What is Propitiatory Suffering?


This article is an installment of Holy Joys Questions. Submit your questions to questions@holyjoys.org.

Question: What is propitiatory suffering?

Propitiation is “the satisfaction of God’s righteous wrath against sin.” Propitiatory suffering is suffering that satisfies God’s righteous wrath against sin. Only two kinds of suffering can satisfy the demands of divine justice: the suffering of the sinner or substitutionary suffering by one who is innocent, righteous, and infinite.

  1. In the first case, sinners will suffer eternal punishment as recipients of God’s justice.
  2. In the second case, Jesus alone, as the God-man, qualified.

In his passion, Jesus suffered as the Lamb of God bearing in his body the wrath of God against the sins of the whole world (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2). I understand this suffering to be the punishment all humanity’s sin deserved.

Jesus suffered as the Lamb of God bearing in his body the wrath of God against the sins of the whole world.

(By the way, in regard to eternal punishment, I wonder if persons in the lake of fire perpetuate their suffering eternally by perpetually sinning. Just as Satan has perpetually set himself against God and thus sins in all he does, so sinners who go into eternity with their will set against God continue to sin in their thoughts and will. If this is correct, eternal punishment is eternal not only because of the magnitude of sin’s offense but also because of the ceaselessness of sinners sinning! That “hell” is eternal is a mind-boggling testimony to the corruption of those who endure it.)

Though I stand ready and willing to be corrected, it seems then that much of the suffering of Jesus on earth was not propitiatory—intended to satisfy God’s righteous wrath. Rather, it was preparatory—intended to fit Jesus for the purposes God had for him. If some of our suffering has similarly glorious purposes, then it is not to be despised but blessed.


Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.

Philip Brown
Philip Brownhttp://apbrown2.net
Dr. Philip Brown is Graduate Program Director and Professor at God's Bible School & College. He holds a PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of A Reader's Hebrew Bible (Zondervan Academic, 2008).