gain a good Biblical understanding of what love is and so see how both wrath and love intertwine and relate to one another.

It’s beyond the scope of this study to do just that, but, summarising the concept, the ‘love’ that lays down its life for the benefit of another is not something that has to feel an attraction for the object that it’s going to benefit (see my notes on ‘The Love of God’). Indeed, being enemies of God and living opposed to the revealed will of God should point us toward the inescapable conclusion that God chose to do something about man’s plight not because we held any attraction to Him but simply because He loved us.

Therefore, the puzzling statement in Deut 7:7-8 that God set His love upon Israel because He loved them needs very little further explanation. He chooses to save, deliver and protect - that is, He chooses to love - those whom He loves. No worth need be assigned to the object of His love that God must first see present for Him to choose to love - He simply loves because he chooses to do so.

Therefore, when God’s anger burns quite rightly against both the sin and the one who commits it, His love is finding a way that might lead His enemy back to Himself in order that He might restore them into His love.

Propitiation, therefore, must originate in the love of God as a response to the condition of mankind towards whom God’s anger is rightly poured upon. It’s God who makes propitiation and it may not be construed as a work of sinful man attempting to satisfy the anger of (a) god(s).

In the pagan world, the gods of the nations put nothing forward that would satisfy their anger when the peoples perceived that they were angry, but their anger was vented on mankind. God, however, the God of the Biblical account, knowing that man was incapable of reconciling himself, realised that He had to provide the way for propitiation out of His great love and in His great mercy (Titus 3:5).

b. The One who makes propitiation
Heb 2:17 - ‘...A merciful and faithful High make propitiation...’
Jesus is the High Priest (see the notes on ‘Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement)’).

c. The Offering that achieves propitiation
I John 2:2 - ‘...He is the propitiation...’
I John 4:10 - ‘...His Son...the propitiation...’
Jesus is the Offering (see the notes on ‘Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement)’).

To say that Jesus ‘made’ or ‘achieved’ propitiation is one thing (in Heb 2:17 above we read that He’s the High Priest who offered the necessary sacrifice), the statement implying that He caused it to happen without indicating just how it was done.

But to say that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins tells us that God’s anger (and, therefore, judgment) was poured out upon Him. Jesus is not just the High Priest who offers the sacrifice but is the propitiatory sacrifice itself.

The complexities of the sacrificial offering will be discussed under the subject ‘Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement)’ (linked above) but, for now, we need just to note that Jesus is both the Offerer and the Offering.

d. The place where propitiation takes place
The cross
Rom 3:25 - ‘...a propitiation by His blood’

The Scripture could have said of Jesus that He became the propitiation for mankind ‘by His obedient life’ which would not necessarily focus our attention upon any one particular event in it. But ‘by His blood’ points us to only one possible place - the cross. It’s the cross, then, that’s the place where we see both God’s anger toward and God’s judgment on sin fully satisfied.

We have already seen that the wrath of God is demonstrated to mankind in that God withdraws His presence from mankind (Rom 1:24,26,28). So, too, when Jesus hung on the cross, His cry of despair (Mtw 27:45-46) made it plain that the Father had withdrawn from Him and He experienced the ultimate outcome of every sin that man has ever committed - spiritual death, which is separation from God.

It’s not just that God turned His face away, but that He saw upon Jesus the sin of the world, became angry with Him, and judged Him accordingly.

II Cor 5:21 says much more than Jesus took our sins upon Himself but that, in His own body, Jesus became our sin. Even though Jesus was without sin (He never knew what it was like to sin because He never sinned), He took into Himself the sin of the world so that God might be angry with Him on account of us and that sin might be judged. To put it in very crude terms, Jesus became an absorbent towel on the cross that soaked up our sin that it might be removed from mankind.

In very real terms, the crucifixion was ‘the Day that God became sin’. Both His anger and judgment were fully poured out and fully satisfied on the cross.

In the OT, Isaiah prophesied concerning the ‘suffering Servant’ who was to come at some future time (Is 53:4-5) that

‘...we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted...upon Him was the chastisement that made us whole...’

and (Is 53:10)

‘ was the will of the Lord to bruise Him: He has put Him to grief...’

Truly, the cross is where we can see a picture of what it’s like to be in hell. We shouldn’t think of Jesus’ crucifixion in terms of purely physical suffering (though what He endured was bad enough), but we should realise that the spiritual suffering of having God’s anger and judgment fall upon Him was the real pain from which the cry of Mtw 27:45-46 came.

Eternal separation from the presence of God is the destiny of every man and woman on earth in the place where God is continually angry on account of sin. But Jesus experienced what it must be like to be there so that those who accept what has been done (see section f below) might not experience it.

The cross is also the place where we see the reality of what our sin not only does to us but what it did to God. And it’s the place where we can see what God thinks of sin.

But, having said all that, the cross, for us, is the place (James 2:13) where

‘...mercy triumphs over judgment’

where I’ve used the phraseology rather than the correct context!

e. The reason for propitiation
Our sins
Heb 2:17 - ‘...propitiation for the sins of the people...’
I John 2:2 - ‘...the propitiation for our sins...’
I John 4:10 - ‘...the propitiation for our sins...’

We have previously discussed the reason that propitiation needed to be made - where there’s sin, there’s the need for propitiation.

f. The reception of propitiation
By faith
Rom 3:25 - ‘...a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith...’

It’s not on the basis of mankind’s works, of our self-effort - we’ve already seen that the initiative was solely with the Lord. Had He not decided to do something about the predicament we’d put ourselves in, we would forever have been under both God’s anger and judgment, not only in this life but in the one to come.

Although Jesus has taken upon Himself both the anger and judgment of God, it doesn’t follow that every person is therefore free from any outpouring of them. The work of the cross must be met with a correct response in an individual and that can only be done by faith to the revelation of the Holy Spirit concerning the work of Christ - not a mere mind knowledge but an active trust and participation in His completed work (see the study on ‘Faith’).


Having now considered the aspects of the cross that speak to us of propitiation, we can conclude this study by expanding the chart that we printed at the beginning of this section into the following.