He is Our Propitiation --
Jesus Christ is more than Savior; He is more than Lord and Master, He is more than perfection in human form. He is everything human beings need. The beloved apostle John wrote, “My little children, these things I write to you, that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments” (1 John 2:1-3). Among the wonderful things Jesus Christ is to all man, John says He is our Advocate with the Father, and He, Himself, is the propitiation for our sins.
As an Advocate with the Father for Christians, the Lord Jesus Christ stands by the side of every child of God to intercede. But that advocacy involves more than what one would normally think of in terms of lawyers, attorneys, and court rooms. As our Advocate, Jesus understands us. He is sympathetic to our weaknesses, and is capable of fully understanding us. That brings us to the study of the second thing John said Jesus offers Christians. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world.
Propitiation is not a common household word. We do not normally use it in our daily conversations. But it is one of the most important words in any language. Without the propitiary work of Jesus in our stead, we would be helpless, hapless, and hopeless. Both His advocacy and the propitiation are closely related, yet they are distinct. The propitiation He makes for our sins establishes the basis upon which He can stand by our side and plead our cause to the Father. We hastily note, though, that this pleading is not of the nature that strenuous pleading is required to attract the mercy of the Father. The Father of us all is anxious that all men be saved, that none be lost. Peter wrote, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). And Paul adds, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3,4). It was this very disposition in heaven that initiated the propitiation Christ offers in our behalf. The term means, “expiation for sins.” In our language, we could say such things as “amend, compensate for, correct, rectify, redress, remedy” when we speak of expiation. In a sense that is what Christ has done for the world, yet in a very unique sense. The original Greek term appears only two times in the New Testament, in the form John used. Here in 1 John 2:2 and later in chapter 4, verse 10 is the word found. In the latter reference, John wrote, “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.”
It is good for us to notice three things about the verse that could easily be overlooked. First, Jesus is our propitiation, because the Father sent Him to be our propitiation. Both of the verbs are present tense. It is not that Jesus was a sacrifice for sins; He is (constantly) the only sacrifice for sins. Second, Jesus Himself is the propitiation. His sacrifice for sin is eternally valid. And He personally became the sacrifice. Third, He is not the propitiator, He is the propitiation Himself. For this reason, He is the Savior. That He is Savior amplifies the He, Himself, offered propitiation for all men. Other religions might be based upon what a propitiator offers for worshippers. They offer something outside of themselves. Under the Mosaic law, those who offered sacrifices for themselves and the people, did not offer themselves. This sets Christ’s religion completely apart from all other religions. Men often speak of “comparative religions.” This is useless when one includes Christ’s religion, for there is simply no other religion to which one could possibly compare the religion of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Modernists and skeptical readers of the Bible balk at the idea of propitiation or expiation for sin. Because classical Greek has the same word repeatedly used of appeasing the wrath of a god, liberal theologians scoff at the idea that such could be true of the God of the Bible. It is true that in classical Greek the word did have reference to the ancient paganism which offered its gods bribes for favors. They imagine up a picture of God as being so irritable, capricious, and angry that He can only be placated through some gift to Himself. What they overlook is that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was not a gift to God, it was His gift to the world. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16,17).
We must not miss the plain truth here that propitiation is not something a mere man can do to placate an angry God. It is something a loving God, full of mercy and grace, has accepted as the one and only way He can bring men into His presence. John’s letter began with the premise that fellowship with God is possible for all men. Now, accepting the sacrifice of Christ and His blood, as the one and only means of blotting out sins, assurance is provided to those who would enter and remain in His fellowship. The one and only entrance into fellowship with God is through the blessed and precious blood of Christ Jesus, His Son -- our only Savior.
We must also understand that sin brought the necessity of propitiation to reality. Without sin, there would have been no need for expiation. It is the sins of humanity that caused the chasm between God and His creation. The prophet Isaiah cried out, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy that He cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isa. 59:1-2). You cannot think of a greater tragedy than this. But there is no greater manifestation of grace than for that barrier to be removed.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians that, “Now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). Paul says precisely the same thing John expressed in this text. We can add to that the following from the Hebrew writer: “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 9:19-22).
The results of the propitiation for our sins is the complete obliteration of sins, but John adds, “not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world.” Jesus’ sacrifice for sins is what sometimes men call “All-Sufficient.” Hardly a better expression can be found. Jesus is the “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). There is no restriction on the extent of the saving power of Christ’s blood. That is a great incentive to all who are really in God’s fellowship. Christians cannot be content with simply being saved from sin; they must spread the tidings of this good news to all men.
There is an old story that illustrates this very well. It is said that Zaleusus, who was a great king of the ancient Locrians around 500 B.C. established laws in his government forbidding the use of wine, unless for medicine. He also ordered that adultery be punished by the loss of both eyes of those guilty of the sin. His own son was found to be guilty of adultery and subject to pay the penalty. In order to maintain the respect for the law he had decreed, and to show his parental love and concern, he shared the penalty with his son by having one of his own eyes put out. In this way, the majesty of his government was maintained, his own justice was preserved, and his son was saved from total blindness.
That illustration very feebly represents the love, mercy, and grace the Almighty has extended to the world through Christ. But the penalty is paid. What did it cost? It cost Christ the most precious thing He could offer, His own life. And that leads naturally into the next verse, which will be our topic next time. John adds, “And hereby know we that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.” There is no free ride, no mere passive acceptance of the great benefits. Obedience to God is our only way of demonstrating our desire to be in His fellowship, to benefit from the propitiation Christ has offered for our sins. Did you think it was something sort of automatic? Did you imagine that since Christ did all the work, there is nothing at all He requires of those who would come to Him for salvation?
Obedience by faith is the one and only way Christ has ever said that salvation is available to anyone. “Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Heb. 5:8,9). Christ writes salvation out only to those who come in simple faith, trusting Him, relying on His blood for cleansing, turning from sin in repentance, confessing His sweet and lovely name, and being baptized in water for the remission of sins. Remember? “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” The heart that is filled with true faith leads one to be baptized into Christ.
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