Therefore, he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
For because he himself suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
One common experience we all share is the rush of anger felt when an evil act destroys something good. Instinctively we react, “That should never have happened.” The rape by an at-loose sex offender. The retirement-savings-destroying ponsi scheme. Adopted children starved while imprisoned in a basement. Our inner moral compass demands a satisfying application of sufficient penalty when wrongdoing is discovered. The punishment of the guilty must fit the crime. Nothing else satisfies our yearning for justice.
This necessity is what the Bible means when using the word propitiation. The just act of exacting a required, fitting penalty for wrongdoing. Under the O.T. Law, it was the High Priest who would slaughter a choice (i.e., without blemish) animal to propitiate for the sins of the Jewish nation. The executed animal, slain and then consumed in fire, atoned, satisfying the death penalty for sin. A vivid picture of how awful sinning was to a holy God.
The Spirit tells us often in the New Testament that Jesus has completed the necessary propitiation for our sinning. Briefly put, his awful, brutal death on the cross in our place satisfied God’s righteous demand for justice. Though personally innocent, a dying Jesus who “became sin for us” was the propitiation. “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
John joins the author of Hebrews to explain what God asked of His priestly Son. Not only to satisfy required justice. More! God desired that Jesus, our once-for-all propitiation, be both faithful and merciful. To become like us in every way. To experience our vulnerable frailty. Like us he experienced suffering when tempted, and yet did not give in.
The good news? Our Savior has satisfied God’s wrath, and He daily rescues us from temptation. Something He will faithfully and mercifully do.