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

Christ the Propitiation For Our Sins

The apostle John mentions the word “Propitiation” in the following passage, “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). This verse describes Christ’s sacrificial death as the atonement for the sins that we have committed.

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 covenant or commandments (Deuteronomy 4:13; 1 John 3:4). Thus, the consequence for our sin is receiving the wrath of God and death (Romans 6:23).

After sin came into the world, God promised a Savior, who would destroy the works of the devil and deliver us from eternal death (Genesis 3:15, 1 John 3:8). “Whom (Christ) God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed” (Romans 3:25).

The only One who could save us from our sin is Jesus Christ the Son of God (Matthew 1:21, Mark 1:1). For 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). Only the life of our Creator could be a sacrifice for the human race (John 1:1-4, 14). The blood of Jesus Christ expiated our guilt, covered our sins, and redeemed us from eternal death.

The services of the Day of Atonement in God’s earthly temple (Leviticus 23:27) symbolized or foreshadowed the final stage in God’s great plan of salvation.  This work of redemption and judgement is taking place in God’s temple in heaven (Hebrews 9:23) by Christ our High Priest (Hebrews 8:1,2).

The Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:10-22) represents both the justice and the Mercy of God. Standing on the lid of the Ark are two angels. Between these angels is the mercy seat (Exodus 25:17), where the supernatural presence of God dwelt. Inside the Ark is God’s Ten Commandments or covenant (Exodus 25:21) by which men will finally be judged (James 2:10-12). The Ark represents God’s throne in heaven, which is likewise located between two angels (Psalm 80:1).

Defining Propitiation

Propitiation is defined in the dictionary as the “act of propitiating or gaining the favor or goodwill of someone.” It can also mean to “appease” or “pacify.” The word “propitiation,” Greek word hilasterion, is often used to translate the Hebrew word kippur meaning “atonement,” or to pass over the sin.

Propitiation has also been defined by many biblical scholars as “the removal of wrath by the offering of a gift” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1986, “Propitiation”). It also means 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 more light into the definition of “propitiation” of 1 John 4:10. First, “an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (New International Version). Also,“a sacrifice to take away our sins” (New Living Translation). And “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).

Bible References to Propitiation

There are other verses that contain the word propitiation which can help us understand the phrase “to be the propitiation for our sins”:

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 Savior

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 for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). Thus, we can see how much our Creator and Redeemer loves us. May we not hesitate to accept Him as the propitiation and Savior. He promised that, “… the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37).

Check out the following link if you would like to know how to accept Jesus in your heart.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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