Atonement’s Two Aspects. The atoning work of Christ on the cross is one work, but it has two aspects. The word ‘atonement’ does not occur in the New Testament, but its two aspects – propitiation and substitution – occur many times. The word “atonement” simply means “covered up”, and doesn’t give the thought of a full and final dealing with sin, because it had to be repeated year-by-year (Lev. 16).
Propitiation is required because of our sins, but it is the aspect of the sacrifice in which Christ has perfectly glorified and satisfied God. ‘Sin’ was taken care of before God, and so propitiation is the grounds of God’s mercy to man. As a result of this, the Gospel can go to the whole world, and anyone who comes in the value of that shed blood will be saved. See 1 John 2:2, Rom. 10:13, 1 Tim. 2:3-6, Heb. 2:9, and Rom. 3:24-25.
Substitution is needed because our individual ‘sins’ (plural) must be accounted for. The checks and balances are perfectly kept by the righteousness of God. To stand in the presence of a holy God, our sins must be expiated, so Christ must suffer for them in the believer’s place, so that I can say “He died for me”. When scripture mentions bearing sins, the word “all” is intentionally avoided. Instead, the word “many” or “some” is used, because not “every man” will believe, and Christ could not be punished for the sins of those who believe not. See Matt. 20:28, Mark 10:45, Matt. 26:28, Heb. 9:28, Rom. 4:24-25, Gal. 2:20, 1 Pet. 2:24. Both propitiation and substitution are brought together in Rom. 3:22.
An illustration. Also, the Holy Ghost inspired a beautiful picture of these two aspects in the Old Testament. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest was to take two bullocks, and cast lots over them; one goat would be “the Lord’s” the other would be the “scapegoat”. The first goat (Lev. 16:7-19) was “for the Lord” and it had no individual sins confessed over its head, but it was slain and its blood was sprinkled before the Lord to satisfy His holy nature! This represents propitiation. The second goat (Lev. 16:20-22) was for the people, and had all the individual sins of the people confessed over its head. The goat was sent into the wilderness never to be seen again – picturing our sins being taken far away (Psa. 103:12)! This represents substitution.