“And he himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not our only, but also for those of the entire world.”
How does Christ propitiate for the sins of the whole world if the whole world will not be saved? Before answering the question directly, we need to explain the Greek word, hilasmos. Though some have recently attempted to promote the translation “to expiate” (to cover or cleanse from sin), the Hellenistic and biblical evidence overwhelmingly suggests that more than the covering of sin is involved in the word. Hilasmos suggests that a sacrifice is being made on the part of a penitent person for the purpose of appeasing or satisfying the gods—defusing their wrath. In the Old Testament, sacrifices were given not only to atone for sins but also to appease God’s anger in hope of gaining his favor (Genesis 8:20-22; 2 Samuel 24:17-25; Zechariah 7:2; 8:22; Malachi 1:9), which is propitiation or appeasement—the word is used more than 80 times for this purpose.
The idea that God is angry at sin is disconcerting to some people and, therefore, has led some to prefer the translation, “expiating or cleansing sin.” The reasoning suggests that if God is not angry at sin, there is no purpose in appeasing him. The biblical evidence, however, does not support this culturally-driven view of God or the translation to which it leads. God’s anger at or hatred of sin and its practitioner is so redundant in Scripture that it is hard to imagine how one could miss it (Psalm 5:4-6; Proverbs 6:16-19; Romans 1:18; 2:5, 8; 4:15; 9:22; 12:19; 13:4-5; Ephesians 2:3; 5:6; Colossians 5:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:10). God hates sin with a vengeance and sent his Son to “appease, pacify, placate” it so that anyone could, through Christ, earn his favor (Romans 5:9-10). His holiness invokes wrath and demands judgment; his amazing love places that judgment on his Son for the benefit of all.
So why isn’t everyone saved? The Scripture is clear that Jesus “tasted death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9) and was sent to be the Savior of the world (4:14; Acts 4:12). His appeasement of God’s wrath is broad enough to include the souls of all humanity, past, present, and future and is available to everyone, saved and unsaved alike. Believers have his appeasement through Christ as their Savior and advocate for the purpose of maintaining fellowship with the Lord (2:1; Romans 8:34); unbelievers have God’s appeasement at their disposal for the saving of their souls—it is theirs for the taking. “Whoever believes in him will not be disappointed. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is the Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon him; for whoever will call upon the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10-11-13). The opportunity is universal, partakers are few (Matthew 7:13-14; 16:15; 1 Peter 3:20; Revelation 22:17)!
The reality is that sinful people have the freedom to make up their own minds about God and his plan of salvation. Some people create gods of their own liking; some can’t accept their sinfulness; some, for many reasons, haven’t heard; but no one will have faith imposed upon him or her. In Christ, each person on the planet has everything he or she needs for eternal salvation, if they will access it through faith and reconciliation—if a person agrees with God about his or her sin and accepts God’s solution in Christ, the wrath of God is appeased or satisfied and he or she acquires the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:18:21). Nobody need be left out—the work is done; belief is all that remains! God is satisfied by the sacrifice of His Son, are You? Come to the cross and find spiritual rest. In Christ, there is a lot of satisfaction to be enjoyed.