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Greek Word Study - Atonement

The gods of old were a cantankerous bunch! Since they were the inventions of man's imagination, they had the same flaws as men have. They were irritable, selfish, and capricious. They were so unpredictable that men always feared them. Men called upon the gods as one might rouse a sleeping giant—very cautiously!
When the Greeks approached their gods, they thought it prudent to bring an offering to appease them. The word for this offering was hilasmos (hill ahs MOSS). If the gods were angry, the hilasmos would placate their bad temper. If the gods weren't listening, the hilasmos would attract their attention. If the gods resented the intrusion, perhaps the hilasmos would allow the worshipper a quiet escape. With the right hilasmos, one could purchase the favor of the gods.

The use of hilasmos in the New Testament is dramatically different from its pagan background. “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation (hilasmos) for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Please, note these three things:

  1.  The true God is not an ill-tempered rascal to be handled with kid gloves. God is love!
  2. The change effected by the hilasmos is not in God but in us! The atoning blood of Christ does not change God's wrath toward sin. It changes us, so that we are cleansed of sin and our debt is paid.
  3. Most incredible of all—God provided the hilasmos himself! “Jesus Christ the righteous . . . is the hilasmos for our sins” (1 John 2: 1, 2).