There are two deep concepts in this one verse. (One today and the other we will deal with in the next Gem). Today’s focus is on the word [ἱλαστήριον] hilastērion (hil-as-tay’-ree-on).
“ for being justified freely by His grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation through faith in His blood, as a demonstration of His righteousness” (LITV)
Excuse me! How am I supposed to understand that? Was that English? What is propitiation / expiation? What does that mean? There are many times in scripture when we are faced with a difficult passage to understand. Our problem is we understand the words (well think we do) but don’t necessarily understand the concept. In this case we may not understand the words either. It takes effort to work out what is being said but most of us give up too soon.
Propitiation and/or expiation are old English words that have gone out of usage now can still be found in the King James Version.
Let’s take time to understand [ἱλαστήριον] hilastērion (hil-as-tay’-ree-on):
From the E-Sword Dictionaries: an expiatory (place or thing), that is, (concretely) an atoning victim, or (specifically) the lid of the Ark (in the Temple): – mercyseat, propitiation.
Thayer Definition: relating to an appeasing or expiating, having placating or expiating force, expiatory; a means of appeasing or expiating, a propitiation
1a) used of the cover of the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies, which was sprinkled with the blood of the expiatory victim on the annual day of atonement (this rite signifying that the life of the people, the loss of which they had merited by their sins, was offered to God in the blood as the life of the victim, and that God by this ceremony was appeased and their sins expiated); hence the lid of expiation, the propitiatory
1b) an expiatory sacrifice
1c) a expiatory victim
ἱλαστήριον hilastērion; from ἱλαστήριος hilastērios; propitiatory: – mercy seat (1), propitiation (1) expiation.
Expiation means to wipe away sin or removal. hilastērion is seen as the “expiatory sacrifice.” That which takes away sin.
Propitiation carries the idea of turning away anger. (appeasing / placating) That which turns away God’s righteous anger.
Greek fathers generally and prominent modern scholars understand Paul here to say that God appointed Christ Jesus to be the “mercy-seat” for sinners. The idea was found in religious thought, that some place and means had to be provided for securing a friendly meeting with the Deity, offended by man’s sin. The basic idea in the Hebrew terms is that of covering what is offensive, so restoring friendship, or causing to be kindly disposed. The Greek terms lack the physical reference to covering but introduce the idea of friendliness where antagonism would be natural; hence, the need for graciousness. Naturally, therefore, the idea of expiation entered into the concept. It is especially to be noted that all provisions for this friendly relation between God and offending man find their initiation and provision in God and are under His direction, but involve the active response of man. Now if by the blood of Christ sin is condemned and expiated, then God is able to establish and maintain His character for righteousness, while He continues and extends His dealing in gracious love with sinners who exercise faith in Jesus. The propitiation originates with God, not to appease Himself, but to justify Himself in His uniform kindness to men deserving harshness.
In other words the mercy seat of the Old Testament sacrifice system is superceded by Christ. Christ Himself who became the mercy seat in God’s redemptive plan. Wow that is huge. Thank you God for Your incredible Grace.
When God gives an assignment, he deposits the “want to” and the “can do” in the same heart.Max Lucado