Notes on John Stott’s
The Cross of Christ
Chapter 7: The Salvation of Sinners
Say the word propitiation today and you’re likely to encounter only blank stares. Say the same word to a first century audience and their minds would immediately turn to the pagan temples, where priests and desperate individuals made sacrifices to propitiate (appease, pacify) angry gods.
Many theologians and others who know the meaning of the word propitiation recoil at the image brought to mind when they read that Christ Jesus was “set forth as a propitiation” (Romans 3:25).
The picture of man appeasing God’s irrational anger by offering up an innocent victim is certainly not an attractive one.
But is this an accurate view of propitiation?
Certainly it is true of the sacrifices desperate pagans made to the gods who were not gods. But the sacrifice of Christ is far from this crude caricature.
What makes the propitiation Christ wrought so different than the propitiation of a pagan god?
1. The wrath of God is not capricious
Scripture makes clear that God is slow to anger and abounding in love. Far from the quick flare-ups and irrational inducements of man’s anger or the power-hungry caprices of the pagan gods, God’s wrath is His holy reaction to sin.
“The wrath of God…is His steady, unrelenting, unremitting, uncompromising antagonism to evil in all its forms and manifestations.”
~John Stott, The Cross of Christ, page 173
2. God Himself initiated the appeasement
Unlike in the pagan temples where desperate men offered sacrifices hoping to appease an angry god, at the cross God initiated the appeasement. He made a way to satisfy His wrath. In this way, propitiation is not an act born out of the terror of man but out of the love of God.
3. God Himself was the propitiation
The offering of Christ on the cross differed from the sacrifices of pagan temples in one crucial way: Jesus Christ was not a victim. Yes, He was innocent. But He was not a victim. Rather, He willingly chose to go to the cross to offer propitiation on our behalf.
Far from the caricature of propitiation described above, the cross of Christ offers a beautiful picture of propitiation colored with the love of a holy God:
God Himself appeasing His own righteous anger by offering Himself on our behalf.
(See more notes on The Cross of Christ here.)