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The Mercy Seat

Brent’s lesson Sunday night last brought to mind one of the least understood words in our English Bibles. In his lesson on 1 John 2: 2 we read of propitiation. It appears twice in that letter and a single time with the same root form in Romans. The word is a  transliteration of the Latin word propitiare –  to appease. Too bad for that. Appease is an attempt at translation but has no real attachment to the transliterated Greek word from the text. It also carries with it a modern sense that may be completely accurate but not entirely appropriate for purposes of explanation. This word literally means to expiate or to cover. It is a root form of the Greek translation of the Hebrew word used to describe the Ark of the Covenant’s top: the Mercy Seat.

Hopefully we know that the Mercy Seat was the covering of the Ark; and the rest (as with my last three posts) ought to be obvious from the meaning just offered.

Propitiation rightly means to cover – that is as John noted: And he Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. (v.2). The Nestle-Aland interlinear offers the phrase “satisfying sacrifice” below the Greek.

I won’t entertain the notion that this is the proof text for universal salvation, as that clearly ignores the Apostle’s intent, and is a serious waste of our time. But oh, the blood of Christ does cover us – when we become Christians and those of us that as Christians when we may sin. This is because Christ is our advocate, or intercessor and helper; and He will cover our sins when in obedience to Him we repent and confess that we have sinned. He is therefore certainly an appeasing and satisfying sacrifice that has been made on our behalf. He intercedes for us, when nothing else will do.

The sacrifice of the Christ, the Lamb of God,  acts in a twofold capacity: first, as the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world when and if any should lay hold of it; and second, he acts to cover through intercession on our behalf to account for any sins we as Christians commit when we fail.

How satisfying to know that God will help us up if we will only call upon Him, seek his mercy and rely upon our Lord Jesus Christ, who will stand in our place as our advocate to make an accounting to Our Father for our sin. Is that not exactly as Paul notes things to be?


But now the righteousness of God apart from the Law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being freely justified by His grace through redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by his blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

(Romans 3: 21-26)

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