Wrath is not a word we use often (except in titles, such as “The Wrath of Khan”). Today’s word is even less common. What is propitiation? This is probably the least understood word of the five we are considering this week. But it is a very important word. Let’s begin with a definition.
“Propitiation means the turning away of anger; Propitiation is a personal word; one propitiates a person… if we speak of propitiation we are thinking of a personal process. We are saying that God is angry when people sin and that, if they are to be forgiven, something must be done about that anger. We are saying further that the death of Christ is the means of removing the divine wrath from sinners (Morris).”
The concept of the wrath of God is rooted in the Old Testament, where it is referred to 585 times. Paul makes it clear in Romans 1:18 that the wrath of God is against the sin of people. What is meant by the wrath of God “is not an outburst of passion, but the settled opposition to evil that arises from the fact that God is who and what he is (Morris).”
What does that say about propitiation, the turning away of God’s wrath against us? How can God look favorably (propitiously) upon sinful people? Let’s answer that question with three points.
The need for propitiation: The point was already made in your reading of Romans 1 that each person is under the wrath of God because of our sinful rebellion against God. God is opposed to evil, and we commit evil, so without Christ God is opposed to us. We need to have that wrath turned away from us (John 3:36).
The nature of propitiation: Who can turn away God’s wrath? Rom. 3:25 tells us that Christ Jesus himself was put forward by God to turn away his wrath. Jesus became a man so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest and accomplish propitiation for us (Heb. 2:17). Jesus satisfied God’s anger, but only for those who trust in Jesus.
The source of the propitiation: The source is the love of God (1 John 4:10)! In love, the Father allowed his wrath to be poured out on his Son (Isa. 53:6). In love he turned away his own wrath against us (Ps. 78:38). In love he offers to be favorable toward us because of Christ.
J.I. Packer writes that we need to frequently meditate on the wrath of God that was turned away or propitiated by Jesus.
“First, that our hearts may be duly impressed by God’s detestation of sin. We are ever prone to regard sin lightly, to gloss over its hideousness, to make excuses for it. But the more we study and ponder God’s abhorrence of sin and His frightful vengeance upon it, the more likely are we to realize its heinousness.”
“Second, to beget a true fear in our souls for God… (Heb. 12:28-29). We cannot serve Him ‘acceptably’ unless there is due ‘reverence’ for His awful Majesty and ‘godly fear’ of His righteous anger, and these are best promoted by frequently calling to mind that ‘our God is a consuming fire’.”
“Third, to draw out our soul in fervent praise [to Jesus Christ] for having delivered us from ‘the wrath to come’ (1 Thess. 1:10). Our readiness or our reluctancy to meditate upon the wrath of God becomes a sure test of how our hearts really stand affected toward Him.”
I hope that, through a consideration of the meaning of propitiation, you are brought to hate sin and revere and praise God for turning his wrath away from you through Jesus Christ, if you have trusted in Jesus for salvation. I encourage you to read Romans 1:18-32 and 3:23-26 and praise God for the great love he has shown to us!