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1. Introduction

Propitiation, what does it mean, and is it an act of punishment or the mercy of God? This is a fundamental question to ask. Because if God had to punish Jesus, it raises a valid question – is God a good Father? Would a good Father punish (actually torture) His Son for sins He did not commit?

The current reformation sweeping the church focuses on the goodness of the Father. Central to Reformed Theology is that God punished His Son, Jesus. We will see the two are exclusive statements that cannot co-exist. We saw earlier that God did not forsake Jesus; now, we will see that God did not punish Jesus.
Father-Son theology teaches us that there is no basis for the Reformed theology where God had to punish His Son.

Over the following few lessons, we will see the following:

DECREE – the New Covenant declares sins will be no more.
ACTION – Jesus’ sacrificial death.
HOW – Propitiation by His blood and person.
RESULT – Atonement for our sins, cleansing of the temple
(we are the temple of the Holy Spirit),
AND reconciliation with God.

2. Penal Substitution View – Incorrectly Defining Propitiation As Punishment Not Mercy

A. God Can Choose to Forgive Sin.

Humanity is subject to God’s wrath – at least according to this Reformed view. Another Reformed phrase is ‘Jesus is the asbestos suit against God’s wrath(!)’. So let’s define this view, which we vigorously disputed against in Covenantal Atonement.

  • Penal means that punishment is necessary for wrongdoing.
  • Substitution means that Jesus took our punishment in our place.

John Calvin thought that because God is just, He needs to punish Jesus. Calvin was a lawyer, and therefore, his worldview was legal/judgment-based. Being a lawyer meant he thought of legal cases coming before a judge, punishing the perpetrator. This view concludes that God is angry at a man because he sinned. Reformed theologians reason that God must punish sin.

We will see that God can choose to forgive sin, and He does not need to punish sin.

3. Hebraic View

A. God’s Judgement- Positive or Negative?

Unlike the Penal-Substitution view, God’s judgment can be positive or negative, much like modern-day legal systems. The judge in charge of a legal case does not have to judge the defendant negatively. We see this clearly when Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit’s conviction of sin, righteousness and judgment:

And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

Matthew 16:8-11

In this scripture, we find the following truths:

  • Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin on the basis of one criterion only – Do you believe in Jesus?
  • He convicts of righteousness because the New Covenant brings in righteousness. Jesus goes to the Father to bring the New Covenant.
  • Holy Spirit convicts of judgment because Satan is being judged.
  • He is judging the kingdom of darkness – not humankind.

B. Believer’s Judgement – Favourable.

If we believe in Jesus, then our judgment is favourable. God’s negative judgment is on the devil and the kingdom of darkness, not on us.

C. Eye for an Eye.

4. Defining Propitiation -Mercy Not Punishment

Propitiation comes through the death of Christ and atoning work on the cross.

…the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

Revelation 13:8

A. Jesus is the Propitiation for our Sins.

And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

1 John 2:2

B. Propitiation is Through His Shed Blood.

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,

Romans 3:25

C. Propitiation in Greek.

(Greek hilastērion) is defined as appeasement or expiation, or mercy seat

5. Propitiation Means Removal of Sin AND Guilt

A. Removal of Guilt

The other word definition of propitiation in Greek is expiation, which means removing guilt.
Jesus not only forgives our sins, but he also removes the consequences of sin: shame and guilt!

The same word expiation translates as atonement in Hebrew:

Kippur means as follows:
כִּפֻּר ḵip̱ur; from 3722; expiation (only in plural): — atonement.

Kippur comes from the root word Kapar:

כָּפַר ḵâp̱ar; a primitive root; to cover (specifically with bitumen); figuratively, to expiate or condone, to placate or cancel: — appease, make (an atonement, cleanse, disannul, forgive, be merciful, pacify, pardon, purge (away), put off, (make) reconcile(reconciliation).

B. Old Testament View.

We see from this word that atonement covers sin. It also means appeasing or pardoning iniquity or reconciling God and man. Covering sin is an Old Covenant view, whereas we find that sin is no longer under the New Covenant. So now, let us look at appeasement, which in Greek also defines propitiation.

6. Propitiation as an Appeasement is an Act of Mercy, Not Punishment

We have examined propitiation, which means expiation that allows forgiveness. Now, let’s examine the other part of propitiation.

A. Appeasement

This example may explain the difference between punishment and appeasement. Let’s say I damaged a family heirloom belonging to my wife. She could hit me over the head with it (punishment), or I could buy some flowers and apologise (appeasement). Do you see here WHO takes action? It is not my wife who is punishing me. It is myself taking action by appeasing my wife. Jesus’ sacrifice was a pleasing aroma to the Father; it was not the Father punishing Jesus.

The word propitiation focuses on the atoning victim (Jesus), not the One requiring the sacrifice (God).

B. Propitiation – Positive Extinguishing of Guilt

In other words, propitiation is not about negative judgment (punishment). It’s about the positive extinguishing of guilt – God shows his mercy as Jesus’ sacrifice is an appeasing sacrifice to God; in the same way, my flowers are an appeasing aroma to my wife.

7. Propitiation – Bringing Appeasement and Expiation together as Acts of Mercy Not Punishment

A. The Mercy Seat is also the Greek word Hilastērion.

The ark of the covenant had a mercy seat that the High Priest would sprinkle with blood. The ark of the covenant is now in heaven.

Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple. And there were lightnings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake, and great hail.

Revelation 11:19

Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

Hebrews 2:17

it is a reversal of thinking from the Greek (and western) view of a punishing God,
to God’s mercy,
completely changes the presentation of the gospel.

8. God’s Sovereignty Allows Him to Show Mercy to Those He Called, Not Punishment

A. Old Covenant

Under the Old Covenant, God said to Moses that He chooses who He will have mercy or compassion on:

For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.”Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?”

Romans 9:15,18,20

Therefore God does not need to punish; He can choose to show mercy.

B. New Covenant

The New Covenant means that we are objects of his mercy. Paul carries on in Romans 9, using the words of the New Covenant. He links God’s mercy in verse 15 to the New Covenant in verses 25-26:

As He says also in Hosea:
“I will call them My people, who were not My people,
And her beloved, who was not beloved.”
“And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them,
‘You are not My people,’
There they shall be called sons of the living God.”

Romans 9:25-26

C. We are Vessels of Mercy

We know from Hebrews 8:7-13 that this is part of the New Covenant. And we find that those who are of the New Covenant (those who believe in Jesus as Lord) are vessels of His mercy, not His wrath.

and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called

Romans 9:23-24

Propitiation is, therefore, punishment on the forces of darkness, but to those who believe in Jesus Christ, He shows mercy.

9. God Forgives With No Need for Punishment

A. Jesus is the Express Image of the Father:

Whenever we see Jesus doing something, He expresses the Father’s image, likeness, and character.

who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

Hebrews 1:3

B. Jesus Forgives

Jesus says to the Pharisees that He, as God, forgives sins. There is no need to punish wickedness. He is saying it is just as easy to heal the sick as it is to forgive sins:

“Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”

Mark 2:7-11

C. Don’t Complicate the Gospel

We need to be careful not to complicate our gospel with atonement or propitiation. God forgives sins if we believe in Him, as the New Covenant says.

10. The Parable of the Prodigal Son Shows Mercy Not Punishment

A. Reconciled and Restored

The parable of the Prodigal Son is not about backslidden Christians; it is about humanity, which the Father is always wanting to see reconciled and restored to his family. Nowhere do we see the Father punishing the prodigal son for his sin:

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.

Luke 15:22-24

Once again, we know that propitiation is an act of mercy, not punishment.

11. The New Covenant Forgives and Forgets Sin

A. Propitiation in Action

God is sovereign and, therefore, in the New Covenant, chooses out of His mercy to forgive and forget our sins. His mercy reveals propitiation in action.

For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”
In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

Hebrews 8:12-13

Every biblical covenant requires a blood sacrifice. However, this is different in that Jesus takes His blood within His resurrected body. His blood-filled presence cleanses the whole of heaven stained by Satan’s now departed, defiling presence.

But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.

Hebrews 9:11-12

B. Covenant- The Most Relevant Part

Many Christians have got it upside down. The covenant is the most relevant part, not the Passover lamb. I hear a lot about the blood: ” Saved by the Blood,” “The power in the blood.” Yet the blood is a sign of the shed blood of the victim whose death is necessary for a covenant. The purpose of the blood is to bring in the covenant.

C. Old Covenant- Sins are Passed Over

Rereading the passage from Romans:

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,

Romans 3:25

Under the Old Covenant, the sacrifice of shed blood covered sins. They were ‘passed-over’, hence the Passover feast.

D. New Covenant-Sins are Forgiven

In the New Covenant, the sins are no more:

For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

Hebrews 8:12

The death (and therefore propitiation) by Jesus was to bring in the New Covenant that forgives sins.

For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives.

Hebrews 9:16-17

Many Christians have got it upside down. It is Covenant that is the most important part, not the sacrifice. I hear often about the blood, “saved by the blood”, the “power in the blood”. Yet the sacrificial blood is a sign of the covenant. Jesus’ death is necessary for there to be a New Covenant that allows forgiveness.

12. The Passover Teaches No Punishment for Sins

A. Remembering that Jesus is our Passover lamb.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

John 1:29

B. God’s Covenant People

The death angel in the first Passover ‘passed over’ the Hebrews because of the blood on the doorposts. The blood did not pay for their sins; it signified that they were God’s covenant people, and therefore, the angel passed over them.

For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

Exodus 12:12-13

Notice that the purpose of judgment is not on the Israelites but on the gods of Egypt.

13. Levitical Sacrifices were not Punished

A. Forgiveness is the Theme

Going back to Reformed Theology and their belief that Jesus had to be punished as the sacrificial lamb. However, we find there is no punishment for sacrificial animals for the sin offering.

They were a ‘soothing aroma’ (Lev 1:9, 17). The priests did not punish or torture the animals, who were offerings for sin. They were gifts to God so that He would overlook their sins. They were atonement offerings so that God would forgive their sins.

So the priest shall make atonement for them, and it shall be forgiven them.

Leviticus 4:20 Also Lev 4:26,31,35; Lev 5:10,13,16,18

14. Day of Atonement Sacrifices were not Punished

A. Two Goats

On the Day of Atonement, there were two goats to make atonement. The high priest would slaughter one goat, the other sent out into the wilderness, never to return.

He shall take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat.

Leviticus 16:7

B. Sin Offering

The high priest killed the sacrificial goat as a sin offering. Slaughter was humane as possible, without punishment or torture.

And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the LORD’S lot fell, and offer it as a sin offering.

Leviticus 16:9

Jesus’ torture was not God’s punishment but man’s (both Jew and Gentile) cruelty.

C. The Scapegoat is released!

The other goat was to have hands laid on it by the High Priest. It would be released into the wilderness to take away the people’s sins, transgressions, and iniquities. There was no wrath on the goat, nor was there any torture.

“And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place, the tabernacle of meeting, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat. Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man.

Leviticus 16:20-21

15. Summary – Propitiation is Mercy Not Punishment

So propitiation is closely linked to atonement but not equal to atonement.
Propitiation results in atonement. The definition of atonement is reconciliation.
Atonement is the RESULT of Jesus’ sacrifice, which brings the reconciliation between God and man.

  • Decree – the New Covenant promises sins will be no more.
  • Action – Jesus sacrificial death.
  • How – Propitiation.
  • Result – Atonement for our sins and reconciliation with God.

So, in summary:

  • There is no punishment of the Passover lamb.
  • The blood of the Passover did not pay for the sins.
  • The blood of the Passover showed that they were covenant people.
  • The sacrificial system of the Old Covenant did not punish the sacrifice.
  • Neither of the atonement goats was punished.
  • God the Father did not punish Jesus.
  • Propitiation does not mean punishment.
  • Jesus’ sacrifice appeased the Father.
  • The Father showed mercy to Jesus.
  • Jesus showed that God can forgive sins without punishment.
  • The New Covenant simply takes away sin.

God does not punish you. If you perceive punishment, then it is the devil punishing you. At the same time, the devil is trying to misrepresent the Father.

Any discipline that occurs is from a perfect and loving Father, not punishment from a distant wrathful God.

For whom the LORD loves He chastens,

Hebrews 12:6

But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.
Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?
For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.

Hebrews 12:8

© Use by Permission Awakening Impact Ministries/Dr Neville Westerbeek van Eerten 2024

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