The Wall: Propitiation (Part 4 of 8)


To illustrate the doctrine of reconciliation, we see man and God hopelessly separated by “The Wall,” an impassable barrier. The Wall constitutes MANKIND’S PROBLEM. In this section of our study we will examine the third brick in The Wall and learn how GOD’S SOLUTION removed it at the cross.


The third brick in the wall is the character of God. You may be wondering why the character of God would constitute a problem for mankind?” God is love, right? Here is why: another aspect of God’s character is holiness, which means He is righteous (absolute goodness) and just (totally fair). Therefore, He, in no manner or way may compromises His integrity by having fellowship with any form of sin or even a sinful creature ( 1 John 1:5). So when the Bible speaks of God’s holiness, it is referring to the divine characteristics of righteousness and justice. These qualities are absolutes that cannot be compromised. Therefore, sin is an affront to God’s holiness. Please don’t get me wrong. God is not self-righteous or a prude. Those qualities are reserved for religious humans who prefer legalism over spirituality. Sin is simply incompatible with His divine nature. If you are human and proclaim to be without sin, the Bible says you are a liar (1 John 1:8).The Bible says, “Therefore, just as through one man (Adam) sin entered the world, and (spiritual) death through sin, and thus, οὕτως, literally, in this manner,(spiritual) death spread to all men, because, ἐφ’ ᾧ, literally, on the basis of which (spiritual death), all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). What this often mistranslated verse is saying is that we are not sinners because we sin. To the contrary, we sin because we came into this world spiritually dead, and for that reason, we commit sin (Romans 3:23). As a result, we are incapable of entering into the presence of God (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 8:8 cf. Exodus 33:20). Divine righteousness demands that every sinner be judged for his sins. In view of God’s justice, there is no one who is worthy to escape condemnation. As a result, man has a problem.


God’s solution to the problem of the character of God is propitiation. Propitiation refers to the fact that God was satisfied, even pleased with the absolute righteousness of Jesus Christ and was therefore justified in accepting His sinless life as the ransom price for our eternal souls.

In Romans 3:25, the Greek word, hilastarion, is translated “propitiation” in the King James Version (KJV) and “a sacrifice of atonement” in the New International Version (NIV). No matter how one translates it, the Greek word means that which appeases, makes atonement, or satisfies someone who has been offended. But in Hebrews 9:5, the same word is translated “mercy seat” (KJV) and “atonement cover” (NIV). Why two applications of the same Greek word?

Man! That is a lot of stuff to process. Therefore, please allow me to connect you with the ways of the ancients, specifically, the Romans, They were not like you and me. They did not grow up in a Western, Judaea -Christian society. What we are about to discuss is a matter of perspective.


The Pantheon

The Pantheon was originally a temple dedicated to all the gods of Ancient Rome. The way we see it today was generally how it was rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in 125 AD.

The text in view here, in Romans, was written to believers living in a pagan culture. From a Gentile perspective, a propitiation, was a sacrifice to appease the gods. The purpose of the sacrifice would be to gain the favour of the gods or get them to overlook some sin or shortcoming. In the Bible, propitiation refers to the sacrificial death of Christ which satisfied the holiness of God on our behalf. Paul simply used the word to communicate a truth of the gospel in a way that believers from a pagan culture could relate to.

Now let’s look at the word, propitiation, from another perspective, specifically, the ancient Jewish perspective.


Herod’s Temple

Propitiation in the Old Testament: The Biblical concept of propitiation relates back to the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament.  The Hebrew word for propitiation is kapphoreth. From the Jewish perspective, it meant “mercy seat“. When the Old Testament was translated into Greek by the Hebrew scholars of the third century B. C., the Hebrew word, kapphoreth, was translated with the Greek word, hilastarion (Exodus 25:17).



The Day of Atonement: Prior to the Cross, God ordained specific rituals as expressions of worship and as training aids for communicating Biblical truths to people who were largely illiterate. Among these observances, certain animal sacrifices were used to teach God’s people about their Messiah, their Savior, and the plan of salvation. The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16; 23:26-32) was the most solemn of all the rituals that involved animal sacrifices because it signified the sacrificial death of the Lamb of God.

Yom Kippur literally means “the day of covering” (Leviticus 23:27). This was the only day that anyone was ever permitted to enter the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle, or in the temple after it had been constructed. On this day only the high priest was able to enter, but only after he had brought an offering on behalf of his own sins (Leviticus 16:11-13).

Two sacrifices were required on this holy day: a young bull (Leviticus 16:6) and one of two goats (Leviticus 16:7-10, 15-16). The high priest sacrificed the bull on the brass altar as a sin offering for himself. The blood, representing Christ’s spiritual death on the cross, was collected in a basin and carried past the huge curtain into the Holy of Holies. There he sprinkled it on the “mercy seat.”

From the Hebrew perspective, the Greek word, hilastarion, as well as the Hebrew word, kapporeth, both meant “mercy seat.” They refer to the lid of the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was a wooden box overlaid with gold. The acacia wood spoke of the humanity of Christ; and the gold, of His deity. Together these materials represented the uniqueness of the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

The ark contained three items: a pot of manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the stone tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were written. Each of these items depicted sin. The tables of the Law were a reminder of Israel’s violations of the Mosaic Law, and therefore showed transgression against God’s authority. Aaron’s rod exhibited rejection of God’s plan regarding the authority of the Levitical priesthood, and the pot of manna called to mind man’s rejection of divine provision.

The “mercy seat”, itself was the lid that fit over the top of the ark. On each end of the “mercy seat,” a golden figure of a cherub or angel knelt, looking down. One cherub represented the righteousness of God; the other, His justice. In between the two was the Shekinah Glory, a supernatural manifestation of God’s presence (you can Google it). Together they represented the holiness of God which was looking down into the arc at the sins of Israel in judgment. But once a year, on the Day of Atonement, a wonderful event took place. The blood of a bull was sprinkled on top of the “mercy seat”, so that when righteousness and justice looked down, they saw the representation of the blood of Christ covering the sins of the high priest. God’s holiness was satisfied on his, the high priest’s, behalf.

The high priest then went out and sacrificed one of the goats as an offering for the people. Bringing the goat’s blood in a bowl, he entered the Holy of Holies a second time, and again he sprinkled blood over the “mercy seat.” This time the spiritual death of Christ was dramatized as covering the sins of all the people.

Without the symbolic blood of animals, not even the High Priest of Israel could enter the Holy of Holies. Jesus Christ, having completed His work on the cross, breathed His last words, “It is finished,” and His soul and spirit departed His broken body.  (John 19:30). At that point, the great curtain that blocked entry to the Holy of Holies was miraculously, ripped from top to bottom by the mighty power of God (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45). This event told the world that Christ had removed the third brick in The Wall between God and man.

Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He (Christ) entered the Most Holy Place once for all having obtained eternal redemption (for all mankind), ” (Hebrews 9:12).

Jesus Christ never entered the Holy of Holies in the Temple which was a mere shadow. But when He ascended, He entered the real Holy of Holies, the literal presence of God in heaven (Hebrews 9:24). In contrast to the Levitical high priest who had to enter the Holy of Holies twice, the Lord, Jesus Christ, our high priest, required no special offering on His own behalf. Instead, the perfect Lamb of God offered Himself as a sacrifice to pay for the sins of all mankind.

Therefore, “He (Christ) is the atoning sacrifice, hilasmos, lit. propitiation, for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).


When God looks at the believer, He never looks beyond the blood of Jesus Christ that covers our sins. As a result, His holiness is eternally satisfied, and we are free to enter into His loving embrace.

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