Polytheists picture their gods as becoming angry at the slightest offense. They believe the guilty worshipper will be punished. A propitiatory sacrifice must be made to appease the deity. However, Jehovah is not an irrational, moody, temperamental God who needs to be placated. His dissatisfaction with sinful man is based on the opposition of His holy nature to all that is evil. God is never seen as being reconciled to man. God has no needs. The enmity exists in the hearts of those who need to be reconciled to Him. Although man is alienated from God through sin, this barrier can be removed.
The Hebrew term for “propitiation” is kaphar and denotes a covering. The concept was initially associated with Levitical expiatory animal sacrifices which were viewed as a covering for sin. The Bible consistently stresses that no human being can pay for their own sins. Expiation only takes place via the death of a substitute. Under the old covenant, this required the death of an animal. In the New Testament it is through Christ’s ultimate and final sacrifice.
The only remedy for the guilt of sin is the blood God’s Son shed on Calvary (I Jn. 2:2 & 4:10). Kaphar is translated as “propitiation” (hilasterion) in Greek and is always used in conjunction with Jesus’ atonement (Rom. 3:25). Just as the high priest offered animal blood to cover sin, so Christ offered Himself as the propitiation for our sins. Propitiation focuses on the vicarious work of Christ who provides the way for man to be reconciled to God (II Cor. 5:20). God accepts what Jesus accomplished on Calvary and is propitious toward all who repent.
Through repentance and faith in Christ’s expiation, sin and the accompanying guilt is covered in the eyes of God. He now accepts the repentant one as righteous. Through belief in Christ’s propitiation, punishment is canceled and righteousness is imparted (Hebrews 2:17). God’s judgment throne becomes an altar of mercy for those who know His Son as their Savior. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Have you personally been propitiated to God?