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Propitiation (3)

Martin Hayward, Faversham, England

What Are The Results Of Propitiation? (continued)

God’s dealings are vindicated

In Old Testament times, God blessed men by reckoning them righteous when they believed in Him. Romans 3.25 indicates that the propitiatory work of Christ vindicates God for so acting. It can now be seen that God was blessing in anticipation, crediting believers with the results of Christ’s work before they had been achieved. He also remitted, or passed over, their sins in forbearance, holding back from judging those sins in virtue of what His Son would do at Calvary.

God’s glory is fully displayed

There is no attribute of God which has not been fully expressed at Calvary. This is why the apostle Paul speaks of rejoicing in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, “by whom we have now received the atonement” (Rom 5.11). By His sacrificial work at Calvary, Christ has brought the character of God out into full and glorious display. Those who are brought by faith into the good of that work are enabled to behold that display, and to rejoice in it. Would we know divine holiness, or righteousness, or love, or wrath, or any other aspect of the Person of God? Then we must look to the cross. We shall not be disappointed.

God’s mercy is available

The repentant sinner who called upon God to be merciful to him is the first person in the New Testament to use a word based on propitiation; in effect praying ‘God be merciful to me on the basis of propitiation.’ He went down to his house justified (Lk 18.13-14). Under the terms of the New Covenant, God promises “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness” (Heb 8.12). The mercy seat was the same width and breadth as the ark, telling us that the ark (illustrating Christ’s Person), and the mercy seat (Christ’s work), were perfectly matched. But we are not told the thickness of the gold of the mercy seat, for there is an infinite supply of mercy for those who believe; enough to keep them secure for all eternity.

God’s forgiveness is assured

In Hebrews 10.5-8 we have the Spirit of Christ, in the psalmist, foretelling His work of sacrifice. Then we have the Spirit’s direct testimony telling us of the results of that work (Heb 10.15-17). God promises emphatically that He will not remember the sins and iniquities of His people any more, since He brought those sins into remembrance at Calvary, and Christ dealt with them effectively there. “No more” means in no way, and at no time. Note that God pledges to positively not remember; not negatively to forget. We may forget, and then remember again, whereas God promises not to remember for ever.

God’s people are preserved

The Lord Jesus spoke to Mary Magdalene after He was risen, and instructed her to tell His brethren that He was about to “ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (Jn 20.17). Thus, He would still be the link between His people and God, maintaining them in His dual role of Advocate with the Father, and High Priest in things pertaining to God.

The basis of His advocacy is two-fold: His Person, for He is Jesus Christ the righteous; and His work, for He is the propitiation for our sins (1 Jn 2.1-2). The apostle John was concerned about believers sinning. The sins of believers are just as obnoxious to God, and just as deserving of wrath, as those of unbelievers. But we are “saved from wrath through him” (Rom 5.9), as He pleads the merits of His work. He is, says John, the propitiatory offering for our sins. Not was, but is. In other words, the One who acts for us in Heaven as our Advocate is the very same One who hung upon the cross as a sacrifice for our sins.

The Lord Jesus is also our High Priest:

Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted (Heb 2.17-18).

These verses form a bridge between chapter two, with its emphasis on why the Lord Jesus took manhood, and chapters three and four, which tell of the way in which Israel was tempted in the wilderness. Note in particular the word “for” which begins verse 18. Too little attention has been paid to this word, and hence the connection between verses 17 and 18 is often lost. The reason why we have a High Priest who is merciful and faithful is that He has been here in manhood, and suffered being tempted. When His people pass through trials, He undertakes to deal with their cause. Because He has been here, and has been tested in all points like as we are, He is able to help us when we cry to Him. The word for succour was used by the woman of Canaan in Matthew 15.25, when she cried out “Lord, help me.” He is able to point us to the ways in which He overcame in the wilderness temptation, and thus we are also strengthened to withstand trials.

But what if we fall, and sin? In that case, He comes to our aid in another way. We see it typified negatively in Leviticus 10.16-20. The priests were commanded to eat the sin offerings, if the blood thereof had not been brought into the sanctuary. But, at the end of the consecration of the priesthood, Moses was angry on God’s behalf, for the priests had failed in this. Moses said “God hath given it you to bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord” (Lev 10.17). One of the functions of the priesthood, then, was to personally identify with the sin offering by eating it and, by so doing, bear the iniquity of the congregation, taking responsibility for their failure, while being safeguarded by the fact that a sin offering had been accepted by God. As they did this, the Scripture explicitly says that they made atonement for the people (Lev 10.17). We see, therefore, what the writer to the Hebrews means when he talks of Christ making reconciliation or propitiation for the sins of the people as High Priest. He is indicating that Christ personally identifies Himself with His sin offering work at Calvary, and thus takes responsibility for the failures of His people under temptation as He pleads their cause before God.

God’s purpose for the earth is furthered

When Adam, the head of the first creation, fell, all creation had to be subjected to vanity, or else a fallen man would have been head over an unfallen creation. Now that the Lord Jesus has obtained rights over the earth by His death, He is able to bring in new conditions for God. He can now righteously deliver the present creation from the bondage of corruption into which it was brought by the fall of man (Rom 8.19-23). Colossians 1.20 assures us that, on the basis of the blood of His cross, all things, whether in earth or in Heaven, can be reconciled to God, for that alienation between God and His creation which took place at the Fall can be remedied. Notice it is things, not people, that are spoken of in that verse as being reconciled.

God’s intention to create a new heavens and new earth can be realised

Before God can righteously introduce an eternal earth and heavens, it must be evident that He has dealt with the sin that marred the first creation. Having dealt with it through Christ, He is able to bring in new things that will never be spoiled. Daniel was told that Messiah the Prince would bring in “everlasting righteousness” (Dan 9.24), and this He will do, on the basis of His death. It only remains for God to announce “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21.5), and a “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” shall be established (2 Pet 3.13). At last there will be a settled and congenial place in which righteousness can dwell, after all the turmoil brought in by Adam’s sin. At last those profound words, spoken by John the Baptist, will be fully brought to pass: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn 1.29).

(Concluded)

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