Propitiation. That’s one you don’t hear often, but it has become one of my favorites. We really should use it more (just pass the towels). I got so excited when I started studying the big, “church” words. We quit using them because we were trying to make church “seeker friendly.” But we dumbed ourselves down, when we should have just educated our listeners.
If you look up the English word propitiation in a lexicon, you find other big, religious words – like expiation, conciliation, redemption, and justification. Webster’s dictionary defines most of these words around the concept of attempting to please God, to make atonement, find forgiveness, restore peace or friendship with God. It all sounds like things we have to do – big, heavy, burdensome things. And that’s just wrong!
In Exodus, God gives Moses the detailed instructions for building the tabernacle and everything inside it, including the Ark of the Covenant. In Leviticus, He tells him how all these things he built are to be used. On top of the Ark, Moses was told to make a seat, like a bench. The Hebrew word for this is “capporeth.” It was to be 2½ cubits long and 1½ cubits wide, the same as the Ark itself, and apparently functioning as the lid. Figuring a cubit at about 18″, that would be about 45″x 27″. It was called the mercy seat. At each end of it was a cherubim. The whole assembly of bench and cherubim was to be made of gold. Each of the cherubim was to face inward, looking at the mercy seat. The wings of the cherubim swept inward, toward one another, over the mercy seat, and touching wingtips. The Ark was in the innermost part of the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies. God told Moses, “And there I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel.”
On the annual Day of Atonement, the high priest would sacrifice a bull as a sin offering and a ram as a burnt offering. Then he would take from the congregation two male goats for a sin offering and a burnt offering. He would cast lots and thereby select one of the goats for the sacrifice. The blood of the bull was sprinkled on the east end of the mercy seat, and in front of the mercy seat. The blood of the goat was sprinkled on and in front of the mercy seat. The other goat was the “scapegoat,” and was presented alive before the Lord, and then released into the wilderness, representing the sins being carried away.
In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the word “capporeth” is always translated by the Greek word “hilasterion.” That is the word used in Romans 3:25 referring to Jesus as the one “whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.”
While the Law was given as commandments to be obeyed, we miss the point that God is the “prime mover.” He is the One who told Moses to make the mercy seat. In other words, He is the One who chose to make a way, and chose the way to reconcile man to Himself. He acted first. It was not about man attempting to appease God, please God, make atonement, find forgiveness, restore peace…. God moved first! He reached out. He made the way.
Consider then, Romans 3:21-25. God took on flesh and blood in the person of His Son, the Messiah, Jesus. Jesus became the propitiation – the Mercy Seat. It wasn’t the blood of bulls or rams or goats, but through His own blood and because of the incredible “forbearance (patience) of God that He passed over the sins previously committed.” In Jesus is the Mercy Seat, the Blood, and the Passover. In Jesus is redemption, reconciliation, propitiation, atonement, forgiveness, and salvation. He is where we come to meet God, to enter His presence. And, it is by His doing. “Apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God, He passed over the sins previously committed.” This, to me, is what Jesus meant when He said He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill!