Jesus Is Our Heat Shield

Jesus Is Our Heat Shield

heat shield

Most professions and organizations have their own jargon, which is a fancy word for unique and specialized terms accepted and understood within a particular field or group. For example, you may hear a lawyer say, “Objection,” while a judge responds, “Overruled.” That is legal jargon. Maybe you’ve heard a medical professional say, “Let’s check your vitals.” He or she is using medical jargon. In and of itself, jargon is not bad, but it can be confusing for those unfamiliar with it. That is why it is important, regardless of one’s field of expertise, for us to be able to explain technical subjects in common vernacular. 

The church is not immune to such jargon. There are words used in theological and spiritual contexts that do not get used elsewhere. For example, one rarely hears reference to atonement, sanctification, or predestination outside religious contexts. But the crème de la crème of church jargon is “propitiation.” This mysterious word appears up to four times in the New Testament (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), depending on which translation you use. And every time this term appears, it is used in reference to Jesus. When you read these verses, it becomes evident that Jesus’ propitiatory function is a big deal. But to what is it referring?

The Greek terms translated “propitiation” in the New Testament are all related to one another, and they convey the idea of that which appeases, expiates, or placates. Those terms help define what “propitiation” means, but they do little to help us understand why Jesus is identified as our “propitiation.” Maybe the best way to uncover why Jesus is our propitiation is by determining what Jesus is appeasing, expiating, or placating.

Scripture asserts that our sin elicits God’s wrath. All you have to do is conduct a cursory overview of the Old Testament to come to this conclusion. Do you remember the golden calf episode at the base of Mount Sinai? God was so outraged by Israel’s idolatry that He temporarily stopped referring to them as His people and started referring to them as Moses’ people. God even told Moses, “let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them” (Exodus 32:10). Eventually, God’s anger relented, but, unfortunately, Israel’s mistakes mounted. During their journey through the wilderness, the Israelites began to complain incessantly. We are told in Numbers 11:1 that “when the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp.” Despite such instances, God still showed grace to Israel as He established her as a nation. However, her wickedness returned, and eventually, God was forced to intervene. According to 2 Kings 17:6-11, He allowed the Assyrians to take the northern kingdom of Israel captive “because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God” and, as a result, “provok[ed] the Lord to anger.” This simplified list of Old Testament history teaches us that when God’s people persisted in sin, His wrath was provoked, and when His wrath was provoked, judgment followed.

Thus, the only way to avoid God’s wrath is to appease God’s wrath. However, this presents a dilemma for men because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and, therefore, are deserving of His “wrath,” which will be “revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1:18). So, how do we who have sinned appease the One whose wrath our sin elicits? That’s where Jesus’ sacrifice comes into play. Immediately after mentioning that “all have sinned,” Paul indicates that all are also “justified,” which is a fancy way of saying that all are made righteous “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood” (Romans 3:24-25). In other words, Paul indicates that Jesus can appease God’s wrath because Jesus exchanged our sin for His righteousness through His death on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21).

To help us comprehend Jesus’ propitiatory function, let us consider the purpose of a heat shield, particularly in the context of spacecraft. A heat shield is essentially an outer covering on a spacecraft designed to protect it from the heat generated during re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. In other words, a spacecraft’s heat shield protects the vessel and its occupants by either absorbing or deflecting heat. Tragically, the Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster that occurred in 2003 showed us the devastation resulting from a compromised heat shield. Spiritually speaking, Jesus is our heat shield because as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), He absorbed or deflected the wrath of God away from us so that we will not be exposed to it. Thus, it is Jesus’ propitiatory function that provides us the opportunity to avoid eternal punishment in hell and, instead, receive eternal life in the presence of God. And when you understand that this is what propitiation means, it adds another layer of appreciation for what Jesus did on the cross.