Lesson 3 – Jesus Christ, the Mediator

Survey Studies in Reformed Theology

Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
by Bob Burridge ©1996, 2006, 2010, 2017

Objective Soteriology
Lesson 3 – Jesus Christ, the Mediator

(Video: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)
Westminster Confession of Faith VIII

Part 1 – The Need for a Mediator
Jesus as Prophet, Priest and King (includes notes on the Baptism of Jesus)
Part 2a – The Natures of Jesus Christ (humanity and divinity)
The Hypostatic Union
Part 2b – The States of Jesus Christ
The Humiliation of Jesus Christ (interpretations of “He descended into hell”)
The Exaltation of Jesus Christ
Part 3 – The Work of Jesus Christ
The Active and Passive Obedience of Jesus Christ
The Timelessness of the Work of Christ

Part 1 – Jesus our Mediator (Prophet, Priest, and King)

We fallen humans need a mediator between ourselves and God. We need him to represent us judicially. We are all corrupted with the guilt of Adam, and we are born with sin-enslaved souls. Moral offense separates us from God, and requires reconciliation on the grounds of atonement by the Messiah. Jesus Christ is that Mediator between God and man.

Each period of redemptive history had mediators of the covenant to represent the one True Mediator. The human mediators were administrators of God’s covenant. The Divine Mediator is always Jesus Christ, the author of and a party of the Covenant of Grace.

The work of Christ as Mediator is divided into the three offices attributed to him: Prophet, Priest and King. John Calvin appears to be the first to distinguish these three offices particularly (Institutes Book 2, section 15). This model for organizing the biblical data about Christ has withstood the test of time and critical analysis.

The word “Christ” is from the New Testament Greek term “Christos” (Χριστός). It means “anointed”. It was used to translate the Hebrew word “Meshiack” (משׁיח) or “Messiah”. That word also means “anointed”, someone “set aside for special office”.

In God’s law prophets, priests, and kings were anointed to office. It was done by ceremonies common to contemporary culture, or by declaration by someone in proper authority.

Jesus carries out the office of Prophet

The work of a prophet is to proclaim God’s truth. He is not just someone who predicts future events as the word’s commonly used today. He is first of all one who declares what God has made known to him by special revelation. To ensure that all he says is true, the Holy Spirit superintends all he says.

Before man’s fall, Adam told Eve what God had said to him. He communed directly with God, and had no fallen nature to distort what he saw and heard. Adam and Eve could properly interpret creation, conscience, and providence to see God’s revealed truth in them. They were likely able to actually hear God directly speaking to them (special revelation).

After the fall, the human race expanded, and eventually Adam died. This means there was a need for other men called apart to serve as God’s spokesmen. But the fallen mind was now corrupted. It wasn’t able to discern an uncorrupted message in what God’s reveled.

Moses was the first to actually be called a prophet. Yet many before him passed on God’s message as his called spokesmen. The work of prophet preceded the title of the office.

Moses explained how to identify the true prophet, and how to distinguish him from false prophets. God said through Moses in Deuteronomy 18:18-22, “I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And it shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him. But the prophet who shall speak a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he shall speak in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die. And you may say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’ When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”

The true prophet speaks for God supernaturally. They are fallible men but are rendered infallible as they carried out their office. The word of the prophet is either confirmed or exposed as false by what comes to pass. And his word, since it is the word of God, must be consistent with all other revealed truths.

Jesus spoke and acted to restore our understanding of truth as it exists in the mind of God. He was the ultimate true prophet of Deuteronomy 18, the eternal Logos, the word of God (John 1:1,14). He was not just a mere messenger of truth. Jesus was the truth incarnate. John 14:6, “I am the way, and the TRUTH, and the life.”

The Westminster Larger Catechism Q 43 asks, “How does Christ execute the office of a prophet?” It answers: “Christ executes the office of a prophet, in his revealing to the church, in all ages, by his Spirit and Word, in divers ways of administration, the whole will of God, in all things concerning their edification and salvation.”

Jesus is specifically called a prophet. Stephen in his defense before the council said Moses was talking about Jesus when he said, “… God shall raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren” (Acts 7:37). Hebrews 1:1-2, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”

Special revelation was completed in Scripture at the end of the apostolic era. There’s no continuing office of prophet in the church in this age. The New Testament gives no process to direct the church in recognizing those called to the prophetic office. For us today, the Bible is called God’s prophetic word (2 Peter 1:19). The Holy Spirit who was sent to us by Christ continues to administer truth from that word to the redeemed.
Jesus said in John 16:13, “when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth”

Jesus carries out the office of Priest

The work of Priest is that of affirming reconciliation between God and fallen man by way of atonement. Before the fall there was no need for a priest. Reconciliation was not necessary.

After the fall there became a need for priestly work. Fallen man could no longer approach a Holy God because he is an offense to his Creator. Habakkuk 1:13, “Thine eyes are too pure to approve evil, and thou canst not look on wickedness with favor…”

God established a sacrificial system to prefigure the promised atonement of Jesus Christ. The details of atonement were made known progressively, so the early system was very simple and immediate. The head of each family acted as a priestly mediator between God and his family. The examples of Job and the patriarchs confirm this.

As the nations grew heads of tribes emerged as representing his people before God as priests. Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18) was a different order of priest. He more directly revealed the representative priesthood of Christ for all families and races. He was the first to be actually called a priest, though priestly work started in Eden after the fall.

Under Moses the priesthood was narrowed to the family of Aaron. It was hereditary. Men in that family were anointed to the priestly work when they reached the required age of 30. This Levitical system of priests continued until the time of Christ.

Human priests were fallen sinners who themselves needed atonement, as well as those they represented. Hebrews 8:3 “For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer.”

Their office was only typical and symbolic. Mortality required the office be passed on in each generation. Hebrews 5:1-4, “For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness; and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself. And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was.”

Priests did not present the sacrifice on their own merits. They served only as types of the true priest yet to come. Hebrews 8:5 “who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, ‘See,’ He says, ‘that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.’ ”

Jesus was both perfect man and God incarnate. He alone could be the true priest who was prefigured by the rest. He alone brings the perfect sacrifice of his own life as the perfect Lamb of God. His anointing to the priesthood was by divine appointment instead of by heredity. It was after the order of Melchizedek (compare Psalm 110:4, Hebrews 5:6, and Hebrews 7:17). The evidence is the baptism of Jesus by John. It was his official outward appointment to the office of priest.

John’s baptisms of the Jews who came to him were baptisms of repentance.
In Levitical practice, sprinkling objects and people represented cleansing from the pollution of sin and its guilt. The Priests and Levites sent men to examine what John was doing (John 1:19-27). They did not ask him “what” he was doing. Baptisms were not a new rite. They asked “why” he was doing it.

John was qualified to administer the priestly sprinklings. John’s parents Zacharias and Elizabeth were of Levi (Luke 1:5). His father was of the division of Abijah. That family was charged with the tabernacle and later temple service (1 Chronicles 24:10). As priests, John’s ancestors were all “baptizers” or “baptists”. As firstborn he would be ordained to take his father’s place. He would be purified for office by baptism with water (Numbers 8:7). The Hebrew term there means “sprinkling”. He was six months older than Jesus, 30 years old (Luke 3:23). This made him qualified to enter priestly service before Jesus reached the age of 30 (Numbers 4:3). John’s baptisms were to prepare the way of the promised Messiah (Isaiah 40:3, John 1:6-18).

Investigators the Jews sent found nothing wrong with what John was doing, no new methods were introduced. They found no grounds for complaint. If he had been immersing people it would have been a deviation from the levitical practices in the law. That would have given them the grounds they needed to make accusations against John.

Jesus came to John to be baptized (Matthew 3:13-14). John didn’t understand. He felt unworthy to perform a symbol for purification upon one who knew no sin, unworthy to lose his sandals. But that is not why Jesus had come to him. There was a different purpose altogether in the baptism of Jesus.

Jesus explained in Matthew 3:15 that John should baptize him to “fulfill all righteousness” (conforming to God’s law). Deuteronomy 6:25 “it will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the LORD our God, just as He commanded us.”

What law was it that needed to be fulfilled? To enter into a public ministry with authority to correct the erring priests at the temple he had to be baptized. By this baptism Jesus was set aside for his priestly work after the order of Melchizedek.

Jesus met the Priesthood qualifications of the law.
1. He was called of God by direct appointment as announced by prophets and angels. He clarified his calling in his own words, by miracles attesting the Father’s approval, and by the words of the writers of the New Testament books that followed over the next few years.

2. He was 30 years old, the required age for all who enter the priesthood. Numbers 4:3, “from thirty years old up to fifty years old, all who can come on duty, to do the work in the tent of meeting.” Luke 3:23 is one of the two times an age of Jesus is recorded in the Bible. When he was 12 years old at the Temple in Jerusalem, and at his baptism by John. His age is recorded by Luke to show compliance with the law of the priesthood.

3. He was ordained by a legally recognized priest, John. John was qualified as a priest in the Levitical family charged with the temple service.

The law specified the method of priestly ordination. Numbers 8:7 “and thus you shall do to them, for their cleansing, sprinkle purifying water on them …”

Jesus was asked by what authority he cast the money-changers out of the temple Matthew 21:23 records that question, “when He had come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him as He was teaching and said, ‘By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?'”

Jesus answered in verse 25. He directed them to the baptism of John which they had confirmed by investigation. He said, “The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?”

The Pharisees were left with no grounds for further complaint. The baptism of John affirmed Jesus’ rightful priestly authority. John heard the reason Jesus gave for wanting to be baptized – he made no further objection. It was to conform to something required in the Law of God. It was the necessary baptism of priests into service.

After the baptism of Jesus the Holy Spirit manifested as descending upon Jesus “dove-like”. A voice from heaven spoke confirming the Father’s approval of this act of John. This act of sprinkling by a Priest was the visible declaration of the priestly work of Jesus.

Jesus was that toward which all previous priesthoods point. His priesthood is superior and eternal (Hebrews 7:26-28). Earthly priesthoods were mere shadows of that of the Messiah (Hebrews 8:1-6). He served a greater more perfect temple as the great high priest (Hebrews 9:11-12). His sacrifice was not animals but his own perfect blood offered just once to secure redemption of his people. He payed off the penalty of sin in full, and intercedes for us before the Father (Romans 8:34).

It’s wrong to continue to call ministers priests. Romanists continue that because in the mass the Priests make a sacrifice of the person of Christ, and they impose themselves as necessary mediators between believers and God. The New Testament never calls the ministers of the apostolic church priests. After the Resurrection the Bible names only one Mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5-6).

Jesus also carries out the office of King

Our Creator’s sovereignty as King over all creation was clearly revealed in the commanded work of Eden. Adam ruled in Eden as God’s appointed head. It was his duty to exercise representative authority over all creation, to have dominion over all things, and to subdue creation to the purposes of its Maker.

In the fall Adam’s original headship was corrupted. He acted against his duty of subduing creation to God’s authority. He became a usurper of that authority. Adam and Eve used the material world selfishly, not as the Creator intended it. Mankind, in Adam, revolted and honored the thing made over the One who made it.

In this sense a false kingdom arose. Creatures saw themselves as captains of their own souls. Adam and Eve imagined they could continue their dominion over creation, but by their own authority. They imagine that they, not God, could determine their future. They evaluated the rightness or wrongness of things, by what would most please themselves.

God didn’t really lose his absolute Kingship in the fall of Satan or in the fall of man. For a time the display of his Sovereignty was diminished as creatures perceived it. The kingdom of Satan isn’t a real reign. It’s a deception. Even Satan and sinners are always under the direct lordship of the Sovereign God. Neither the Devil, nor his followers, are able to act aside from the direct permission of the True God.

Truth was restored progressively in the restoration of the display of God’s Sovereign Kingship. Man continued to have the duty of representing God’s dominion by his use of other created things. As the race expanded, human rulers organized into tribes and nations. The establishment of civil and ecclesiastical rulers carried the stamp of the Creator’s own authority.

As the Apostle Paul later explained in Romans 13:1-4, “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.”

In time God elevated kings over Israel to represent the divine headship over his people. Jesus was born into the line of David, and is specifically said to fulfill what all other kingships typified.

The work of a king, or any civil leader, is to represent God’s Reign and to preserve divine order in the world.
He’s to rule the state within the boundaries of the revealed word of God.

Moses explained that one day God would display his Lordship by the raising up an earthly king over his people. Deuteronomy 17:15 “…you shall surely set a king over you whom the LORD your God chooses…”

The king would not rule by his own power or standards, but according to the revealed principles of God. Deuteronomy 17:18-20, “Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left; in order that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom in the midst of Israel.”

Jesus is the ultimate revealing of the Kingship of God over all of his creation.
This was promised in the Old Testament and was the expectation of God’s faithful people.

Moses wrote in Numbers 24:17, “… a star shall come forth from Jacob, and a scepter shall rise form Israel.”

2 Samuel 7:16 speaks of God’s Covenant with King David, “and your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.”

Isaiah 9:6-7 says of the Messiah, “the government will rest on His shoulders” and “…there will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore.”

Zechariah 9:9 says, “…behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

This was all directly fulfilled in the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The king had come into his kingdom in a special way, far exceeding any previous revelations and representations of the Sovereign rule of God over his universe and people (John 12:15).

Many teachings of Jesus are about the establishment of His kingdom. Mark 1:14-15 says, “And after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'”

The kingdom was the prominent theme in the teachings of Christ. His coming was announced as the presence of God’s Kingdom by John the baptist. The sermons of Jesus, his warnings to the Jews, his parables, and his commissioning of his followers all centered on the kingdom message.

After the Resurrection Jesus continued to center his message on the Kingdom of God. In Acts 1:3 it says, “To these He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.”

The kingship of Christ is specially declared in his headship over the church. He leads by his word and spirit under the direction of chosen and ordained officers (Ephesians 4:15, Colossians 1:18, 2:19)

Jesus did not come to set up an earthly empire as the Pharisees in the time of Jesus expected. The promise was to establish a greater reign than mere outward power, restraint of evil, and material abundance. It’s a spiritual reign that satisfies the whole man in ways that mere outward things can not. Real Peace doesn’t come by the removal of enemies or the end of suffering. It comes with freeing the soul from agony, fear, and anger in the presence of enemies and suffering.

John Calvin expressed this spiritual nature of Christ’s reign in this way, “the strength and utility of the kingdom of Christ cannot, as we have said, be fully perceived, without recognizing it as spiritual. … does not consist in external advantages — such as leading a joyful and tranquil life, abounding in wealth, being secure against all injury, and having an affluence of delights, such as the flesh is wont to long for” (Institutes 2:15, where Calvin cites Luke 17:21,22 and Romans 14:17 as evidence).

The dominion of Jesus assures us that this world is not operating on its own. God is not just a remote observer or detached power. He lovingly and sovereignly rules over all things, moving them toward his decreed ends, and specially operates as Head of his Church and Loving Lord of his people. [G-OFF]

Our Lord calls us to our daily kingdom work. This isn’t just our occupations, or vocations in the church. It also embraces our work in our families, our entertainments, our purchases, our socializing, our citizenship, our education … all things must increasingly declare the kingship of our Sovereign God, and strive to establish the message of his dominion through Christ – over all he made.

Part 2a – The Natures of Jesus Christ

Scripture presents all the details needed to understand Christ’s nature. Understanding how it all fits together is far beyond our experience or comprehension. The biblical teachings about this was stated in growing stages of clarity by the early ecumenical creeds.

The modern form of the Nicene Creed was completed by the additions of 569 AD at the council in Toledo, Spain. Its first form: adopted in 325 at the council in Nice, Bithynia, answered the Arians. It affirmed that Jesus had both a human nature and a true divine nature. It clarified the con-substantial divinity of Christ “being of one substance with the Father …”. The divinity of the Holy Spirit was added in Constantinople by the second great council in 381 AD. The final form of Toledo added that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. That part was rejected by the Eastern (Greek) churches.

The council of Ephesus in 431condemned the Nestorian idea that Jesus was actually two persons. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 condemned the Eutychians who united Christ’s natures into one. They were denying the true divinity and true humanity of Jesus.

The Humanity of Jesus Christ

Jesus had a real and complete human nature. He had all the attributes of being human which were there when Adam was created. Biblical references to him confirm that he had a true body that needed food, drink, and sleep. This human nature had a physical beginning being conceived in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit. He developed physically and in understanding as he matured (Luke 2:40). His suffering and death were real. He also had a true soul making him qualified to represent the human race in atonement and reconciliation.

Jesus was like us in every respect except for sin and the corruption it brings. He wasn’t born with a sin nature, had no sinful thoughts, and did no sinful deeds. This moral perfection of his humanity was essential in his being the perfect sacrifice, one without blemish, knowing no sin. (See 1 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:5)

The Divinity of Jesus Christ

Jesus also has a true divine nature. He had all the attributes of God, and had an eternal place in the Trinity. In his Divine Nature he was “infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice,
goodness and truth.” as it summarizes in Question 4 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. (also see our syllabus on Theology Proper, chapter 3 The Trinity).

The Hypostatic Union

The human and divine natures of Jesus are united in a way that makes him just one person. We call that connection the “Hypostatic Union”. This union is something impossible for us finite humans to fully understand. We only have one nature. There’s no foundation for a model to account for this kind of relationship. Jesus in his divinity knew all things perfectly, always, omnisciently, yet grew in human wisdom (Luke 2:40). He agonized and suffered in his flesh and soul, while in his divinity he never lacked perfect and eternal peace. Our inability to reconcile this is no argument against them. It confirms that we’re finite, temporal, and changeable. We cannot possibly comprehend what is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. We are unable to imagine, beyond the statements in the Bible, the nature of a union between such diversities. We need to avoid making up theories which try to create structures beyond the direct inspired words in the Bible.

There are two obvious directions of error.
First: Some blend the two distinct natures into one, and deny their separate realities. If the human nature is deified by union with the divine, it’s no longer a true human nature. If the divine is diminished by union with the human, it’s no longer divine. This confusion of natures is the root of the Eutychian heresy. (Monophysitism)

Second: Some divide Jesus into two distinct persons. This is the root of the Nestorian error. Jesus is both God and man and yet is the one Second Person of the Godhead.

The terminology of the Council of Chalcedon (451AD) gives a most careful statement of the biblical doctrine. The Council said, “Herefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge [one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union,] but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.”

Part 2b – The States of Jesus Christ

We distinguish the states of Jesus Christ into two categories; his humiliation and his exaltation.

The Humiliation of Jesus

His humiliation consists of his taking on the form of a man and the work done in that state. This humiliation includes his conception, his birth, his growing up and living in full and holy obedience, the sufferings of his life, his death, and burial. His body was consigned to the tomb and his human soul to the abode of departed spirits.

In the Apostles’ Creed Jesus is said to have “descended into hell.”

That line isn’t found in the earliest versions of the creed. It first appeared in the 390 AD version which added in Latin, “descendit in inferna”. Some early translations of that version used the Greek word hades (ἅδης) for “inferna”. Some others translated it as “lower parts”. The placement of this phrase in the Creed varied until it became fixed in later Roman versions where it was inserted after it mentions Jesus’ burial, and before his resurrection. Calvin notes that an addition must have intended to add an idea perceived as missing (Institutes 2:16:8).

The Latin word inferna literally means “lower” (it’s related to our word “inferior”). It was used of the grave into which a body was lowered, (1 Cor 15:55, “O grave, where is thy victory?” KJV) Some Greek and Roman religions used it for the “underworld” – where all the dead go.

The Greek word “hades” (ἅδης) has a wide range of meanings. Originally it was the proper name of the Greek god of the underworld, the ruler over the realm of the dead. Later it was used as a name for the underworld itself, the realm where we go when we die. It has also been used as a synonym for “death”, the Greek word “thanatos” (θανατος). It came to be used specially for “hell” as the place of eternal punishment after death.

Both inferna and hades were used to translate the Old Testament Hebrew word “sheol” (שׁאול). The word primarily refers to the realm or dimension of those who are dead. In 33 places the King James Version translates it as “grave”, the unseeable place where the dead go.

There are various interpretations of “he descended in to hell”:
1. Jesus descended into the fires of hell to further suffer for our sins.
This view claims that Jesus needed to be tormented in the fires of hell to atone for sin. This view is not promoted by any Christian group of any historical importance.

a) On the cross Jesus said “It is finished” (John 19:30) indicating that the work of atonement was completed. There would be no purpose to additional suffering if the mission assigned to him by the Father was accomplished.

b) On the cross Jesus commended his soul to the Father. There is no reason to believe that his soul went anywhere else upon its separation from his body at death.

c) There is no portion of Scripture that implies his suffering beyond the work of the cross.

2. Jesus preached the gospel to the Old Testament saints.
This view claims that after his death Jesus entered the realm of departed souls to proclaim his work to the saints who had died before the time of the cross.

The Roman Catholics believe that no one can be saved without the administration of the Christian sacraments. Therefore the Old Testament believers were kept in an intermediate state called the “limbus patrum” until Jesus could go to them and deliver them into heaven.

Many Dispensationalists similarly believe that no one can be saved unless he actively accepts Jesus as Savior. This must be a knowledgeable act of the will. They say Old Testament saints are always kept separate in their standing from the New Testament church. The souls of departed believers before the cross were kept in an intermediate state called “Abraham’s Bosom”. Jesus preached to them and gave them opportunity to exercise their choice in accepting his offered salvation. He led into heaven only those who trusted in his completed atonement.

a) Biblical teaching indicates that there is no second opportunity for salvation after a person dies (Hebrews 9:27). The idea that all departed souls before Christ’s resurrection lacked salvation and received it after death is contrary to biblical teaching.

b) As in the previous view the soul of Jesus was commended into the hands of the Father at death. There is no reason to believe that he was then diverted to another mission.

c) No text of Scripture supports this view. At least they try to support their view with some Bible verses. But an examination of the references cited fall short of building a foundation for this view. Since this is a popular view, we need to take a look at the evidence they use.

1 Peter 3:18-20 Did Jesus go to preach to departed souls after his death? The text reads, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.”

Who are the spirits who received this proclamation? According to the context (verse 20) they were those alive in the days of Noah while he made the ark. God was patient with them during that time. The preaching that is said to condemn those souls held in prison occurred during their lives while the ark was being constructed, not after their deaths. They did not respond to the message but remained unbelievers. They were imprisoned in their lost estate.

Who preached to them? We know that Noah was God’s appointed witness. Jesus had come to them in the witness of Noah. Before the incarnation of Jesus, true believers hoped in the promise of a coming deliverance by God. It was promised in Eden, prefigured in the sacrifices, and proclaimed by various Prophets. Noah represented God’s warning and promise both in his life, in his work of building the ark, and in his words.

To believe this verse means a post-crucifixion ministry of Jesus, we need to ignore the continuing of the sentence into verse 20. Therefor it offers no support for this view.

1 Peter 4:4-6 Did Jesus preach the gospel to the dead after his death? The text reads, “And in all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign you; but they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.”

There are two purposes stated here that relate to the dead in verse 6. that upon hearing the warning they would turn from their “excess of dissipation” and live to the glory of God while still alive.

Though they are dead when this epistle was written, they were obviously alive when they heard the warnings that they should turn and live godly lives.

As in the previous chapter of 1 Peter (see above) this verse is about the period before the birth of Jesus. The gospel had been preached to those who had long ago died. Though they were dead when Peter wrote his Epistle, they were alive when they heard the message. In their life time they were warned and presented with witness that they ought to honor the God who made them. The goal is that though they may be judged in the flesh (while alive) as men and by men in civil courts, in eternity they live in the spirit according to the will of God.

Only when verse 6 is separated from its context can it be so poorly misapplied. It should also be noted that Jesus is not mentioned at all here as the one who preached to the people in question.

Does Ephesians 4:9 support Jesus’ descent into hell after death? That verse states, “Now this {expression,} ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth?”

The purpose in this verse is to show that if Jesus “ascended” he must first have “descended”. The second reference is defined by the first.

The expression “lower parts of the earth” may have reference to Psalm 139:15. There David makes reference to his conception in his mother’s womb saying, “..When I was made in secret, skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth.” This would mean that the descent of Jesus in Ephesians 4:9 was his incarnation in the womb of Mary.

This idea of the incarnation is supported because it’s contrasted here with his ascension. If his ascension ended his humiliation it implied a beginning to his humiliation by descending to his human life. That was his incarnation. Clearly there is no clear reference here to a special mission to hell after the death of Jesus. That would not correspond with the evidence Paul is citing to make his point.

In the verse before this (verse 8) it said that, “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive,” In his ascension, Jesus led away those held captive. The unrepentant captives of sin were led off to eternal captivity. The repentant captives were led off to eternal freedom in glory (quotes Psalm 68:18). In Colossians 2:15 Paul more clearly describes this triumph of Jesus as having disarmed the oppressive ones.

Did Jesus fulfill Psalm 16:10 by his descent into hell? The verse reads, “For Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Sheol; Neither wilt Thou allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay.”

Peter in Acts 2:30-32 and Paul in Acts 13:34-35 interpret this verse. They apply it to the death and burial of Jesus which was overcome by resurrection, not to any mission to living souls in hell, The use of “soul” in this verse probably refers not to the immaterial part of the person, which could not decay as implied in this synonymous parallelism, but to the whole person. This is not an uncommon use of the term in Scripture.

3. Jesus displayed his triumph over Satan in hell.
This view claims that Jesus entered Satan’s domain after his death to triumphantly display his victory over the power of the devil and to plunder his kingdom. This is the primary view of the Lutherans.

a) It would be strange place to mention of this display of triumph in the Creed right before it mentions the first indication of victory in the Bible, Christ’s resurrection.

b) There are no texts of Scripture that identify such a personal visit and display of triumph after the death of Christ.

4. Jesus suffered agony on the cross.
This view claims that the expression “descended into hell” is only metaphorical to show the extreme agony of Jesus. It was as if he “went through hell” as he humbled himself in Gethsemane and on the cross. This is the view of Calvin and of Ursinus in the Heidelberg Catechism.

a) Such a metaphorical use of the word “hell” doesn’t seem supported by any other use. It is unsafe to presume a figurative use of a term without sound biblical foundation for such a meaning.

b) The word order does not support this view. It is placed in the creed after the death and burial of Jesus.

5. Jesus descended into the grave.
This view claims that since the words for “hell” sometimes mean “grave” this might simply that Jesus was placed into the tomb. This view is held by Charles Hodge and some other reformed writers.

a) Why would such an expression have to be added to the creed if the creed had just mentioned his burial? It reads, “… crucified, dead, and burried, he descended into hell …” Such an obscure reference would not be added if a clear statement already existed. It is unlikely that a confusing redundancy would be so universally accepted by the church in such a broadly used and debated creed.

b) the use of the word “descended” is usually an active verb, not a passive one. We would more likely have seen it say “he was placed into hell”, if hell meant the grave. Jesus did not descend into the tomb of his own power.

6. The soul of Jesus entered the dimension of the dead.
This view is based on the fact that physical death in Scripture is the separation of the body and soul. The creed mentions the burial of Jesus which accounts for the disposition of his body. Then it mentions his descent into “hell”.

A reasonable explanation is that this addition to the Creed was to show that his real human soul was truly separated from his body in a real human death. His body was laid in the tomb, and his soul went to the intermediate state of departed souls to await the resurrection.

The term “hell” in the creed could very well represent that intermediate state. This is the view of A. A. Hodge and this present writer.

a) The terms used for hell in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew have been used in many cases to simply refer to the abode of the departed in a general sense. It’s the dimension beyond that of the living which we can’t experience until our souls are separated from our bodies. It’s not so much to be thought of as a place, as it is a state or dimension of existence.

b) The righteous are often said to descend into “hell” at death using the usual Hebrew and Greek words. Jacob (Genesis 37:35), Hezekiah (Isaiah 38:10), David (Psalm 16:10 in its primary application to himself), Jesus (Acts 2:27, 13:34-35, Psalm 16:10 in its application to Jesus’ resurrection).

The account of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 supports this view. Both men, the righteous Lazarus and the reprobate rich man, are said to have died and gone to hell (hades). The rich man’s soul was in torment. Lazarus was comforted by Abraham resting on his bosom.

In conclusion, this last interpretation fits well with the flow of thought in the creed. It explains why it was added and is consistent with the rest of the Scriptural account. Jesus not only was crucified and rendered dead, not only was his body laid in a tomb, but his soul also went to the normal place of departed human spirits (sheol, hades, inferna). This would have been a fitting response to the ongoing debate about the dual natures of Christ, and the reality of his human nature which demanded not only a true body, but also a true soul, one that would have been separated in a real human death with the soul continuing in a conscious state. The true and full humanity of Jesus is preserved by this statement.

The Exaltation of Jesus

His Exaltation is his restoration to the display of his glory which was set aside in the humiliation. The stages of his exaltation include his resurrection, ascension, session at the right hand of the Father, coming again in final judgment, and glory at the last day.

Philippians 2:5-11, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Part 3 – The Work of Jesus Christ

During his humiliation Jesus accomplished the work given to him by the Father. He secured the redemption of the elect from their estate of sin and misery. Jesus fully satisfied God’s justice for the offense that separated them from their holy Creator. By taking up their due punishment, he removed the offense by diverting God’s wrath from them to himself, covering it (atonement & propitiation), removing the sinner’s guilt (expiation), making way for the reunion of God’s with his people (reconciliation), and their adoption as his sons.

This work of Jesus is never represented in Scripture as merely making salvation possible, or as only providing a way of salvation for the sinner. It’s always spoken of in terms of his actually securing full satisfaction of the justice of God on behalf of the elect. All those for whom he made satisfaction are for eternity secure in the blessing of grace. This satisfaction was fully accomplished for all he intended to redeem.

He fulfilled this work not just in his divine nature, nor in just his human nature, but as the God-man, as one person possessing both natures.

The actual redemptive work of Jesus is our focus in this unit on Objective Soteriology. The application of that work to individuals will be expanded upon in the unit on Subjective Soteriology.

One of the central words the Bible uses for the work of atonement is “Propitiation“. The Greek word used for that in the New Testament comes in three basic forms.

1. The verb “to propitiate” is the Greek word “hilaskomai” (ἱλασκομαι).
English word propitiate means to appease an offended person to remove his anger. The offensive or upsetting matter must be dealt with before a broken relationship can be restored.

Hilaskomai was used in the New Testament to translate the Old Testament Hebrew word “caphaer” (כפר),
which means “a covering”. The priests were making a representative covering (caphaer) over sin when they offered the sacrifices (Leviticus 4:35 10:17 16:30). Propitiation is a covering to hide that which is offensive, thereby removing the anger of the offended party.

This verb is found in only two places in the New Testament:
Luke 18:13 “But the tax-gatherer, 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!’ ” (literally, “be propitiated toward me”) The tax-gatherer was aware of his offense toward God, and begged for it to be covered over justly. The most common verb for “to show mercy” in the New Testament is “ele-eo” (ἐλεέω).

Hebrews 2:17 “Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” As faithful high priest Jesus made propitiation for the sins of his people. He did that which the priests of the Old Testament could only symbolize. The effectiveness of the sacrifices was the timeless work of the great Propitiator, Jesus Christ.

2. The noun “propitiation” is the Greek word “hilasmos” (ἱλασμος).
It translated the Old Testament noun “cipurim” (כפרים) which is based on the verb form “caphaer”.

In the New Testament this noun is used only in 1 John. 4:10 “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 2:2 “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

When it says “for those of the whole world” John is referring to the children of God scattered abroad, not just the Jews he’s writing to, or just the Jewish nation, but all believers everywhere. Jesus explained the broad purpose in his coming in John 11:52, “and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.” The expression “of the whole world” (ὅλου τοῦ κόσμου) is not universal where it’s used in the Bible. This exact phrase and similar expressions are used more than half a dozen times in the New Testament. Yet none of those places clearly means all humans in the world. The context always explains who is included. It’s contrary to John’s purpose for him to say that all people, even unbelievers are now free from their sin and guilt, or that Jesus covers the sins of every human, even “hypothetically”. It means that Jesus is not just the propitiation for one group of Jews, or for just the Jews. But for the elect of God in the whole world! He is already the covering over their sin and guilt.

3. Another related noun is “the Mercy Seat”. The Greek word for that is “hilastaerion” (ἱλαστηριον),
The Hebrew Old Testament word for the covering over the Ark of God was called the “caporet” (כפרת), “cover”. English versions usually translate it as “mercy seat.” It was a slab of pure gold, almost 4′ long and a little over 2′ wide. It was laid as a covering over the ark containing the tablets of God’s law.

Exodus 25:17-21, “And you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. And you shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. And make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at its two ends. And the cherubim shall have their wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the mercy seat. And you shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I shall give to you.”

6 times this passage mentions the “mercy seat”. Each time it’s the word “caporet” (כפרת).

Over this covering the glory of God was manifest in a visible form described as a light, a glow, a cloud.
The part of the tabernacle where the ark was kept was the Holy of Holies or the “house of the covering (caporet)”. 1Chronicles 28:11 “Then David gave to his son Solomon the plan of the porch of the temple, its buildings, its storehouses, its upper rooms, its inner rooms, and the room for the mercy seat;”

The Holy of Holies was only entered once a year, by the high priest. He entered on the Day of Atonement (“day of covering” yom cippur, יום כפר ). He entered with the blood of the sacrifices to sprinkle it over the covering, the caporet כפרת. The blood separated the manifested presence of God from the law in the ark exposing sin and condemning the people. Foreshadowed the blood of the Messiah which covers the people’s guilt – removing the offense from God’s sight.

Greek term for this covering in Hebrews 9:5 is “hilastaerion” (ἱλαστηριον). The Latin for this covering is “propitiatorium” from which we get our word “propitiation.” The Latin term is from the verb “propitio” meaning “to appease.” In English the term usually used for the covering of the ark is “mercy seat.”

This Greek word form (hilastaerion) is used twice in the New Testament: Romans 3:25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; Hebrews 9:5 And above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat (hilastaerion); but of these things we cannot now speak in detail.

The work of Christ is represented by a variety of English words. Today they are used in a more technical theological sense. In early English when the words started to be used they were in more common use.

1. Atonement is making amends for a wrong done, for a loss or injury caused. This is a more general term. It must be used cautiously because it includes the whole process of making us right with God
through the work of Christ.

2. Propitiation is the appeasing of the one offended to remove or “cover” the cause of his anger. Propitiation speaks primarily to the effect of satisfaction upon God as the offended party.

3. Expiation is the actual satisfaction of a wrong, making atonement for it. Expiation is particularly the effect of satisfaction upon the sinner’s guilt.

4. Reconciliationis our restored fellowship with God resulting from the removed offense. The New Testament verb is “katalassein” (καταλασσειν). The noun form is “katallagae” (καταλλαγη). It means to exchange, to change a person from enmity to friendship. This works in both directions: We are reconciled with God, and he with us.

This process is often misunderstood because of misinformation about the biblical facts. To cover the offense of our sins can’t mean to hide the fact of our sins from God. God knows all things. He can’t hide something from his own awareness. To do so would mean there is something God does not know. That is directly denied in Scripture. It must mean that the offense of sin is covered by something that removes its offensiveness, something that meets sin’s demands. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Only the death of the sinner or his federal substitute could cover sin’s offense.

The blood of Jesus is the only possible covering over our sin. Since his blood was shed in place of his people, and he was a perfect and infinite sacrifice, the offense to God is removed, and we can have restored fellowship with him who is perfectly holy.

These various theological terms all relate together, and are inseparable. With respect to God and sinners, for reconciliation to take place the offense must be removed (propitiation). For the offense to be removed the guilt of our sin must be expiated. To be expiated, a perfect sacrifice must be made satisfying God’s justice.

Romans 5:10-11, “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. And not only this, but we also exult in God
through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”

These different word forms present one work viewed from different directions. They are not isolated principles in the mind and purpose of God. God’s plan flows out of his incomprehensible love – so that he would come in the person of the Son to propitiate his wrath preserving justice and holiness while accomplishing the display of his mercy and grace in saving his people. Jesus is our propitiation by means of a sacrifice on behalf of the people. His shed blood covers their sins and removes the offense from before the face of God.

There is both the Active and Passive Obedience of Jesus

In his Active obedience: Jesus kept the law perfectly and lived righteously in place of his people as their covenant representative. In his Passive obedience: Jesus submitted to the judicial penalty that the sins of his people deserve. He suffered and died in their place.

The active obedience of Jesus Christ was necessary for our Redemption. The holy demands of the Creator are expressed in his revealed law. This law must be kept fully and perfectly by all. The law breaker must answer to the just penalty of eternal death.
Galatians 3:10 “cursed is every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law to perform them”
Romans 10:5 “… the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness.”

Jesus kept the law perfectly in our place.
Galatians 4:4-7 “when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba! Father! Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.”

The necessity of the active obedience of Jesus is clearly shown in many passages of Scripture.
Romans 8:3-4 “What the law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us…”

Matthew 3:15 Jesus said to John the baptizer, “…it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness…”
Matthew 5:17,18 Jesus said, “do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke will pass away from the law, until all is accomplished.”

The active obedience Jesus secured for his people has several important benefits beyond his simply dying to satisfy the penal demands of justice. He is our righteousness and eternal life:
Romans 10:4 “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
2 Corinthians 5:21 “that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”
Philippians 3:9 Paul said, that I “may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”
Ephesians 5:25-27 “…Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her,
having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church
in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.”

The passive obedience of Jesus Christ was also necessary for our Redemption. God’s holiness and justice demand that the penalty for sin be paid either by the individual, or by an innocent representative in federal relationship with them.
Genesis 2:17 “in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die”
Habakkuk 1:13 “Thine eyes are too pure to approve evil, and thou canst not look on wickedness with favor.”
Romans 1:18 “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”
Ephesians 5:6 “let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God
comes upon the sons of disobedience.”

Jesus satisfied the wrath of God in place of his people. Their sin was judicially laid upon Him.
Isaiah 53:6 “… the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”
Romans 4:25 “who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification”
Galatians 3:13,14 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us for it is written, ‘Cursed is every one who hangs on a tree’, in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham
might come to the Gentiles…”
1 Thessalonians 5:9 “for God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 2:24 “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”
1 Peter 3:18 “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit”
1 John 2:2 “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins…”

Jesus took up the federal relation of Adam to stand in a similar headship for his people, and to obey in their place. His suffering and death (passive obedience) paid the judicial penalty for sin. His holy life (active obedience) became the foundation for the imputation of true holiness to those he represented.

The active and passive obedience are not separate things but two ways of viewing the same thing. In his active and passive obedience he was voluntarily obedient out of his mercy and grace.
John 10:18 “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”

A comparison of Romans 6:4 and Galatians 4:4-5 show that our reconciliation with God arises from both our Lord’s death and his life. The active and passive elements harmoniously unite in their purpose and effect.
Romans 6:4, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
Galatians 4:4-5, “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”

The work of Christ is timeless.

To presume different ways of salvation in the different ages undermines the necessity for the work of Christ. If the Old Testament believers were saved by works, and the New Testament ones by grace through faith, we deny the immutable, holy, and just nature of God.

If men before Christ could earn salvation by obedience, but we aren’t able to do so – it raises serious questions: questions about the fall, original sin, the depravity of the lost soul, and the necessity of Jesus’ suffering and death. There’s no comment anywhere in the Bible that could be made to say that we became more depraved after the cross of Jesus than after the sin of Adam.

Saints in all ages are redeemed only by the work of Christ (Hebrews 10:5-14). God’s promise in Genesis 3:15 was depicted in the sacrificial system in the age prior to the cross, and was fulfilled in the life and death of Jesus.

God’s elect children were chosen before the foundation of the world, before any one of them was born (Ephesians 1:4). God bases his blessing on Christ’s merits prior to the event taking place in history. Since sin is only removed by Christ’s work, not by the symbolic representations of the sacrifices (Hebrews 10), we see that all believers, Old and New Testament saints, were saved by God’s work of grace alone, and it was always based upon the completed work of the Messiah, then applied to undeserving hearts by the Holy Spirit which produced person faith, repentance, and obedience in each one eternally chosen by God.

(Bible quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (1988 edition) unless otherwise noted.)

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