The God-man priest propitiates the Father’s wrath for his people’s sins. That’s the summary of the gospel in one verse in Hebrews: “Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (2:17).
This verse unfolds with three attributes of Christ: the person of Christ; the office of Christ; the work of Christ.
In Christ’s person he is the God-man.
“He had to be made like” us, which implies he was (and is) not like us. Jesus is God. We are not.
But he is also like us, “in all things.” He sweat, hungered, knew joy and sorrow, and even was tempted to sin.
In Christ’s office he is the high-priest.
In the Old Testament, the high priest would make atonement for sins on the Day of Atonement. Bone of bone and flesh of flesh, the priest would enter the temple, confess his sins and the sins of the people, and sacrifice an animal in atonement for sins. A priest, in short, is someone who atones for sins.
Christ atones for sins. But its how he does it that makes it unique. How does he atone for sins? This question answers the last attribute of Christ.
In Christ’s work he is the propitiation for the sins of his people.
Because of our sins—our violation of God’s law, God’s white-hot wrath is against us. We need God’s favor. The way we receive favor, not wrath, is to appease God. And the way God is appeased is by God sending his Son to make an offering of himself, so God’s wrath is removed from his people. Therefore, it’s not that we are simply saved from sin. We are “saved from the wrath of God” (Rom 5:9).
In summary, then, we could put all this together like this: the God-man priest propitiates the Father’s wrath for his people’s sins. This is the glorious good news in one verse in Hebrews.
Would you pray right now a simple prayer that this message of good news goes out unto every tribe, tongue, and nation, so that “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2:14)?
Pastor Dan Burrus
For a fuller explanation of Heb 2:17, listen to the devotional “the Gospel in a Verse”