Jesus Christ Is The Propitiation For Our Sins

The Apostle John writes these reassuring words: "My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world" (1 John 2:1, 2).

What does it mean that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins? John uses the same word in chapter four: "In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:9, 10).

What does the word 'propitiation' mean? These are the only two passages in the New Testament where this specific Greek word is used, but twelve other words are used that have a similar meaning (from four word families).

One English word must sometimes be used to translate several Greek words. Thus, a discussion of the Greek words can help us to understand this subject.

The English word 'propitiation' refers to something that makes peace by satisfying a demand. In reference to religion it refers to an atonement for sin to regain God's favor. Thus these passages teach that God gave His Son as an atonement for our sins because He loves us.

The Greek word here, ‛ιλασμός, is a noun, defined as atonement, expiation, propitiation, a means of appeasing.

Two other words in the same family are also used to describe what Jesus has done for us.

"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).

Here we have the verb form of the same word, ‛ιλάσκομαι, defined as 'to atone for (sin) or to make reconciliation'. Notice that this 'making amends for sin' relates to the activity of a priest and that the Messiah had to be a man to accomplish this task.

Another word in the same family is ‛ιλαστήρον that refers to the 'mercy seat', a place of atonement in the Old Testament temple (Hebrews 9:5) or to an atoning victim, an expiatory sacrifice.

This word is found in Romans 3:25. How Christ serves as a propitiation for our sins is explained by Paul in Romans 3:21-26. "But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 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, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:21-26).

We all sin and fall short of the glory of God, which separates us from God. Because God is righteous, He cannot condone sin. Thus, amends must be made for our sin before we can be reconciled with God. God accomplished this by sending His own Son to atone for our sins.

"The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). Although we deserve to die because of our sins, God sent His Son to die in our place so we can be saved.

In verse 24 we find a word from a different family with a related meaning: redemption. We are "justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith" (Romans 3:24, 25).

Five words from this family are used in the New Testament to describe redemption through Christ. The root meaning of these words is 'ransom'. A ransom is what is paid so someone can be set free.

Here we have the word απολύτρωσις. The prefix απο gives this word the added force that the ransom has been paid in full. It is defined as 'redemption, deliverance, a liberation accomplished by the payment of a ransom'. This word appears in the following passages to describe what Jesus has done for us.

"But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30 NASV).

"In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace" (Ephesians 1:7).

"He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:13, 14).

"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. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance" (Hebrews 9:11-15).

This word, as used in verse fifteen, indicates that the blood of Christ also cleansed those who served God under the Old Covenant. The thousands of animal sacrifices were not in and of themselves effectual, but sins were forgiven because they were representations of the true sacrifice that would be made later by the Lamb of God.

In verse twelve a different word is used for redemption, λύτρωσις, defined as 'redemption, a ransoming, deliverance from the penalty of sin': "With His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:12).

We notice that this word is related to the work of a priest who offers a sacrifice for the sins of the people.

Remember that this word family is based on the root word for ransom. The basic verb is λυτρόω which means 'to ransom, to redeem, to liberate by payment of a ransom'.

Paul uses this word to describe our purification by the sacrifice of Christ: "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works" (Titus 2:11-14).

This word is also used by Peter: "And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Peter 1:17-19).

The basic noun for ransom is λύτρον which is used in Mark 10:45. "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45 // Matthew 20:28).

To whom is the ransom paid? This question has been hotly debated. Some even claim that the ransom was paid to the devil! But the devil is owed nothing. His power is solely negative. We are in the power of the devil only because we have chosen to sin and rebel against God. When God forgives our sins and transfers us into the kingdom of His son (Colossians 1:13) the devil no longer has us in his grip.

The ransom is paid to satisfy the justice of God. God's righteousness requires that sin be punished. Because of His love for us He sent His Son to become a man, to live without sin, and to take upon Himself the punishment for our sins, He "who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness -- by whose stripes you were healed" (1 Peter 2:24).

The word αντίλυτρον, that also means 'ransom: what is given in exchange for another as the price of his redemption', is found in Paul's first letter to Timothy. "For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time" (1 Timothy 2:5, 6).

Two other words used to describe the atonement of Christ have the basic meaning 'to buy'.

The word εξαγοράζω means 'to buy up, to buy back, buy off, to ransom, to redeem'. "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree')" (Galatians 3:13). "But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons" (Galatians 4:4, 5).

The word αγοράζω is simply the common word for 'buy'. God has bought us with the blood of His Son!

"Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body" (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20).

"You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men" (1 Corinthians 7:23).

Certain false teachers "will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them" (2 Peter 2:1).

The 'new song' is sung in heaven by those who have been purchased by the blood of Christ. "And they sang a new song, saying: 'You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation'" (Revelation 5:9). "They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth. These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb" (Revelation 14:3, 4).

Another word family has the basic meaning of 'restore a relationship, reconcile'.

One form is αποκαταλλάσσω which means 'to reconcile, to restore to favor'. Paul explains how God reconciled us to Himself by Christ.

"For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight" (Colossians 1:19-22).

"For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity" (Ephesians 2:14-16).

This word family has the verb καταλλάσσω and the noun καταλλαγή: 'to reconcile' and 'reconciliation'. The basic meaning is 'reunite after separation'.

"For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation" (Romans 5:10, 11).

"Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins! We have all sinned and deserve to die. But God loves us so much that He sent his Son to undergo the penalty for our sins. He redeemed us by His blood. He bore our sins in His body on the cross. He paid the price for our sins so God could forgive us without violating His own righteousness.

If you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, if you are willing to turn away from sin and dedicate your life to God, if you are willing to confess Christ, and if you are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for the remission of your sins (Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38), you will be redeemed by the blood of Christ. Your sins will be washed away (Acts 22:16) and you will be reconciled to God (Romans 5:10).

Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982,
Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers unless indicated otherwise.
Permission for reference use has been granted.

Published in The Old Paths Archive