If you are an adult you know about mediators. It is not uncommon now, when one signs a contract, to agree to “binding arbitration” or to “mediation” either in lieu of going to court or before going to court. A mediator, then, is one who “who attempts to make people involved in a conflict come to an agreement” it is a “a go-between.” In its definition, the Oxford Dictionary of English gives this example, “the government appointed a mediator to assist in finding a resolution to the dispute.” Scripture has a doctrine of the Mediator.
The One Mediator
The Apostle Paul says,
For 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, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth (1 Tim 2:5–7; ESV).
Jesus, God the Son incarnate, true God and true man but one person, is the “one mediator” between God and humans. He is also our Savior. He obeyed in place of all his elect. All his actively suffering obedience is credited to all who believe. Paul characterizes his message in these terms, as one appointed to announce Jesus as the the Mediator.
Jesus is the one who represents his people to God and who represents God to his people. God the Son has always been the Mediator. How do we know that? Paul says so in Galatians 3:19: “and [the Law] was put in place through angels by a mediator.” Paul addresses the problem right away. A “mediator” implies two parties but God is one. There are three persons of the Trinity and there have always been, Paul implies this in 1 Corinthians 10:4, “and that rock was Christ.” Before he was incarnate, God the Son was with his people, saving his people, Mediating for his people. Paul uses the title ‘Christ” (anointed), which belongs properly to the Son after the incarnation, so that we will understand clearly that God the Son was always with us.
All this is just another way of saying what Jesus said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ; ESV). To say that no one comes to the Father apart from Jesus is to say that he is the Mediator. He has always been. “And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen” (John 5:37). John wrote, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made him known” (John 1:18). Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9).
The Old Covenant And the New
The pastor who wrote to a Christian congregation that we being tempted to go back to Moses and to the types and shadows, says:
Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant (Heb 9:15; ESV).
The reason that the pastor of this Jewish Christian congregation calls Jesus the Mediator of the “New Covenant” In particular, is not because this is the first appearance of the covenant of grace but because he is juxtaposing, contrasting the New Covenant with the Old, Mosaic Covenant.
Who was the mediator of the Old Covenant? It was Moses. This is a theme that the pastor has been sounding from the beginning of his sermon-epistle. He wrote:
Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope (Heb 3:1–6).
Moses interceded with the Lord for his Old Covenant people. The Lord met with him in the tabernacle. Moses led the people out of Egypt and through the Red Sea. He brought the tablets of the covenant (the Ten Commandments) down Mt Sinai. In the Jewish outlook, quite naturally, Moses had the place of highest respect. Hebrews, however, says that Moses was just a worker in God’s house. Jesus is the Son, the heir, and the owner of God’s house. Jesus the Mediator is greater than Moses. Indeed, throughout Hebrews chapters 8 through 10, the writer continues to contrast Moses with Jesus. In chapter 11 he argues that it was Jesus in whom Moses was putting his trust. It makes no sense to go back to Moses since he himself was looking forward to Jesus, the true Mediator, the God-Man.
It is important to remember this context when we read Hebrews since it is common for evangelical Christians to misunderstand Hebrews to be contrasting the New Covenant with everything that went before. Of course that is not what Hebrews is doing. Hebrews is interpreting Jeremiah 31:31–34:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer 31:31–34)
Please notice the contrast here. It is between the Mosaic covenant (“when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt”) and the New Covenant. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 3 confirms this contrast. When he speaks of “the New Covenant,” it is in contrast not to Abraham or Noah but to Moses. The New Covenant will not be like the Mosaic covenant.
Internal and External
What does all this have to do with the question, for whom does Christ mediate? It connects thus: Many of those who see the contrast in Hebrews between the entire Old Testament (Genesis to Malichi) and the New Covenant also see a great change in the way mediation works. Under the Old Testament, they argue, everyone in the covenant community was represented by the mediator. Under the New Covenant, however, the argument goes, Christ mediates or represents believers.
This is not how we should understand Scripture. In truth, God the Son has only and ever been the Mediator of the elect, those whom the Father gave to him from all eternity, for whom he prayed (e.g., John 17), for whom he came to be the substitute (Rom 5:12–21) as the Last Adam (1 Cor 15:45). That was true under the types and shadows of the Old Testament, a major part of which is the Old Covenant which was in effect from Moses tot he death of Jesus.
This theory (that contrasts Old Testament mediation with New Testament mediation) rests on a false assumption: that we may identify (i.e., to say “this is that”) the external people of God with the internal people of God. This has never been possible. It was not possible under the Old Testament and it is not possible under the New Covenant. Think of Ananias and Sapphira. They were baptized, professing members of the New Covenant church. They lied to the Holy Spirit and faced the most severe church discipline (Acts 5:1–11). In Acts 8 we read that Simon the Magician tried to buy the Holy Spirit and he was condemned by the Apostle Peter in the strongest possible terms (Acts 8:18–25). Luke treats Judas as an apostate from the New Covenant (Acts 1:25) even though, technically, the New Covenant was not yet in force. Paul names some who were members of the New Covenant church who apostatized (e.g., Hymneaeus; 1 Tim 1:20; 2 Tim 2:17). Hebrews 6:4-6 warns that it is possible to participate outwardly in the ministry of the visible church (“tasted of…the powers of the age to come”) and to trample Christ underfoot and to profane the blood of the covenant (Heb 10:29). These people participated in the external ministry of the church but they did not receive internally what that ministry offered: Christ and his benefits.
Paul explains this phenomenon by appealing to the distinction between being “a Jew inwardly” as distinct from being a Jew only “outwardly” (Rom 2:28–29). He uses this distinction in his explanation of the administration of the decree of election, “not all Israel is Israel” (Rom 9:6). There have always been two ways of relating to the one covenant of grace: outwardly and inwardly.
Long before he became incarnate, God the Son was mediating, representing, interceding for his elect. He was doing this under the types and shadows and he does it now, after the incarnation, in light the reality of the incarnation. He administers his mediation, however, as he has always done: in the visible, Christ-confessing, covenant community. Between the Old and New Testaments there is one church. Paul says so in 1 Corinthian 10:1-4. There he explicitly equates the Old Covenant people with the New Covenant people. The writer/pastor to the Hebrews does the same for the same reason. Indeed, he appeals to the same OT passage: Psalm 95. Both warned different New Covenant churches that they were in danger of making the same mistakes as the Old Covenant church, that of not heeding the Lord’s Word, of falling into unbelief and facing the terrible consequences of unbelief. In both cases the whole point rests on substantial continuity between the Old Covenant people and the New Covenant people.
The promises have always been administered in the visible people. There have always been preachers. In the OT they were called prophets. There have always been mediators. Under the Old Covenant they were Levitical priests. There have al;ways been kings. Under the Old Covenant Israel was ruled by David, Solomon, and the rest. They were all types and shadows of the true Prophet, Priest, and King: Jesus. Again. Hebrews makes this point in chapters 10, 11, 12, and 13.
Jesus is mediating for his elect but he is gathering a visible church and through the ministry of the church he is calling his elect to new life and true faith. He is encouraging his people through the holy sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and blessing his people with his presence when they call on him in true faith.
For whom is Jesus mediating? For those for whom he has always been mediating but that does not answer the question of how the covenant of grace should be outwardly administered. That pattern was established 2,000 years before the incarnation of Jesus and 430 years before Moses (the Old Covenant). It was established under Abraham and so it continued in the New Testament.
- On the New Covenant
- Did the Covenant of Grace Begin in the New Covenant?
- Reading the Prophets with the New Testament (1)
- Reading the Prophets with the New Testament (2)
- Three Ways of Relating to the Covenant of Grace