FIVE COMMUNION MEDITATIONS ON 1 JOHN 2:1-2 – NUMBER 3
CHRIST OUR PROPITIATION
Jack Cottrell — Summer 2017
Notice how Jesus is described in these first two verses from the second chapter of First John — “My little children, I am writing these things 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 those of the whole world.”
In previous meditations I have explained how Jesus is our ADVOCATE, and how he is “Jesus Christ the RIGHTEOUS.” Here I will focus on the third description of Him: “He Himself is the PROPITIATION for our sins.” This is a bit of a strange word – “propitiation” – but it accurately represents who Jesus is for us.
The Greek word here is hilasmos. It has been translated in many different ways in Bible versions, e.g., propitiation, expiation, reconciliation, payment, atonement, atoning sacrifice. The two most common translations are “propitiation” (about 10 of the 25 I examined) and “atoning sacrifice (8 or 9). But however we translate it, we still have to explain it. I will do that briefly.
First, WHAT kind of thing is a hilasmos, or propitiation? Remember: Jesus IS this propitiation; so what IS He? Basically, a hilasmos is something of value or of importance that is given by or passed along from one person to another, for a specific purpose. It is something that takes the form of a gift, an offering, a payment, or a sacrifice offered up by one person to another person. This gift can be anything that is acceptable to its recipient. In this case, this gift or offering is JESUS HIMSELF; and the person to whom He is giving Himself is GOD THE FATHER.
The second question is, WHY is Jesus taking the form of a propitiation that he is giving to the Father? Here is where the translation of “atoning sacrifice” helps us. What is an “atonement”? What are we doing when we “make atonement” to someone? Usually, to “atone for” something is to make up for some wrong we have done against the person to whom the offering is given. That person has somehow been harmed, hurt, wronged, irritated, or disturbed. Thus a propitiation is literally—and this is important—AN OFFERING MEANT TO TURN AWAY WRATH.
For example, once I was in a flower shop ordering flowers for a funeral, and I noticed some cards on the counter that could be purchased to go along with a gift of flowers. One card had the drawing of a sheepishly-grinning man’s head sticking out of the door of a doghouse. The point is that the man who buys this card to go with his bouquet of flowers has done something to upset his wife, and he can just sleep “in the doghouse” as far as she is concerned! Thus he is purchasing flowers as a propitiation to present to his wife: an offering to turn away her wrath.
Jesus is this kind of propitiation. On the cross He is offering Himself to the Father, to turn away the Father’s wrath!
The next question is about this wrath: with WHOM is the Father angry, and about what? John answers this clearly: Jesus is a propitiation for SINS. God is angry because of sins! OK – sins committed by whom? By Jesus? Did Jesus sin? Is God angry with Jesus because of some sins Jesus committed? Is Jesus a propitiation being offered to turn God’s wrath away from Himself?
NO! NO! A thousand times, NO! John specifically says Jesus is a propitiation “for OUR sins”! For OUR sins — that’s you and I! We have brought God’s wrath upon ourselves by our own sins. We deserve this wrath. By rights, we should be in hell for eternity. But Jesus is the propitiation for our sins! He presents Himself as an offering, on the cross, to DIVERT God’s wrath away from us!
The last question is, HOW does this work? How does He turn God’s wrath away from us? By putting Himself in our place, by offering Himself up in our stead, by inviting God the Father to pour out His holy wrath against sin upon Himself instead of upon us, the ones who deserve it! This is how he becomes the propitiation for our sins.
As you sit there today eating and drinking the emblems of the Lord’s Supper, you can rest assured that ONLY the LOVE of God is being poured out upon you, because the Father has already poured out His wrath upon Jesus your propitiation.