“God Presented Him as a Propitiation”

raiders of the lost ark

I recently reviewed a book entitled The Glory of the Atonement: Biblical, Theological, and Practical Perspectives (purchase the book here: The Glory of the Atonement: Biblical, Theological & Practical Perspectives)

The topic under review is the atonement and the nature of the work of Christ in the sacrifice he made on the cross. For Carson, it was a substitutionary death in which Christ stood in the place of His people and absorbed the wrath of God on their behalf. A hinge point within the chapter surrounds verse 25 of the text involving the Greek term hilasterion, which can be either translated as “expiation – the cleansing or wiping away of sins” or “propitiation – the appeasement or satisfaction of God’s wrath.” The reasoning behind a careful word study and the proper translation within the context is the reality that one’s understanding of the atonement can be shaped by inserting either of these two words and can be turned one of the two ways.

Carson understands the gravity of this one term, as we all should, and points the readers attention to the term hilasterion within the Septuagint (LXX). He links the term with the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant in which he writes, “the cover of the ark of the covenant over which Yahweh appeared not eh Day of Atonement and on which sacrificial blood was poured” (129).One other occurrence within the New Testament exists in the book of Hebrews in which it clearly refers to the mercy seat. In addition to this reference, the LXX references this term twenty-seven times, twenty-one of which are directly related to the mercy seat. Carson asserts, “It follows, then, that Paul is presenting Jesus as the ultimate ‘mercy seat,’ the ultimate place of atonement, and, derivatively, the ultimate sacrifice” (129).

So what does this mean? This means that God has satisfied His wrath with the ultimate sacrifice of blood through His Son Jesus Christ. This means that God is both the subject and object of propitiation as Christ’s blood has satisfied the the Old Testament sacrificial system and he has absorbed the wrath of the Father on our behalf. This means that the New Covenant of Christ’s blood has appeased God’s wrath and turned it aside from His people for all of eternity. This means that those who repent of their sin and are saved by grace through faith will not have to absorb that wrath as it has been absorbed by Christ.

Carson adds gasoline to the flame of penal substitutionary atonement by inserting the nature of hilasterion as it is viewed through the lens of the Old Testament sacrificial system and the atonement narrative. Understanding its placement in the whole of Scripture and the history behind the mercy seat adds a new dimension to the writings of Paul within this passage. One cannot merely dismiss the validity of Carson’s argument based upon the consistency of the term used throughout the LXX possessing an overwhelming commonality in translation. By making this connecting point, the authors point to the Old Covenant and the system revolving around animal sacrifice has been fulfilled through human sacrifice by the initiation and propitiation of God the Father through God the Son Jesus Christ. This idea offers strong biblical and historical support for the nature of penal substitutionary atonement.

Consider Holiness

Lamb-slain

I have been reading various works on the atonement for the “Work of Christ” seminar that I am currently enrolled in for school. Many different ideas in regard to the nature of the atonement exist. The one of which I subscribe is Penal Substitutionary Atonement. Yet, in my reading of the other processes of thought on the atonement, one that sticks out to me I am referring to as a liberal view of atonement.

The argumentation against Penal Substitutionary Atonement that sticks out in my mind is held by a number of feminist theologians and it suggests that Jesus’s death on the cross should be viewed as “divine child abuse” (J.C. Brown, “Divine Child Abuse,” Daughters of Sarah 18, no. 3 (1992): 28). This idea paints God out to be a blood thirsty, hateful entity, that poured out wrath on His innocent Son for no reason at all. Many postmoderns would question how anyone could love a God like this?

With this at the forefront of my mind and in my thoughts, I was driving my two daughters to school and my youngest daughter wanted to listen to a song that we sing at church entitle “Jesus, Thank You” (Listen here). The song is about the atonement. A line in the song states, “Your blood has washed away my sin, Jesus thank you. The Father’s wrath completely satisfied, Jesus thank you.” As I listened to this song, I began to think through the words that were being sung. They were words about blood. Listening to the lyrics I began to think that this song is seemingly morbid as a blood sacrifice is being made in order to appease the wrath of God. To an outsider, or non-Christian, this language might cause some problems.

But what the liberal and postmodern theologians are doing is gauging their position based upon their own subjective, modern ideas of who God is and how God should act. Very few times will you encounter a person holding a position such as this enforcing their perspective with the whole counsel of God, or even a small portion of Scripture.

What is being forgotten in the midst of this debate is the holiness of God. Considering the depths of what it took to atone for the sins of God’s people, we cannot look past the holiness of God if we truly desire to understand the atonement. The blood sacrifice is a direct result of the relationship that God’s holiness shares with sin. God’s holiness is, in the most severe sense, opposed to sin. If we keep this at the forefront of our minds, while the Penal Substitutionary Atonement might seem extreme, the holiness of God demanded the sacrifice.

It is possible to spend the next two years posting about the nature of the atonement and what I have put forth in this short essay, but we do not have the time for that. The takeaway from this for all of us is the relationship that we have with God before Christ. Our relationship with God before Christ is marked by wrath. We are by nature enemies of God, children of destruction. Now, because of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, we are adopted into His family as His children, coheirs with Christ to an eternal inheritance as Christ stood in our place as our substitute and absorbed the wrath of God for us. “Full atonement can it be, Hallelujah! What a Savior.”