"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.”
-- Romans 3:25
Gospel preachers speak frequently about the satisfaction of Christ, declaring that he has both made satisfaction for the sins of his people and that he shall forever be satisfied with the results of his finished work. Be sure you understand this. It is crucial to the gospel. Indeed, this matter of Christ making satisfaction and of Christ being satisfied is the gospel.
The Lord Jesus Christ satisfied the law and justice of God for his people when he suffered and died as our substitute upon the cursed tree. By obeying all the precepts of God’s holy law as a man, he fulfilled it as our Representative and brought in everlasting righteousness for us. By dying under the curse of the law, bearing our sins, bearing its penalty to the full extremity of divine justice, dying as our Substitute under the wrath of God, our all-glorious Christ satisfied the wrath and justice of God for us.
Thus the Lamb of God put away the sins of God’s elect by the sacrifice of himself. He has forever secured for his people complete, total immunity from all the evil consequences of their sins. He has secured the eternal salvation of God’s elect by his satisfaction, making it impossible for God in justice to impute their sins to them.
Having satisfied he law and justice of God for us, we are assured that our great Redeemer shall see of the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied. He will see his people, every one of them saved: justified, sanctified, and glorified. Not one ransomed sinner shall perish under the wrath of God. This is the good news we declare in the gospel (Isa. 40:1-2).
Briefly stated, that is the doctrine of Christ’s Satisfaction. This matter of satisfaction is set before us in Holy Scripture as propitiation, atonement, and reconciliation.
The word “propitiation” is used three times in the New Testament. In all three places we are told that Christ is our propitiation. The very same Greek word translated “propitiation” in the New Testament is translated “mercy seat” in the Greek version of Exodus 25:21 and in Hebrews 9:5.
The mercy seat, which covered the ark of the covenant and covered God’s broken law, upon which the cherubim were fixed, upon which they constantly looked, was the place where the atonement blood of the paschal lamb was sprinkled. The mercy seat was the seat of divine majesty where God promised to meet his people in mercy. To the mercy seat men were bidden to look, in the hope of obtaining mercy from and communion with God through the blood of God’s appointed sacrifice (typifying and pointing to the blood of Christ), just as we are bidden to come to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need, because there Christ has sprinkled his blood.
The publican mentioned by our Lord in Luke’s Gospel had a glimpse of Christ as the one represented in the mercy seat. He cried, “God be merciful (propitious) to me the sinner.” He sought mercy through the propitiatory sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Let’s look at those places in Scripture where this word propitiation is used in reference to our Lord Jesus Christ.
The first place where the word “propitiation” is used this way is found in Romans 3:25. -- "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."
The Lord Jesus Christ was set forth by God the Father to be our propitiation. He is the one who has made propitiation for us, the one in whom propitiation is found, the one for whose sake God is propitious to sinners, and the one who is himself our Propitiation. Christ is our Mercy Seat. He alone is the place where God meets with sinners, receives us, and blesses us. He is the one by whom justice has been appeased. He is the one who is our Peace. He is the propitiatory Sacrifice for our sins. Just as God in the Old Testament types smelled the sweet savor of the typical, legal sacrifices, and was ceremonially content with them, so Christ’s precious blood is a sweet selling savor to him.
“His sacrifice was an offering of a sweet smelling savour to the Father. He was well pleased with it. It gave him content and satisfaction, because his justice was appeased by it, and the demands of his law were answered. Yea, it was magnified and made honorable.” (John Gill)
How has God the Father set forth his dear Son as our Mediator to be the propitiation for our sins? Obviously, Paul does not suggest that the Son was compelled to be subservient to the Father. Not at all. This thing was agreed upon by both the Father and the Son. The Son was just as willing to be our Propitiation as the Father is willing to receive his propitiatory sacrifice. Yet, the Holy Spirit here tells us that it was God the Father who set forth his Son to be a propitiation. How has he done so?
Christ was set forth to be the propitiation for our sins in the eternal purposes and decrees of God. He is the Lamb of God who, verily, was foreordained before the foundation of the world to be slain as the ransom price and propitiatory sacrifice for his people. His sufferings and death as such were according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God (1 Pet. 1:19; Acts 2:23; 4:28).
God set forth his Son to be our Propitiation in all the promises, prophecies, and pictures of the Old Testament Scriptures. He is the Seed of the woman promised to Adam and Eve in the Garden, who must come to crush the serpent’s head. He is the paschal lamb, the brazen serpent, the morning and evening sacrifice, and the promised Substitute of whom the prophets wrote.
In the fulness of time, the Son of God was set forth as our Propitiation in human flesh. He was actually made of a woman, made under the law, that he might redeem his people who were under the law.
Our Lord Jesus is still set forth to be the Propitiation for our sins, and shall be until time shall be no more in the gospel. In the Book of God, by the servants of God, and by the Spirit of God, as the gospel is preached Christ is set forth before men as the propitiation, the only and effectual propitiation, for sin.
We see the same thing in 1 John 4:9-10. -- "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." Because of his great love for his people, God the Father sent his darling Son into the world to be the propitiation for our sins by offering up his soul and body as a sacrifice to divine justice to make atonement for us.
As propitiation, or appeasement, is one aspect of Christ’s satisfaction, a second aspect of it is atonement. The word “atonement” is frequently used in the Old Testament in connection with the typical sacrifices of the law and the ceremonial (typical) expiation of sin (Lev. 1:4; 4:20, 26, 31, 35; 5:6, 10, 13, 16, 18; 16:6, 10, 11, 16-18, 27, 30, 32-34; 17:11).
The basic meaning of the word “atonement” is “to cover." As the ark Noah built for the saving of his house was covered with pitch, as the blood sprinkled on the mercy-seat covered God’s broken law beneath it, as the blood sprinkled on the door posts and lentils is every chosen family in Egypt, so the Lord Jesus Christ, by his sacrifice, the antitype of these, is a covering to his people, from the curses of the law we have broken, -- from the wrath of God we deserved, -- and from avenging justice of the holy Lord God to which our sins exposed us.
However, the word “atonement” is only used one time in the New Testament. We find it only in Romans 5:11. -- "And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement."
This atonement was made for us by Christ our Surety, Head, and Representative. The knowledge, blessing, and benefit of it, the application of it comes to us by the Spirit of God, who takes the blood, righteousness, and sacrifice of Christ and applies it to chosen, redeemed sinners, shows us our interest in the atonement, and causes us to receive the effect of it by trusting Christ. The effect of it is joy, peace, and comfort in the knowledge of redemption accomplished.
The word translated “atonement” in the King James Version means and might be better translated "reconciliation. " It is translated that way at times. The Hebrew word for “atonement” is also translated, in some places, "reconcile," or “reconciliation” (Lev. 6:30). The fact is, atonement and reconciliation for sin is essentially the same thing. Both imply a satisfaction made and accepted by God for sin. The word “atonement” means “at one with.” Believers are brought to be at one with God by the sin-atoning blood of Christ. As soon as we believe on the Son of God, we are at one with God, because God has reconciled us to himself by the death of Christ for us.
The third aspect of Christ’s satisfaction is reconciliation. "And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18). Ours is a ministry of reconciliation. We proclaim reconciliation accomplished and seek to persuade sinners, who are by nature haters of God, to be reconciled to him, bowing to and trusting his dear Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Reconciliation began with God himself, not with us. "All things are of God," in nature, providence, and grace, "Who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ". Reconciliation began in the thoughts of his heart, which were thoughts of peace. It was brought up in the council chambers of eternity, and settled in the covenant of grace and peace before the world began. It was executed and accomplished by Christ, by his death, by the blood of his cross (Rom. 5:10; Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20-22).
The ransom price of Christ’s precious blood was paid to God, against whom all sin is committed, whose law we have broken, and whose justice we have offended. The ransom price was paid to the Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy (Rom. 5:10; Eph. 2:16). Christ’s blood was shed to make reconciliation for sin, to make atonement for it (Dan. 9:24; Heb 2:17). Christ died to reconcile men and women to God, who are by nature sinners, “children of wrath,” and enemies in their minds to God (Rom. 5:10; Eph. 2:1-4; Col. 1:21).
All who have been reconciled to God by the sin-atoning death of his Son shall, at God’s appointed time, be reconciled to him in their hearts by the power and grace of his Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 5:17-21). Reconciliation has been made for sinners by the death of Christ. The way is open for sinners to come near unto God and come with full assurance of faith. The way is Christ, -- His Propitiation, -- and His Atonement. God Almighty sends his servants with the Word of reconciliation to persuade sinners to be reconciled to him. The motive by which God urges sinners to be reconciled to him is redemption accomplished and the blessed promise of all things new in Christ.
Propitiation is the appeasement of God’s wrath by the blood of Christ. Atonement is union made between God and sinners meeting at the Mercy Seat (“the throne of grace” – Hebrews 4:16), where Christ’s blood covers our sins. Reconciliation is the reuniting of God and his elect in the person of his dear Son, both looking to the blood of atonement.