Christ is worth more than anything and everything else in this universe. None of us can pay our debts by our good works. None of us can satisfy the demands of God’s justice. None of us can endure the wrath to come. Christ alone did all of this! Jesus paid it all. On this blog, we will explore the depth and extent of Christ’s propitiatory work on the cross.
CHRIST’S PROPITIATORY WORK: ITS DEPTH
3 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in God’s merciful restraint He let the sins previously committed go unpunished; 26 for the demonstration, that is, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.Romans 3:23-26
If 2 Corinthians 5:21 is the heart of the gospel, then this passage is the heartbeat of the heart of the gospel. Like no other text in the Scriptures, this passage explains the meaning of Christ’s death as the propitiation for our sins.
Our passage begins with a bold affirmation of the universal sinfulness of men (v.23) and we are under God’s wrath which is revealed from heaven (1:20). Therefore, to be right with God is an impossibility on our own effort. Paul says that justification is by God’s grace in Christ alone (v.24) received by faith by all who believe in Him (v.22).
Then we get to the verse where it says, Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation. Jesus was “displayed publicly”. In Greek, the word is protíthemai, which means, “to place before or expose to public view.” It was God’s decree that His Son be publicly crucified in order to clearly reveal His righteousness to all. On the cross, God displayed His Son before the whole world as the propitiation for sin.
Do you ever wonder, why it was made public? The words of Albert Barnes is helpful here when he says, God has publicly exhibited Jesus Christ as a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of people. This public exhibition was made by His being offered on the cross, in the face of angels and of people. It was not concealed; it was done openly. He was put to open shame; and so put to death as to attract toward the scene the eyes of angels, and of the inhabitants of all worlds. (Commentary on Romans 3:25)
The Father Himself, who represents the offended honor of the Triune God, declared to all that the death of the Son of God satisfied the divine justice and appeased His wrath against all the sins of His people.
Paul goes on to say that this propitiation is In His blood through faith (v.25). The benefits of Christ’s propitiation are received by faith. We are reconciled to God through faith in Christ and His sacrificial (bloody) death on our behalf. Propitiation which contemplates our bondage and is the provision of grace to release us from that bondage.1 That is why without the shedding of the blood there is no remission of sins (Hebrews 9:22).
This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed (v.25).
If you remember the great dilemma, where the saints of old received forgiveness while at the same time all of them sinned and deserved judgment. The mercy and forbearance that God has demonstrated toward sinful humanity since the fall of Adam would seem to cast doubt upon His claim to be righteous.
How then can God be righteous and yet demonstrate mercy to those who should be condemned?
The answer to this question is found in the suffering and death of Christ. The death of God’s son was a demonstration His righteousness.
Paul Washer comments, God’s long forbearance of His people’s sin since the fall of Adam was not the result of His apathy or unrighteousness, but was founded upon the future coming of Christ to die for their sin. The mercy, forbearance, and pardon that God lavished upon Old Testament saints who believed in Him were possible only because Christ would come and die for them all!
God’s past, present, and future mercies are all possible because of the death of Christ.
Although the price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ until after His incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefit thereof were communicated to the elect in all ages, successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices wherein He was revealed, and signified to be the seed which should bruise the serpent’s head;34 and the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,35 being the same yesterday, and today and for ever. (1689 LBCF 8.6)
Lastly in verse 26 it says, For the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
The great gulp of sin between God and His people has been removed through the death of Christ on Calvary. God still maintained His righteousness in forgiving wicked and rebellious people. The righteousness of God has been manifested to all by punishing the sins of God’s people, satisfying the demands of justice and appeasing His wrath in the death of Christ alone.
Christ made a way of salvation for His people by standing in their place, bearing their sin, and extinguishing the wrath that was due them in His own body. For this reason, God can justify His people with no contradiction to His own holiness and righteousness. This is the heartbeat of the gospel! You lose this message and you have no gospel at all!
CHRIST’S PROPITIATORY WORK: ITS EXTENT
If it is true that God has a purpose in saving (divine intention to save) His people even before the foundation of the world, then the extent of Christ’s work is easy to answer: For whom did Christ die?
The sacrifice of Christ was not limited to John’s reader, but also includes people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Revelation 5:9). In 1 John 2:2, the word “World” does not always mean everyone without exception (see also 1 John 5:19, notice that it says that the whole world lies in the power of Satan. Are we going to say that the believers are also under his power?). Christ died for all men without distinction.
This is mercy indeed! Those who complain as to why this is the case do not understand mercy. The question should not be why not all partake in the blessings of Christ’s death but why some people from the great mass of sinful hell-deserving and rebellious men are made partaker of this great blessing in Christ.
If you acknowledged that you are a sinner and you put your faith in Christ, His propitiatory death is yours and you are covered from the wrath to come.
Christ’s people were not made savable, He came to save them. Christ’s people were not made redeemable, He came to free them. Christ’s people were not made forgivable, He came to give pardon.
John Owen, commenting on 1 Timothy 1:15 as he argues for the immediate end of the death of Christ according to Scripture, evidently declaring the end of our Saviour’s coming, according to the will and counsel of his Father, namely, to ‘save sinners;’—not to open a door for them to come in if they will or can; not to make a way passable, that they may be saved; not to purchase reconciliation and pardon of his Father, which perhaps they shall never enjoy; but actually to save them from all the guilt and power of sin, and from the wrath of God for sin: which, if he does not accomplish, he fails of the end of his coming.2
Christ did not suffer under the wrath of God on the cross hoping that the world will accept His offering. He has His people in mind. From heaven He came and sought them, the church, His holy bride.
If you will repent of your sins and trust in Christ alone, you will be saved indeed. Truly, Jesus’ people are safe in His arms.
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
Note: This lesson is from our weekly Youth Bible Study Based on Paul Washer’s Discovering the Glorious Gospel.
1 John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans Volume 1. Chapter 3
2 John Owen, The Death of death in the Death of Christ. Book 2, chapter 3