In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Listen to the "Verse by Verse" episode covering this scripture.
The apostle John is clear in showing God’s love toward us. But what does he mean by propitiation? This word is unfamiliar to many people today.
John also mentions propitiation in 1 John 2:2, “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”
Propitiation is used four times in the New King James Version, always in connection with Jesus Christ’s sacrifice that makes possible God’s mercy and forgiveness.
“Propitiation properly signifies the removal of wrath by the offering of a gift,” explains the New Bible Dictionary (second edition, 1982, “Propitiation”). The Greek word hilaskomai, translated “propitiation,” is also used to translate the Hebrew word kippur, “atonement.”
The New Bible Dictionary concludes: “‘Propitiation’ is a reminder that God is implacably opposed to everything that is evil, that his opposition may properly be described as ‘wrath,’ and that his wrath is put away only by the atoning work of Christ.”
Sin is so destructive and repulsive in God’s eyes that it makes Him angry and earns the death penalty. But God loved us so much, while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8), that He provided the only gift and payment that can remove His wrath and our death penalty—the death of His Son.
For more information and an examination of the four passages that use the word, see “Propitiation: What Does It Mean?”