Propitiation is a rare word in the bible it only appears in the new testament in four places and we first encounter it in John 2:2
Jesus is Our Advocate
1My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;
2and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
1 filioli mei haec scribo vobis ut non peccetis sed et si quis peccaverit advocatum habemus apud Patrem Iesum Christum iustum
2 et ipse est propitiatio pro peccatis nostris non pro nostris autem tantum sed etiam pro totius mundi
We also encounter this in Romans 3:25
25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
25 quem proposuit Deus propitiationem per fidem in sanguine ipsius ad ostensionem iustitiae suae propter remissionem praecedentium delictorum
We find it again later in John 4:10
10 Herein is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
10 in hoc est caritas non quasi nos dilexerimus Deum sed quoniam ipse dilexit nos et misit Filium suum propitiationem pro peccatis nostris
Finally we find it in Hebrews 2:17
17 Wherefore it behooved him in all things to be made like unto his brethren, that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
17 unde debuit per omnia fratribus similare ut misericors fieret et fidelis pontifex ad Deum ut repropitiaret delicta populiIn common usage:
favorable inclined , appease (the sense of good outcome)
win or regain the favor of (a god, spirit, or person) by doing something that pleases them
Derivation and Historical Roots.
OK now it gets really interesting. There's a LOT in this word much more than you think when you first encounter it.
When you first encounter the Latin roots it isn't revealing:
from Latin propitiāre, "to appease;" from propitius, "gracious"
the propitiation of the wrathful gods (towards a favorable outcome)
propitiātōrium n (genitive propitiātōriī); second declension
a means of reconciliation, an atonement, propitiation
So... To appease through our grace towards a good or favorable outcome
Digging deeper than Latin, to the Greek and Hebrew
But the word reveals much when you see how it came about from the Greek Hilasterion and the older Hebrew Kapporeth. In John 2 the specific word is hilasmos.
Now the word ἱλαστήριον (hilasterion) in its most literal sense refers to the mercy seat (kapporet) which covered the ark of the covenant (Ex 25:17ff.)
In rabbinical tradition the original kaporet in the Tabernacle and Temple in Jerusalem is identified as a lid of pure gold on top of the Ark, and the name kaporet given since it served to "atone" (kaper) for the sins of the people
Wow. All the way back to the ArK! Amazing huh? Now on Yom Kippur today, jewish still have a practice of atonement where they wave a live chicken over peoples heads to take up their sins. Then kill the chicken. Or the "escape goat".
Kapporeth is probably derived from kaphar, which is often considered to mean cover. So the original meaning was a simple cover. But because that cover that was referred to was the Ark of the Covenant, the cover was used in the ritual ceremony that ALL of JUDEA used to atone for sin.
"According to the Biblical directions, the Holy of Holies could only be entered on the Day of Atonement, and even then could only be entered by the Jewish High Priest, who was covenanted to do so in order to sprinkle the blood of a sacrificial bull onto the mercy seat, as an atonement for himself and his family, the other priests, the Tabernacle, and the people of Israel;"
Thus the meaning of Kapporeth changed from simply a cover, to "wipe out" and cleansing, in particular of sin. And as they wiped the blood off the cover of the Arc, they wiped away sin.
And the Jewish high holy day - Yom Kippur - means Yom (Day) Kaper (Atonement).
Adoption in Christianity:
The first English Bible, translated from Latin 1382, renders the term "a propiciatory" following the Vulgate propitiatorium, and in the first occurrence, Exodus 25:17, also inserts an unbracketed gloss "that is a table hiling the ark" - "hiling" is Middle English for "covering":
Exodus 25:17 And thou schalt make a propiciatorie of clenneste gold; that is a table hilinge the arke; the lengthe therof schal holde twei cubitis and an half, the broodnesse schal holde a cubit and half. Wycliffe 1382
Exodus 25:17 And thou shalt make an ark-cover of pure gold: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof. JPS 1917
Upon the Kapporet were set two cherubim (כְּרֻבִים) -- angel-like figures with open wings and "baby faces." It was from between these faces that the LORD later directly spoke to Moses.
For the Jews, that one exact spot was where God resided. The ARC had great power so much so that when the blood was spilled onto it, great clouds of smoke appeared and the priests were said to have talked with God through the smoke on Yom Kippur.
So the propitiation is also a time of communication.
Bringing it all together:
But a propiciatory was not any simple table or covering, it had a purpose, specifically, in the jewish tradition, a place where Atonement was practiced. So while we think "propitious" when we read propitiation, and the modern term of good outcome, the good outcome was due to the atonement for sin practiced on the traditional covering which was a Propiciatory.
So when you say it is to "satisfy" that is one sense, the it loses the deep historical context of a third party taking upon sin at the place of Propiciatory or Kapporeth.
In the very old days, the fearful villagers fearing a wrathful god and wanting good outcomes, would offer up something as a vessel for atonement - a chicken or a goat. And that tradition got taken into the jewish tradition of Yom Kippur and swinging a chicken over your head and then killing the chicken, which is practiced to this day. It goes back to Moses who sealed the first covenant - the keeping of the ten comandments - with blood as we can read in Hebrews 9:18
18 This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. 19 When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20 He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.”
But as christians, we don't need to swing chickens, we have christ. His act, his one act on the cross (his Propiciatory), was to atone for all of us, not out of appeasing a wrathful god, but out of the covenant that God was intentionally making with man. Hebrews 9:25-28 tells us this is so :
25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
The big change in Christianity is that we do not see god as a Wrathful god that we MUST offer up continual propitiation to, the change with Jesus is that his one propitiation, that "good outcome", which is of Grace (Latin: Propitius) and being in a state of grace, was done by god to be forever available to us.Jesus did not "satisfy" God through his propitiation, he offered us a propitious outcome. And while the ark of the covenant, the FIRST covenant with god, to keep the ten comandments was the place of propitiation historically, Jesus' propitiation is the second covenant with god.
It's a powerful word. I hope you enjoyed reading this.