The Atonement: Propitiation, the Place of Mercy.

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-26)

Whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:25).

Eric Arthur Blair (1903-1950), better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English novelist, essayist, journalist and critic, whose work was marked by lucid prose, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism, and strong support of democratic socialism. Blair was not only a prolific writer (1984; Animal Farm) but he also provided many proverbial quotes. These included the following:  “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength,” “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” And “Big Brother is watching you.”

Blair also provided stylistic advice to writers about the task of writing. These “Six Little Rules” included (1) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. (2) Never use a long word whereshort one will do. (3) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. (4) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

With respect to Writing Rule #2, Never use a long word where short one will do,” I’m sure Blair would take issue with the word “propitiation.” I suppose he would hate the word, not only because it is five syllables but also because of its biblical and doctrinal significance.

As one source explains, “Orwell was an atheist who identified himself with the humanist outlook on life. Despite this, and despite his criticisms of both religious doctrine and of religious organizations, he nevertheless regularly participated in the social and civic life of the church, including by attending Church of England Holy Communion. Acknowledging this contradiction, he once said: “It seems rather mean to go to HC [Holy Communion] when one doesn’t believe, but I have passed myself off for pious & there is nothing for it but to keep up with the deception.

What does “propitiation” mean? The New Testament Greek word for propitiation is ἱλαστήριον (hilasterion) and it literally means “mercy seat.” In other words, it is the place and means of forgiveness.

Dr. R. C. Sproul explains that, “Christ died as a propitiatory sacrifice that satisfies the divine judgment against sinners and assuages the Father’s wrath against them, bringing about forgiveness and justification.”

Or, as another pastor explains, “God does not give US what we deserve, but He gives us instead what JESUS deserves. And God can give us what Jesus deserves, because on the cross God allowed JESUS to have what WE deserved for our sin. He took it all for us. That’s what the word propitiation means. He took it all! Christ is the sacrifice in our place, the sacrifice that takes away our sin. He is the place of mercy, the one who soaks up all the wrath of God for sin – in our place.

Romans 3:25 begins with the phrase, “Whom God put forward.” The pronoun “whom” refers to Jesus Christ.  The words “put forward” means not only to bring forth but also to plan beforehand (Romans 1:13). In other words, God the Father planned before hand to bring forth Jesus Christ as the mercy seat on behalf of sinners (Ephesians 1:3-11). Jesus would become the recipient of God the Father’s wrath. He became such in order for sinners, who deserve God’s wrath, to rather be recipients of God’s grace, mercy and love.

“By His blood” refers to Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross. The benefits of such a propitiation is only received by faith alone.

As always, Dr. John MacArthur has much to contribute to this biblical subject. He writes, Crucial to the significance of Christ’s sacrifice, this word (propitiation) carries the idea of appeasement or satisfaction—in this case Christ’s violent death satisfied the offended holiness and wrath of God against those for whom Christ died (Isa. 53:11Col. 2:11–14). The Hebrew equivalent of this word was used to describe the mercy seat—the cover to the ark of the covenant—where the high priest sprinkled the blood of the slaughtered animal on the Day of Atonement to make atonement for the sins of the people. In pagan religions, it is the worshiper not the god who is responsible to appease the wrath of the offended deity. But in reality, man is incapable of satisfying God’s justice apart from Christ, except by spending eternity in hell. Cf. 1 John 2:2; Rom. 1:16.”

Have you ever thanked God for sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to be the mercy seat on behalf of your immortal soul? Take time to do so today.

May God’s truth and grace reside here.

Soli deo Gloria!


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