One could easily make the case that the most important word in the Bible is the word propitiation (pro-pi-she-a-shun). The immeasurable value of the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross is made known through this word. It is the Greek word hilesterion, which is found five times in the Bible. Four times it is translated propitiation and once it is translated mercy seat (Rom. 3:25–26; 1 John 2:2, 4:10; Heb. 2:17, 9:5). God has opened to us truth that no human eyes have seen, no human ears have never heard, truth that has never before entered the human mind. Paul said that what is visible is temporary. It will pass away and only God’s invisible truth will remain. God opens to the eyes of our heart this incredible truth through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:9-10; 2 Cor. 4:16-18).
One such truth is made known through the word propitiation. In order to receive the full impact of this word we must go back into Old Testament times. The animals died; the blood flowed, yet not a single sacrifice ever fully satisfied God. If that had been the case, the sacrificial system would have been abolished (Heb. 10:1–5). The entire Old Testament sacrificial system provided merely a shadow or mirror image of what God required to forever pay for sin. A glimpse was made known to the Jewish people through an elaborate ceremony performed once every year. The high priest entered into a small room in the tabernacle called the most holy place. What happened in this room was private, it could not be seen by the people.
The priest would sprinkle blood on the mercy seat, a small gold plate covering the ark of the covenant. This act was to make atonement for the sins of the priests and the people. Atonement is the Hebrew word kippur meaning covering (Ex. 25:21-22; Heb. 9:6-14). This happened once every year on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). This day was the Jews’ high holy day, a day filled with a combination of anxiety, fear, awe, and mystery. On this day, the great and awesome “I Am,” the sovereign, eternal king of the universe, visited with His chosen people, the Jews. But not without the blood offering. Because this was to happen once a year, the people realized that the blood of animals (this ceremony) never permanently removed their guilt or the penalty of their sin. The guilt always returned. The action of the high priest was so important that the people tied a rope around his ankles so that if he died in the process, he could be quickly pulled out and replaced.
Centuries later, God became a member of the human race in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He did so to become the real High Priest who would make the final and forever offering for sin. On a hill called Calvary, God’s special Priest made the sacrifice that would end all sacrifices. While Christ’s body was hanging on a cross, His spirit was extremely active. Just before He died, He spoke the Greek word tetelestai, it is finished. At that moment, unobserved by human eyes, Christ entered a greater and more perfect tabernacle that was not made with human hands. He did not take with Him the blood of an animal; He took His own blood. With His blood He made the final payment for sin. He entered this tabernacle once, and once was enough. The earthly tabernacle made with human hands was just a shadow of a real heavenly temple where God the Father dwells. Jesus Christ carried His blood into the heavenly temple, into the very presence of God. He forever put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:25–26).
In the quietness of heaven, far from the searching eyes of humanity, the real High Priest stood before God the Father in a private meeting. There He provided the final and forever blood offering for sin. This is the sacrifice to which all of these symbols pointed—God’s clothing of Adam and Eve with animal skins; Abel’s sacrifice; the altars of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the brazen altar; the altar of incense; and the mercy seat. It was God alone who demanded to be satisfied, and it was Christ alone who achieved satisfaction.
God the Father finally, fully, and forever accepted the one sacrifice of God the Son for sin. The incredible benefit of this sacrifice is being offered today to all that hear and believe the gospel. 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. This was to demonstrate His righteousness because in the forbearance of God He passed over sins previously committed (Rom. 3:24–27). Jesus Christ did not make a down payment for sin and then ask us to pick up the rest of the tab. God’s work of salvation in Christ Jesus happened long before we were here. Are we to suppose that we could possibly do something today to persuade God to be just a little more gracious to us than He has been in Jesus Christ? What more could we do that could in any way cause God to love us more than He loves us in Christ? God paid the debt we could not pay, and the payment He made was enough. God is fully and forever satisfied. Blessings!