1 John 2:2
Part of our FBFI Local Church Preaching series. Click here for this week’s featured sermon.
Propitiation is not a common word today. Yet it speaks of the remarkable love Jesus has shown to us by dealing with the wrath of God against us as sinners. Many modern scholars minimize the concept of the wrath of God to focus merely on the love of God. However, I believe God’s love is highlighted even more when we understand how Christ dealt with divine wrath against sinful man.
The Greek word for “propitiation” was in common use in the classical Greek language and meant the turning away of anger. This goes beyond merely forgiveness or expiation (the removal) of sin. If God is angry against sin, then His wrath must somehow be appeased. Since the O. T. has over 580 references to God’s wrath against man for his sin, God’s wrath must somehow be appeased. It is true that God is “slow to anger” and displayed “great mercy,” but one cannot ignore that anger also belongs to God. Even in the O. T. there were hints of this propitiation provision in the plan of God for man’s sins. The LXX often used the Greek word for “propitiation” to translate the Hebrew word for “atonement.” This dealing with the wrath of God could never be appeased by anything that man could do. It must originate with God.
Though the N. T. emphasizes the grace and love of God, the element of God’s anger against man and his sin is still present. John the Baptist warned of the “coming wrath” (Matt. 3:7). Jesus Himself was angry on a few occasions (Mk. 3:5). In fact, Jesus talked more about hell than He did heaven. Hell is the result of God’s wrath dealing with sinful creatures. We even read of the “wrath of the Lamb” in Rev. 6:16.
This is why “propitiation” is so important. Christ became our propitiation. He became the means of turning away God’s wrath from us. Romans 3:25 makes it clear that God’s wrath could only be appeased by the death of Christ in our behalf. Hebrews 2:17 reiterates this truth, and then John, the apostle of love, confirms Jesus’ role in removing God’s wrath from us in 1 John 2:2. He reaches a crescendo of praise in I John 4:10, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” So “propitiation,” a word utilized to explain the removal of God’s wrath against us, is the ultimate expression of God’s love to us.
For this message, I am indebted to Leon Morris and the chapter on “Propitiation” in his book, The Atonement: Its Meaning & Significance.