by David E. West, England
THE MEANING OF “MEDIATOR”
The Greek word mesites literally means “a go-between” (from mesos = middle and eimi = to go) and has been defined as one who intervenes between two parties, either in order to make or restore peace and friendship, or to form a contract or ratify a covenant. Mesites is used in the New Testament of:
- • Moses
- • Christ as the mediator in the work of salvation
- • Christ as the mediator of the new covenant.
MOSES AS MEDIATOR
The law (we often refer to it as the law of Moses) was merely in force from the time of Moses until Christ’s death upon the cross; it was therefore a temporary provision. We are told that “it was ordained (or administered) by angels” Gal.3.19; thus the law did not come directly from God to man. There was a double interposition, a twofold mediation between the Giver and the recipients:
- the angels, who administered it as God’s instruments. Stephen spoke of the nation as having “received the law by the disposition (or ordinance) of angels” Acts 7.53.
- Moses, who delivered it to man, so Gal.3.19 continues “in [or by] the hand of a mediator”, i.e. by the agency of a mediator. He stood between the people and God. It is worth noting that this title is not given to Moses in the Old Testament.
The passage goes on to say in v.20, “Now a mediator is not [a mediator] of one”, i.e. of one party. A mediator does not act for one party, but is a third person who comes between two other parties. In distinction, “but God is one”; He stands alone, He brings about all that He says. Thus when God gave promise to Abraham, there was no mediator. In this case, all the obligations were assumed by one of the parties to the covenant, namely, God Himself. This was the strength of the promise; no mediator was involved. The law was therefore inferior in dignity to the promise, because of the requirement of a mediator.
CHRIST AS THE MEDIATOR IN THE WORK OF SALVATION
We call to mind Job’s famous query concerning a needed mediator, “For He is not a man, as I am, that I should answer Him, and we should come together in judgment. Neither is there any daysman betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both” Job 9.32,33. The word “daysman” means umpire or arbitrator. In the east, the daysman was one who put his hands upon the heads of the two disputing parties to remind them that he had the authority to settle the question.
Job here expressed the great need for one Who was both God and man and so He could “lay his hand upon us both”. The great need of lost men and women, separated by sin from their Creator, is for such an arbitrator, called a daysman in earlier days. God had long promised that “her [the woman’s] seed” [i.e. a man] would bruise [or crush] the head of the serpent, a task to which only God was equal, Gen.3.15. This evangelic promise anticipated a coming Person Who was both God and man, the very need expressed by Job in that early day and finally fulfilled in Christ.
Says Paul, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all” 1Tim.2.5,6. “For there is one God” – this points to the uniqueness of Deity; “and one mediator between God and men” – this emphasises the uniqueness of the mediator. In this statement all Jewish ideas regarding Moses or angels are set aside and all gnostic speculations regarding intermediaries are swept away. Only one Person could fill this role, “Christ Jesus Himself man” R.V. He is unique, in that absolute Deity and real humanity are found in Him alone, “For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” Col.2.9. “Who gave Himself a ransom for all”; nothing was withheld by the man Christ Jesus. He gave His life, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for (in the stead of) many” Matt.20.28: this is the truth of substitution. He gave His flesh, “the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” Jn.6.51. He gave His body, “This is My body which is given for you” Lk.22.19.
“Who gave Himself a ransom for [on the behalf of] all” – this is the truth of propitiation and sets forth the act by which He realised this mediatorship. In the context of 1Timothy chapter 2, we are told that prayer should be “made for all men” v.1, for God “will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” v.4, and so, with this in view, “Christ Jesus … gave Himself a ransom for all” vv.5,6.
CHRIST AS THE MEDIATOR OF THE NEW COVENANT
In Hebrews chapter 8 we are first directed to Christ as the minister of the true tabernacle, vv.1-5, but then we see Him as the mediator of a better covenant,vv.6-13.
V.6 of the chapter forms a transition between the subject of the superior sanctuary and the discussion of a better covenant; it is, in fact, a pivotal verse of the epistle. Says the writer, “But now hath He obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also He is the mediator of a better covenant.” Here Christ’s ministry is seen to be more excellent because He is the mediator of a better covenant.
If, as High Priest, He far surpasses Aaron, “by how much also” [in this too] He surpasses Moses, being “the mediator of a better covenant”. As the mediator, Christ is the One through Whom the terms of the new covenant are carried out.
This new covenant “was established upon better promises”. The word translated “established” means “enacted, ordained by law”; it has a legal connotation. Thus the new covenant has been enacted upon a perfectly proper basis. The Greek word translated “covenant” is the solemn vow of one who puts himself under a binding obligation to another; it should be distinguished from our English word “covenant” which implies a mutual agreement or pact between two parties.
The promise connected with the old covenant was conditional upon the fulfilment of its terms by the people. The promises of the better covenant are absolute; the Lord Himself assumes the responsibility of fulfilling its terms.
In v.7 of chapter 8 we learn that the first covenant was not faultless: “For if that first covenant had been faultless [free from defect]”; the first covenant was a contract between God and the fathers of the nation; its promises depended upon its terms being kept. It should be emphasised that there was nothing substantially wrong with the covenant itself, if only men had had the moral strength to rise to its demands. The writer adds, “then should no place have been sought for the second”, indicating that the very fact a place in history was sought for a new one, shows that the first covenant was not free from defect. Thus the mention of a second covenant here demonstrates that the first was not ideal.
Vv.8,9 are concerned with the new covenant. The first clause of v.8 in the A.V. reads, “For finding fault with them, He saith …”, but the correct rendering may well be “For finding fault, He saith to them”; this appears to be borne out by the context. The writer now quotes at length from Jer.31.31-34. “Behold [an exclamation], the days come [i.e. at some future time], saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” Until the days of Jeremiah the prophet, God’s purpose to make a new covenant with Israel and with Judah was not revealed. When things in Judah were going from bad to worse, and years after the captivity of the ten northern tribes, God first announced the making with them of a new covenant.
Grace had to come in, but it must be grace on a perfectly righteous basis. A new covenant therefore became a necessity and the sins under it must be dealt with by the blood of Christ, if the nation were not to be finally rejected. Century after century passed and no fresh word was given by any prophet or messenger about the new covenant. At length, in the upper room, the Lord Jesus made reference to it just to the apostles and in a way to show that it had not been forgotten in heaven. He spoke of it as that which was to be expected and which would be realised. However, the time frame was still a matter undisclosed. Jeremiah had said, “the days come” Jer.31.31, but the time for it was left purposely indefinite.
The Lord Himself, Who was to be the mediator of the new covenant, added to the revelation of Jeremiah two important particulars:
- • it would rest on the blood of a sacrifice
- • that blood would be His own.
“For this is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for many, for the remission of sins” Matt.26.28, giving prominence to the trespass offering character of the sacrifice of Christ. However, in Mk.14.24 we read, “This is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for many” and this highlights the idea of persons and so points to the sin offering aspect. “This cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you” Lk.22.20, which is a more personal touch.
The new covenant will come into force when Christ comes to reign over the repentant and redeemed nation. In the Old Testament, these provisions were not promised to Gentiles; it is essentially a millennial restoration that is visualised here. It will not take place until that day that both the houses of Israel and Judah will be one again. In that day, Christ will rule over a re-united kingdom that will enjoy peace and safety, “In His days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely” Jer.23.6.
While many of the spiritual blessings of the new covenant are enjoyed by individual believers today, to the extent that Paul describes himself and his colleagues as “able ministers of the new testament [covenant]” 2Cor.3.6, the new covenant is never said to be made with the church. The basis upon which regenerate Israel and Judah will be blessed in the millennial kingdom, so far as the new covenant is concerned, is exactly the same on which the Lord’s people now enjoy Divine blessing, namely, the blood of Christ. It should be observed that in the second of the two references in the epistle to the Hebrews to Jeremiah, the Holy Spirit, with Divine prerogative, simply says, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord” Heb.10.16, with no reference to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
These genuine Hebrew believers, to whom the writer was now addressing himself, had privilege and advantage. They had entered into many of the blessings that the Lord had in mind for the nation in a day to come. They, with ourselves, were now prematurely in the glad possession of what will be ratified with Israel and Judah in a coming day.
Heb.8.10-12 set forth the better promises of the new covenant. Indeed v.10 introduces the “better promises” spoken of in v.6. “For this is the covenant that I will make [or covenant] with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord.” Note the expression “after those days”. Jeremiah had spoken of “days to come” and these would be days of anguish and travail, “even the time of Jacob’s trouble” Jer.30.7. However, it would be “after those days” that the Lord would covenant a covenant with His people. Israel will nationally enter into that which we largely enjoy as individuals in a spiritual way in Christ.
As to the new covenant, God Himself assumes every obligation, and its terms are not “thou shalt”, as in the first covenant, but “I will”. The old covenant told what man must do; the new covenant tells what God will do. The Lord will be the author of the new covenant; He alone will carry out its terms. It is indeed “a better covenant”. The “better promises”, which are seven-fold, are set out in the verses that follow in Hebrews chapter 8:
- “I will put My laws into their mind” – it will be a renewed mind, so that they will know, understand them and do them.
- “and write them in [upon] their hearts” – the place of affection, so that they will love them. They will want to obey through love. The laws will no longer be written on tables of stone, but on the “fleshly tables of the heart” 2Cor.3.3. Thus intelligence and devotion will be linked together, a knowledge of what is required and an affectionate desire to do it. There is for the believer today a renewing of the mind, Rom.12.2, and “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” Rom.5.5.
- “I will be to them a God” – as this will be Israel’s portion in that day, so is ours now. At present they are not God’s people, until restoration comes in. This promise speaks of nearness, an unbroken relationship and unconditional security. The literal rendering is “I will be to them to serve as God”.
- “and they shall be to Me a people” – If God is their God, it follows that they should be His people. This will bring upon them great privileges and commensurate responsibilities.
- “they shall not teach [this is emphatic in the Greek] every man his neighbour [fellow-citizen] and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord.” This is a quotation from Jer.31.34. It refers to that day when Israel shall be re-united with Judah and they shall rejoice together in the promised kingdom. In the new covenant all are to be taught of God, “and all thy children shall be taught of the LORD” Isa.54.13. Under the old covenant , none but the scribe could understand the minutiae of the law; however, here it is “all shall know Me”. As for “Know the Lord”, the Greek word for “know” is ginosko, indicating progress in knowledge, comparatively speaking, a state of imperfection. However, here in “all shall know Me”, the word is oida, a comprehensive, intuitive knowledge, suggesting absolute acquaintance. Everyone then shall have an inward consciousness of the Lord, “from the least to the greatest” Heb.8.11, without any distinction of age or station in life.
- “For” – here we are given the reason for the preceding assurances. What follows are prerequisite and fundamental to the person’s acquaintance with God. “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness”; this is, in fact, a plural word meaning deeds violating law and justice. The word translated “merciful” means “propitious”; we call to mind the words of the publican, “God be merciful to me a [the] sinner” Lk.18.13; this is not mere pity. God will be merciful on the basis of righteousness, consistent with His attitude toward sin and with His essential holiness and on the basis of the expiatory sacrifice of Christ.
- “and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more”. It is a Divine prerogative to choose not to remember. Men may forget, but men cannot choose not to remember. Under the first covenant, sins were brought to remembrance every year by reason of the constant repetition of the sacrifices. It has been suggested that “remember no more” means “hold against us no more”.
These are the “better promises” of the “better covenant”.
In Heb.9.15, we find a further reference to Christ as the mediator, “And for this cause He is the mediator of the new testament [covenant].” Here we learn that the retrospective character of the death of Christ vindicated God in dealing with transgressions under the first covenant, “that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament [covenant], they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.”
In Heb.12.24, the writer reminds us that we have come “to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant”. “New” is the Greek word neos which means new in respect of time, here only applied to the new covenant. He is the mediator of the new covenant for Israel and Judah upon earth. He is there in the glory; everything is in readiness when Israel and Judah are ready; “and to the blood of sprinkling”, which is a reference to the blood of Christ; the word “sprinkling” is an allusion to the use of the blood of sacrifices appointed for Israel. This is the ground upon which the new covenant is enacted and consummated. No covenant is ratified without blood. It secures earthly blessings for the nation.
The verse continues, “that speaketh better things than that of Abel.” The merits of Christ’s blood have been made known in the sanctuary. Here His precious blood is contrasted with that of Abel. We might well ask the question, “To what does the blood of Abel refer?” There are two possibilities:
- The blood of Abel’s sacrifice, albeit blood is not specifically mentioned in Genesis chapter 4 in connection with his offering, although blood must have been shed. According to Heb.11.4, Abel yet speaketh by his sacrifice; here, the blood of Christ speaks “better things”, or simply ‘better’, as proved in chapters 8-10 of this epistle. The blood of Abel’s sacrifice said “Covered temporarily”; Christ’s blood says, “Forgiven forever”.
- Abel’s own blood, shed by Cain. Abel’s blood spoke from the earth [ground] and cried for vengeance, Gen.4.10. Christ’s blood speaks from heaven and, in grace, calls for pardon for the guilty and announces mercy for sinners.
However, the former interpretation is more in keeping with the teaching of the Hebrew Epistle.
Finally, Christ is not only the mediator of the new covenant but also the surety of that covenant, so we read, “By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament [covenant]” Heb.7.22. It is of interest to note that this is, in fact, the first reference to the new covenant in the epistle. A new designation of the Lord Jesus meets us here in a term not otherwise used in the New Testament. The designation is “surety”, a word which signifies “bail”, the one who personally answers for anyone either with his life or with his property. As the surety Jesus, the singular Name is employed here, is the pledge, the guarantor that the new covenant will never fail; this has been secured on the ground of His perfect sacrifice. Praise His Name!