I cannot imagine an affirmation that would meet with more resistance from contemporary Westerners than the one Paul makes in 1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”This declaration is narrow and downright un-American. We have been inundated with the viewpoint that there are many roads that lead to heaven, and that God is not so narrow that He requires a strict allegiance to one way of salvation. If anything strikes at the root of the tree of pluralism and relativism, it is a claim of exclusivity to any one religion. A statement such as Paul makes in his first letter to Timothy is seen as bigoted and hateful.
Paul, of course, is not expressing bigotry or hatefulness at all. He is simply expressing the truth of God, the same truth Jesus taught when He said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Paul is affirming the uniqueness of Christ, specifically in His role as Mediator. A mediator is a go-between, someone who stands between two parties that are estranged or involved in some kind of dispute. Paul declares that Christ is the only Mediator between two parties at odds with one another — God and men.
We encounter mediators throughout the Bible. Moses, for example, was the mediator of the old covenant. He represented the people of Israel in his discussions with God, and he was God’s spokesman to the people. The prophets in the Old Testament had a mediatorial function, serving as the spokesmen for God to the people. Also, the high priest of Israel functioned as a mediator; he spoke to God on behalf of the people. Even the king of Israel was a kind of mediator; he was seen as God’s representative to the people, so God held him accountable to rule in righteousness according to the law of the Old Testament.
Why, then, does Paul say there is only one mediator between God and man? I believe we have to understand the uniqueness of Christ’s mediation in terms of the uniqueness of His person. He is the God-man, that is, God incarnate. In order to bring about reconciliation between God and humanity, the second person of the Trinity united to Himself a human nature. Thus, Jesus has the qualifications to bring about reconciliation — He represents both sides perfectly.
People ask me, “Why is God so narrow that He provided only one Savior?” I do not think that is the question we ought to ask. Instead, we should ask, “Why did God give us any way at all to be saved?” In other words, why did He not just condemn us all? Why did God, in His grace, give to us a Mediator to stand in our place, to receive the judgment we deserve, and to give to us the righteousness we desperately need? The astonishing thing is not that He did not do it in multiple ways, but that He did it in even one way.
Notice that Paul, in declaring the uniqueness of Christ, also affirms the uniqueness of God: “There is one God.” This divine uniqueness was declared throughout the Old Testament; the very first commandment was a commandment of exclusivity: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).
So Paul brings all these strands together. There is only one God, and God has only one Son, and the Son is the sole Mediator between God and mankind. As I said above, that is very difficult for people who have been immersed in pluralism to accept, but they have to quarrel with Christ and His Apostles on this point. The Bible offers no hope that sincere worshipers of other religions will be saved without personal faith in Jesus Christ. As Paul said in Athens, “The times of ignorance God has overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). There is a universal requirement for people to profess faith in Christ.
Perhaps you are concerned to hear me talk in such narrow terms of the exclusivity of Christ and of the Christian faith. If so, let me ask you to think through the ramifications of putting leaders of other religions on the same level as Christ. In one sense, there is no greater insult to Christ than to mention Him in the same breath as Muhammad, for example. If Christ is who He claims to be, no one else can be a way to God. Furthermore, if it is true that there are many ways to God, Christ is not one of them, because there is no reason one of many ways to God would declare to the world that He is the only way to God.
As we celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ this month, it is good for us to remember the uniqueness of Christ. May we never suggest that God has not done enough for us, considering what He has done for us in Christ Jesus.
—Dr. R.C. Sproul
TableTalk, April 2012
The following is an excerpt from Dr. R.C. Sproul’s plenary address at Together for the Gospel (T4G) 2008 titled “The Curse Motif of the Atonement”:
The Curse Motif of the Atonement
One image, one aspect, of the atonement has receded in our day almost into obscurity. We have been made aware of present-day attempts to preach a more gentle and kind gospel. In our effort to communicate the work of Christ more kindly we flee from any mention of a curse inflicted by God upon his Son. We shrink in horror from the words of the prophet Isaiah (chap. 53) that describe the ministry of the suffering servant of Israel and tells us that it pleased the Lord to bruise him. Can you take that in? Somehow the Father took pleasure in bruising the Son when he set before him that awful cup of divine wrath. How could the Father be pleased by bruising his Son were it not for his eternal purpose through that bruising to restore us as his children?
But there is the curse motif that seems utterly foreign to us, particularly in this time in history. When we speak today of the idea of curse, what do we think of? We think perhaps of a voodoo witch doctor that places pins in a doll made to replicate his enemy. We think of an occultist who is involved in witchcraft, putting spells and hexes upon people. The very word curse in our culture suggests some kind of superstition, but in biblical categories there is nothing superstitious about it.
The Hebrew Benediction
If you really want to understand what it meant to a Jew to be cursed, I think the simplest way is to look at the famous Hebrew benediction in the Old Testament, one which clergy often use as the concluding benediction in a church service:
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
The structure of that famous benediction follows a common Hebrew poetic form known as parallelism. There are various types of parallelism in Hebrew literature. There’s antithetical parallelism in which ideas are set in contrast one to another. There is synthetic parallelism, which contains a building crescendo of ideas. But one of the most common forms of parallelism is synonymous parallelism, and, as the words suggest, this type restates something with different words. There is no clearer example of synonymous parallelism anywhere in Scripture than in the benediction in Numbers 6, where exactly the same thing is said in three different ways. If you don’t understand one line of it, then look to the next one, and maybe it will reveal to you the meaning.
We see in the benediction three stanzas with two elements in each one: “bless” and “keep”; “face shine” and “be gracious”; and “lift up the light of his countenance” and “give you peace.” For the Jew, to be blessed by God was to be bathed in the refulgent glory that emanates from his face. “The Lord bless you” means “the Lord make his face to shine upon you.” Is this not what Moses begged for on the mountain when he asked to see God? Yet God told him that no man can see him and live. So God carved out a niche in the rock and placed Moses in the cleft of it, and God allowed Moses to see a glimpse of his backward parts but not of his face. After Moses had gotten that brief glance of the back side of God, his face shone for an extended period of time. But what the Jew longed for was to see God’s face, just once.
The Jews’ ultimate hope was the same hope that is given to us in the New Testament, the final eschatological hope of the beatific vision: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Don’t you want to see him? The hardest thing about being a Christian is serving a God you have never seen, which is why the Jew asked for that.
The Supreme Malediction
But my purpose here is not to explain the blessing of God but its polar opposite, its antithesis, which again can be seen in vivid contrast to the benediction. The supreme malediction would read something like this:
“May the Lord curse you and abandon you. May the Lord keep you in darkness and give you only judgment without grace. May the Lord turn his back upon you and remove his peace from you forever.”
When on the cross, not only was the Father’s justice satisfied by the atoning work of the Son, but in bearing our sins the Lamb of God removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. He did it by being cursed. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree'” (Galatians 3:13). He who is the incarnation of the glory of God became the very incarnation of the divine curse.
—Dr. R.C. Sproul
The Curse Motif of the Atonement
I can’t think of a better way to end this post than with the closing line from Dr. Sproul’s message:
If you believe that, you will stop adding to the Gospel and start preaching it with clarity and boldness, because, dear friends, it is the only hope we have, and it is hope enough.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Back of all, above all, before all is God; first in sequential order, above in rank and station, exalted in dignity and honor. As the self-existent One He gave being to all things, and all things exist out of Him and for Him. “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”
Every soul belongs to God and exists by His pleasure. God being Who and What He is, and we being who and what we are, the only thinkable relation between us is one of full lordship on His part and complete submission on ours. We owe Him every honor that it is in our power to give Him.
—A. W. Tozer
The Pursuit of God
Via: John Knight