Propitiation: This sounds like a complicated word, but simply means, “the appeasement of God’s wrath.” Mankind cannot appear before God in his current condition and live. God told Moses, “Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die” (Lv 16:2). He also told Moses, “No one may see me and live” (Ex 33:20). I know that sound kind of harsh, but God was really trying to protect them and keep them safe. Remember, God sets the standard, not ourselves.
This brings us to the function of the Mercy Seat, or Atonement Cover, which would appease this wrath of God because of the blood placed on the Mercy Seat. It allowed Aaron, the High Priest, to appear before God once a year. If you recall, the Ark of the Covenant was in a separate part of the Tabernacle by itself in a place called the Holy of Holies. This is where the Shekinah glory of God would meet with the High Priest once a year for national atonement. The Mercy Seat was set over the ark. It is really a symbol for Christ. Paul tells us Christ presented himself as a sacrifice of atonement (i.e., propitiation) (Ro 3:25), and John stated Christ is the atoning sacrifice (propitiation) for our sins (1Jn 2:2), and God sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice (propitiation) (1Jn 4:10).
Reconciliation: This is a word meaning the reestablishment of friendship between God and mankind. God stated that if the atonement before God and the Mercy Seat was made, “then, before the lord, you will be clean from all your sins” (Lv 16:30). This is a representation of what Christ’s death did for use. He reconciled us to God: “God reconciled us to Himself through Christ, does not count our sins against us, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2Co 5:18-19); “the death of Christ reconciles both Jews and Gentiles – there is no longer a barrier (balustrade) between the two” (Ep 2:16). Therefore, he has reconciled all of mankind to himself.
Justification: This is a word that means, “Declared righteous by God.” We can never earn our right standing before God. As we have seen in a previous post, God’s standard is perfection—something we cannot attain ourselves. Because of Christ’s reconciliation, we are then justified, or declared righteous, by God. Because of the act of the high priest on the Day of Atonement, God said, “Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins” (Lv 16:30). The sacrifice made pointed to something much deeper: “God does not delight in sacrifice but in a broken and contrite heart” (Ps 51:16); “by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many” (Is 53:11); “the righteous will live by his faith” (Hk 2:4). What we could not do, God did for us. We only need to believe and put our faith in His actions. “We are justified by faith through Christ: since we have been justified (declared righteous) through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ro 5:1).
Cleansing: This is a term meaning to be made acceptable and useful in service to God. Cleansing was an important part in Old Testament worship: various requirements for becoming clean were required (Lv 11-15), and even the elements of worship needed to be cleansed: “make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the people of the community” (Lv 16:33).
This requirement of cleansing is likely one of the main reasons for why sacrifices will be required during Christ’s Millennium Kingdom. Sinful man will live in the presence of a holy God. Again, elements for worship must be cleansed, especially the altar for sacrifice (Ek 43). Even today, even if we accept Christ through faith, we do not lose our sin nature. John tells us, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn 1:9).
As you can see, although God sets a high standard, he knows our shortcomings and loves us enough to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Isn’t that like a Good Father. Are you expressing your thanks to Him?
Perfection is the Standard
Fall Jewish Holidays - Part 2: Yom Kippur
Fall Jewish Holidays - Part 5: Jubilee