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The Prince's Poison Cup

A Message by R.C. Sproul

With The Prince's Poison Cup, Dr. R.C. Sproul continues his series of books designed to present deep biblical truths to children on their own level. In this work, he focuses in on the atonement to show that Jesus had to endure the curse of sin in order to redeem His people from their spiritual death.

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    Why Only One Way?

  2. devotional

    The Well that Never Runs Dry

  3. blog-post

    What Do Expiation and Propitiation Mean?

Why Only One Way?

Modern pluralistic people like to argue that there is something wrong with the God of the Bible because He does not save everyone. "Why is God so narrow-minded?" they demand to know. "Why has He only set up one way? This Christian God seems to delight in punishing people. He only wants to save a few people."

When we survey the history of the Bible and see the patience of God, we have to wonder at people who think God has not done enough for us. When we read the New Testament and comprehend even a small part of what the Son of God went through to provide the only way of salvation, we can hardly fault God for not going far enough to redeem humanity.

God humbled Himself to be born in a low estate. He allowed Himself to be mocked and reviled by the "politically correct" establishment in Israel for three years. He went further and allowed them to beat Him, torture Him, and crucify Him. Jesus was God, and He willingly went through all this. The Father is God, and He stood by and let it be done to His beloved Son. God the Spirit stood by and let this be done to His eternal friend. And God has not done enough?

The reason unbelievers have so many problems with the God who is revealed in Scripture is that mankind is terribly wicked, and we don't understand what a holy God is like. Until we begin to understand how holy God is, we will never begin to understand how gracious He has been in putting up with us. Because we have such a high opinion of ourselves, however, we continue to sin against Him in our presumption that He owes us more grace than He has given us.

If we understood what the Gospel is saying, we would understand that this problem is not an intellectual one but a moral one. It raises a question about God's integrity that simply reveals our own lack of integrity.

The question we should be asking if we are really concerned about God's ways, is not "Why is there only one way to God?" but "Why is there any way at all? How is it that God would be so merciful as to grant us repentance after we have repeatedly rebelled against His authority and His majesty?" That is the real question.

The Well that Never Runs Dry

Zechariah 14:16–19 contains God’s solemn promise that the nations who do not celebrate Sukkot — the Feast of Booths — will not receive rain. Given the purpose of the Feast of Booths in looking back at Israel’s redemption from Egypt and forward to the spring rains, Zechariah is clearly predicting a day when those who do not recall their salvation will not receive the blessing of God. Of course, to recall one’s salvation necessitates that one has actually experienced redemption; thus, Zechariah is saying that submitting to the Lord’s will for redemption and living in gratitude for it, no matter one’s ethnic heritage, is the prerequisite for His life-giving waters.

That this is Zechariah’s meaning is confirmed in the events of today’s passage, which took place during the Feast of Booths (see John 7:1–10). As we have seen, part of the celebration of this feast in Jesus’ day was a water-drawing ceremony, in which the priest would lead a procession to the pool of Siloam, take water from the pool using his golden laver, and then pour it out at the base of the altar. This was done to remember God’s provision of water from the rock in the wilderness (Ex. 17:1–7), to depict the hope for spring rains, and to look forward to the day when the Lord would supply a special kind of water — water that brings life to what is otherwise dead (Ezek. 47:1–12). Elsewhere, Scripture links this water not only to the physical reality of fresh, potable water but also to the outpouring of God’s Spirit (Isa. 44:3).

To remind Israel that the Spirit had not yet been given, the water-drawing ceremony occurred every day of Sukkot except the last day. Thus, it was inappropriate to perform the ceremony on this day of the feast since God’s plan had not yet reached its goal. On the last day, Isaiah 12:3 was read (“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation”), and so Jesus deliberately called the people to drink of Him (John 7:37–39). He was thereby claiming to be the one who comes in the fullness of time as the water’s source, not because He is the Spirit to come, but because His life, death, and resurrection leads to the outpouring of the Spirit on His people (1 Cor. 15:45). Jesus fulfills the Feast of Booths — in Him we remember and celebrate our Father’s provision of salvation, and in so doing we receive the long-awaited blessing of living water — the Spirit of God who conforms us to the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).

What Do Expiation and Propitiation Mean?

R.C. Sproul

When we talk about the vicarious aspect of the atonement, two rather technical words come up again and again: expiation and propitiation. These words spark all kinds of arguments about which one should be used to translate a particular Greek word, and some versions of the Bible will use one of these words and some will use the other one. I'm often asked to explain the difference between propitiation and expiation. The difficulty is that even though these words are in the Bible, we don't use them as part of our day-to-day vocabulary, so we aren't sure exactly what they are communicating in Scripture. We lack reference points in relation to these words.

Expiation and Propitiation

Let's think about what these words mean, then, beginning with the word expiation. The prefix ex means "out of" or "from," so expiation has to do with removing something or taking something away. In biblical terms, it has to do with taking away guilt through the payment of a penalty or the offering of an atonement. By contrast, propitiation has to do with the object of the expiation. The prefix pro means "for," so propitiation brings about a change in God's attitude, so that He moves from being at enmity with us to being for us. Through the process of propitiation, we are restored into fellowship and favor with Him.

In a certain sense, propitiation has to do with God's being appeased. We know how the word appeasement functions in military and political conflicts. We think of the so-called politics of appeasement, the philosophy that if you have a rambunctious world conqueror on the loose and rattling the sword, rather than risk the wrath of his blitzkrieg you give him the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia or some such chunk of territory. You try to assuage his wrath by giving him something that will satisfy him so that he won't come into your country and mow you down. That's an ungodly manifestation of appeasement. But if you are angry or you are violated, and I satisfy your anger, or appease you, then I am restored to your favor and the problem is removed.

The same Greek word is translated by both the words expiation and propitiation from time to time. But there is a slight difference in the terms. Expiation is the act that results in the change of God's disposition toward us. It is what Christ did on the cross, and the result of Christ's work of expiation is propitiation—God's anger is turned away. The distinction is the same as that between the ransom that is paid and the attitude of the one who receives the ransom.

Christ's Work Was an Act of Placation

Together, expiation and propitiation constitute an act of placation. Christ did His work on the cross to placate the wrath of God. This idea of placating the wrath of God has done little to placate the wrath of modern theologians. In fact, they become very wrathful about the whole idea of placating God's wrath. They think it is beneath the dignity of God to have to be placated, that we should have to do something to soothe Him or appease Him. We need to be very careful in how we understand the wrath of God, but let me remind you that the concept of placating the wrath of God has to do here not with a peripheral, tangential point of theology, but with the essence of salvation.

What Is Salvation?

Let me ask a very basic question: what does the term salvation mean? Trying to explain it quickly can give you a headache, because the word salvation is used in about seventy different ways in the Bible. If somebody is rescued from certain defeat in battle, he experiences salvation. If somebody survives a life-threatening illness, that person experiences salvation. If somebody's plants are brought back from withering to robust health, they are saved. That's biblical language, and it's really no different than our own language. We save money. A boxer is saved by the bell, meaning he's saved from losing the fight by knockout, not that he is transported into the eternal kingdom of God. In short, any experience of deliverance from a clear and present danger can be spoken of as a form of salvation.

Ultimately, Jesus died to save us from the wrath of God

When we talk about salvation biblically, we have to be careful to state that from which we ultimately are saved. The apostle Paul does just that for us in 1 Thessalonians 1:10, where he says Jesus "delivers us from the wrath to come." Ultimately, Jesus died to save us from the wrath of God. We simply cannot understand the teaching and the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth apart from this, for He constantly warned people that the whole world someday would come under divine judgment. Here are a few of His warnings concerning the judgment: "'I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment'" (Matt. 5:22); "'I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment'" (Matt. 12:36); and "'The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here'" (Matt. 12:41). Jesus' theology was a crisis theology. The Greek word crisis means "judgment." And the crisis of which Jesus preached was the crisis of an impending judgment of the world, at which point God is going to pour out His wrath against the unredeemed, the ungodly, and the impenitent. The only hope of escape from that outpouring of wrath is to be covered by the atonement of Christ.

It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of a holy God Who's wrathful

Therefore, Christ's supreme achievement on the cross is that He placated the wrath of God, which would burn against us were we not covered by the sacrifice of Christ. So if somebody argues against placation or the idea of Christ satisfying the wrath of God, be alert, because the gospel is at stake. This is about the essence of salvation—that as people who are covered by the atonement, we are redeemed from the supreme danger to which any person is exposed. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of a holy God Who's wrathful. But there is no wrath for those whose sins have been paid. That is what salvation is all about.

This excerpt is from R.C. Sproul's The Truth of the Cross. Download the digital audiobook free through April 30, 2014.

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