Over the last two blogs, we have looked at the two very important theological words of justification and redemption. Today I want us to consider the third word that we find in Romans 3 and that is the word propitiation. We read again from Romans 3 these words, “being justified as a gift by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed,” (Rom.3:24+25 NASB). In Greek literature the word “propitiate” was used to describe the appeasing the gods to such a level so as they may be given a positive attitude towards the one making the sacrifice. This use of the word is very foreign to the Greek New Testament and in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) with respect to God. In the Bible, it is God who is propitiated by the vindication of His holy and righteous character through the vicarious and atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. This concept of propitiation as a covering for our sin was not made by us, but by the Lord Jesus Christ on our behalf. We see this propitiation took place through Jesus’ blood when we place our faith and trust in Jesus’ finished work. God so dealt with our sin that He can show mercy to the believing sinner by removing our guilt and shame, because of what Jesus Christ has done. We are not the ones who are appeasing or propitiating God, that has already been done by the Lord Jesus Christ.
We see Paul quoting David in Romans 4 where he talks about a covering for his sin and we read, “Blessed are those who lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered,” (v.7 NASB). Paul is quoting Psalm 32:1 and using this, as an illustration, to demonstrate that righteousness and justification come not by the works of the law, but through God’s forgiveness in covering our sin. Psalm 32 was written after David’s horrible and heinous sin with Bathsheba and having her husband Uriah executed in battle (2 Sam. 11). There was no sacrifice that David could have made that would have reconciled his relationship to God following this awful sinful behavior. But God restored David’s because of David’s confession and He covered his sin in anticipation of the sacrifice that would ultimately be made by the Lord Jesus Christ on our behalf.
We see the word propitiate being used in a similar manner and translated as “merciful” in Luke 18:13. In this passage we see a tax collector praying a very different prayer than the Pharisee prayed, who stood praying of his self-righteousness. We read the words of the tax collector, “But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner”, (NASB). This man knows that he needs to be reconciled to God (not God to man), but he’s also aware of the fact that he can’t do anything to bring about that reconciliation. The only thing that he can do is plead for God to cover his sins and be merciful to him which is the basis of his prayer. We read Jesus’s response to his prayer when we read, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted,” (v.14 NASB).
God has not changed, but because of what Jesus Christ has done, when we agree with God about our sin, God is all about restoring us into a relationship with Himself. The propitiating work of the cross is therefore the means whereby the barrier which sin imposed between man and God has been broken down. In the Old Testament, this concept of propitiation is seen in the mercy seat, which again speaks of the covering of one’s sin by the blood of animal sacrifices. The Lord Jesus Christ has fulfilled all those types on our behalf, for which we should be truly grateful and thankful to Him for His work and His will. What a wonderful and amazing thing God has done for us through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us rejoice and declare the majesty of our blessed Savior and His sacrifice on our behalf.
In the King’s service,
Pastor Rich Sivo