The Uncommon Christ series explores lesser-known scriptural names and titles for Jesus Christ.
Jesus's beloved apostle John referred to Him as, “the propitiation for our sins” (1). The word propitiation is derived from a Latin word meaning “literally ‘a falling or rushing toward’” (2).
Jesus Christ, as our Propitiation, mercifully “fell” by descending below all things in order to lift us back up to God (3). Out of love, and at great cost to Himself, He willingly rushed down to rescue us.
The Greek word employed here by John, hilasmos, fundamentally means “atoning sacrifice.” For example, this word appears in the Old Testament phrase “day of atonement” (4), referring to the holiest day in Israelite worship.
On this day, as commanded by God, the high priest would perform special animal sacrifices and enter the temple’s Holy of Holies. The rituals he performed symbolized purification of the temple, himself, his family, and the whole of Israel.
Jesus Christ is the way we are purified and reconciled with God. He not only carried out the Atonement, He is our atonement. Our Propitiation.
The Apostle Paul used a similar Greek word when he wrote, “Christ Jesus … [is] a propitiation through faith in his blood” (5).
Paul’s word choice is the Greek counterpart for the Hebrew word “mercy seat” in (kapporet, from the root “to cover over”), which was the lid on the sacred Ark of the Covenant. This stirs up similar imagery, because the Ark resided in the innermost sanctum of the temple and was accessed only on the Day of Atonement by the high priest.
Significantly, Jehovah (the premortal Jesus Christ) told Moses that the mercy seat is where Moses could meet with Him (6).
The Savior is our mercy seat. He is the Propitiation whose purity “covers over” all of our sins and imperfections, repairing the fractures of our souls with His blood. All of the children of God are again able to meet and commune with our Father because of and through Jesus Christ.
“I stand all amazed” by the Savior’s willingness to step in as my Propitiation. And although I’m often “confused at the grace that so fully He proffers me,” I feel to “praise and adore at the mercy seat, until at the glorified throne I kneel at His feet” (7).
And it is wonderful.
Because He is wonderful.
1 John 2:1-2 KJV
see Doctrine & Covenants 122:8
Leviticus 23:27 LXX. The Septuagint ("LXX") is the earliest Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (translated likely for Greek speaking Jews in Egypt), completed circa 2nd century BCE.
Hymns, no. 193