Wednesday, October 21, 2009


The Greek word,  [propitious], is first used in Genesis 43 in the LXX (Septuagint). In this passage, Joseph's brothers have returned the silver that Joseph surreptitiously had refunded on their original trip to Egypt. His brothers plead their case, saying, "We do not know who put the silver in our bags." Genesis 43:22 (AB) Joseph replied to them saying, "Kindness, be to you, do not fear. Your God, and the God of your fathers gave you treasures in your bags." Genesis 43:23 (AB)

While Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai, Israel compelled Aaron to fashion a golden calf for them to worship. Aaron declared to the people, "These are your gods, O Israel, who hauled you from out of the land of Egypt." Exodus 32:4 (AB) Israel's rebellion angered God, and he said to Moses, "And now allow me! For being enraged in anger against them, I will obliterate them." Exodus 32:9 (AB) Moses interceded for the people, pleading, "Cease in the anger of your rage, and be propitious to the evil of your people." Exodus 32:12 (AB) In response to Moses' intercession, "The LORD dealt kindly concerning the bad which he said he would do to his people." Exodus 32:14 (AB) In this passage from the LXX (Septuagint), the root word translated in the New Testament as propitiation, appears twice: Moses asked God to be propitious, and the LORD dealt kindly.

Moses again interceded for the people in Numbers 14 after their refusal to enter the land which God had promised them. God spoke to Moses, saying, "I will strike them in death, and I will destroy them, and I will make you into a great and populous nation rather than this one." Numbers 14:12 (AB) Moses pleaded, "Dismiss the sin of this people according to your great mercy, just as kindness happened to them from Egypt to the present."

After Naaman was healed of leprosy by bathing in the Jordon River, he requested that Elisha give him dirt from Israel so that Naaman could offer burnt offerings to God on ground that was not contaminated by his former idolatry. Naaman said, "And the LORD shall deal kindly with me, your servant in this matter." 2 Kings 5:18 (AB)

David cried out to God saying, "Because of your name, O LORD, atone [propitiate] my sin! For it is great." Psalm 25:11 (AB) In another Psalm, David declares, "Lawless words overpowered us; but you shall atone [propitiate] our impieties." Psalm 65:3 (AB) Asaph, another contributor to the Psalms, writes of Israel in the desert,

And they loved him by their mouth, but by their tongue they lied to him. And their heart was not straight with him, nor did they trust in his covenant. But he is one pitying, and he shall atone [propitiate] their sins, and he will not utterly destroy. And he will fill the turning of his rage, and shall not kindle all his anger.

Psalm 78:37-38 (AB)
In these and other Old Testament passages, the words propitious, propitiate, and propitiation convey a reversal of outcome. Joseph's brothers discovered that what should have been debited against them was credited back to them. Israel's rebellion warranted God's wrath, but instead God turned his wrath into kindness. Naaman was healed of leprosy. David was forgiven his sin. When we look throughout Scripture we see propitiation turn away from the natural outcome towards kindness.

In the Old Testament tabernacle worship on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would once a year pass through the veil, into the most holy place, and sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on the mercy seat, or propitiation seat. On this day, Israel would confess their sins, and God would propitiate. In the New Testament, the word atonement or propitiation is used to describe the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. Understanding the meaning of propitiation is crucial to our understanding of the cross. The Apostle John writes, "In this 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 (NASB)

At times we fill words with our preconceived ideas. Often Christians fill the words atonement or propitiation with un-Biblical theology. Some perceive atonement to be a surrogate punishment; however, the principle meaning of the word deals with kindness. While other words can be translated kindness or kind, propitiation is a special type of kindness. Propitiation reverses adverse circumstance into kindness. When we read that Christ is the propitiation for our sins, we should recall that he turns God's wrath into God's favor. The word propitiation alludes to the Old Testament system of tabernacle worship, the Mercy Seat, and the Day of Atonement. The NIV translates 1 John 4:10, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." The Apostolic Bible renders the literal English translation, "In this is the love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his son as an atonement for our sins." We could also translate 1 John 4:10 to say, "This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son [to deal kindly with our sins]." How does the cross of Jesus Christ demonstrates God's kindness toward sinners? The Apostle Peter writes,

He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

1 Peter 2:24-25 (NASB)
In what way did Christ's death on the cross demonstrate kindness? He demonstrated kindness toward us by carrying our sins into death. Because he carried our sins into death, we do not have to die in our sins. The Apostle Paul explains it:

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

Romans 5:8-18 (NIV)
Though necessary, why was the cross of Jesus Christ such a brutal ordeal? Would a peaceful death have accomplished the same objective? Some claim that God punished the Christ instead of punishing us. They claim that the Father poured out his wrath on the Son and then turned his face away. They concoct support for this theory based on Jesus' quoting Psalm 22 while hanging on the cross. However, Jesus' words are an invitation to read the entire Psalm, and reading the entire Psalm in the context of the crucifixion one would not come to the absurd conclusion that the Father ever despised the Son.

After crying out "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" the Psalmist prophetically affirmed,

God has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted;
Nor has He hidden His face from him;
But when he cried to Him for help, He heard.

Psalm 22:24 (NASB)
Christ did not suffer by the hand of God, the Christ suffered by the hands of men as Isaiah 53 eloquently prophesies. God's supposed wrath against the Son did not propitiate our sins. Rather the complete obedience of the Son merited his Father's favor. The writer of Hebrews tells us, "Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation." Hebrews 5:8-9 (NIV) Paul wrote to the Philippians regarding the depth of Jesus' obedience, saying,

Although He existed in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father

Philippians 2:6-11 (NASB)
Jesus excruciating death on the cross is not a picture of God's wrath against sin. Rather it is a demonstration of Jesus' complete obedience to the Father. What Adam destroyed through disobedience, Jesus restored through obedience. By the disobedience of one we became enemies of God, and by the obedience of one we are reconciled to God. God's wrath will come, Jesus said,

The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.

John 3:25-26
The obedience of Jesus Christ is our propitiation. In obedience to the Father, he dealt kindly with our sins. Jesus reversed our outcome of wrath into the overwhelming kindness of God.

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