On some calendar days in Ethiopia, the streets are busy, as candles burn and priests chant into the early hours of the morning. Many of these days venerate some Christian saint or an angel. Beyond mere veneration, which is problematic in itself, many Ethiopian Christians also view these entities as mediators between themselves and God. Thus, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that among Ethiopian churches, Jesus Christ is not the only mediator. For saints and angels also stand in that place.
Jesus is gloriously sufficient to mediate between the human and divine.
In this article I argue that such practices do not belong among Christ’s people. We might argue to what extent angels should be revered, while commemorating deceased saints has a long history in the Church. However, the Bible is clear on this: Jesus Christ is the only mediator. For in his word, especially the New Testament, God says that Christ fulfils the prophesied role of singular high priest. This work as mediator was made possible by the incarnation, and his full humanity. Since Jesus is the sole mediator of God’s new covenant, there is no other way to approach God but by Christ alone. He is gloriously sufficient to mediate between the human and divine.
The Prophesied High Priest
In ancient Israel, priests acted as mediators between God and man. Priests offered sacrifices on behalf of the people (Leviticus 17:11) and provided instruction (Malachi 2:6; Numbers 27:21). In a sense, they stood between God and the people. They approached the LORD to make atonement for the people. And after meeting with the LORD, both through meditating on scripture and ministering in the temple, they would teach Israel.
The final high priest, instead of offering up a sacrifice in the temple, offers himself.
But the Old Testament also prophesied an ultimate or final high priest (Psalm 110:4). These promises and foreshadows culminate in the Messiah. The installation of this priest forever would do away with the need for other mediators and priests, since Jesus fulfils this office. That is made explicitly clear in the book of Hebrews. Only, it involved a slightly unexpected development. For the final high priest, instead of offering up a sacrifice in the temple, offers himself (Hebrews 10:10; 9:26). Isaiah’s suffering servant is simultaneously God’s mediating priest (Isaiah 53:5, 10-11).
A Priest who is God(ly)
In some ways, the book of Hebrews is an extended exposition of Psalm 110. The writer cites it a handful of times, making his appeal for believers to trust single-mindedly in the finished work of Christ. So Jesus, the Son, is the eternal high priest in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:1-25; 5:6). His priesthood, contrast with that of the priests within the old covenant, was not through genealogy or descent. God the Father appointed Christ the Son as high priest to mediate for his people. Jesus our mediator is God.
God the Father appointed Christ the Son as high priest to mediate for his people.
Christ performed high priestly actions during his earthly ministry. He cleansed the temple, upheld the law, and taught the people (Matthew 21:12-17; Luke 21:37). As we saw at Christmas, Jesus comes to us as God. He is “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23), the most “wonderful counsellor” (Isaiah 9:6). This is why John speaks about seeing the glory of God in Christ (John 1:14). Later in that same Gospel Jesus offered up his famous high-priestly prayer (John 17:1).
As a Man, He is Both Sufficient and Sympathetic
The Old Testament anticipated God’s final high priest. The New Testament adjusts those expectations. For the one who mediates isn’t only sent by God. He is God. And within this wonderful mystery, there is another: Jesus, the Son of God, mediates between us and God the Father. And he does this as a human.
Christ identifies with and represents us in the heavenly temple.
Unlike Adam and the Levitical priests, this human was without sin. He obeyed his Father without fault. This means that we misstep when we focus exclusively on his substitutionary death. We must recognise what it is he offers as he mediates: unblemished blood, total obedience, righteousness. As both God and man, Jesus is perfectly suited to serve as the final mediator between us and God. More than this, he intercedes with his own work (Hebrews 4:15, 7:26). His perfect obedience ensured his own unhindered access into the presence of God (Hebrews 9:11–28; 10:19–21). Christ identifies with and represents us in the heavenly temple, where he is forever (Hebrews 2:17–18; 4:15; 5:7–10; 7:23–25; 8:1–2).
The Bible tells us that only Jesus Christ can mediate for us. The worship of God should only be through the means God instituted. His work needs no supplementation. For it is sufficient.