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Our Advocate on High: Christ our Perfect Mediator

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

- John 1:51 -


There are so many biblical scenes that knock our theological socks off. The greatest are typological; pointing ahead to Christ, the heart of our spiritual affections. Jesus points to a rather surprising typology at the end of John 1. John the Baptist has just heralded Him as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29), and now Christ is gathering His apostles, starting with Andrew, Simon, Philip, and Nathanael. And then, out of the blue, Jesus peers back into Genesis and retrieves a fascinating Christology. But what does He choose? The promised seed? Noah’s ark? Shiloh who is to come? Nope. Jesus takes His first apostles to none other than Jacob’s ladder!


Having demonstrated His deity to Nathanael with an omniscient observation – “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you” (John 1:48) – Jesus now raises the stakes, saying: “You will see greater things than these…you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (1:50-51). We aren’t made privy to Nathanael’s reaction. Like many of Jesus’ sayings, we assume it planted a perplexing seed of truth that took time to sprout. On this side of the cross, it’s clear that Christ is introducing Himself as the ‘one mediator…between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all’ (1 Tim. 2:5-6). It was harder for Nathaniel to grasp at the genesis of Christ’s ministry. But why does Jesus use Jacob’s ladder to introduce heavenly mediation?

The Jews knew all about Jacob’s vision of a stairway to heaven. It was the antithesis of the Tower of Babel, which had shown that God was no genie to be summoned for blessing. Instead, like Jacob, who stole Isaac’s blessing and was on the run by Genesis 28, the ladder episode teaches us to accept God’s grace when He condescends to us in time of need. So when Jesus reveals this to Nathaniel, He is opening the Scriptures to show that “these bear witness about Me” (John 5:39; Luke 24:27). This is why Calvin called Christ “the medium through which the fullness of all celestial blessings flows down to us, and through which we, in turn, ascend to God.”


When Philip first brings Nathanael to Christ, he says: “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45). Philip is claiming that all Scripture pointed to the perfect mediator. The word ‘perfect’ is key, as there were many mediators – ladders between us and God – before Christ came in the flesh, yet none possessed His power or privilege. Christ, or Messiah, means ‘anointed of God.’ We tend to only apply it to Jesus, but the title went with three key Old Testament roles: prophet, priest, and king. These Messiah-mediators were shadows and precursors of Christ that only He could unite into one perfect role. But why do we even need a mediator? Can’t we build our own ladder to heaven and be reconciled to God?

Well, no. You see, God has a dispute with sin. He detests attitudes and actions that contradict His perfect nature. He so hates sin that it cuts a chasm between us and Him. Hear Isaiah: ‘Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear’ (59:2). Isaiah glimpsed God’s righteousness and immediately understood that sinners are too broken to bridge the gap that began with Adam. God used Jeremiah to explain this divine need, saying: “Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have sent you all My slaves the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them” (7:25). God’s prophets begged Israel to repent as they knew the just penalty for rebellion was death and division from God. And yet, God also had them preach the hope of a final Messiah who would right the wrongs they were commissioned to indict.


The Israelites in the wilderness and the Jews of Jesus’ day painted Moses as the perfect mediator because he gave the Law. They wrongly thought the Law could save. Paul realized this once Christ regenerated his fallen mind. He finally saw that the Law only stirs our sinful passions: ‘I would not have come to know sin expect through the Law. For I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet”’ (Rom. 7:7). Jesus spends much breath rebuking and warning the pious elite who “search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life…and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life” (John 5:39, 40). Christ sees the tragedy in their prideful choices. By refusing to see Christ as the culmination of Scripture, Israel’s leaders hitched their wagons to mere shadows. They were bound for condemnation, not redemption in the one true Mediator.

When the living God comes in smoke and fire on Sinai, terrified, trembling Israelites beg Moses to “go near and hear all that Yahweh our God says; then speak to us all that Yahweh our God speaks to you, and we will hear and do it” (Deut. 4:27). Moses does just that. He even mediates atonement for the people when they grow impatient and worship the golden calf. Moses entreats God to “forgive their sin – but if not, please blot me out from Your book which you have written!” (Ex. 32:32). Both times, Moses is only a partially successful Messiah-mediator. Israel ultimately fails to keep the Law long-term and God says regarding their idolatry that He will ‘smote the people because of what they did with the calf which Aaron had made’ (Ex. 32:35). And smote He did. The point is this. Moses was a shadow of Messiah. He was not the final picture!


Unlike Moses, Jesus was a perfect servant of God who did and spoke nothing on His own initiative (John 8:28). As such, centuries before the incarnation, God tells Isaiah to show how Christ will far surpass Moses: “It is too small a thing that You should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to cause the preserved ones of Israel to return; I will also give You as a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (49:6). This isn’t to belittle Moses. Not at all. Moses spoke God’s truth with more zeal than most more, but the prologue to John’s gospel reminds us that Jesus is greater as he is that truth incarnate: ‘For the Law was given through Moses [but] grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’ (1:17). Our salvation therefore rests on Christ’s superiority, which brings us to the Book of Hebrews.

Hebrews delights in honoring prophets and priests who acted as mediators, but Christ trumps them all as the God-man ‘has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, in so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house’ (3:3). While Moses was a (mostly) faithful laborer, Jesus’ labors possess the strength and clarity of flawless diamonds. Just as Paul begs the Jews to abandon ‘things which are only a shadow of what is to come [as] the substance belongs to Christ’ (Col. 2:17), Hebrews says: ‘Christ did not enter holy places made with hands, mere copies of the true ones, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us’ (9:24). What a contrast there is between messianic shadows and our great Christ! By ascending to heaven, Jesus once for all established His mediatory ladder and still upholds it by His own might.


Only Jesus can be our priestly Mediator, interceding forever (Heb. 7:23-25), as He has no sin of His own to atone for (7:26-28). Unlike the old priesthood, this final Mediator permanently rescues sinners because Christ was ‘tempted in all things like we are, yet without sin. 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’ (4:15-16). It was our wretched sin that nailed Christ to the cross. So Peter begs us to turn to our Savior and ‘no longer live the rest of the time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God’ (1 Pet. 4:2). May we gaze upon His perfect work, glorify Christ in this life, and continue glorifying Him when we ascend that precious ladder to His heavenly throne.


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