|Vol. 2, No. 4||Page 12||April 2000|
The word “propitiation” does not easily roll off the tongue, nor does its meaning come readily to the mind. However, when such a word is used to describe our Savior, Jesus Christ, we must take special note of it. The apostle John described him in this fashion, saying, “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our’s only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). The Greek word that is translated propitiation (hilasmos) translates four different Hebrew words in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Its meaning thus includes the ideas of forgiveness (Psalms 130:4), a trespass or guilt offering (Amos 8:14), a sin offering (Ezekiel 44:27) and atonement (Leviticus 25:9; Numbers 5:8). All of these we may obtain only through Jesus Christ, our Propitiation.
When we sin, we create for ourselves the most difficult situation possible. Having broken law, we need a pardon. Having dirtied ourselves with sin (Romans 3:23), we need purification. Being guilty of trespassing God’s law (Ephesians 2:1), we need a release from our guilt. Having separated ourselves from God (Isaiah 59:2), we need reconciliation. Yet, this is what it means for Christ to be the propitiation for our sins. Through the righteousness of Christ, we can receive a full pardon. Through the sinlessness of Christ, we can be purified. Through the One without guilt, we can be released from our guilt. Through the one who maintained the right relationship with God, we can be reconciled. Greater yet is the knowledge that he is the propitiation not only for our sins, but for those of the whole world. Therefore, there is no need for anyone to remain under the burden of sin and guilt. Out of the depths of our love for this great atoning sacrifice (Hebrews 7:26-27), we can come to him (Ephesians 1:7) through humble obedience (1 John 2:3; John 14:15; Hebrews 5:8-9) in order to receive the salvation (Mark 16:16) and forgiveness (Acts 2:38) we need. In a sense, then, propitiation describes what is necessary to make God happy with us again (cf. Genesis 1:31).
Although some have limited the meaning of hilasmos to the atoning sacrifice that Christ provided, in reality it refers to the entire means of expiation. Christ’s willingness to leave heaven (John 3:16), his willingness to take on flesh (Hebrews 2:14), his willingness to live as a human, suffer as a human, be tempted as a human, and die as a human (Hebrews 4:15; Philippians 2:5-8), his teaching and his covenant (John 12:48), his willingness to give himself as a sacrifice (Hebrews 7:26-27), his victorious triumph over death (1 Corinthians 15:20) and his ascension to heaven to assume his rightful place at his Father’s side (Acts 1:9-10; Colossians 3:1) all are part of the means by which God made it possible for us to once again be found in his favor (Ephesians 2:8-9). “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). God sent his Son to die on the cross because there was no other means by which his holiness could be satisfied concerning our sin. Jesus Christ is the means. And for those of us who look to him in faith and obey him, he is Our Propitiation.
Near the end of the first century, the Gnostics, a group which believed wisdom and knowledge to be the way to salvation, began to influence the church with their teaching that flesh is evil and only spirit is good. In short, as true with many today, they simply could not comprehend the thought of God becoming flesh. To combat this problem, the apostle John wrote his first epistle, beginning with, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life” (1 John 1:1). In this short opening, the apostle has already shown the fallacy of the Gnostic teaching, but he also teaches us much about our Lord and our God.
Jesus Christ is our eternal God. By affirming Christ’s existence not only prior to his conception and birth but also before creation, John is demonstrating that Jesus is more than just a man. In this context, he is implying Christ’s role in creation (Colossians 1:16; John 1:3) and is exalting our Lord from the very beginning. He was not just a good man. He was not just a prophet. He was not a man inhabited by God. He is God himself ¾ deity in the flesh (John 1:14; Philippians 2:5-8) ¾ just as he must be so that God could be tempted (James 1:13; Matthew 4:1-11), remain perfect (Hebrews 4:15) and shed his blood for us (Acts 20:28).
Jesus Christ is our teacher. When John says, “which we have heard,” he is speaking from personal experience, having sat at the feet of Jesus as he taught while upon this earth. The knowledge that this earth offers to us pales in comparison to the knowledge revealed by Christ as he taught upon this earth. John did not need the philosophies of men nor the knowledge of the Gnostics; he had the knowledge of Jesus Christ, the greatest of teachers. We often devote ourselves so much to secular education that we, like the Gnostics, begin to think that nothing could be higher than that which man’s wisdom can offer. Instead of reading the works of men, we should be dedicating ourselves to learning and hearing the words of our Savior, for by these we will be judged (John 12:48).
Jesus Christ lived before witnesses. With Jesus, there could be no doubt as to whether or not he lived upon this earth. There had been witnesses ¾ hundreds of witnesses ¾ who had seen him and known him. This carpenter’s Son is no myth. He had lived before men and worked for them. His life was an open book. He had been seen by shepherds and wise men in youth, soldiers and thieves in death, and disciples and multitudes when resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:1-11).
Jesus Christ was a doer of miracles. The word translated “looked upon” in this verse indicates the amazement and wonder of those who beheld him and what he did. Jesus did not make a bold claim of deity without anything to back it up. Rather, the Father himself testified of the truth that Jesus is God by the miracles that Christ did (Acts 2:22). With these wonders and signs confirming (Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:4) the truth of the message concerning himself, there can be no doubt that God recognized and validated Jesus’ claim that he is the Son of God.
Jesus Christ was a man. Jesus was not an apparition, a ghost nor a mirage. He was a man who could be handled, perceived by the sense of touch. When he was hammering a nail and hit the wrong one, it hurt. When he was in the wilderness without food, he was hungry. When he was in the garden praying, he felt the greatest of mental pressures. When he was tempted, he had to make the right decision in the same way that we do. Jesus took on the seed of Abraham (Hebrews 2:16), being a partaker of flesh and blood (Hebrews 2:14), a fact of which we are reminded each and every Lord’s Day (1 Corinthians 11:22-29).
Jesus Christ is the source of life. Jesus is the Word of life. He is the giver of life (John 1:4) and he is the very message of the way of life. “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). As Jesus was upon this earth, everything he did expressed the way of life. He showed us what life is to be about (John 10:10), and he demonstrated the life, the service (Mark 10:45), the obedience (Hebrews 5:8-9) which leads to eternal life. Only this One who was God (Philippians 2:5-8) could take on the form of man and express God to us (John 1:18), showing us how to be like him and leading us to the Father. And only in this way could we truly understand the way unto life.
Jesus Christ made life, lived life and gives us life.
He is God who became man. He was a doer of good and a worker of miracles.
He was all of these things and more. How unfortunate it is that sometimes
we do not give him the reverence He deserves, nor the listening ear his
words should command. To have such a One as our Savior is indeed great,
but to have this same One as our brother is beyond comprehension. Some
people seem to think that Jesus came to this earth so that God could present
himself on man’s level. In actuality, Jesus came to this earth in order
to help lift man up to think and act in accordance with God’s holiness.