He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.1 John 2:2
You have never received a gift comparable to Jesus Christ. He is beyond imagination. The wealth flowing from His presence is immeasurable. The dimensions of his gift cannot be known by mortals, at least not now. The verse above is probably the most succinct description of his endowment to men.
Propitiation is not a common word in the Bible. It occurs only four times (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10). In the broader Greek writings, it is considered a rare term when used as a noun as it is here. So, we must use the Biblical context to appreciate the use of the word by John.
Propitiation is closely associated with sin, more specifically, the removal of sin. Every New Testament verse that includes propitiation also includes the word sin. Paul links the word with Jesus’ blood and the resolution of God’s forbearance (Romans 3:25). The writer of Hebrews also connects it with sin and Jesus’ action of resolving the people’s sins.
Recalling that Hebrews is written to a Jewish community well-versed in the Law of Moses, we must see this propitiation of Jesus as linked to the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. Consider John the Baptist’s exclamation, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). Isaiah’s prophecy is on point here, for he says, “with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). The prophets use of words like “stricken” (vs. 4, 8), “afflicted” (vs. 4), and “crush” (vs.10), point to the horror awaiting the Savior. We also note Isaiah’s inspired claim that all of this was done by the Lord, “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; (Isaiah 53:10). This statement parallels Acts 2:23 that Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”
We conclude that God planned the suffering of Jesus. But why? When you and I view the cross and all the attendant events, we are peering into the wrath of God against sin. Wrath, unlike propitiation, is not a rare word. It occurs over 200 times in the English Bible. We understand wrath as powerful anger directed against an enemy. Because this wrath comes from God, we may say it is a divine or righteous wrath. This is no temper tantrum, but the outpouring of appropriate and holy retribution for that which spoiled the perfect creation – sin.
Concerning the mistreatment of widows and orphans, God says, “my wrath will burn…” (Exodus 22:24). We may think such a response is harsh, but we understand that His divine wrath is directed at evildoers. But why Jesus?
Nahum offers, “Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him” (Nahum 1:6). The obvious answer is that no one can stand before God’s wrath, for none are innocent (Psalm 14:1 – 3).
Following these verses, we discover that we are all lost and have only a fearful expectation of destruction from before the holiness of God. We need a shield, an absorber, to soak up the wrath of God and protect us. We need a propitiation. We need Jesus. As a shield, Jesus stands between us and the wrath of God. Our sins are removed, and we no longer fear destruction
In some unimaginable way, the same God that destroys in his wrath finds a way to save the objects of his love by focusing his wrath upon Jesus. Thank you, Lord, for this unspeakable gift!
Jesus is the gift for all. Sadly, most will never accept the gift. We must proclaim the nature of the gift to all the world. It awaits for all men. Let us all be heralds of this wonderful gift!