25 whom 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,
as a propitiation [appeasement—satisfaction]
The word “propitiation” means to satisfy. The classical Greek used this term for appeasing the gods by sacrifice so that they would act favorably toward those who made the sacrifice. The idea was to buy off the anger of the gods to gain their favor by placating them. This is not the New Testament usage, for God’s favor is not for sale.
The Old Testament Greek (LXX) uses “propitiation” with the ideas of atonement or reconciliation. The word carries the idea of getting rid of that which stands between God and man. This was the purpose of the mercy seat; the blood comes between the sinner and God. The mercy seat was the lid of the ark on which the high priest sprinkled blood on the Day of Atonement. The significance was that the life of the animal was sacrificed so that the person who offered the sacrifice was not charged for his sin and was made acceptable to God.
Although the shed blood on the mercy seat covered sin, it could not remove sin. It only pointed to the One who would ultimately remove sin permanently and forever. The mercy seat was the point of contact between God and the sinner.
He 10: 10 By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
14 For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.
It is important to note that in the New Testament it is God who satisfies Himself by meeting His own standards by the death of Christ for our sins. Man cannot appease the absolute righteousness of God. That is why God sent Jesus in human flesh to die in that flesh (1 Ti 2:6). Jesus appeased God’s wrath by this action.
The New Testament idea of the word is to remove the obstacle of penalty between an absolutely holy God and sinful man. God is satisfied with this arrangement, thus satisfaction for payment of sin is the idea. The idea is that God is satisfied with Christ’s expiation for sin. In New Testament parlance, Jesus is both the mercy seat and the sacrifice for sins.
God is satisfied with the payment Jesus made for the sin of man. We find this Greek word only two times in the New Testament, here in our passage and Hebrews 9:5 where it is translated “mercy seat”:
5 and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
The “mercy seat” was the place of atonement in Old Testament sacrifices. It was the spot in both the tabernacle and temple where the goat’s blood was sprinkled on the Day of Atonement to atone (cover) the sin of Israel (Le 16:15). Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers used this word 21 times for the lid of the ark—the mercy seat. Today we call this day Yom Kippur. Luke 18:13 and Hebrews 2:17 use a related term, to satisfy by sacrifice. First John 2:2 and 4:10 use the noun “propitiation.”
This shedding of blood satisfied God’s righteous demands. The “mercy seat” is the place of satisfaction. This was the place God satisfies His wrath toward sin.
The Father is satisfied with what Jesus did about our sins.
The New Testament speaks of Christ as a propitiation three times:
1. Romans 3:25
2. 1 Jn 2:2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. [This verse shows Jesus as the means of propitiation. He is the propitiation for sins of believers and sins of the whole world.]
3. 1 Jn 4:10 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. [This verse presents God’s love in sending His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.]
We find the word propitiation also in Hebrews 2:17.
We cannot buy God’s love by what we do. We cannot appease God by any payment we may make. Propitiation means that God is satisfied with what Jesus did about our sins. God satisfies His justice in that. This appeases God’s demands of Himself.
Had there been no mercy to cover the Ark of the Covenant, there would be no way to avert God’s judgment. None of us could approach the presence of God. The Ark contained the commandments that judged man as God measures Himself against man. Because God put a cover on the Ark box, He atoned for sin. The high priest on the day of atonement (yom kippur) sprinkled blood on the mercy seat. God showed Himself the God of mercy in this action. The Word of God pictures Jesus as our mercy seat. The mercy seat was the place of blood sacrifice.
“Mercy,” as in the mercy seat, is a wonderful idea. Mercy is something we receive that we have no right to receive. This word carries the ideas of forgiveness of our offenses to God and forbearance on God’s part toward us.
God was satisfied by the death of Christ for our sins. Propitiation is always directed toward God; God must satisfy Himself with His own standards of righteousness. He expiates (cancels guilt) by the substitution of Christ’s death for our death. The effect is to pardon the offender and declare him or her as right as God is right.