The Accomplishments of Christ the Mediator

April 24, 2017

One consequence of the modern transformation of congregational singing is the ignorance many Christians have regarding classic hymns. Countless Christians today do not know the depth and beauty of songs previous Christian worshippers enjoyed. These songs sought to capture the affections believers have for the Trinitarian work of grace in the lives of God’s people. One such hymn, “Praise Him,” written by the famous American poetess, Fanny Crosby, captures the subject matter of chapter eight of the 2LC. The Baptist church of my youth sang this Crosby hymn often, and I was always struck by the third stanza: “Crown Him, Crown Him, Prophet and Priest and King.” Over the years, I wondered what this could mean. How do I crown Jesus, and what does it mean for Jesus to be crowned as a prophet, priest, and king? Paragraphs four through ten of chapter eight of the 2LC offer answers to this perplexing question.

Samuel Waldron groups paragraphs 4–10 into one theme regarding the execution of the office of mediator. In this article, these seven paragraphs will be evaluated into three units. I summarize paragraphs four and five on Jesus’ humiliation and exaltation and His sacrifice and inheritance. Paragraphs six and seven focus upon Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament promises. Paragraphs eight through ten focus on Jesus’ intercessory work, His governing authority, and His sovereign preservation of the elect.

Paragraph 4

This office the Lord Jesus did most willingly undertake,(21) which that He might discharge He was made under the law,(22) and did perfectly fulfill it, and underwent the punishment due to us, which we should have born and suffered,(23) being made sin and a curse for us;(24) enduring most grievous sorrows in His soul, and most painful sufferings in His body;(25) was crucified, and died, and remained in the state of the dead, yet saw no corruption:(26) on the third day He arose from the dead(27) with the same body in which He suffered,(28) with which He also ascended into heaven,(29) and there sits at the right hand of His Father making intercession,(30) and shall return to judge men and angels at the end of the world.(31)

(21) Psalm 40:7, 8; Hebrews 10:5-10; John 10:18. (22) Galatians 4:4; Matthew 3:15.
(23) Galatians 3:13; Isaiah 53:6; 1 Peter 3:18. (24) 2 Corinthians 5:21. (25) Matthew 26:37, 38; Luke 22:44; Matthew 27:46. (26) Acts 13:37. (27) 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4. (28) John 20:25, 27. (29) Mark 16:19; Acts 1:9-11. (30) Romans 8:34; Hebrews 9:24. (31) Acts 10:42; Romans 14:9, 10; Acts 1:11; 2 Peter 2:4.

Paragraph 5

The Lord Jesus, by His perfect obedience and sacrifice of Himself, which He through the eternal Spirit once offered up to God, has fully satisfied the justice of God,(32) procured reconciliation, and purchased an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father has given unto Him.(33)

(32) Hebrews 9:14, 10:14; Romans 3:25,26. (33) John 17:2; Heb. 9:15

 

Humiliation and Exaltation

The cross appears disastrous for Jesus’ credibility. The gospels portray in detail His life and ministry, which includes unexplainable miracles and remarkable claims of deity. Yet there He is, seemingly helpless, tried and convicted, sentenced to death on a criminal’s cross. It is not uncommon for non-Christians to stumble over how we portray Jesus’ death in victorious proclamations. What is so wonderful about a crucified king? What is so glorious about a defeated miracle worker? Of course, we lean on the Spirit’s help to provide needed patience when sharing biblical truths to others. We humbly respond that it may appear as if His mission failed when He was killed, but the cross is not a failure, and it was not a surprise.

The 2LC declares that Jesus “willingly” undertook His role as mediator. He was not coerced, and He did not owe anyone a favor. He was not duped into trickery or fooled by the devil. His work of active and passive obedience was intentional. In His active obedience, Jesus obeyed the law perfectly and earned righteousness for His people; through His passive obedience, He endured the “most grievous sorrows in His soul, and most painful sufferings in His body” (paragraph four, above). He suffered through the anguish of God’s wrath poured on Him for our sin. Note how paragraph four includes both Jesus grievous sorrow of soul and that wrath He endured in His body. Both were necessary, both were real, both were a part of His saving act.

It is important to note what is imbedded in the paragraphs above regarding what theologians refer to as Jesus’ exaltation and humiliation. As Wayne Grudem notes, these two states refer to “the different relationships Jesus had to God’s law for mankind, to the possession of authority, and to receiving honor for himself.”1 Understanding Jesus’ work through these two distinctions helps clarify all that surrounds Jesus’ death for the elect. The incarnation, suffering, death, and burial of Jesus comprise His humiliation. In Philippians 2:7–8, Paul states that Jesus “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Our salvation required each of these actions, but Jesus’ work of humiliation for us is only part of His work.

Paul affirms Jesus’ exaltation in the same context: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9–11). Jesus’ resurrection, ascension, His seat at God’s right hand, and His future return all comprise His exaltation. Herman Bavinck was correct when he declared, “The whole New Testament teaches the humiliated and exalted Christ as the core of the gospel.”2 When we are confronted by skeptics or in general conversation with unbelievers, we must affirm both His humiliation and exaltation, and in doing so, we begin to convey how His atoning work accomplished its purposes.

 

Sacrifice and Inheritance

As we deserved God’s wrath due to our breaking of God’s law, the punishment “we should have born and suffered” Jesus endured. Scripture is clear: cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree, yet Jesus “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). The 2LC states plainly that Jesus died physically. This declaration is crucial for our salvation, and it also includes the emphasis that his body “remained in the state of the dead.” Two important issues emerge. First, Jesus really died. He was not near death or unconscious. His heart stopped beating in death. Sometimes Christians are guilty of taking this truth for granted because of the resurrection, but it is of great theological and evangelistic importance (Muslims, for example, deny Jesus’ actual death on the cross).

Second, we are told that Jesus remained in the state of the dead, and “his body saw no corruption.” Space does not permit an extensive treatment here, and an explicit view is not described here in the confession, but at this point in His humiliation, the issue of whether Jesus went to hell emerges. Interestingly, John Dagg addresses this issue in his treatment of Christ’s humiliation. He notes how “some have thought that he descended into hell; but this option has arisen from misinterpretation of the Scripture.”3

From my perspective, Grudem’s explanations are clear and persuasive.4

On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead with the same body that was crucified. The testimony of Scripture makes it clear that the grave could not keep Jesus. He revealed himself to male and female witnesses, to individuals and groups. He confronted disbelief by expressing His wounds, calling upon the doubters to observe and touch; to demonstrate that He was not a spirit, he asked for and ate broiled fish. Paul claims that the risen Lord appeared to him, and the resurrection serves a vital importance showing how preaching is pointless and faith is futile if death won. After his resurrection, Jesus ministered and taught for forty days and ascended to heaven and sat at the right hand of the father. In His fully exalted state, Jesus Christ intercedes on behalf of His people as their mediator. Even in this heavenly realm, Jesus remains the elect’s prophet, priest, and king.

 

Definite Atonement

What did Jesus’ death accomplish? Answering this question is crucial, and it demands careful interaction with New Testament revelation. In His death, Jesus atoned for sins. Through His sacrifice, Jesus restored right relationship between God and man, and a price was required for this relationship to be secured. All of humanity is rendered guilty in Adam, and we are by our sinful nature, objects of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). God is pure and holy, a righteous judge who does not overlook sin or excuse ungodliness. His nature demands justice, and the Old Testament provides graphic pictures of the necessity of atonement. Forgiveness is impossible without payment, and the shedding of blood was God’s requirement for mercy.

In the New Testament, Jesus demonstrates in himself what the Old Testament sacrifices foreshadowed. The blood of bulls and goats is insufficient; our only hope was His precious blood. The great value in studying other atonement theories is that one can find aspects to affirm in their presentations, but in the end, penal substitution captures all the biblical emphases of reconciliation found within propitiation, expiation, and purification. The 2LC clearly affirms this view. Jesus’ work of humiliation and exaltation accomplished all that was intended. The 2LC explicitly states the intentionality of Jesus’ atonement in that it “purchased an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father has given unto Him.” While debates linger over the extent of the atonement among Baptists and the broader evangelical community, the biblical evidence supporting definite atonement is overwhelming.

Tom Nettles defines definite atonement as Christ dying “for the same people for whom he intercedes; these are the same ones the Father has elected and the Spirit has effectually called.”5 It is impossible to mount an adequate defense of definite atonement in this brief article, and the 2LC does not intend to defend this doctrine in detail, but a few statements are necessary. First, at the very least, penal substitution suggests definite atonement. Jesus made a real substitution for a certain people to a secured inheritance. Second, as Nettles noted above, Christ’s priestly role of intercession is an integral aspect of this doctrine. In his thorough treatment of this point, Stephen Wellum shows a unified summary of Old Testament priesthood, and he contrasts their roles with Jesus’ work as our high priest. Wellum demonstrates why Jesus’ role as high priest of the new covenant necessarily calls for his atonement of a particular people.6 The high priestly prayer of John 17 is significant here. Jesus has in mind a definite people as He prays, and He acknowledges the particular work He will accomplish for them alone.

Tom Schreiner poses an interesting question regarding Jesus’ atonement. He asks, “Could Jesus have atoned for our sins as a ten-year old?” This is not a trick question, and it is not an unimportant one either. Schreiner states Jesus could not have atoned for our sins as a ten year old because “he would have lacked the maturity and experience as a human being to suffer for the sake of his people at such a tender age. He had to experience the full range of temptation and resist allurements to sin to qualify as an atoning sacrifice (Heb. 4:15).”7 Thus, the high priestly prayer of John 17 is a coming together of all that He had done in his life and ministry. Every aspect of his ministry leading up to this point prepared him to provide definite atonement.

Paragraph 6

Although the price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ until after His incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefit thereof were communicated to the elect in all ages, successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices wherein He was revealed, and signified to be the seed which should bruise the serpent’s head;(34) and the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,(35) being the same yesterday, and today and forever.(36)

(34) 1 Corinthians 4:10; Hebrews 4:2; 1 Peter 1:10, 11. (35) Revelation 13:8. (36) Hebrews 13:8.

Paragraph 7

Christ, in the work of mediation, acts according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself; yet by reason of the unity of the person, that which is proper to one nature is sometimes in Scripture, attributed to the person denominated by the other nature.(37)

(37) John 3:13; Acts 20:28.

 

Promises Fulfilled

Amid all that encompassed Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the Genesis narrative, they were privileged to hear the promise of future salvation. The deceiver would be crushed. From this moment on, God unfolded a plan only He could have designed. The progressive nature of revelation allows us to piece together how subsequent acts and promises relate to the original declaration that the woman’s seed would come. Throughout the Old Testament there is a consistent witness that God is accomplishing His plan, and the people through whom He worked “searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” (1 Peter 1:10–11). In order to convey the Bible’s overarching testimony to God’s plan, the 2LC declares Jesus as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. In other words, long before the garden, and long before the incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection, Jesus purchased redemption and it was applied to His people (the specific ones he mentions in John 17).

Paragraph seven explains important distinctions in Christ’s person whereby He fulfills these promises. Both His divine and human nature are required in crushing Satan. As the 2LC notes, each nature accomplished that which is consistent within that nature. In other words, we needed a better Adam, and in His human nature, Christ lived under the law without sin. His full human nature contributed to His fulfillment of his task. Similarly, His divine work is consistent with His full deity in His person. The 2LC carefully reiterates how these two natures were distinct and so too were the works associated with each nature. As Stephen Wellum notes, there “is no union of natures that obscures the integrity of either nature.”8 Scripture affirms this by its repetitive indications of both his divine and human qualities (his holding up the universe, and his hunger).

Paragraph 8

To all those for whom Christ has obtained eternal redemption, He does certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same, making intercession for them;(38) uniting them to Himself by His Spirit, revealing to them, in and by His Word, the mystery of salvation, persuading them to believe and obey,(39) governing their hearts by His Word and Spirit,(40) and overcoming all their enemies by His almighty power and wisdom,(41) in such manner and ways as are most consonant to His wonderful and unsearchable dispensation; and all of free and absolute grace, without any condition foreseen in them to procure it.(42)

(38) John 6:37, 10:15,16, 17:9; Romans 5:10. (39) John 17:6; Ephesians 1:9; 1 John 5:20. (40) Romans 8:9, 14. (41) Psalm 110:1; 1 Corinthians 15:25, 26. (42) John 3:8; Ephesians 1:8.

Paragraph 9

This office of mediator between God and man is proper only to Christ, who is the prophet, priest, and king of the church of God; and may not be either in whole, or any part thereof, transferred from Him to any other.(43)

(43) 1 Timothy 2:5

Paragraph 10

This number and order of offices is necessary; for in respect of our ignorance, we stand in need of His prophetical office;(44) and in respect of our alienation from God, and imperfection of the best of our services, we need His priestly office to reconcile us and present us acceptable unto God;(45) and in respect to our averseness and utter inability to return to God, and for our rescue and security from our spiritual adversaries, we need His kingly office to convince, subdue, draw, uphold, deliver, and preserve us to His heavenly kingdom.(46)

(44) John 1:18. (45) Colossians 1:21; Galatians 5:17. (46) John 16:8; Psalm 110:3; Luke 1:74, 75.

 

Total Intercession

The strength of these paragraphs rests in the affirmation of God’s faithfulness. God intends to save a people through Christ, and He will see to it that this salvation is complete. Thus, salvation is accomplished through Christ and applied in Christ, and He is faithful to accomplish every aspect of this work. God’s purposes are everlasting and immutable. At this point we must make sure our understanding of intercession is inclusive of all His work. In other words, when we focus upon Christ’s intercessory ministry, we must not think only in terms of His present intercession of prayer. As paragraph eight notes, He intercedes through applying and communicating the gospel to us through the power of the Spirit. It is through this work that we are “persuaded to believe.” Paul makes this point in Ephesians 1 when he describes our hearing the word of truth, the gospel of salvation, we then believe and are sealed. Each component of this gracious act is evidence of Jesus’ total intercession. Additionally, His intercession includes His governing our lives by His Word and Spirit.

 

He Preserves His People

Paragraph ten’s origins stem from the First London Confession. This paragraph summarizes much of what has been covered in the previous nine. Jesus Christ the mediator was faithful in the execution of his roles and prophet, priest, and king. The order of these three offices is important. Like the prophets of old, Jesus was anointed by God’s Spirit to proclaim God’s Word. Moses foretold of a future prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15), and Peter attributed that prophecy to Jesus (Acts 3:22). Due to our ignorance, we need Christ to declare and provide the gospel for us. In light of our enmity with God, our high priest sought to reconcile a chosen people on the basis of His sovereign decree. Our great high priest makes us acceptable in God’s sight, and his work of intercession is eternal. At all times Christ is our righteousness, our defense, and our sustainer. Christ the king rules in our lives because His lordship extends to every crevice of our lives. His sovereign rule assures our preservation. In each of these ways, Jesus is preserving his people.

How do we respond to the gracious provision we have in Christ? Well, as the song says, we praise Him. God created us to worship, and we do so with our heart, soul, mind, and strength. How do we crown Jesus prophet, priest, and king? I suppose there are several answers, but our answers must not be less than our humble recognition that God provided us everything we need in Christ. Crowing Him prophet, priest, and king is something God has already done, so our crowning Him in these ways is essentially our joyful admission in our worship and lifestyle that we belong to Him. He enriches our souls through His prophetic word, He reconciles and intercedes for us as our priest, and He rules over all things as king of kings.

NOTES:

1 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 620.

2 Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006), 418.

3 John Dagg, Manual of Theology (Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, 1982), 206.

4 See Grudem, Systematic Theology, 586-594.

5 Tom Nettles, By His Grace and For His Glory (Lake Charles, LA: Cor Meum Tibi, 2002), 298.

6 Stephen J. Wellum, “The New Covenant Work of Christ: Priesthood, Atonement, and Intercession,” in From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective, edited by David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 517–540.

7 Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008), 388.

8 Stephen J. Wellum, God the Incarnate Son: The Doctrine of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 307.