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.