Summary: Propitiation is a word that most may be unfamiliar with, but every believer needs to understand and embrace its significance. Christ Jesus provided the sacrifice, the payment to appease the wrath of God for sin - our propitiation.
Propitiation: Wrath Appeased
As we continue our series: Understanding Christianese, I want to consider one of the most endearing and beautiful words in the English language – propitiation. Webster defines propitiation as “an atoning sacrifice.” The word propitiate is defined as “to gain or regain the favor of goodwill; to appease.” While propitiation may not be used extensively in daily conversation, it is certainly a word that every believer should be familiar with and thankful for.
The actual word propitiation is only found three times in Scripture – Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; and 1 John 4:10. The biblical definition for propitiation speaks of “a sacrifice, a covering, the payment and appeasement for sin, fully satisfying the righteous demands of the Father – literally turning away His wrath and being reconciled to Him.” Surely you will agree such a doctrine and divine act of grace should be understood and embraced by every believer.
While the actual word propitiation is only found three times in Scripture, the act of propitiation is found throughout the Bible. In a secular, or non-theological sense, propitiation is found in the relationship between Jacob and his brother Esau, Genesis 32. Jacob tricked his father Isaac, and had essentially stolen the blessing and inheritance of Esau. Having fled from his brother and living in exile for 20 years, Jacob desired to return. As he journeyed home, Jacob was informed that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men. Fearing for his life, Jacob sent an enormous gift of hundreds of animals in an attempt to appease the anger of his brother. The gift Jacob sent to Esau can be viewed as a propitiation – a payment to appease anger and bring about reconciliation.
In a theological application we see the principle of propitiation revealed in the Old Testament on the Day of Atonement. The high priest would take the blood of the sacrifice behind the veil in the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, placing it on the mercy seat. Within the mercy seat were the tables of stone inscribed with the Law of God. As the Lord looked upon the mercy seat, having the blood applied, He saw the blood covering the Law, and His righteous judgment was appeased. We know this offering was not permanent because the high priest had to repeat the offering every year on the Day of Atonement. It did however point to the propitiation Christ would eternally secure as He fully satisfied the righteousness of God, appeasing His wrath and atoning for sin.
As we continue our series, I want to examine the eternal truths in the text as we consider: Propitiation – Wrath Appeased.
I. The Gift of Propitiation (2a) – And he is the propitiation for our sins. John reveals the gracious gift of propitiation for mankind. Consider:
A. The Source (2a) – And he is the propitiation for our sins. John declared that Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God is the propitiation for our sins. Considering what we discussed in the introduction, we know that the sacrifices of old brought temporary appeasement, but these could never fully satisfy the righteous demands of God for sin. In order for sin to be atoned, and God to be satisfied with the offering, there would need to be a perfect sacrifice. In essence, God Himself would have to be that offering. Through the eternal plan of God, Christ came to earth in the form of a man in order to provide the atoning sacrifice for sin. Propitiation for sin would not have been possible apart from the sinless, perfect sacrifice of the Son of God. Men had offered countless sacrifices down through the ages of time, all in accordance to the Law of God, but these were unable to appease the judgment of God. This would require a perfect sacrifice. Heb.10:1-4 – For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.  For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.  But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.  For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
B. The Sacrifice (2a) – And he is the propitiation for our sins. Bearing in mind the nature of propitiation, (a sacrifice and payment to appease sin,) we know that such a sacrifice was demanded. This sacrifice had to be offered in blood. In order for atonement to be made for sin, the sacrifice had to die. Jesus, being our propitiation, offered Himself as the atoning sacrifice for sin. There was no other way for sin to be atoned or the righteousness of God to be appeased because of sin. If there was any hope for mankind to be reconciled to God, Christ had to die for our sin!