John MacArthur on 1 John 2:2

JP: An interesting read. Best represents my view of 1 John 2:2 (I acknowledge there are other views!)

The Sacrifice that Satisfied


He could never be our Defender if He weren’t our Propitiator. So here we are given the reason that our guilt has been removed. Here we are given the reason why Jesus can make a case for us, even though we are sinners. Here we are given the reason why we are not under condemnation, why we will never be punished. It is because He Himself, that is Jesus Christ the righteous One, is the propitiation for our sins. And I want to talk tonight about propitiation. Now don’t wince and think we’re going to go down into some theological depth that you won’t understand. You will understand. This is not intended to be complicated, this is intended to be simple and clear so that a child can understand it. And it is vital to us to know this, to understand the propitiation that has been done in our behalf. It is critical to know it. It is one of the great doctrines of Christianity, this is the heart of our salvation. And it is vital to our understanding why it is that we are to pursue a life of holiness.

This is really important to understand. God was angry with sinners. The Bible says God is angry with the wicked every day. And if God was going to forgive sinners and God was going to remove their judgment and deliver them from eternal damnation, He had to be appeased. He had to be satisfied. He had to be placated. Symbolically God demonstrated the need for that placation with the prescriptions regarding the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat, the flat lid atop the Ark was entirely gold and yet it was crusted after time with blood. Inside it was the broken Law. Above it was God. Therefore, in between the violators of His Law and Holy God must come an appeasement. And that appeasement is going to be a blood sacrifice. Each year on Yom Kippur, you know what that means? Yomis the Hebrew word for day, kippurfrom kapharmeaning to make atonement. It’s the day in which atonement is made. And God required the high priest that time, only once, to go into the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was kept and splatter the blood of the sacrificed animal all over the lid between the broken Law and the Shekinah glory of His presence, to make atonement for the sins of…listen, Israel, Leviticus 16. We’ll look at that a little later.

And when the blood was splattered on that increasingly bloodied gold lid, it became a Mercy Seat. It became the seat of mercy because it was there that God was satisfied. You understand that? It was there that God was placated. It was there that God was appeased. And so Exodus 25:22, God says, “There I will meet with you, from above the Mercy Seat, from between the two cherubim on the Ark of the testimony.” That’s where I’ll meet you. I’ll meet you there.

Propitiation then, listen very carefully, propitiation then is God-ward…it’s God-ward. This is a theological term, this is a gospel truth, this is a principle that states God’s wrath must be placated and that is at the core of salvation. That’s not particularly popular today, not even popular today among many who call themselves Christians. To think of God for them is to think of simply God as love, not God as wrath and fury and vengeance and anger. But that is only part of God’s nature, He is a God of punishment. If He didn’t feel that way, if He wasn’t angry about sin, He wouldn’t be perfectly holy. So the punishment of sin which is the just penalty for violating God’s holy Law and the pardon for sin which is the gracious forgiveness of God’s grace have to come together. You understand that? Punishment and pardon have to come together. Justice and grace have to come together. Guilt and forgiveness have to come together. They come together in the sacrifice that propitiates God, that satisfies God. So that the same holy justice which is glorified in the eternal punishment of the sinner, may also be glorified in the eternal pardon of the sinner when God is satisfied by a just payment.

Let me say it another way. All the holy attributes of God once arrayed against us in wrath give way to all the holy attributes of God now arrayed for us in mercy. And God can’t be changed from a God of wrath to a God of mercy unless He is placated, propitiated and satisfied.

Many years ago I preached a message entitled, “Christ died for God.” And it stirred no small controversy at the time, just when people saw the title. Songs have been written from that message, but it’s true…Christ died to placate God, to satisfy God’s justice. Ephesians 5:2 puts it this way, “Christ offered Himself for us an offering and sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor.” Second Corinthians 5:21, “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us.” First Peter 2:24, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” First Peter 3:18, “Christ also died for sins, once for all the just dying for the unjust.” And then 1 John 2:2, “He is Himself the propitiation for our sins.”

John was an Apostle to the Jews. The recipients of his epistles would be predominantly, if not completely, Jewish. He is saying to this Jewish audience, who completely understand propitiation because they understand the sacrificial system, they understand the function of the Mercy Seat, they understand Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. And what they understand about it is to be learned from several verses in Leviticus, listen to this, verse 17 of chapter 16, “When the high priest goes in to make atonement, no one shall be in the tent of meeting until he comes out that he may make atonement for himself, for his household…listen carefully…and for all the assembly of Israel.” The Day of Atonement had limitations. It applied only to Israel, only to the people of Israel. It was a sacrifice for Israel. It went on for centuries as their unique Day of Atonement. John says here, “Jesus Himself is the propitiation, Jesus Himself is the sacrifice, Jesus Himself is the bloody offering upon the Mercy Seat of God and not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world.” The normal, national, limitation of the Day of Atonement for Israel is no more…no more. In the Jewish context, they understood Day of Atonement, they understood the language of propitiation. John is telling them that the sacrifice that Jesus offered is not just for the nation Israel, it’s now for the world because the Lord is calling out a people for His name from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

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