Romans 3:25-26 God presented him [Christ Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement [‘hilasterion’], through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
The real point of Paul’s argument here is a truth that needs to take a CENTRAL place in our thinking and ‘worldview’ if the Gospel is going to have its real meaning for us. If we don’t get this right we miss the whole meaning of what our gracious God has done FOR us, and IN us, through the DEATH of his ONE AND ONLY SON.
What Paul is saying is this: God’s JUSTICE MUST BE SATISFIED, otherwise he ceases to BE JUST in his essential being, and therefore ceases to BE the God who has revealed himself and his character so clearly in the Bible, in Creation, and in the Lord Jesus Christ. Up to this point in his letter the apostle has demonstrated, from the OT Scriptures, that we are ALL, WITHOUT EXCEPTION, condemned sinners, regardless of how good a ‘track record’ we might SEE OURSELVES as having (Romans 1-3, culminating in 3:23 – “for ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”). If this is the case, and God himself declares in his Word that it IS, for there to be any hope for us at all, our sin needs to be DEALT WITH and God’s rightful anger, his WRATH, needs to be averted from us. By nature, a holy God cannot simply ‘cover over’ our sin (expiation) and move on as if it didn’t ever happen; forgiveness requires a more solid basis than this.
The answer, and ONLY POSSIBLE ANSWER, is the death of Jesus, a ‘sacrifice of atonement’ (propitiation) FOR US, IN OUR PLACE. Sadly, this reality, this truth, so offends the pride of self-sufficient, Modern Man that many modern translations render the Greek word ‘hilasterion’ inadequately as ‘expiation’ instead of ‘propitiation’ (the NIV tries to escape this problem by using the more neutral ‘sacrifice of atonement’. As Paul explained to the Corinthians: “God made him who HAD NO sin to BE SIN for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21). There can be NO OTHER SAVIOUR, no other way to heaven; and this fact must be true for EVERY SINNER from ADAM ONWARDS!
All the OT sacrifices, therefore, had no value of their own, apart from the promised PERFECT SACRIFICE they FORESHADOWED: “the LAMB OF GOD, who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). We can all LOOK BACK and see what our Saviour has achieved for us, but every OT ‘saint’ had to ANTICIPATE his Coming in faith. This is exemplified in Abraham’s words when innocent Isaac asked him on the mountain, “Where is the Lamb for the burnt offering?”: “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” (Genesis 22:8). (I find it interesting that while Abraham’s statement here is translated quite correctly, the literal order of the Hebrew words is: “God will provide himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”!)