God presented him as a propitiation in his blood…(Romans 3:25).
Propitiation is one of those big old religious sounding words that make most people scratch their heads and wonder what in the heck the Bible is talking about. In the book of Romans, the word that appears in the Greek text is “hilasterion”. It is a word rich in biblical history and one that gives a vivid word picture of what it was that Jesus accomplished when he died on the cross.
“Jesus died for you.” Most Christians affirm these words. But few ask the critical question, “How?”. The answer? Simple: “God presented him as a propitiation (hilasterion) in his blood.” Now let me explain what “hilasterion” means. Some modern translations translate the word “sacrifice of atonement”. This is a pretty good translation, but still fails to capture the rich imagery of the word.
The only other time the word appears in the New Testament is in the book of Hebrews. There it is translated as “Mercy Seat”. The Mercy Seat was the cover that sat on top of the Ark of the Covenant inside the Holy of Holies, and above which God manifested his glory in the Tabernacle and First Temple. In Hebrew, this covering was called the “kippuret”, from the Hebrew “kippur”, meaning “atonement”, as in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It was the place where the High Priest of Israel sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice to hopefully atone for the sins of the nation. If God accepted the sacrifice, the High Priest walked out of the Holy of Holies, the sacrifice had been accepted. I’ve been told a rope was tied to one of his ankles in the event he didn’t come out!
Two transactions were theoretically accomplished on Yom Kippur. God’s justice was satisfied, and man’s sin was “covered”, the root meaning of “kippur”. This is the meaning of atonement. (By the way, when the Hebrew Old Testament was translated in Greek in around 250 BC, guess which Greek word was chosen to translate “kippuret”? You guessed it…”hilasterion”!)
In the book of Hebrews, we are told that all the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement throughout the history of Israel were pointing to the ultimate sacrifice that would actually cover the sins of humanity and meet the just requirements of God’s holy nature. In other words, the blood of an animal can never take away human guilt. But when Christ rose from the dead and ascended to the Father, Hebrews tells us that he presented his own blood, not that of an animal, at the true Mercy Seat of which the earthly one was only a shadow, and once-for-all time sin was atoned for. God’s righteous requirements were met. That is how God can declare you and I, by nature unrighteous, to be righteous on the basis of what Jesus has done. He IS the Mercy Seat, and his blood is the sacrifice of atonement. It is offered to us as a gift so that we can be declared righteous as a gift. All God requires is that we make the decision to receive the gift he offers. This is the foundation of all authentic biblical faith.
(For a more detailed explanation of Romans, go to this link: http://www.highlinecc.org/go/index.php/teaching)