On the human plane, mediation takes place in the Bible, as it has in many cultures throughout history, both in innocent circumstances and when people are at odds with one another. People use interpreters to mediate the metaphorical distance between them created by a foreign language ( Gen 42:23 ) and envoys to mediate the real distance created by the geography of the region ( 2 Chron 32:31 ). They also use mediators to argue a case or to negotiate terms of peace with a hostile party, as Moses did with Pharaoh on behalf of Israel ( Exod 6:28-12:32 ) and Joab did with David on behalf of Absalom ( 2 Sam 14:1-24 ). Both kinds of mediation are sometimes intertwined in the Bible, as when Moses used Aaron to mediate between himself and Pharaoh ( Exod 7:1-2 ) and Joab used the wise woman of Tekoa to mediate his message about Absalom to David ( 2 Sam 14:2-20 ).
God's dealings with his people throughout Scripture also incorporate these two kinds of mediation. Some kind of mediation between God and humanity is necessary simply because God is separate from all he has created and, yet, graciously extends his fellowship to his creatures. Mediation takes on a particularly important role, however, in light of humanity's rebellion against the Creator. The situation of hostility that resulted from Adam's fall could only be remedied through the mediation of a third party.
Innocent mediation, with no connotation that the mediation is necessary because of sin, takes place between God and his people in Scripture through angels, through "Wisdom, " and through ordinary people whom God uses for the purpose. The angel of the Lord frequently appears in Scripture as God's messenger and spokesperson, one who graciously extends God's help to those in need and delivers important instructions for the execution of God's saving purposes in history. In Proverbs 8, Wisdom takes on a personal role and announces that God created her so that people might obtain "favor from the Lord" by finding her (v. 35).
People, too, serve as God's mediators. Priests served as mediators between God and his people not only when sin was at issue but also when the people of God wanted simply to make offerings of gratitude ( Lev 2:1-16 ). Similarly, the king often functioned as the channel through which God mediated his blessings to his people ( 2 Sam 7:5-17 ; Psalm 72:1-4 ), a role the Messiah especially was expected to perform ( Isa 9:2-7 ; 11:1-9 ). Likewise, God graciously provided for the communication of his will to his people in special circumstances through the prophets. God used Nathan's prophetic word to tell David of his desire for a temple ( 2 Sam 7:2-17 ) and Isaiah to calm the fears of Hezekiah about Sennacherib's threatened invasion ( 2 Kings 19:1-37 ; Isa 37:1-38 ).
Just as broken human relations often require the reconciling services of a mediator, however, the Bible often speaks of mediation when God and his people are at odds. Abraham mediated between Sodom and God when he pled with the Lord to spare the city for the sake of even ten righteous people who might have lived there ( Gen 18:23-33 ). In a similar way, Job wished for an "umpire" who would lay his hand on both Job and God to end their wrestling match long enough for Job to speak with his apparent adversary ( 9:32-35 ).
The greatest of all mediators in the Old Testament, however, is Moses. Moses not only served as a mediator in the innocent sense when, at God's gracious initiative, he communicated the terms of the Sinaitic covenant with Israel ( Exod 19:9 ; 20:19 ; 24:1-2 ; 34:27-28 ; Lev 26:46 ; Deut 5:5 ); but he served as Israel's intercessor after they had broken the covenant and stood in danger of God's righteous wrath according to the covenant's terms ( Exod 32:7-14 ; 33:12-23 ; Num 14:13-19 ). After Moses' death, and in the face of continued violation of the covenant, other figures arose to urge Israel's compliance with the law and to intercede for Israel during times of disobedience. Samuel pled with God for the people generally and for the king in particular ( 1 Sam 12:17-18 ; 13:13-14 ; 15:10-33 ); the true prophets attempted to stand between God and his disobedient people to avert disaster; and the priests, when they were faithful to their appointed tasks, offered sacrifices to atone for the people's sins ( Lev 4:1-5:19 ).
The prophets recognized, however, that Israel's sin was too deeply etched into their hearts for these measures to effect a lasting reconciliation between God and his people ( Jer 13:23 ; 17:1 ; 18:12 ). Jeremiah and Ezekiel, therefore, spoke of a time when God would give his people a new heart and a new, everlasting covenant whose terms a fresh outpouring of his Spirit would enable them to keep ( Jer 24:7 ; 31:31-34 ; 32:40 ; 50:5 ; Ezek 11:19 ; 18:31 ; 34:25 ; 37:26 ; 39:29 ). According to the New Testament, the coming of Jesus ushered in the era of this new covenant, and Jesus himself is its mediator.
Paul echoes the new covenant language of the Old Testament when he tells us that believers have peace with God ( Rom 5:1 ), have experienced the outpouring of God's love in their hearts through the Holy Spirit ( Rom 5:5 ), and have been reconciled to God ( Rom 5:10-11 ; cf. 2 Cor 5:11-20 ). All of this, he says, has happened through faith in Christ, whose death served as the ultimate atoning sacrifice for sin ( Rom 3:21-26 ; Romans 5:1 Romans 5:6-9 ). The covenant mediated through Moses was glorious, he says, but the new covenant is far more so, for unlike the old covenant that punished sin and therefore brought death, the new covenant brings life ( 2 Cor 3:4-18 ; John 1:17 ; cf. Gal 3:19-22 ). Paul ties these concepts neatly together in 1 Timothy 2:4-6 when he declares that God's desire to save all people is expressed in the "one mediator, " Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.
The most sustained theological treatment of the concept of the mediator in the Bible, however, comes from the author of the letter to the Hebrews. The author writes to a church that has endured persecution ( 10:32-34 ) for its faith and, becoming weary in its trial, is tempted to convert to Judaism ( 13:9-13 ), a widely known and well-respected religion within the Roman Empire at the time. His response to this church is a carefully argued reminder of Christ's superiority to every aspect of Israel's Old Covenant, and a crucial step in this argument is that Christ is the mediator of a new covenant ( 8:6 ; 9:15 ; 12:24 ).
The author observes that Moses' mediatory role not only involved communicating the terms of the covenant from God to Israel but also serving a priestly function in light of Israel's sinfulness. Moses both gave directions for building the earthly tabernacle ( 8:5 ) and sprinkled the people, the scroll, the tent, and the vessels with blood since "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" ( 9:22 ). Jesus, too, performed all these functions; but his work and what it effected were superior in every way to the mediatorial role of Moses, for he was the mediator of a better covenant ( 8:6 ; 9:15 ). The author gives two reasons for his contention that the covenant Jesus mediated was better than the Mosaic covenant. First, he says, the prediction in Jeremiah 31:31-34 of a new covenant proves that the first one was not blameless ( 8:7 ) the very use of the word "new" in that passage implies the obsolescence of the old ( 8:13 ). Second, Christ's service as high priest involved the shedding of his own blood rather than the mere shedding of animal blood ( 9:11-15 ). As a result of this superior sacrifice, all the transgressions condemned by the old covenant have been forgiven ( 9:15 ), and blood sacrifice of any type need never be offered again ( 9:18-26 ; cf. 7:27 ). This does not mean, however, that Christ's work as mediator in other capacities has ended. Just as Moses, the priests, and the prophets continued to mediate between God and Israel after the covenant was established, so Jesus "always lives to intercede" on our behalf and therefore to bring complete salvation to us ( 7:25 ; cf. John 15:26-16:11; 17:1-25 ; Rom 8:26-34 ).
The author's purpose for mounting this extensive and complex argument is to call the church to obedience. He does this most clearly in 12:18-29, where he reminds his readers of the magnificent display of God's power and holiness that accompanied Moses' mediation of the first covenant. In a way similar to Paul ( 2 Cor 3:9 ), the author argues that Moses' mediation of the old covenant was a magnificent event, accompanied by splendid displays of God's power which, appropriately, struck terror into the hearts of God's people (vv. 18-21). From this the author concludes that since Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant of forgiveness (v. 24), our fear of the future judgment should be even more intense than that of ancient Israel if we turn our backs on him (vv. 25-29).
For Paul and the author of Hebrews, therefore, Christ's role as mediator received a covenantal interpretation that echoes the Old Testament at every step. Whereas Moses mediated a temporary covenant whose primary purpose was to pronounce the just penalty of death over those who sinned, they argue, Jesus mediated the new covenant predicted by the prophets. Since this covenant was accompanied by Christ's superior high priestly role with its superior sacrifice, it is the answer to the plight of sin that the first covenant made so clear. Understanding this should encourage believers to persevere in hardship, looking toward the time when they will receive "a kingdom that cannot be shaken, " and give thanks to God "with reverence and awe" (vv. 25-28).
The idea of mediation in the Bible, then, is important both on the level of human relationships and on the level of humanity's relationship with God. It provides an excellent example of how God has stooped to our weakness and used language readily intelligible in any culture to describe his holiness, our sin, and his gracious provision of Christ as the "one mediator" of our salvation.
Bibliography. G. A. Lee and R. S. Wallace, ISBE, 3:299-305; E. Brunner, The Mediator; T. F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Mediator, Mediation'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".