Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology has defined propitiation as: “A sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in so doing changes God’s wrath toward us into favor.” Briefly defined it refers to a satisfaction of wrath. In Scripture it refers specifically to the satisfaction of God’s wrath against sin.
The word Greek word for “propitiation” is used four times in the New Testament (Romans 3:25, Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2 and 4:10). In this study I want to focus our attention on the last of these: 1 John 4:10. This verse declares:
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
In this verse we see the problem of propitiation (the implied wrath of God against sin), the provision of propitiation (based on God’s love), and the person of propitiation (“his Son” Jesus Christ).
I. The Problem of Propitiation. God’s Wrath against Man’s Sin
That God is a God of wrath who needs to be propitiated will be news to many. Many object to the idea of propitiation because it sounds to them like a pagan concept that has been mixed into Christianity. All the pagan religions of the world have a doctrine of propitiation. They believe that god or the gods are angry and their wrath must be satisfied. They spend their lives in fear of this angered deity and seek to please him through their sacrifices. The Christian doctrine of propitiation is different though. The Christian doctrine does not require man to “propitiate” his god, it instead declares that God has “propitiated” Himself. He has taken the initiative to satisfy His own anger against our sin. The fact that God is a God of anger and wrath toward sin should be beyond debate for those who believe the Bible to be the Word of God. Note the following:
These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.
God is angry with the wicked every day.
Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity:
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.
II. The Provision of Propitiation. Through God’s Love
Here is the great difference in the Christian doctrine of propitiation and its pagan counterpart. In the pagan religions, man must somehow satisfy god’s wrath. But the Scripture teaches that God has taken the initiative to satisfy His own wrath.
Not us loving God, but Him loving us! In Romans 3:24-25, God is also declared to be the source of propitiation:
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
Likewise in Romans 5:8 Paul states,
But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
This is not a case of the Father versus Jesus! There is one plan of redemption in which all of the Trinity is actively involved.
III. The Person of Propitiation. Jesus Christ
God’s means of satisfying His wrath toward our sin was a person. Jesus Christ is our propitiation! He completely satisfied God’s wrath for the believer’s sins while separated from His Father on the cross! As the hymn writer Jehoidah Brewer put it in his hymn, “Hail, Sovereign Love“:
On him almighty vengeance fell,
That must have sunk a world to hell
He bore it for his chosen race,
And thus became their hiding-place.
So for those of you who are burdened and battered by sin, there’s hope in Christ. Look to the cross!!! There you will see God’s wrath completely satisfied by the love of God in Jesus Christ!