What does “to be the propitiation for our sins” mean?


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“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son (Jesus) to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). This verse describes Jesus’ sacrifice as the atonement for our sins that we have committed. Thus, let us first consider some background in understanding this phrase.

Our Need

It is important to first understand that we all have sinned (Romans 3:23). We have fallen short of God’s glory, which is His character of love (1 John 4:8). Sin is the breaking of God’s law or commandments (1 John 3:4, Mathew 2:37-40). Thus, the consequence for our sin is death (Romans 6:23).

Therefore, after sin came into the world, God promised a Savior would come to destroy the work of the devil (Genesis 3:15, 1 John 3:8). The only One who could save us from our sin is none other than Jesus Christ the Son of God (Matthew 1:21, Mark 1:1).  Thus, our sin required a sacrifice that could meet the demands of the penalty. Since the penalty was death, only the shedding of blood could atone for our sin (Hebrews 9:22). This is because the life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11). Only the life of our Creator, Jesus Christ, could be a sacrifice for the human race which He created (John 1:1-4, 14).

Defining Propitiation

Propitiation is defined in the dictionary as the “act of gaining or regaining the favor or goodwill of someone.” It can also mean to “appease” or “pacify.” The word “propitiation” is translated from the Greek word hilaskomai, which is often used to translate the Hebrew word kippur meaning “atonement.”

Propitiation has also been defined by many biblical scholars. One definition is, “the removal of wrath by the offering of a gift” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1986, “Propitiation”). It also conveys sin being covered and remitted (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985, “Propitiation”). The New Bible Dictionary sums it up this way: “‘Propitiation’ is a reminder that God is implacably opposed to everything that is evil, that his opposition may properly be described as ‘wrath,’ and that this wrath is put away only by the atoning work of Christ” (1982, “Propitiation).

Other Bible translations offer insight into the definition of “propitiation” in 1 John 4:10. First, “as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (New International Version). Also,“as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (New Living Translation). Further, “to die in our place to take away our sins” (New Century Version). Finally, “as the remedy for the defilement of our sins” (New English Bible).

The Bible Defines Itself

There are other verses that contain the word propitiation which can help us understand the phrase “to be the propitiation for our sins.” It is helpful to study the Bible “line upon line” (Isaiah 28:10), as it often defines itself when passages are compared.

Consider the following verses, “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God… that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:24-26). In summary, these verses state that those who have faith in Jesus can be justified or forgiven by the sacrifice of His blood. 

My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:  And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2). Jesus is here stated to be an advocate or a “defender” of the sinner. It is only by Jesus that we can brought back into a right relationship with God (John 14:6).

“Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17, NKJV). This verse further explains Jesus’ role in our salvation. He makes propitiation or offers Himself as a sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 9:26).

Jesus: Our All in All

The Bible gives a clear message of Jesus’ redeeming power through His sacrifice for our sins. “In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him… And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself…” (Colossians 1:14-16, 20). 

Jesus is our propitiation, the perfect sacrifice for our sins. He died on our behalf while we were still sinners against Him (Romans 5:8). Thus, we can see how much our Creator and Redeemer loves us. May we not hesitate to accept Jesus as the propitiation and Savior. He promised that, “… him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). Will you accept His sacrifice on your behalf?

If you would like to know how to accept Jesus in your heart, click the following link: https://bibleask.org/wp-admin/post.php?post=10577&action=edit&lang=en


In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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