HOW CAN SINNERS BE ACCEPTED BY A HOLY GOD? Through Propitiation!
In Romans 3:25, Paul writes about another misunderstood (and sometimes mispronounced) salvation doctrine: propitiation: “whom [Christ]God set forth as propitiation by His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed” (NKJV).
THE PENALTY IS PASSED! Paul has previously spoken of redemption—where he has described salvation in terms of a slave being purchased and set free. Christ paid the price to free us from sin with His precious blood. Now, we move from the slave market to the temple altar. Propitiation means that God’s wrath has been appeased and His righteous demands have been satisfied through the sacrifice of His Son. Paul has already declared that we sinners are under wrath (Rom.1:18) and deserve condemnation (Rom.2:5-8). Yet, that wrath passed upon Christ—who suffered in our stead.
The word “propitiation” is a fascinating one. In the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Old Testament—and also in Hebrews in the New Testament, it is the word “mercy seat.” The “mercy seat” was the golden lid atop the Ark of the Covenant—at either end two Cherubim with wings outstretched gazed as sentinels upon the mercy seat. Inside the chest were the tables of stone which God engraved with His own finger in giving the Ten Commandments to Moses. The picture is of God’s messengers of judgment, the holy angels, looking upon God’s holy law, ready to bring retribution upon those who would violate those laws.
So, it was, on the Day of Atonement, that the High Priest would enter in and sprinkle the blood of the lamb upon the mercy seat, signifying that the nation’s sins had been covered by blood and forgiveness was offered. The ritual pointed to the reality when Christ would fulfill that symbolism by dying as the Lamb of God on Calvary. He did so, that our sins could be atoned for.
God cannot sweep sin under the carpet—death is demanded for sin—from Eden until today. Don’t miss what Paul is saying at the end of verse twenty five. Even the Old Testament saints, like Abraham and Moses and David and the rest, could not be saved without the death of Christ. The blood of bulls and goats and lambs could not actually atone for sins. The writer of Hebrews says, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins…But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God.” (Heb.10:4, 12). Since the death of Christ was still in the future for believers in the Old Covenant, “in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed” (Rom.3:25).
In other words, those prior to Calvary, who were justified by faith, were saved on the “lay away plan.” Let’s say it’s early in the Christmas shopping season and you find the perfect gift for a loved one. You don’t have the money to pay for it, but you are afraid they might sell out of that item—and for sure, you’ve learned your lesson about credit cards—so, you put it on “lay away.” You put it in that department of the store, your name is on it, and it becomes yours later, when it is paid for. When the Old Testament saints died, they went to paradise where they remained on “lay away” until their penalty which they owed was paid in full by Jesus on the cross. Then, in His ascension, He emptied paradise and ushered the “spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb.12:23) into heaven and the presence of Holy God (Eph.4:8-10).