Mediator, Mediation

MEDIATOR, MEDIATION

I. General introduction

A. Linguistic background. The word “mediation” does not occur in the Eng. Bible, but “mediator” (μεσίτης, G3542) is found six times in the NT, and the cognate verb (ἑμεσίτευσε) once, with God as the subject. In a general sense it means one who interposes, and in so doing, gives some kind of guarantee. By mediating between two persons, the mediator is also to be representative of both sides. Thus, he can give a guarantee in both directions that some kind of agreement can be reached and that justice will be done.


Such words as mediator and mediation tend to slide over into other words such as reconciliation, ransom, and atonement. Actually the sense of reconciliation is more to the fore in the NT passages where the exact Gr. word appears. The emphasis seems to be on the efficacy of Christ and His work for man’s salvation, and in the Hebrews passages seems to refer more to the initiator of a New Covenant by which reconciliation is established. In the technical sense, it applies to the finished work of Christ. In it, Christ is mediating between God and man, but not always in the reconciling of differences; frequently it is in the sense of His being a channel of communication.

B. The use of the terms. It is still worth noting by way of introduction that mediation can be a word of extreme ambiguity, although it is used technically in religion, and esp. in the Christian religion. There is the general truth that many things are mediated to mankind in some way or another. One readily sees how life itself is mediated through one’s parents; society and culture give intellectual, moral, and religious convictions. “No man is an island,” and as Paul puts it, “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor 4:7). Everyone has a certain amount of capital with which he operates, mediated to him no matter how much he eventually makes it his own.

This general understanding of the terms may be seen in an even wider context. In religion there is the necessary distinction between natural and supernatural, human and divine, and if there is to be any relationship between these diverse categories of being, some kind of mediation must be assumed. Mediation in the general sense, therefore, esp. as it gets closer to a religious understanding, has to do with establishing and maintaining some kind of relationship between God and man. It is the assumption of every religion that this gulf, however wide, is bridgeable. Man believes that he can reach up by way of priests or priestcraft, perhaps by magic. There are official acts and rites which bring him into the presence of God. This does not necessarily imply sinfulness; more generally it implies the separation of two different kinds of being. From the other direction, every religion seems to speak of God’s reaching down to man. What communion is possible? How does the high and holy one condescend to His creatures? How does spirit touch flesh?

In the Biblical sense this whole question becomes much more pressing. If man is made in the “image of God,” then there need be no fundamental difference between them. Man “inbreathed with the breath of God,” is not strange to God’s presence. The profound and radical problem seen in Scripture is, therefore, not the nature of man, but the nature of sin. It is here that the great separation takes place. Not only does sin separate from God, because holiness cannot even “look upon” unholiness, but the nature of sin is so radical, so cosmic, that man does not wish to approach God; he no longer wants communion with the Holy One. A change in man’s nature can take place so that part of the problem of mediation becomes a creative one, and this is surely by necessity from God’s side. How then may man have a new nature in order that the previous oneness with God may be restored? There is no question that the Biblical emphasis is on the grace of God; He initiated the process, paid the price, sustained the reconciliation. He alone can give assurance of success; “None is righteous, no not one,” so the psalmist insists, and he is supported by Paul. Not even Israel, the chosen one, makes good. All mankind sins continually in rebellion and disobedience. The appeal of the prophets does not restore them; not only are the actions of the Israelites wrong, but their affections are wrong; “their hearts are far from me” (Isa 29:13). Israel is under the obligation of a series of covenants and even with all of God’s help, never makes good. God Himself must provide the way; only His mediator can bridge the gap.

Of basic significance, however, is this: covenant in the OT is more than contract. As Israel sinned continually, God’s arm is still strong to save; default by one member of a covenant or a contract should render it null and void. The prophetic word, however, is that God will never utterly cast off His people. God keeps the covenant by showing mercy. Indeed, He sustains the covenant until He can rework it in a new covenant. There must be a mediator who will “give a guarantee” (Heb 6:17 NEB).

By way of setting or context, therefore, the use of mediator or mediation, as generally used, is a “go-between.” In religion in general, man’s reaching up and God’s reaching down are understandable, but impossible because of sin. In the Bible, specifically, it can be seen that man ought to obey and therefore, by nature, does not need a mediator; but as a matter of fact, he sins himself into such a necessity. The solution for his problem, therefore, rests in the act of God, not in the potential in man, so that even Israel, with every support, never made good. Mediator and mediation, therefore, in Biblical usage, become a necessity of operation from God’s position, not man’s. Abraham found a ram in a thicket (Gen 22:13), the surprising provision made by God. The “lamb was slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8). God was ready (if one may use a time sequence) for what now appears to have been inevitable. Mediator and mediation, in the Biblical sense, therefore, are a very special study.

II. The special Biblical use

A. A philosophic approach. It is generally conceded that the approach of the Bible is not philosophic, and this certainly is true as one observes the Gr. development of philosophy in the W. This is not to say that issues raised in Scriptures do not give rise to philosophical problems. There is no question that the Bible presents a “world view” and that this world view is supported by persons, teachings, “the mighty acts of God,” and the interpretation put on those “acts of God” by the writers of the various Biblical books. There is an impressive cohesion and unity in the Bible. What is meant, therefore, is that, whereas there is much philosophic material in the Scriptures, the writers rarely engage in what is strictly called “philosophizing.”

The philosophical questions, nevertheless, remain: the nature of God, the move and meaning of history, the hierarchy of values, and basically the necessary relationships between transcendence and immanence. This last is the problem of mediation, and has to be dealt with. How does God touch the world of nature? How does man reach up to God? There is in all this the kind of question which became of crucial importance in the development of the logos in Gr. philosophy. It started with Thales, prob., and reached its peak with the Stoics, and had the kind of later development in philosophy which is reflected in the Johannine writings of the NT.

Any complete interpretation of mediation or mediator must face up to the fact that in spite of what has just been said regarding a lack of philosophy, there must be some recognition of hypostatic mediation treated in a variety of ways in the Scriptures. In discussing the word “mediator,” Jesus Christ, His person and work must come to the fore; but this is not to say that ideas something like this were not already under treatment before the fulfillment in Jesus Christ. There is no question, as the writer to the Hebrews puts it (Heb 1:1) that “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets.” This is true of the idea of mediation as it is true of many other subjects. The OT speaks of “Wisdom,” or “Word,” or “Spirit,” all of which terms can be interpreted as merely ways of speaking, but in some strange way the terms are frequently used as if they were personal, even though they have to do with the nature of God and may be thought of as ways in which God acts. The terms are frequently used as if there is something, or someone, distinguishable from God, but representing Him in His outreach to man. In such fashion they are therefore interesting prototypes of what becomes a full-orbed Christology in the person and work of Christ. These “realities” such as Wisdom, Word, and Spirit, are not merely God’s attributes, but become almost personified, esp. in the Wisdom lit. of the OT. “Servant of the Lord” passages, esp. in Isaiah, take on this same character.

A hypostasis (ὑπόστασις, G5712) is a reality between a person and an abstraction, rooted in God’s nature, but distinct from Him. It is clear, therefore, that the OT is necessarily philosophical in the use of such concepts.

1. Wisdom. Take for example the term “wisdom.” It can be taken in the ordinary sense of understanding, or broad knowledge. It can be thought of as creative also, or understood as a kind of Tao, the “way of things.” It is not so much an attribute of God as it is a clue to God, or something that God has set loose in His world to represent Him (cf. Job 28:23-27; Ps 104:24; Prov 1:20-33; 3:13-19, and esp. 8:22-31). In a poetic way there is an inescapable personification, “Wisdom cries aloud in the street; in the markets she raises her voice” (Prov 1:20).


The term “Holy Spirit” occurs three times in the OT; once in the Psalms (Ps 51:11), and in two vv. in Isaiah (63:10, 11). It is highly debatable whether this is any reflection of that development of the office of the Holy Spirit which is set forth in the NT, and which reaches definition in the great creeds of the Church. In the NT, the Person of the Holy Spirit is a member of the Trinity, and can be understood only insofar as the Trinity is understood, and then over against the Persons of the Father and the Son. The OT emphasis has a reflection of the NT doctrine, with an emphasis on the Spirit as essence rather than person; power, rather than personality. Basically God is a Spirit by nature and essence, and the Spirit as used in the OT, is clearly a reflection of His divine immanence. Yet in all this, God does mediate His person to other persons by spirit touching spirit, and thereby enlightens and quickens with divine energy. The easiest analogy, although not necessarily the best, is the way in which one human being touches another human being. Even though the bodies and the senses are channels of communication, one person may enlighten and inspire another, and communion in friendship and love is possible only when spirit touches spirit.

3. Logos. The word “Logos” is a complex study in itself, but is relevant for brief treatment here as illustrating a means of God’s reaching out to His creation. The question is the extent to which it is used in the ordinary sense of the word itself, and the extent to which it is understood in the light of its subtlety and sophistication in the philosophic tradition of the Greeks.

The Logos of God is used in Scripture to refer to Christ, and is thus a mediation between God and man. God finds ways of speaking and man finds ways of hearing. In addition to this, it is by God’s command that the world is brought to existence, “by the word of His power.” In mystery and miracle, therefore, God, who is Spirit, crosses the chasm to the world of nature and matter by His creative Word.

B. The prophet as mediator. By way of introduction, it must be recognized that in the history of theology the work of Christ has been classically analyzed into that of Prophet, Priest, and King. The device is a useful one as long as it is remembered that any such outline is a point of departure rather than a rigid control. The outline is a simple one which is an advantage. It serves well as a basis of operation. In no area is the outline more useful than in an understanding of mediator and mediation as the concepts find fulfillment in the NT, specifically in Jesus Christ.

An added note of interest and of help, which in turn opens up the classification of Prophet, Priest, and King, is the fact that in each case there is a double use. To make this clear, one observes that as Prophet, Jesus not only spoke the Word of God or the words of God, but was in Himself the living Word. He said what had to be said “officially,” and at the same time manifested what had to be said in terms of life. The same sort of thing is true of the office of Priest. Jesus appears in the gospels as the fulfillment of OT previews and types (this has its classical explanation in Hebrews), because His is the total fulfillment once and for all. He fulfills the office of Priest however, not only as the One who makes the offering, but as the One who is the offering. Kingship illustrates the same double thrust. Christ is King in the normal sense of the word; there is no question that He is to rule and that eschatalogically; His rule will be in power and completeness. At the same time, the evidence is inescapable that Christ the King is also the Suffering Servant, and so, in some sense, He is the King who rules by serving.

From this general introduction, a discussion of Christ as Prophet is now germane. Modern theology has drawn the emphasis on the Living Word as the proper interpretation of Jesus’ ministry. This prob. is due to the fact that 20th-cent. theology in general has been evading the impact of verbal inspiration or plenary inspiration, and this tendency has moved the Church away from an authoritative book, away from propositional theology, and away from rules and laws (“moralisms” and “legalisms”), toward a personal encounter with the living Lord. It is not necessary to criticize this emphasis in order to make plain the fact that the other position has been neglected or even discarded. This is a weakness, and certainly an evasion of much that dominates the gospels, which could and should serve as a guide for life. At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount (and social action in the 20th cent. happily urges the ethic of Jesus’ teaching there), Jesus plainly says, “Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock” (Matt 7:24).

Jesus apparently did not hesitate to underline “these words of mine,” and makes the astounding declaration that a man’s life stands up or falls down in relation to His words. When Jesus had made the requirements of discipleship entirely too stringent for the multitudes, and indeed for some of His closest followers, many turned away. What He was saying to them was indeed a hard saying; and Jesus refused to soften. The question which He then set for His disciples was not merely a rhetorical one: “Will you also go away?” (John 6:67). Even His disciples could have gone away. It is a nice question whether people really can bear the words of Christ; but Peter’s answer is significant: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (6:68). The emphasis is clearly on the “hard saying” and “the words of eternal life” (John 6:60, 66-69).

What has been set forth, therefore, by way of these references points up the continuity between the OT and the NT. OT law reaches fulfillment in the teachings of Christ, and the sayings of Christ lay on the Christian the same requirements of obedience; for what He says to man mediates what God says to them. Part of the idea of fulfillment includes, of course, interpretation, and Jesus is apparently more interested in content and motive than the OT appears to be. Nevertheless, He did not hesitate to say, as illustrative of this continuity, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:17-19). There is no escape from the continuity with the law. There is no escape from even the “iotas” and the “dots.” One does not relax these commandments; he “does them and teaches them.” It may be said again that how one “fulfills” the law can be an area of debate, but the law cannot be debated; it is understood at the same time that Jesus and the gospels give official Christian interpretation to the OT Torah. After all this has been urged, Christ is in the tradition of the prophets, and by way of this high calling, mediates the words of God to man.

It is only in the acceptance of Christ’s revelatory mediating position with regard to the “words” of God that Christ the Living Word, may be properly understood. His life is illustrative of what He had come to say. He revealed in the flesh the revelation of God Himself, but never apart from the authority and interpretation of the words. To state it another way, there is no escape from the control of the words by way of the Living Word. The two ideas are completely interlocked. It is possible to think of any other man as saying one thing and doing another, as set forth idealistically—what a man ought to do as over against what he is willing and capable of doing; not so with Christ. The living words which come from God through Him cannot be divorced from what He showed to be the Word in life.

Nevertheless, the Living Word does mediate God to man. The writer to the Hebrews writes in this fashion: “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son....He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature” (Heb 1:1-3). In the gospel according to John, it is quite evident that the emphasis must be placed on Christ as the Living Word: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Or again, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (14:9, KJV). In the Johannine writings generally, this emphasis is the burden of description and definition. The identity between Christ the Word and God Himself, introduces the philosophical terms of John 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1). This Word was creative (the parallel to the Logos idea in the OT is quite clear), in it was life and light; through it men are enlightened and empowered, and brought to a new kind of nature by a new kind of birth (1:2-13). But this was not merely the creative power of the Logos of God’s spirit; for as John 1:14 makes clear, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” The same idea is picked up again in the first epistle of John, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest...that which we have seen and heard we proclaim” (1 John 1:1-3). References to Christ as the Living Word appear again and again in this same fashion throughout the gospels. It will be evident later that this Word is redemptive as well as revelatory. It is sufficient to make clear at this point only that Christ, as set forth in the gospels, really does reveal God, not only His will, but also His nature. With regard to the original question of the meaning of mediator and mediation, it is evident that Christ spanned the chasm. He came across from the transcendent God to manifest the glory of God, even on the dusty roads of Pal.

The other ideas of Spirit and Wisdom as developed in the OT are not here separated from Christ the Logos. Wisdom is evident in what Jesus had to say, and the Spirit is needed to “take of the things of Christ and show them unto us” (John 16:15). Even though Christ has come to show how life may be lived, man now lives in a variety and complexity unknown in ancient Pal. How then does the way of God incarnate in Jesus Christ in 1st-cent. Pal. relate to a man in the 20th-cent. civilization? This is the office of the Holy Spirit who leads mankind into all truth, but He is never to be divorced from the words of Christ and the Living Word. Christ was never married and He never had any children. Has He nothing to say to people who are married and have children? Christ was never attached to a machine on a complex assembly line. Has He nothing to say to a man who is? He was never a slave, nor was He a master. He never suffered the pangs and anxieties of old age. He never traveled by jet plane, and He never bore arms in battle. The mediation, therefore, of the words and the Word, requires the mediation of the Holy Spirit. It is at this point that the modern emphasis on existentialism has relevance. The 20th-cent. Christian in a society unimaginable in ancient Palestine or in ancient Rome, still obeys the words and Word and may therefore “image God.”

The structure is somewhat like this, although there are limitations in finite means and finite language: the Father is the source and ground of creative and sustaining life. He has spoken in the law, to His OT saints, in the holy nation, in the “mighty acts” of holy history. Thus God “reached” man. “I am who I am” (Exod 3:14) was at the same time the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (3:15) and transcendence inspired immanence. Then God’s Word became flesh; the Father revealed Himself in the Son; the Holy Spirit came upon the Church to make known the Son, who revealed the Father. Mediation is inescapably trinitarian.

C. The priest as mediator. In the priestly office, Christ fulfills a double function. He is the “offerer” and is also the offering. When the time came for Him to lay down His life He was perfectly clear at this point; “No one takes my life from me, I lay it down of myself” (John 10:18). It is essential, therefore, to see what is required of a priest when he offers himself as a sacrifice.

The OT priests were required to be of the tribe of Levi. A relationship to the family of Moses and Aaron is indicated. In addition to proper family relationship, there were complex rules and regulations having to do with the priest’s physical health and also his physical completeness. Special rules and regulations were laid down regarding his preparation for and his training in his calling. Even his economic support and his dwelling place were under special law. In every regard a man was “set aside” for priesthood.

On the Day of Atonement (Lev 16) is found the climax of the whole OT approach to God. It is here that in the clearest fashion is depicted the mediatorial office of the priest toward God. As the prophet mediates God’s Word to His people, the priest mediates man’s word to God. On the Day of Atonement the whole nation drew near and the priest sought forgiveness for the sins of the whole people. It is easy to see typified here what the NT means when Christ dies for all men. The Day of Atonement was a community action and when the priest went into the Holy of Holies, he met God as a representative of God’s people and carried out in action what God had set forth as acceptable worship.

At this point, however, the emphasis was on the priest and not on the offering. The preparation of the priest on this day was significant. In order to mediate he must be “right” and the personal preparation which he made is assumed to “righten” him to stand in God’s presence. He was required to wash his body and to put on clean and fresh garments. So much for the outer man; then he was required to make an offering for his own sins. Cleansed outside and inside, in body and spirit, he was now ready to act as mediator. Only because of his own cleansing might he now make an offering for the cleansing of the people.

The parallel in Jesus to this OT preparation of the high priest is easy to see. On this one thing the gospels are crystal clear. Christ was indeed the sinless One. Personally He challenged His enemies to find sin in Him, and the challenge was not taken. In addition to this, as the writer to the Hebrews makes clear, His identity with His people in His mediating priesthood is much more profound than could have been possible for any priest in the OT dispensation. He “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15, KJV). We do not have a high priest “who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (4:15). The Book of Hebrews returns to this idea again and again. Finally, now, once and for all, there is a High Priest apart from liturgy and ceremonial cleansing, who may move men into the presence of God.

Of deeper significance than Jesus’ personal preparation and purity is the task itself, which gives enormous weight to, and which surely must be the heart and core of mediation. He is the mediator supreme in the offering made.

When Jesus made His offering on the stage of history, the words of John the Baptist describe once and for all His central task. John did not announce the coming of a teacher, nor a healer, nor a social welfare expert, although these are all surely true and have their place in the gospels and in the theology of the Church. These, however, are John’s words of announcement: “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36). No exegesis in those days was required. All His hearers knew what it meant to call Jesus the Lamb of God. In the one simple announcement was summed up the whole sacrificial complexity of the OT Tabernacle and Temple; the sacrifices, the repeated offerings, the almost endless routines of worship. Now had appeared the complete sacrifice once and for all. What man could not do for himself God was now doing for him. What endless sacrifices could not secure was now secured by the free gift of grace: “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21).

It is evident that any discussion of Christ as the offerer cannot long stay away from Christ as the offering. What is written about Christ is written about a total person, and anything that is separate from Him is separate only for the sake of analysis and clarity. The sinless One is clearly called to act as priest (cf. again Lev 16) but that very description is of the offering as well. When John announced “the Lamb of God,” the first thing that must have come to mind was the care with which the Lamb without blemish was chosen and nurtured for the sacrifice in the OT dispensation. Care was taken also by the priests themselves to insure that the Lamb that was brought for the offering was without blemish. The old hymn rightly reflects what use is made of this in the NT: “There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin.”

What begins in this simplicity and in the parallels drawn between the OT and the NT becomes a doctrine of profound concern to the NT. There is the necessity of some price to be paid, but a part of the price has to do with the purity of life, perfect obedience, complete commitment; this and much more is required for acceptability in God’s sight. It is impossible to speak of this only in terms of mediation; this idea moves over into such other topics as reconciliation, atonement, and the like (q.v.).

Although Anselm in Cur Deus Homo was writing primarily on the Incarnation and thereby discussing the Atonement by necessity, he was speaking to the point, nevertheless, of this perfection of sacrifice which is acceptable to God. What Anselm established is that there is a necessity for the God-Man. Only man has sinned and cannot pay; only God can pay and He has not sinned. Therefore in the solution of this impasse, a God-Man is required, bearing the debt of man and bearing the power of the forgiving God. When Jesus numbered Himself with the transgressors (“the one who knew no sin became sin for us”), in His death He took on Himself in His humanity what man had done; nevertheless, in His deity, He was capable of bearing what had been done.

Sacrifice organized and required, therefore, is insufficient and incomplete in the OT and the solution is that God had to send His Son in order that what He alone could do would be sufficiently complete. This can be said in a multitude of ways and is said in a multitude of ways in the NT—“Christ died for our sins,” “He gave his life a ransom for many,” “in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”—these and other passages are sufficient in and of themselves, although theological writers are tempted to build arguments on certain texts at the expense of others. Certain definitive ideas, however, seem to run through all the references and must be maintained at all costs: the offering is vicarious, that is, Christ had to do for man what man could not do for himself; He died in man’s place. The offering also must be perfectly holy, for only a perfect sacrifice can answer a sin against God. The offering must, as now suggested, satisfy the demands of God, whether these be the demands of obedience or purity, or in some sense a payment, or in some sense a punishment. And finally, the sacrifice must satisfy man. He must stand in the assurance that he is forgiven. There was great therapy for the OT Jew when he was assured by the priest that his fulfillment of ritual marked him cleansed. The emphasis on belief in the NT has the same therapy available. Where Christianity has been most fruitful and satisfying in the history of man has been where the mediatorial work of Christ has been believed and accepted.

The Jews were people who accepted the laws of God and God’s arrangement for the mediation of the priest as well as the whole complex sacrificial order. In the same sort of simplicity, a Christian is one who “accepts Christ”— so easy to say, so difficult to do. In other words, he finds Christ acceptable. How is this so? Christ as prophet tells him who God is and what God demands. Christ as prophet makes clear how far man is from fulfilling these demands. How then may God and man be brought together? What mediation is possible? When one finds Christ “acceptable,” or when one “accepts Christ,” he simply takes His word for what is accomplished in the priestly act. The chasm between holy God and sinful man is bridged by the God-Man. One believes that this satisfies God, and knowing that it is satisfying to God, it satisfies man’s own heart. It must be said that this can hardly do a man much good unless he accepts it as true. Has it not been clear from the outset that in any religion of the world, from the crudest animism to the highest theism, a man finds his mediation, his bridge to God, only in what he believes God finds acceptable. No price is too great: even children have been sacrificed. A Christian is one who at the outset, regardless of what else his Christianity demands of him otherwise, believes that he is saved once and for all through the finished work of Jesus Christ. There is for him no other way.

One idea closely related to Christ’s priestly office, which is frequently neglected, and needs to be refurbished, is that of intercession. Christ “makes continual intercession for us,” at the right hand of the Father. This, of course, is pictorial language, although it is difficult to see how it can be better said. What needs to be made clear is that Christ’s finished work is constantly a reality in God’s presence. God continuously saves sinful man through Christ’s work. God judges sinful man in the light of Christ’s redemptive act. God even knows man in, and not through, Christ.

Intercession is popularly thought of as prayer, but it is not necessary to read out of this idea that Christ somehow physically or personally stands over against the Father saying prayers. It is not this at all. The writer to the Hebrews lays great emphasis on Christ’s relationship to the Father, and the Book of Revelation in its own pictorial way says the same. The Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world is the Lamb of God in the presence of God. In the mystery of the Trinity, all these figures of speech break down. They simply say in a variety of ways, from the time of the cross onward, what Christ did is now a part of the very life and activity of God. This is not to say that God changes, for to repeat the wonder again, the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world. But, it is to say that God by the mediatorial act which He Himself provided, treats sinful man henceforth by way of, or through, or on account of, the sacrifice of Calvary.

This is in a strengthening sense a saving reality. No Christian is alone in his victory or in his defeat in his day by day walk before God, or in his evasion of God because of sin. The presence of Christ’s work is always before God on man’s behalf.

D. The king as mediator. Ideas of kingship are so colored and discolored by popular usage, that it is difficult to protect the Biblical idea of kingship from misuse.

It is well to remember the limitations set on kingship in Israel. The prophet Samuel resisted their demands because they were wanting a king like the kings of the surrounding nations who were simply oriental potentates, despots, or tyrants. God, however, allowed through Samuel the anointing of a king. The Biblical idea of kingship is made clear by the limitations placed on the first king. In the first place, he was anointed by God, and one anointed by God is appointed by God (1 Sam 10). In the second place, he was acclaimed by the people, or to turn the phrase somewhat, he was acceptable to them. It is well to remember this in that popular phrase “accepting Christ” (cf. 1 Sam 10:24). Finally, he was called to service. One of the most interesting things about King Saul was his modesty. After all the excitement of his being appointed by God and acclaimed by the people, he returned to his plow, and it was from his daily tasks that he was called to service. He was clearly God’s man for God’s people. There are, of course, certain rights and powers in kingship, but they are never divorced from duties (1 Sam 10:25).


All this by itself may be too much to take from any man, esp. from an itinerant rabbi from Pal., and, of course, the Jew found this hard to accept. The claims of Christ to kingship without the trappings of a king seemed monstrous to the Jew who was expecting a Messiah who would break the power of Rome and rule for the sake of Israel. For those who became believers, however (and the first Christians were Jews), it was the other side of Christ’s kingly activity which fulfilled for them the true picture of the king as “the Suffering Servant.” Indeed, it is at this point that the gauntlet was thrown down not only for the Jew, but for every man since. This is the true worldliness that stands opposed to Christianity, i.e., the acceptance of worldly ideas of kingship, worldly ideas of power, worldly ideas of success, as opposed to otherworldliness which sees true power in complete self-giving, i.e., the power of the cross, which as Paul says, can be for many a scandal and foolishness (cf. 1 Cor 1:18-31). The Christian accepts the crucified One as the Suffering Servant who rules and to whom eventually every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess. But the bowing and the confessing will not be because of the pomp and circumstance of a monarch, but because of the essence and reality of a kingly Person. Today, significantly, only those kings can continue to rule who are willing to be servants to the people, and where kings do not rule, politicians seeking office, whether honestly or hypocritically, must offer themselves as servants. Somehow, the idea has caught.

In the kingship of Christ, therefore, the mediation is clear. God touches His people through the king; the people count on their king to stand for them in God’s presence; the king offers Himself as a servant of God, and the people accept Him in His service. Read in either direction, from man to God, or God to man, Christ the king is Christ the mediator.

E. The modern emphasis. The focus on Christ is inescapable, regardless of how the subject of mediator is approached, and there is no question that in the modern emphasis, that focus, by necessity, as well as by choice, remains. There is, however, a shift from the old orthodoxy to a different center of operation. Relating this to the rubric of Prophet, Priest and King, the old orthodoxy emphasizes the priestly act of Christ, whereas modern theology emphasizes the prophetic and somewhat the kingly office.

This is an outgrowth of the modern emphasis on action, and esp. social action. Attention is therefore given to Christ as Prophet in the manner already set forth: the authoritative words and the “Living Word.” There is a modern shift of emphasis away from the authority of the words to the existential relationship to the Living Word. This is not to say that the words of Christ are not given attention, but it is to say that they are not given the kind of attention that was formerly given, which rested on the inspiration of Scripture, and therefore treated the words of Christ as mediating the will of God. There is a heightened appreciation of the ethical question of Christ’s teachings and a recognition of the challenge of His ethic over against the life of His day and the modern world. What is missing, however, is any notion that the Bible, or the NT, or even such specifics as the Sermon on the Mount contain or in any way can be treated to produce a “code of ethics.” An extreme illustration of the code book approach to behavior was in the quasi-military development of Ignatius Loyola and the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). This degenerated in time to casuistry, or more popularly, Jesuitism. It was good to believe that God Almighty had mediated to man a way of life that included every possible facet, but it was soon discovered that this approach eventually ran into the ridiculous.

The counter movement may well have run into the ridiculous at the other extreme, but at least it is understood why the shift of emphasis had to be made, and there is, of course, great truth in the recognition of ethical practice as being in some sense existentialist or “situational.” As this operates, and the approach is, of course, brief, there was the living Christ of NT times, moving in a Judaistic, Hellenistic, Roman environment, moving among men as a revelation of the will of God. The Word had become flesh. It is the function now of the Holy Spirit to mediate directly, albeit, on the basis of the NT, the Word of God, as that Word relates to any given man in any given situation. The words of Christ, or even the life of Christ in ancient Pal., although basic and not irrelevant, nevertheless need the plus factor of the Holy Spirit operating on that Word toward a man’s ethical practice. In OT times God spoke through the prophets and “in these last days,” He spoke through His Son; and in these days He speaks through His Spirit, who mediates the Living Word to a living situation.

Another modern emphasis, although not as strong as that of the prophetic ministry of Christ, accepts the mediation of Christ as King. Mention is made in the 20th cent. of the idea of Christ as Lord, the ruler of all life. This may be said in many ways, but again the emphasis is on relevance, and now the emphasis is on relevance to the totality of life. Men are seeking the Word of God in the broadest possible ways. What does Christ have to say to poverty, war, race, social injustice, international affairs? Christ reiterated in His ministry that He had “come to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” It was only after the coming of the Spirit, Pentecost, and the world vision of Paul, that this original word to the lost sheep of the house of Israel becomes global. It is a constant temptation of the Christian Church to become separatist, and there are good reasons why for the sake of purity there have been constant withdrawal groups in the history of the Church. The modern emphasis, however, is on “mission,” with the new idea that Christianity must lose itself in the needs of man in order to find itself. The conflict in the 20th cent. between so-called conservatives and liberals is clear enough: does God rule in a man’s heart first before He rules in a man’s community, or must the things of God be brought to bear in a community in order to reach a man’s heart. This is a false dichotomy and is brought out here merely to point up that the modern emphasis is on community.

What is lacking in the modern emphasis on mediation is an understanding, or an appreciation, or perhaps even better, an acceptance, of the basic transaction that occurred preeminently on the cross of Christ. Christ sacrificed for all eternity His self-giving life. His preaching and healing, His cleansing power, His subsequent Resurrection, His continual intercession and His coming again, are all of a piece, and are illustrative of His priestly, prophetic and kingly ministry. (P. T. Forsyth’s book title, The Cruciality of the Cross is not merely a neat play on words.) The cross is the crux, and something had to happen there in the most profound understanding of the word “mediation.” Nearly all views of the cross have in them some merit. Christ’s death was an example of how men ought to stand for their principles. It was an illustration of the love of God; it was surely a victory over sin in the flesh (cf. Aulén’s Christus Victor). John Bailey is correct here, as elsewhere, when he says that theology must insist on the words “at least.” The cross meant “at least all these things,” and at some level, did mediate light, and truth, and power. But there is still the question of what was done. An offering had to be made, but it had to be an offering acceptable to God. The understanding of the offering is related to the understanding of the offense against God, and no interpretation of Christ’s death is complete that does not insist on an offering of life sufficient to satisfy the demands of God; sufficient to pay the price of sin (however this is construed); sufficient to turn away wrath upon the guilt of man; and happily, sufficient to satisfy man that God Himself has provided a way of salvation.

There has to be some acceptance of the theme set forth in 1 Timothy, “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (2:5, 6). It is easy to make out of this something mechanical, and frequently in medieval times, the ransom was treated in a bizarre fashion. The easy way with this and other passages is to throw the loving Christ over against God the judge. Even if such things are impossible it must still be said in some fashion that mediation is dependent on an offering given and accepted. Take, for example, the Book of Revelation. There Christ is referred to twenty-nine times as the “Lamb who was slain.” The OT background is inescapable as is the necessity of an offering.

Without expecting to plumb the mystery of the godhead, another emphasis must still be made which answers this apparent mechanism in the offering and the receiving of the offering, and which answers this apparent split in the godhead—Christ over against the Father. After Paul has said, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself,” he goes on to say, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:18, 19). Both sides of the intellectual impasse are set forth. Christ was provided to make the reconciliation, but God Himself was in the act of reconciliation. In simple terms, the Judge on the bench pronounced the fine, but came off the bench to pay what He, Himself, had demanded. Christ’s mediatorial act answering the demands of God, was the act of God Himself.

III. Summary

The story of the whole Bible is the story of redemption, and redemption rests on the mediatorial work of Jesus Christ. The plot begins with Genesis 3, the “Fall of Man.” The question then is: What can God Almighty do, or what is God Almighty willing to do to save His lost creation? Lostness rested on the rebellion and disobedience of one who believed the temptation, “ye shall be as gods.” The action of the story from then on is God’s action. He came “seeking,” as the simple Genesis narrative portrays, while men went hiding. Found of God, men continued their resistance by rationalization and excuse, while God pronounced on them first judgment, then promise.

From that point onward, judgment and grace go hand in hand. Man in his sin is not acceptable to God, but God in His grace provides a way of acceptance. The whole sacrificial system of the OT is God-initiated. All the “mighty acts” interrelated with the life of the chosen people speak God’s word of judgment and promise, and the words of Scripture accompany the acts for interpretation and understanding. Law and covenant are set in motion, but provision is made for those who break the law and do not keep the covenant. By Word, Wisdom, and Spirit, through law, nation, prophet, or king, God still comes seeking, and men are called to accept and respond in obedience.

All this is climaxed in Jesus Christ, who is by definition, “the full revelation of God,” and however He is approached in study or in personal response, He is the mediator of the new covenant, the arrangement by which God and man at last are one. The act of atonement is the supreme mediatorial act initiated by God, sustained by His power, accepted in its completion and let loose, finally, as a new force and a new hope in the life of man.

Bibliography The vast lit. on the subject is necessarily related to every work on Christology and is therefore found in any major work on theology: G. F. Moore, Judaism (1927); E. Brunner, The Mediator (1934); C. H. Dodd, The Bible and the Greeks (1935); V. Taylor, Jesus and His Sacrifice (1937); D. M. Edwards, ISBE, Vol. III (1939), 2018-2026; V. Taylor, The Atonement in New Testament Teaching (1940); W. Manson, Jesus the Messiah (1943); G. S. Duncan, Jesus Son of Man (1948); W. Manson, The Teaching of Jesus (1948); A. R. Johnson, Sacral Kingship (1955); H. H. Rowley, The Faith of Israel (1956); J. Denney, HERE, Vol. VIII (1962), 320-331; E. C. Blackman, IDB, Vol. III (1962), 320-331.