Christ appears before God for us; the Mediator of a new covenant.

Jesus our high priest

After Jesus overcame, He sat down on His Father’s throne of grace, where He serves as our merciful high priest.  He sympathizes with our weaknesses.  If we, who are tempted, draw near to God, Jesus will come to our aid.  He will give us mercy and grace.  God promised, “their lawless deeds I will remember no more”, and our high priest Jesus guarantees that new covenant promise.

Purpose

This is the third in a series of articles on Hebrews’ teachings of Christ as our high priest.

In the first article (How Jesus became high priest) it was noted that God perfected Jesus through suffering.  Therefore Jesus could offer Himself without blemish to God, making purification of sins through death.  After His resurrection, Jesus sat down on His Father’s throne.  On the basis of Psalm 110 (verses 1 and  4) the writer of Hebrews interprets this event as Jesus becoming our high priest in the tabernacle in heaven.

In the second article  (Jesus is a better high priest) it was shown that the Levitical priesthood was merely a copy and shadow of the tabernacle in which Jesus serves, and for that reason was unable to do away with sin.  “Perfection” is only possible through Christ, based on His better sacrifice, which is the sacrifice of Himself.

In this third article the question is what Christ has been doing since he became our high priest, and what He is still doing today.

2:17-18 Makes propitiation

The first reference to Jesus as “high priest” is found in 2:17. This verse states that, as high priest, He makes “propitiation for the sins of the people”.  The word “propitiation“, in normal English, means an appeasement; a payment which satisfies; to appease the wrath of an angry god.  The word translated “make propitiation” (2:17) is hilaskomai (Strong’s G2433), but there is absolutely no need to read into this word that God is angry with sinners, and has to be pacified.  This is indicated by the following:

1. This word hilaskomai appears only in one other place in the Bible, where it is translated as “be merciful”:

But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (Luke 18:13)

2. The KJV translates hilaskomai in Hebrews 2:17 as “make reconciliation”.  “Reconciliation” is used several times in the Bible to describe what happens when man turns to God, and it is always man that is reconciled to God; never God that is reconciled to man.  In other words, it is man that needs to change; God has always been willing to accept man.  See the article Metaphors of Salvation for more information.

3. The NIV translates hilaskomai in Hebrews 2:17 as “make atonement”, which is a more neutral word.  The word atonement originated when the Bible was first translated in English.  At that time people used the word “one” as a synonym for the verb “reconcile”.  In other words, when you reconcile two people, then you “one” them.  “At-one-ment” was used to indicate a restored relationship.  See the article Atonement for more information.

4. We should therefore rather allow hilaskomai in Hebrews 2:17 to be explained by the context, namely that hilaskomai means that He is “merciful” (2:17) and “come to the aid of those who are tempted” (2:18).

God is not angry with sinners.  Rather, He so loved the world that He sent His Only Son (John 3:16).

4:14-16 Receive mercy and find grace

The second time that we read in Hebrews about Jesus as high priest, is in 4:14-16, which is also the introduction to the great center section in Hebrews on Christ as our high priest.  In 2:17 we read that He is “merciful”, but 4:15 goes one step further by explaining how He feels towards sinners, namely that He sympathizes with our weaknesses; “therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:16).  This is also an interpretation of the word hilaskomai in 2:17. In other words, hilaskomai means that Jesus intercedes for us so that “we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need”.

Mediator of the New Covenant

The covenant is an important concept in Hebrews.  The word “covenant” is used 21 times in Hebrews and the quotation in Hebrews 8, of the new covenant promise in Jeremiah 31, is the longest quotation in the entire New Testament.

God made the first covenant with Israel “on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt” (8:9).  The new covenant includes that God will put His laws into their minds and write His laws on their hearts.  His people will therefore not teach one another, “for all will know me” (8:10-11).  One may argue that this promise has not yet come true, but it is important to note that Hebrews associates the new covenant with Christ’s ministry as high priest:

7:22Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant”.  [It is “a better covenant” because it “has been enacted on better promises” (8:6).]

9:15 He is mediator of a new covenant” (9:15).

12:24Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant

But what is this new and better covenant?  As mentioned, Hebrews 8 contains a very long quotation of the new covenant promise in Jeremiah 31.  Hebrews 10 repeats the two main points of that new covenant, namely:

10:16 I will put My laws upon their heart, and on their mind I will write them”.

10:17Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more”.

However, if we consider the context of the quotation in Hebrews 10, namely to “make perfect” (10:1), which means to “take away sins” (10:4), and “forgiveness” (10:18), then we see that the main promise in the new covenant, for the writer of Hebrews, is the second point above, namely, “their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more”.  Jesus is the mediator of this promise, which means that Jesus is the go-between between God and man; not to appease God’s wrath, but as guarantee of God promise “I will remember their sins no more” (8:12; 10:17).

9:24 Appear in the presence of God for us

This concept of Jesus as Mediator of the new covenant is well summarized in the following statements:

9:24Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us”.

7:25 Jesus “always lives to intercede for” “those who come to God through him” (7:25 NIV).

Summary

Jesus said “I … overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Rev. 3:21, cf. Heb. 1:3).  His throne is the “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16).  Our high priest Jesus is “merciful” (2:17) and sympathizes with our weaknesses (4:15).  He will “come to the aid of those who are tempted” (2:18).  If we “draw near”, we will “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:16).  God promised, “their lawless deeds I will remember no more”, and our high priest Jesus guarantees that promise.

NEXT: Draw near with confidence

TO: General Table of Contents

Metaphors of salvation

Paul used a very rich variety of metaphors and symbols, including many metaphors of salvation. We must be very careful not to literalize his metaphors.

How a person is saved, is explained differently by different people:

In Christian circles we often hear that a price had to be legally paid, and Christ paid that price by His blood.  But words such as “redemption” and “justifications” are only metaphors.  We should not literalize them.  Paul uses many other metaphors for how God saves sinners.  For instance, in the letter to the Colossians, he also says that the believers have been:

  • Qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints (1:12)
  • Rescued from the domain of darkness (1:13)
  • Transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son (1:13)
  • Redeemed (1:14 – paid the required price. )
  • Reconciled – as to an old friend (1:22)
  • Received Christ Jesus the Lord (2:6);
  • Made complete (2:10)
  • Circumcised with a circumcision made without hands (2:11)
  • Buried with Him in baptism … raised up with Him (2:12)
  • Made alive together with Him (were dead in your transgressions 2:13)
  • Raised up with Christ (3:1 – died with Christ 2:20; 3:3) -)
  • Canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us (2:14)
  • Chosen of God (3:12)
  • Forgiven (their sins – 1:14; 2:13)

Some of these expressions are very symbolic.  Others, like the forgiveness of sins, are more literal.  Paul used a very rich variety of metaphors and symbols.  He sometimes even changes his metaphors in mid-sentence (e.g. 2:7).

Another famous metaphor of Paul is Justification.  Reformed theology, clinging to the word Justification, hold to the Forensic View of Atonement.  The Justification metaphor appears often in Romans and Galatians, but is not used even once in Colossians, probably because the Colossians Christians were Gentiles, and Justification was the way in which the Jews thought of how people are saved.  They recognized their sins and saw God as their judge, before which they stand guilty.  But they also thought that they were justified (put in a right legal standing with God) by the works of the Law (by the rituals, sacrifices and ceremonies prescribed by the law).  This included circumcision and ceremonial washings.  They thought that these things will compensate for their sins and legally justify them before God.  Therefore Paul used forensic metaphors when speaking to Jews, arguing that one is not justified by the works of the Law, but simply by grace through faith.

But the Forensic View of Atonement under-emphasizes God’s love and mercy for mankind.  It is often explained from pulpits that Christ stands between God and man, continually pleading His blood for the sins of His people.  This is a horrible distortion of the good news.  To mention a few:

It is the Father who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light, rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:12-13).

God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16).

Christ is the Lamb of God (John 1:29).

Jesus said, “I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you” (John 16:26-27)

Therefore, by over-emphasizing and literalizing one metaphor of salvation, the Forensic View of Atonement paints a very unbiblical view of God.

Reconciliation is another one of Paul’s powerful metaphors (Col. 1:20-21, Eph. 2:16; Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18, 20).  He presents God as our friend from whom we have been alienated (Col. 1:21), and to Whom we must be reconciled.  This God has done through the cross.  The difference between a believer and a non-believer isn’t merely forgiveness; it is reconciliation.

The point is that we must be very careful not to literalize Paul’s metaphors.  These are all descriptions in human language of what happens when we put our faith (trust) in God.  We learn something of reality from each of these metaphors, but we should not promote one at the expense of the others, or interpret any of them unduly literal.  As discussed in the article titled “Disarmed the rulers and authorities”, the problem that was solved by the Cross is much more complex.  See also the discussion of the word “Atonement”, where it is explained that the Greek word translated Atonement in the KJV of the New Testament is simply reconciliations.

TO: General Table of Contents

Atonement

Atonement has come to mean paying a penalty to meet legal demands. When the Bible was first translated to English Atonement referred to the state of being in unity – being AT-ONE.

Making amendsCommonly, in the last century or two or three, atonement has come to mean making amends or paying a penalty to meet legal demands, to propitiate wrath or to adjust one’s to legal standing.  To some atonement is the thing Christ did to reconcile the Father unto us and assuage His offended wrath.

But that is not the original meaning of the term, and it is definitely not the meaning of the word in the Bible.  The only place you’ll find the word, in the King James Version, is in Romans 5:10. But the word in the Greek is the very common word ‘katallasso’.  There’s no hint of making amends in this word.  It means ‘reconciliation’. Holman’s Bible dictionary defines this word as follows:

Reconciliation … specifically the reconciliation between God and humanity effected by the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.  … The New Testament rarely uses a word for atonement. The basic Greek word is usually translated “to reconcile”.  The basic meaning is to establish friendship.

Therefore Romans 5:10, in the NASB, reads:

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom 5:10).

The dictionaries agree that this word ‘atonement’ is a made-up word, namely ‘at-one‐ment’. That’s the way the word started.  It was based on a verb, ‘to one’. Two people are fighting, and you are sent out to ‘one’ them. Not ‘win’ them; to ‘one’ them.  And then when you have succeeded in ‘one-ing’ people, then, hopefully, they would remain in a state of oneness.  It is the state of being ‘at one’ that is atonement, not the process ‘one-ing’ people. Atonement therefore means to be in harmony or unity.  That is what “atonement” meant when the Bible was first translated into English.  In the Bible it is God, because He loves us, that sent His Son (“the Lamb of God”-John 1:29) to bring His people back to Him (John 3:16).

There’s only one dictionary that really give the history of the word, and that’s a multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary. It shows how, for a long time, it was used in its original sense of being at one, reconciling people to harmony; friendship is often mentioned, unity, and so on. Now, later on somehow, it was changed to mean ‘making amends, paying penalty’, and that’s the way it’s commonly used now.

So how did the meaning of the word atonement change so much?  It was the forensic doctrine of salvation that changed the meaning of “atonement” over the centuries.  The forensic doctrine of salvation teaches that somebody must pay for sins committed.  TIt presents God as angry and the death of Christ as a sacrifice to pacify God.  It was because the reformers had this understanding of the purpose of Christ’s death that the meaning of “atonement” has slowly changed over the centuries to “reparation for an offence or injury” (Merriam-Webster).

But that is not how we should understand the purpose of Christ’s death.  It is not God that must change.  The blood of the Cross did not change how the Father feels about sinners.  The opposite is rather true, namely that the blood of Christ was the means by which the Father changed the hearts and minds of His creatures; to be reconciled to Himself (Colossians 1:20).  It is us that must change.  It is not God that is angry; it is His creatures that are “hostile in mind” (Colossians 1:21).  In the Bible God is never reconciled to us.  Colossians 1:20-22 indicates that God, through Christ, reconciled all things “to Himself” (1:20).

Please also see the article Christ’s death reconciled us to God for further information.

TO: General Table of Contents

Disarmed the rulers and authorities.

Rulers and authorities—the supernatural beings condemned by God—use the sins of humans to accuse God of unfair judgment, but Jesus disarmed the rulers and authorities.

The reader should read the article Christ’s death reconciled us to God prior to reading this article.  That article defines the problem that was solved by the Cross.  This article explains how the Cross solved that problem.

The explanation which the reader will find in these two articles is very different from the standard explanations one finds in churches today.  Paul emphasized and all believe that the Cross solved the problem, but the Bible does not clearly explain what the problem was, that was solved by the Cross.  The Bible is mostly a description of events on earth.  Very little is said of the events in the background in heaven. For that reason different people understand the problem differently.  Some believe that God was angry and had to be pacified, but since the Bible clearly teaches that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16), many others believe something like that God’s justice demands that somebody must suffer, and that the innocent Son of God suffered in our place.  This article argues that the Cross had to disarm the rulers and authorities.  These ideas are critical to one’s Christian experience because ideas have consequences.  We are saved through faith by grace, but some ideas destroys faith and trust in God. We must make sure that our understanding of the problem, and of the solution provided by the Cross, is Biblical.

SUMMARY

In Colossians 2:13-15 we read about three events:

  • We have been made alive when our transgressions have been forgiven.
  • The certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us has been canceled by being nailed to the cross.
  • God disarmed the rulers and authorities through Christ.

As discussed on a separate page, this “Certificate of debt consisting of decrees” is the penalty for our sins.  The second event is therefore the same as the first.

As also discussed on a separate page, the Rulers and Authorities are supernatural beings—different ranks of angelic beings (Rom. 8:38, Eph. 1:21, 3:10 and 6:12).  Since God had to triumph over them, we understand that they oppose God; they are His enemies, under Satan’s leadership.   The purpose of this page is to explain how the Cross disarmed them.

It is concluded below that the “rulers and authorities” used our sins as weapons against God, who “passed over the sins previously committed” by the believers (Rom. 3:25).  Satan refused to accept His judgment, and continued to accuse God of unfair judgment, pointing to the sins of the believers.

Through the Cross God “disarmed” the “rulers and authorities”.  The Cross demonstrated God as faithful to the principle of love, but revealed Satan and his “rulers and authorities” as evil murderers.  In this way the Cross confirmed the justice and fairness of God’s judgment; showing that God acted fairly in forgiving the sins of the believers.  Thus Satan was disarmed.  He is no longer able to accuse the believers and he is no longer able to accuse God of unfair judgment.

DISCUSSION

In Colossians 2:13-15 we read:

having forgiven us all our transgressions,

14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.

God “disarmed” them (Col. 2:15), which means that God took their weapons away.  The purpose of this page is to identify the weapons of the “rulers and authorities” and to explain how they were “disarmed”.

Our sins are their weapons.

Revelation 12:7 describes this heavenly conflict as war:

there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels” (Rev. 12:7)

The “dragon” is “the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan” (Rev. 12:9).  He is also “the accuser of our brethren” (Rev. 12:10) because he accused the believers “before our God day and night” (Rev.12:10).  The “war in heaven” therefore was a war of words and Satan’s weapons were the sins of the believers.  Satan accused “our brethren”, but because God forgave them their sins, he effectively accused God of injustice; of unfair judgment for forgiving (justifying) the believers.

We see this same principle in Romans 3:25-26, which states:

That the cross demonstrated God’s righteousness, and

That it was necessary to demonstrate God’s righteousness because “in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed” (Rom. 3:25).

In other words, Satan attacked God’s “righteousness” for passing over “the sins previously committed”.  He used those sins of God’s people to accuse God of unfair judgment.

This is also the implication of Col. 2:15, where disarming the “rulers and authorities” is mentioned in the context of forgiveness (v13) and cancelling the penalty for sins (v14).

Satan was disarmed by the cross.

God “triumphed over them through Him (Christ)” (Col. 2:15).  This means that God disarmed Satan through the cross.

Col. 2:14-15 also says that God “disarmed the rulers and authoritieswhen He “canceled out the certificate of debt … having nailed it to the cross”.  In other words, the rulers and authorities were disarmed by cancelling the certificate of debt, which was done through the Cross.

We see this also in Revelation 12, where Michael’s victory over the dragon and his angels is symbolized by the throwing down of the dragon and his angels (v9) from heaven (v8) to earth (v12).  When did this happen?  As shown in the discussion of Revelation 12, the “time and times and half a time” in verse 14, which the woman spends in the “wilderness”, is the same as the 1260 days in verse 6 during which she was nourished in the wilderness.  It is therefore proposed that the description of the conclusion of the war in heaven—the triumph of Michael over Satan, described in the verses between these two “wilderness” verses—jumps back in time, and parallels 12:5, which says that “her child was caught up to God and to His throne”, which refers to the Cross.  Further evidence for this is the statement in 12:11 that Satan was overcome by the blood of the Lamb.  The conclusion is therefore again that Satan was disarmed through the Cross.

Disarmed Rulers and AuthoritiesTo conclude, Satan’s weapons were the sins of the believers, which Paul refers to as the Certificate of debt consisting of decrees.  By nailing it to the Cross, God canceled it and “has taken it out of the way” (Col. 2:14), thus disarming Satan’s rulers and authorities.

The Cross cancelled out the “Certificate of Debt” through demonstration.

According to Romans 3:25 Christ Jesus was “displayed publicly … to demonstrate His (the Father’s) righteousnessso that He (the Father) would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”.  In other words, the Cross demonstrated that it is just for God to forgive (justify) the guilty “who has faith in Jesus”.

Also in Col. 2:15 Paul used the words “public display”, but here it says that the cross “made a public display of” the “rulers and authorities”.

The words “demonstration” and “public display” means that the Cross demonstrated or showed something, and that this revelation cancelled the penalty due for our sins, with the consequence that Satan and his followers are no longer able to accuse “our brethren” or to use those sins to accuse God of unfair judgment.  The public demonstration of the Cross verified the justice and fairness of God’s judgment, and disarmed Satan by proving his arguments as false.

In Revelation 12, where Satan is described as accusing “our brethren … before our God day and night” (Rev. 12:10), Satan is “thrown down” (v9) from heaven (v8).  This is interpreted as that the Cross of Christ convinced the heavenly beings that God is right and Satan is wrong, destroying any credibility which Satan still had with the heavenly beings that still were loyal to God.

To summarize, the Cross did not change God, as many seem to think; it changed the heavenly beings.  The Cross gave them conclusive evidence. As discussed in the article Christ’s death reconciled us to God, Satan accused God of unfair judgment, pointing to the sins of God’s people and the angels were not able to determine conclusively who is telling the truth; God or Satan.  But the Cross gave them the evidence they needed.  We see this symbolized in Revelation 5, where there is a sealed book (5:1), and nobody is able to open it (5:3), but then the Lamb overcomes (5:5) and is worthy to open the book because He was slain (5:9).

The Cross did not make an end to human sin, and our sins remain clearly visible to the heavenly beings, but God took away Satan’s ability to use those sins to accuse God of poor judgment.

Verses 13 to 15 of Colossians 2 therefore all deal with the same subject; the sins of the believers:

  • Verse 13: These sins have been forgiven.
  • Verse 14: The penalty for those sins have been cancelled.
  • Verse 15: The rulers and authorities are no longer able to use those sins to accuse the believers.

The cross revealed character.

Christ’s death did not publicly display anything to human eyes, for human eyes see in the Cross only defeat and weakness.  The Cross was a “public display” essentially to heavenly eyes only.

The Cross revealed God’s character (Rom. 3:25).  The Cross shows that Christ “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (Philippians 2:8).  The Father “triumphed over them through” Christ (Col. 2:15), not by the mere fact that Christ died on the Cross, but by Christ remaining faithful to God’s principles of service to others, while suffering to death through the most intense form of physical and mental torture.  On the cross He could not see the future and He lost His continual contact with the Father, for He cried out: “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken me?” (Mat. 27:46; Mark 15:34)  But still He did not use supernatural power to relieve His pain.  “Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God … emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant … Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).  Jesus once said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).  Christ behavior therefore revealed God’s character to the universe as contrary to the way in which Satan depicted God.

The Cross also displayed Satan’s character and that of his “rulers and authorities” as evil murderers of their Innocent Creator, for it was the madness of the evil angels that activated the Jews to kill Him.

The cross therefore demonstrated both sides of the war in heaven for what they really are.  For that reason Satan and his angels were thrown out of heaven (Rev. 12:9); they lost all credibility which they previously might have had with the heavenly beings.

To bring an end to the war God provided evidence through Christ’s death. The Cross was a decisive battle in the ongoing war in heaven.  The war in heaven was concluded on earth.  The Cross was not for human beings specifically; it was for the entire universe.  The Cross has all-important consequences for us as human; but because it made an end to the war in heaven, it was equally important for all beings in God’s universe.

Rome was the greatest military power on earth at that time.  Judaism (church) conspired with Rome (State) to kill the Son of God. Angry at His challenge to their sovereignty, they stripped him naked, held him up to public contempt, and in human eyes triumphed over Him.  But the paradox of the cross is that Jesus, in reality, took the spiritual powers animating these earthly powers and stripped them, held them up to contempt, and publicly triumphed over them.

The war shifted from heaven to earth.

The Cross made an end to the war of words in heaven, but as Revelation 12 indicates, Satan continues the war on earth:

… rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time” (Rev. 12:12 ).

The battleground has changed.  The war has shifted from heaven to earth.  Why does the war continue after the Cross?  Why is God still tolerating sin?  See The Seven Seals of Revelation for a discussion of God’s glorious purpose.

TO: General Table of Contents