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

Col. 1:20-22 – Reconcile all things in heaven to Himself through His cross

In the time before Christ there was war in heaven; heavenly creatures waged war against God by evil deeds.  God was not angry.  He did reconcile all things to Himself by providing evidence through Christ’s death, which even heaven needed.

Colossians 1:20-22 can be analysed into the following statements:

  1. Before Christ’s death there was “war” between God and His intelligent creatures; both on earth and in heaven.
  2. That war was caused by the aggression of God’s intelligent creatures against Him.
  3. God was not angry with His enemies.
  4. To bring an end to the war, God changed the minds of His enemies by providing evidence through Christ’s death.
  5. The intelligent beings in heaven also needed the evidence provided by the cross
  6. God forgives completely.

1:20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. 1:21 And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, 1:22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—

Before Christ’s death there was “war” between God and His intelligent creatures; both on earth and in heaven.

Through Himthe Father reconciled “all things to Himself” and also “made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him” (1:20).  To reconcile therefore means to make peace between God and His alienated intelligent creatures.  This is also seen in verses 21 and 22, where it is stated that the Colossians previously were “hostile in mind”—which indicates a lack of peace—but now are “reconciled”.  Since God had to make “peace”, there previously was war.

The blood of Christ not only reconciles humans to the Father; even the “things in heaven” are reconciled to the Father through His blood (1:20).  This means that there also was war in heaven.  The Bible is generally silent on the war in heaven.  With the exception of a few places (Job 1:6-; Eph. 1:10; 3:10; Col. 1:20-22; etc.) the Bible only describes events on earth.  But right at the beginning of the Bible we read that Satan came to deceive our first parents.  Sin therefore did not originate on earth; the rebellion against God started elsewhere: in what we may call heaven.  Revelation 12:7 describes that war as between two groups of angels:

And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war

This “dragon” is a symbol for Satan (Rev. 12:9).  Satan and his angels are alienated from and hostile towards Him, to quote from Colossians 1:21.

It is this war that spilled over to earth when Satan deceived our first parents, and which is continued today:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places“ (Eph. 6:12).

That war was caused by the aggression of God’s intelligent creatures against Him.

Notice the ‘before’ and ‘after’ conditions of the Colossians:

Before they were reconciled, they were “alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds” (1:21).

After they were reconciled and at “peace” with God, they were “holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (1:22), i.e. the absence of evil deeds.

It is not God that is described as “hostile”, but His intelligent creatures.  God is perfectly good.  “Evil deeds” are acts of aggression against God.

God was not angry with His enemies.

Since “Him” and “His” in the current verses refer to Christ, these are things which the Father did “through Him”.  It is important to note that it is God that made peace with His enemies; His enemies did not make peace with Him.  The Father took the initiative and through Christ unilaterally acted to reconcile His enemies to Himself.  This means that it is not the Father that is angry with His enemies; it is His enemies that are angry with God.  They are trying to exclude Him from their lives in all possible ways.  A common method is to insult God by using His name in vain, and even to use His name as a swearword.

Some people conclude from the Bible that God is angry and that Christ died to pacify Him.  The current verses present His enemies as angry, and God as the One that seeks reconciliation.  God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (John 3:16).

To bring an end to the war, God changed the minds of His enemies by providing evidence through Christ’s death.

The previous verses explained who Christ is.  By using the word “through” four times, the current verses (1:20-22) shift the focus to what God did through Christ, indicating that Christ was the Means of reconciliation:

The Father “through Him … reconcile all things to Himself … through the blood of His cross; through Him” (1:20).  That includes the Colossian Christians, who were “reconciled … in His fleshly body through death” (1:22).

We should not think that His literal blood has any magical power.  “Through the blood of His cross” (1:20) means “in His fleshly body through death” (1:22).  “Blood” is therefore a symbol of His death.

The question now is how Christ’s death succeeded “to reconcile all things to Himself” (1:20):

According to Colossians 2:15 the cross made a “public display” of the “rulers and authorities”.  These are supernatural beings. (See discussion of 2:10)

According to Romans 3:25-26 the cross made a “public display” of Christ to demonstrate His (the Father’s) righteousness; to show the Father as just in spite of the fact that He justifies (forgives) people.

In Revelation the victory of “Michael and his angels” over “the dragon and his angels” is expressed as that the “dragon” and “his angels” were “thrown down” (v9) from heaven (v8) to earth (v12).  Since Satan is represented as accusing “our brethren … before our God day and night” (Rev. 12:10), his being “thrown down” (v9) from heaven (v8) implies that the cross of Christ made it impossible for him to further accuse “our brethren”.  The analysis of Revelation 12 concludes that this victory was won through “her child“ (Christ), when He “was caught up to God and to His throne” (Rev. 12:5).

For the following reasons it is therefore proposed that God reconciled His enemies with Himself by changing the minds of His enemies by providing evidence:

  • Christ’s death is said to be a “public display” (Col. 2:15; Rom. 3:25-26).
  • Christ’s death is said to be a demonstration of God’s righteousness (Rom. 3:25-26).
  • Christ’s death is said to have made an end to Satan’s ability to accuse “our brethren” (Rev. 12:8-10). As stated by Colossians 2:15, the cross “disarmed the rulers and authorities”.

To combine these thoughts: by accusing “our brethren”, Satan was actually accusing God of injustice for forgiving (justifying) “our brethren”.  Somehow the public display and demonstration of both Christ and the “rulers and authorities” through the cross made it impossible for Satan to further accuse “our brethren” because it has been shown the justice of God.  In other words, Satan’s arguments were proven false by the public demonstration of the cross.

To take this idea further, we need to ask what Christ’s death revealed of Christ, of God and of Satan.  This will not be discussed now.

If the cross made peace, why are we still involved in the war?  In the words of Revelation, peace came to heaven when Satan was cast out of heaven, but he was given more time on earth (12:9-12).  Why?  This issue is addressed in the discussion of the seals in Revelation.

The intelligent beings in the heaven also needed the evidence provided by the cross.

This brings us to the perhaps surprising conclusion that the intelligent beings in the heaven also needed the evidence provided by the cross.  The war that is started in heaven is ended on earth.  The struggle that you and I are involved in, has cosmic implications.

God forgives completely.

Lastly, the Colossian Christians were reconciled “to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (1:22).  As verse 23 indicates, this must still happen.  But the point here is that God will not hold the sins of His people against them.  God is the great Physician.  He wants to heal us of a deadly cancer.  Yes, our evil deeds are aggression against Him, but once we are healed from this cancer He will not hold it against us.

Atonement

Another way in which the Bible expresses the “reconcile”-concept is “make atonement”, as indicated by the following definition of “atonement”:

Atonement: 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 katallasso, usually translated “to reconcile”.  The basic meaning is to establish friendship. (Holman Bible dictionary)

The original meaning of “atonement” is “at-one-ment”, which means to be “at-one”, which means to be reconciled.  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).  But the forensic doctrine of salvation caused the meaning of “atonement” to change over the centuries.  The forensic doctrine of salvation teaches that somebody must pay for sins committed.  This doctrine presents God as angry and the death of Christ as a sacrifice to pacify God.  Therefore “atonement” has today come to mean “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 (1:20).  It is us that must change.  It is not God that is angry; it is His creatures that are “hostile in mind” (1:21).  In the Bible God is never reconciled to us.  The current verses (Col. 1:20-22) indicate that God, through Christ, reconciled all things “to Himself” (1:20).  And in Romans 5:10 we read:

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).

Colossians Table of Contents

Next: Colossians 1:23-28 The mystery hidden from the past ages