“God loved us… and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins”
~ 1 John 4:10 (NKJV)
“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
~ John 1:29 (NKJV)
In the beautiful drama of redemption, Christ acts as the twofold Cure for the sins of His people. Biblically, there are two essential and distinct (but not separate) aspects to the redeeming characteristic and efficacy in the salvation of sinners through the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Theologically, these two aspects of salvation are known as propitiation and expiation.
In 1 John 4:10, the Bible says God’s Son, Jesus, was sent to be the propitiation of our sins. What is John telling us here? The idea behind the word propitiation means to satisfy an obligation and to turn away the wrath of a righteous God who demands that His justice be satisfied. Sin incurs the anger or wrath of God. Sin offends God’s perfect sense of right or justice. Sin needs to be propitiated that the sinner might come out from under God’s holy wrath. Jesus is our propitiation. He who knew no sin became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ bore the wrath of the Father for His people (Is. 53:4-6). Jesus propitiated our sins; that is He met the perfect requirement of justice and turned the holy wrath of God from us and took it upon Himself on the Cross.
In John 1:29 we find the second vitally important characteristic to divine mercy – the expiation of our sins. John tells us there in verse 29 of chapter 1 Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This is expiation – it is to remove the guilt, the burden and the stain of sin from the life of the sinner. Under the Old Covenant, the sins of Israel were symbolically placed on the scapegoat and then the scapegoat was sent outside the camp, out from the presence of God and His people. There was expiation of their sins (Lev. 16:20-22). Jesus was led away outside the walls of Jerusalem, outside the camp of Israel to a place called Golgotha (Jn. 19:17) where He took and bore the sins of His people on the Cross. Jesus removed the guilt and stain of our sin.
Augustus Toplady (1740-1778) understood the Scriptural significance of both the doctrine of propitiation and expiation. When he penned his well-known hymn Rock of Ages, he was sure to include a beautiful reference to both:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me; Let me hide myself in Thee; Let the water and the blood; From Thy wounded side which flowed, Be of sin, the double cure, save from wrath (propitiation) and make me pure (expiation).
Finally, we find in the Psalms another wonderful place in God’s Word where both propitiation and expiation are magnificently portrayed in the glorious and gracious work of salvation. In Psalm 103, verses 8-12, we read;
The LORD is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities (in Christ’s propitiation of sin). For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us (in Christ’s expiation of sin).