What in the World Is “Propitiation”?

God Satisfies His Own Wrath

And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

1 John 2:2 NKJV

The blood of Christ is clear confirmation that Christ died a sacrificial death to pay for our release from the captivity of sin and bondage to Satan’s schemes. In other words, we owe our salvation to the death of Christ. His blood removes our guilt before God (1 Pet.1:18-19), cleanses ours stricken consciences (Heb. 9:14), gives us bold access to the Father (Heb. 10:19), on-going cleansing from our sin (1 John 1:7) and conquers all of Satan’s accusations (Rev. 12:10-11). We sinned, the penalty of our sin is death, Christ took our place, and died so that we might live. Jesus’ blood condemns death and in that death, the penalty of our sin was paid in full. In short, the blood of Jesus is the virtue of his death for our sins.

Why is a propitiation necessary? The pagan answer is because the gods are bad-tempered, subject to moods and fits, and capricious. The Christian answer is because God’s holy wrath rests on evil. There is nothing unprincipled, unpredictable or uncontrolled about God’s anger; it is aroused by evil alone.

Secondly, the author. Who undertakes to do the propitiating? The pagan answer is that we do. We have offended the gods; so we must appease them. The Christian answer, by contrast, is that we cannot placate the righteous anger of God. We have no means whatever by which to do so. But God in his undeserved love has done for us what we could never do by ourselves. *God presented him* (sc. Christ) as a sacrifice of atonement. John wrote similarly: ‘God … loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice (*hilasmos*) for our sins’ (1 Jn. 4:10). The love, the idea, the purpose, the initiative, the action and the gift were all God’s.

Thirdly, the nature. How has the propitiation been accomplished? What is the propitiatory sacrifice? The pagan answer is that we have to bribe the gods with sweets, vegetable offerings, animals, and even human sacrifices. The Old Testament sacrificial system was entirely different, since it was recognized that God himself has ‘given’ the sacrifices to his people to make atonement (e.g. Lv. 17:11). And this is clear beyond doubt in the Christian propitiation, for God gave his own Son to die in our place, and in giving his Son he gave himself (Rom. 5:8; 8:32).

In sum, it would be hard to exaggerate the differences between the pagan and the Christian views of propitiation. In the pagan perspective, human beings try to placate their bad-tempered deities with their own paltry offerings. According to the Christian revelation, God’s own great love propitiated his own holy wrath through the gift of his own dear Son, who took our place, bore our sin and died our death. Thus God himself gave himself to save us from himself.

John Stott, The Message of Romans: The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester: InterVarsity, 1994), 114.

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