That man needs a mediator to be reconciled with God cannot be denied. The issue is rather:
- Who, according to the Bible, has God appointed to mediate between man and God?
- What is the reason for appointing someone to mediate?
African theologians, who defend the need for ancestors to act as mediators, do not offer convincing answers to these questions. This article will argue that because of Christ’s mediating work there is no room nor necessity for the mediating of our ancestors. We cannot affirm mediation within African Traditional Religion (ATR) alongside Christ’s mediation.
The meaning and purpose of a mediator
A mediator is a person who comes between two parties in order to promote relations between them. The key words here are “to promote relations”, implying that the two parties are unable to get along or effect relationship themselves. In the Old Testament the patriarchs, Moses, the judges, prophets, kings and the Levitical priests acted as mediators between God and Israel.
As Hancock wrote in his dictionary entry on mediation, “Fundamentally, a twofold pattern of mediation existed: the prophetic (man-ward), in which an appointed agent reveals, proclaims, and interprets God’s will to people; and the priestly (God-ward), in which God is approached, reconciled, and sought on man’s behalf by an appointed representative.”
In relationships between two people, either or both parties may be responsible for the break-up of a friendship. In both situations, a mediator may be necessary to restore the relationship, to effect reconciliation. But in the case of the relationship between God and man, it is man who is in the wrong. God is not responsible for the alienation between himself and man, a result of the fall. In fact, since Genesis 3, it is God who seeks reconciliation with mankind, while the latter hides from him.
There is only one true mediator
Let us now tackle the two questions mentioned above. Who has God appointed as the only Mediator. Why was and is his work necessary? We will answer these questions by considering a few different phases of Christ’s role as mediator.
Christ’s pre-incarnate mediation
Christ was the only Mediator way before he was incarnate (Hebrews 10:5-7). First, Christ’s pre-incarnate mediation is seen in the election of Christians in eternity. Men and women are saved from sin because they were already chosen (or known) in Christ in eternity past (Ephesians 1:4). This does not, of course, mean that those who would reject Christ would do so because they were elected to be lost. No, God does not elect anyone to reject Christ. Outside of Christ men and women are already in a condemned state – for the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). But in his sovereign will and grace God has elected some to be saved from his righteous judgment against sin and rebellion. The doctrine of election is a difficult teaching, but emphatic and evident in the Bible.
Through God’s promise
Secondly, Christ’s pre-incarnate mediation is seen in God’s promises of deliverance from sin. For example, immediately after the fall, God made a promise to Adam. God promised that through the woman’s seed he would make a way back to fellowship with himself (Genesis 3:14-15). Later, when God established his covenant with Abraham, he told him, “Through your seed I will bless all nations.” God’s prophets, especially Isaiah, also predicted Christ’s mediation many years before his coming as Saviour (Isaiah 52-53).
Foreshadowed in the Old Testament
Thirdly, we see Christ’s pre-incarnate mediation in the types or shadows. The offer of Isaac by Abraham, for example, was a picture of God’s gift of his only Son. God provided a substitute. The lamb’s blood painted on the door posts of each Israelite home in Egypt also spoke of salvation through faith in Christ alone (Exodus 12:13). The pattern of worship in the tabernacle (Hebrews 10:1-18) pointed to Christ’s sacrifice as the only way repentant sinners can be reconciled to God.
Mediation in the Old Testament Worship
The Old Testament mediators were only significant because they pointed to Christ. He is the only mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). His coming was essential to save people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). Of all the Old Testament mediators Moses became the most prominent mediator, representing people before God and also communicating to people what God had revealed. However, in spite of his prominence as mediator, his role was pointing to or heralding Christ as the only mediator (Hebrews 3:1-6).
Christ’s mediation in the New Testament
The meaning behind the prophetic and priestly functions were locked up, until Christ appeared as a man. Christ had to become man to fulfill his unique mediation role with regard to atonement for sin for the elect (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 2:14-18). Why is Christ the only mediator, better even than Moses? We see numerous answers to this question in the New Testament. But let’s look at Hebrews, which is both concise and pointed. Christ is the only mediator because:
- He is sinless and therefore the only one who perfectly qualifies to be a sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 7:26)
- He offered his own precious blood once for all eternity (Hebrews 9:12; 9:25)
- His blood takes away our sins, not just cover them as was the case with the Old Testament sacrifices (John 1:29). All true believers can now freely and confidently approach God directly, without animal sacrifices (Hebrews 9:12, 13, 14, 23-29)
- Unlike Moses, the prophets and priests, he is eternal God. He is thus a High Priest forever and ever (Hebrews 7:3)
- Believers can now take part in the fruits and blessings of their redemption through him or in his name (John 16:23, 26)
- Our devotion, worship and service to God can be accepted only if we offer them through Christ alone (John 14:14; Romans 1:8; 7:25; Colossians 3:17; Hebrews 13:15; 1 Peter 2:5)
- He is now at the right hand of God as our High Priest, interceding for us in our weaknesses and failings here on earth (Hebrews 4:14-15; 7:24-25)
- He is the exalted King and Judge of all mankind (Matthew 28:18-20). God exalts Christians with him and they will rule with him (Hebrews 3:1-6; Ephesians 1:20-23; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Matthew 28:18; John 3:35; 5:26-27; Acts 3:36; Philippians 2:9-11).
With such glorious testimonies, as those who live in the light of the New Testament, we do not appoint any other mediators. Ancestors, priests, angels, saints, bishops, and even the pope cannot affect forgiveness and reconciliation. Because there is no more effective mediator than Jesus Christ. To seek mediation outside of Christ is not only a denial of his work and disobedience, it is also foolish.
Adapted from Chapter 5 of The gods of Africa or the God of the Bible? (2017, Second Edition)