In last month’s editorial (Tidings, 11/2005), we commented on the biblical role of mediator. In scripture, the two great mediators, Moses and the Lord Jesus, are not part of a negotiation process between two parties. They are the ones through whom God communicates His covenant to the uncovenanted.
From the standpoint of Bible study, it’s not difficult to consider all the pertinent passages to this topic. The word “mediator” only occurs in the New Testament and is always a translation of the Greek mesitees, which occurs six times. Further, “mediator” references always come in connection with the covenants, either of the Law of Moses, or the gospel of Christ.
This month we note a particularly interesting feature of one of the key uses of the word. In Galatians, Paul uses the word with a decidedly negative tone:
Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions…and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one (Gal. 3:19-20).
A negative connotation in Galatians
The Greek text is even stronger than the English translation: “Now the mediator is not of one, but God is one.” Why this contrast between the ideal – God who is one, and the situation requiring a mediator – not of one?
Consider Israel at Sinai.
And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die…and the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near (Ex. 20:18-20).
The people were not one with God; they did not want to hear His voice or draw near to Him; they wanted Moses to be their mediator. At this time, the people not only wanted physical distance between themselves and God, they were also far from Him in their hearts. Before Moses was absent 40 days (remember, they had just seen the 10 plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, waters healed at Marah, the daily manna and quails, water at Meribah and victory over Amalek), the people despaired of Moses, pressured Aaron to make a golden calf, “sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play” (Ex. 32:1-6). Their rebellious actions reflected the long years of worshipping the abominations of Egypt. The idols of Egypt were still in their hearts (cf. Ezk. 20:5-9). These are the people who required the law be given in the hand of a mediator; they were not one with God.
Now contrast that negative picture with what is said of the believer who is in the new covenant in Christ.
Contrast the believer who is in Christ.
For ye are all the children of God…ye are all one in Christ Jesus…that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ (Gal. 3:26-4:7).
The contrast in status of those in promise to those under law is sharply drawn. Here is oneness in Christ instead of separation by law; here is the unity of father and children instead of the bondage of servitude.
Paul’s negative intimation of “mediator” suggests we ask the questions:
Do those who are now part of the oneness of the divine family and who draw nigh to God as their ‘Abba [Daddy], Father’ still need a mediator? For those in grace, is not the mediator’s role accomplished for them as they have now entered the covenant revealed (mediated) through and ratified in him?
In the covenant in Hebrews
Consider the development of this very point in Hebrews. Christ is “the mediator of a better covenant established upon better promises.” This is the covenant found in Jeremiah 31:31-34, which includes the forgiveness of sins and iniquities (Heb. 8:8-12). In Hebrews 9, the apostle expounds the superior sacrifice of Christ, which dedicates this superior covenant; and in the first part of chapter 10, he relates how this means the Mosaic covenant is thereby superseded and taken away.
The climax of his exposition comes in chapter 10:12-22, where the great blessing is applied to the believer now:
‘…And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.’ Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he hath consecrated for us…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
The better covenant mediated by Christ is what the believers are in now. They have taken advantage of the opportunity the mediator made possible and are now with him in the heavenlies in Christ. In other words, the believer in the new covenant has already accepted the benefits the mediator has made available to all mankind. The believer must grow in the covenant, and he still needs Christ as advocate and intercessor, but the Lord has, for the believer, fulfilled his role as mediator; he has conveyed from God to the believer the new covenant.
Given this consideration, we can understand why Paul speaks of the mediator with a negative connotation. So long as one still needs the mediator, he has not yet entered into the covenant of blessings God now makes available to those in Christ Jesus.
Misquote – God “Canst not look on iniquity” (Hab. 1:13 KJV)
Habakkuk’s plea is cited to prove God cannot “look upon” us because we are sinful, thus we can only be presented to Him through a mediator.
The context makes perfectly clear that God observes first hand all kinds of sin and all kinds of sinners. In fact, Habakkuk immediately complains that the Lord “lookest upon them that deal treacherously” and He sees that the “wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he.” Earlier in the same chapter, the prophet complained to the Almighty: “Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me…” (Hab. 1:3). And in the vision of Habakkuk 2, the Lord presents to the prophet an array of wicked behavior (vv. 5-8).
The word translated “iniquity” (1:13 KJV) is the Hebrew amal which occurs 56 times in the Old Testament, being translated “iniquity” only in this verse in the KJV. Elsewhere it is rendered “toil, labour, misery, sorrow, trouble, mischief, grievance, etc.” We need to remember that in 17th century English, to “look upon” meant to “countenance” or “tolerate.” The sense of the passage is given in the NASB: “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You can not look on wickedness with favor. Why do You look with favor on those who deal treacherously…?”
While God certainly does not approve of sin, He observes plenty of it first-hand. But, in the language of scripture, He does not permit unforgiven sinners into His presence. Thus, as Hebrews noted in the passage cited above, believers can have boldness to enter the holiest only because, in the new covenant, “their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” We thus have the great blessing of being able to draw near “with a true heart in full assurance of faith” because we are cleansed of sin “by the blood of Jesus.”
Habakkuk’s statement is a classic example of a misquoted scripture when it is used to prove that God is too holy to visually view wickedness.
Lord willing, we continue next month in considering the concept of Christ as advocate and intercessor.