Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. – Hebrews 2:17

There’s a word you don’t hear every day.

[Disclaimer – we’re going to get a little geeky today, but the prize in this cereal box (to be read “end of the post”) will be worth it.]

According to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary some synonyms for propitiate are appease, assuage, conciliate, disarm, gentle, mollify, pacify, placate.

But let’s step back to the Greek and see the word used in the original letter.

The Greek word “hilaskomai” only shows up twice in the New Testament, here, and in Romans 3:25. For a sense of how it’s used there, let’s look at a couple verses. Honestly, Romans is one of those books where reading any less than chapters at a time, it’s easy to lose the author’s intent, but for our purposes today, these three verses will deepen our understanding of this word.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; – Romans 3:23-25

So this bit starts in VERY familiar territory, standing on the yellow lines in the middle of the Roman road. But we quickly move from the familiar into ‘I never saw that before.’ Check it out.

We missed God’s glory through our sin. That’s where we normally stop. Missing glory and stuck in sin, but that’s not where the text stops. It motors right into the solution.

We were justified by His grace when He bought us back using Christ Jesus as payment. God publicly displayed Jesus as the solution to this sin problem. By the shedding of Jesus’ blood, God was able to take our sin out of the way and put us back into a position where He could lavish His love upon us.

WOW – that’s good, but let’s not stop following this path quite yet.

This Greek word, “hilaskomai” though only used twice in the New Testament was used in the Septuagint (LXX.) If you remember back a few episodes, that’s the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures often quoted in the New Testament by its authors, especially our guy.

This is really cool. In the LXX today’s word shows up in a surprising spot.

“You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. – Exodus 25:17

Our word, propitiation, used here, in noun form, is translated “Mercy seat.”

Mercy seat!

Did you get that?

The mercy seat sat above the ark of the covenant. This ark represented the dwelling place of the Lord of Hosts from the birth of the nation until Christ’s death on the cross. The mercy seat annually received the sprinkling of the blood offered for all of God’s children. This blood, pointing forward toward Jesus’ blood shed on Calvary, pointing backward to the blood of the lamb slain before the foundations of the earth, would wipe clean the handwriting of ordinances against any and all who would come to the Father through faith in Jesus.

Stick with me one more minute, because we need to tie a bow around this baby.

The one main thing that distinguishes the High Priest from all the others in the priesthood is their interaction with the mercy seat.

All the priests would serve in the temple and in the holy place, but only the high priest for the year would step into the holy of holies, where the ark and the mercy seat were. Only the high priest could step beyond the veil and into the presence of God.

Once a year they would tie a rope on him and put bells on his linens, and in he went with fear and trembling, to offer the blood sacrifice for the sins of all of Israel.

The position of high priest held great honor and great fear.

Jesus, through His likeness with us, becomes our great high priest, and through of His likeness with God, He can enter the holy of holies without fear. Once there, He stands worthy to offer His own blood, sprinkled on the heavenly mercy seat–the true place of propitiation–once and for all solving our sin problem. The blood of this spotless lamb offered to the most holy Lord of Host washes away God’s sin-consciousness. [Tweet this]



God said He remembers our sins no more. He is no longer sin-conscious. Paul goes as far as to say “… not counting their trespasses against them …”. – 2 Corinthians 5:19

Man, this is shoutin’ territory!



Thank you, Jesus!

BenHeadshotAnd thank you for stopping by.

I’ll see you again soon,


4 thoughts on “Propitiation

  1. I wrote a post on April 28, Propitiation or Expiation. I used J. I. Packer’s definitions of the two words and a quote from Packer regarding the importance in Propitiation versus Expiation. Then, in reading this post, I have learned much more. Thanks.

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