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Mediators in the Tanakh
and the Mediator Messiah

by Paul Sumner

The LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends.
(Job 42:10)

Even now, behold, my Witness is in heaven, and my Advocate is on high.
(Job 16:19)

He always lives to make intercession for them.
(Hebrews 7:25)

  In the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague, Jews write paper prayers and insert them in cracks of the tombstone of Rabbi Yehudah ben Bezalel (aka the Maharal of Prague), a famous mystic in the 1500s. These sincere Jews expect this dead Jewish saint to hear their prayers and intercede for them to G-d.


Today it seems that not many in the Judeo-Christian world think of Yeshua as a mediator, one who intercedes on their behalf to the one God, the God of ancient Israel.

Reasons for this theological eclipse may include: (1) teaching that there is no mediator between God and humans, (2) traditions that substitute other mediators for Yeshua, and (3) pious desire to exalt and protect Jesus' status as deity.

It’s an ecumenical irony that large segments of both Judaism and Christianity either reject or ignore the mediatorship of Yeshua. The result is the same: people are not told that God provided the Messiah to bridge the chasm between us and the Creator.

There is one God, and one Mediator also between God and men: the man Messiah Yeshua. (1 Timothy 2:5)

Though Yeshua is Mediator, he does not eclipse God. The NT does not teach a Yeshua-only religion or promote a monotheism of the Son (what some call “Christomonism”). (Consider the studies Re-enthroning God, the Father and Yeshua Sang Hymns.)

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What the Mediator Concept Tells Us

The Hebraic doctrine of the One Mediator says a great deal about God, because he initiated the idea, people didn’t.

He wants to communicate and restore relationship with his human creation. His Mediator, Yeshua, volunteered for the job, which says much about him too. In fact, it was — and is — his primary job to “appear in the presence of God for us ... [and] intercede for us” (Hebrews 9:24; Romans 8:34).

Why is this idea offensive to us?

Who of us would go to our national high court without an attorney to advise us, interpret legal procedures, plead our case before the bench, and prepare us for the verdict? (Especially if we were guilty of the crimes so charged.)

Then why do we think we can stand in the presence of the Most High — the Holy One himself — without some assistance, representation, or interpretation of the divine will?

Not everyone realizes that the concept of a God-sent Mediator fills the pages of the Hebrew Bible. It is not a “Christian” idea. What the New Testament teaches about Yeshua the Mediator is rooted in Hebrew religion, regardless of Jewish protests to the contrary.

To set the record straight and shed needed light on the subject, it is good to examine the biblical evidence for mediators in the Hebrew Bible, then see how it sets the stage for Yeshua to be declared God’s appointed mediator.

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A word about words

The verbs "mediate" and "intercede" and nouns "mediator" and "intercessor" do not occur often in the HB. However, different translations may render these words in other ways.

In Num 21:7 the Israelites ask Moses: " 'We have sinned ... intercede [hitpalal] with the LORD...' And Moses interceded [hitpalal] for the people." In 1 Sam 2:25, Eli tells his sons, "If a man sins against another, God will mediate [palal] for him; but if a man sins against the LORD, who intercede [hitpalal] for him?" "

Another word for "intercede" is paga: "[The arm of the LORD] bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors" (Isa 53:12; also Isa 59:16; Jer 7:16).

"Mediator" [melitz] occurs in Job 33:23-24a: "If there is an angel mediator [malakh melitz] for him...then let him be gracious to him."

In the NT, "intercede" [huperentuchano, entuchano] occurs in Rom 8:26, 27, 34; Heb 7:25. Among nouns: "intercession" occurs in 1 Tim 2:1; and "mediator" [mesites] occurs in Gal 3:19, 20; Heb 8:6; 9:15; 12:24.

The NT witness is summed up in one verse: "There is one God and one mediator [mesites] also between God and mankind, the man Messiah Yeshua" (1 Tim 2:5).

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Mediators & Intercessors
in the Hebrew Bible

Two classes of mediators are found in the Bible: human and divine. [Bible references in blue are hot links to full texts, which will open in a separate pop-over window tab.]

(1) Human Mediators
Hebrew Prophets
[Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel]

Many people think the priests in ancient Israel were the primary intercessor/mediators. But they were not. The prophets were the primary mediators. They were given access to the council chambers of God, then were commissioned to deliver the message or word (davar) that they heard. In reverse, they acted as ambassadors for the nation before the heavenly throne.

The first named “prophet” (navi) was Abraham, to whom God appeared and spoke. His closeness to God was such that God himself told people to ask Abraham to intercede for them, which he did (Gen 20:7, 17). He also mediated the (temporary) preservation of the city of Sedom (Gen 18:23-32). (Note how his son Isaac learned from his father and “prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife ... and the LORD answered him”; Gen 25:21.)

Moses was the greatest of the mediator/intercessor prophets (Deut 18:15). He escorted the Bride (Israel) to meet her Bridegroom (God) at Sinai (Exod 19:17a). Time and again he prayed for her protection — at times from God’s wrath, especially after the incident with the Golden Calf (Exod 32:11-14). He also “prayed for Aaron” (Deut 9:20, 26). And the people of Israel begged Moses to intercede for them (Num 21:7).

As father-mediator, Moses later told the Second Generation how “I stood between the LORD and you [their parents]” at Mount Sinai, and that he was doing so for them (Deut 5:5).

Samuel was another great mediator. As both a judge (shofet) and prophet (navi), he was a key agent in delivering Israel from various destructions and for anointing David of Bethlehem as king (1 Sam 16). The people often asked Samuel to pray for their well-being (1 Sam 7:5, 8; 12:19). He assured them, “Far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you” (1 Sam 12:23).

King Jeroboam begged an unnamed prophet, “Please entreat the LORD your God and pray for me” (1 Kgs 13:6).

The prophetic pair Elijah and Elishah each prayed for dead children, and God brought them to life in response to their intercession. Because of their faithfulness to the LORD, they were known as “men of God” (1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:17-37).

Isaiah was desperately commanded by King Hezekiah: “Offer a prayer for the remnant that is left” (2 Kgs 19:4).

During the last days of the Davidic monarchy, Jeremiah was a prime example of the interceding prophet who stood between his countrymen and the Creator-Redeemer. People requested that he plead with God (Jer 37:3). But at times God told him not to pray; He wasn’t going to listen to intercession (Jer 7:16; 11:14; 14:11). When a prophet prayed, the world changed.

Daniel offered a long mediating intercession on behalf of himself and his nation in Babylonian exile. “I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed ... ‘We have sinned’ ” (Dan 9:3-19, esp. 4-5).

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Kings
[David, Solomon, Hezekiah]

The kings of the southern kingdom Judah, whose palace stood next to the temple, were God’s governing representatives on earth. They “sat on the throne of the LORD” (1 Chron 29:23) as his sons. As such they mediated the rule of God, as embodied in the Torah. There are no commands in the Law that they pray for the nation, but the men faithful to God did so.

King David, “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam 13:14), “the man on high” upon whom “the Spirit of the LORD” rested (1 Sam 16:13; 2 Sam 23:2), interceded for his people (2 Sam 24:17).

David’s son, Solomon, followed in his father’s footsteps as kingly mediator. When he dedicated the First Temple, he offered a passionate prayer of intercession on behalf of God’s name and temple and for the people he was about to lead (1 Kings 8:22-53). Psalm 72:15 in turn urges the people to pray for their king “continually.”

During a Passover renewal service, Hezekiah “prayed”: “May the good LORD pardon everyone who prepares his heart to seek God” (2 Chron 30:18-19). He also interceded for them in a time of national danger (2 Kings 19:15 = Isa 37:15).

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Priests
No biblical text explicitly says the priests were to pray or intercede for people. They offered sacrifice for them, which is a mediating, representative act. But they were not commanded in the Law to offer public prayers of intercession.

However, the “lay” priest Job offered sacrifices to atone for the sins of his family (1:5). And at the end of his story, his lost fortunes were restored only “when he prayed for his friends” (42:10). The friends had failed him as counselors, but God told him that he must intercede for their welfare.

Only later in Israel’s history did priests begin to assume the role of intercessors (Joel 2:17; Malachi 1:9).

This was an era when the prophets were fading from the scene. By the time of the Exile and the Return to Jerusalem, spiritual authority shifted to the high priest (Zech 3). The Restoration priest Ezra lifted up a model intercessory prayer (Ezra 9:5-15).

The Messiah Servant
In some distant future, the prophet Isaiah saw an anointed servant of the LORD who would carry the “griefs ... and sorrows” of people, stumble under the “transgressions” and “iniquities” of “us all,” and would die because of the “sins of the many.”

But the Servant would also intercede for the “transgressors” and in the end “see light and be satisfied” with what he had done: their yeshuah, deliverance from sin (Isaiah 53).

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(2) Mediators in Heaven

There is some biblical evidence that Israelites believed in heavenly beings who acted as mediators before God (1 Sam 2:25; Job 5:1; 9:33; 33:23).

Two of them are named: Gabriel and Michael; Dan 8:16; 10:13). But their activities are vaguely sketched by the biblical writers, perhaps because of the abuses inherent is seeking contact with other divine beings or elohim. (Modern invocations to angels, spirits, powers, or the Holy Ghost are proof of this unchanged human tendency to seek others.)

Michael, the “chief prince” (sar rishon) or “great prince” (sar gadol), “stands over the souls” of the people Israel as their guardian (Dan 10:13; 12:1). In later times he gained considerable attention among Jews. He is mentioned throughout the Dead Sea Scrolls and twice in the NT. In Judah 1:9 Michael is called “the archangel” (lit. chief or head angel). In Rev 12:7 he and his angels wage “war in heaven” against “the dragon [Satan] and his angels,” and expel them “down to the earth” (v. 9).

In the biblical texts, Michael is nowhere depicted as praying for Israel, though this is implied. Nor do people engage him to pray for them to God.

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After the Hebrew Bible

In the era of the Second Temple, the era of what is called Early Judaism, speculation about the divine world exploded.

Heavenly Mediators

The idea that supranatural beings communicated with God about human events and needs became a standard Jewish worldview. Visions of heaven and communications with angels are found in many documents in the Pseudepigrapha and Apocrypha collections.

In the Testament of Abraham Michael is the “Commander-in-Chief who stands before God” as his chief mediator for his chosen people (7:11, Resc. A). In one passage Abraham pleads with Michael, “I beseech you now ... to serve me (by delivering) a communication yet once more to the Most High” (9:3, Resc. A).

In the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, we read: “Draw near to God and to the angel who intercedes for you, because he is the mediator between God and men for the peace of Israel” (TestDan 6:2). “I am the angel who makes intercession for the nation Israel” (TestLevi 5:5-6). These angels are not named, so we don’t know if Michael was intended.

In Tobit 12:12, 15 angels bring human prayers to God. In 1 Enoch 9:3 they present their legal cases in the Divine Court. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls are documents that describe a company of seven angelic priests who, among other duties, make propitiation for repentant humans (“Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice”; 4Q400-407).

Human Mediators

Some Hellenstic Jews believed that departed saints intercede for the living. In 2 Maccabees the high priest Onias is interceding for Israel when he has a vision of deceased Jeremiah. Onias says of the prophet, “This is a man who loves the brethren and prays much for the people and the holy city” (2 Macc 15:12, 14).

This text is important. It shows that centuries after the great mediator-prophet Jeremiah had died, Jews still believed his ongoing intercessory prayers were efficacious. This Jewish belief in deceased, interceding saints was adopted from the Apocrypha into Roman Catholic tradition.

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Jewish Expectation Grows

By the 1st century of this era, it was a common understanding of God’s character that he provided mediation and intercession either by special human beings or through divine servants.

New Testament claims about Yeshua as Mediator were therefore not alien or unJewish in their time.

As today, the claims may not have found favor with everyone, especially among the well-placed and self-confident among the religious leadership. But the veracity of a claim is not disproven by negative popular response.

The NT never refers to mediating angels or dead saints.

It does not say Gabriel or Michael were mediators. Nor does it ever exalt Mary to mediator status. She is called “the mother of my Lord,” not “the mother of God” (Luke 1:43). Believers are told to pray for one another. But no one prays to dead believers (“saints”), no matter how godly they were in life. The focus is exclusively on Yeshua as heavenly mediator.

People still prayed to God, as Yeshua commanded his disciples: “Pray to your Father, who is in secret” (Matt 6:6). Thus Paul would say: “I bow my knees before the Father” (Eph 3:14). “We have not ceased to pray for you ... giving thanks to the Father” (Col 1:13).

But Paul and the other Jewish believers felt no conflict in also seeking help and salvation from the Messiah (Acts 7:59; Rom 10:12-14).

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One — And Only One

Paul’s original statement in 1 Timothy that there is “one mediator” carries dual meaning: (1) there is a God-provided mediator, for which we should be thankful, and (2) there is only one mediator, which disallows for others who crave or are given his position.

This is the line in the sand that Scripture draws:

There is one God, the Father of Yeshua,
and one Mediator, Yeshua the Messiah.

This statement can be ignored or rejected for any number of tradition-protecting reasons. That won’t change the testimony of Hebrew Scripture that sending mediators is what God does. Nor will it cancel out what the New Testament teaches about where we stand in the eyes of the Court, or how and through whom we must lawfully approach the Bench.

• Paul Sumner

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Notes

1 — “Judaism recognizes no intermediary between God and man; and declares that prayer is to be directed to God alone, and to no other being in the heavens above or on earth beneath.”     Joseph H. Hertz, The Authorised Daily Prayer Book, rev. ed. (New York: Bloch Pub., 1948), p. 265 [return to text]

An example in contrast to official Jewish doctrine:

In Brooklyn, New York, Lubavitcher Hasidim and Jews from around the world used to line up for hours to have an audience with the late Rabbi Menahem Schneerson (died 1994). They would hand him their prayer requests, hoping he would plead to HaShem on their behalf. They sought the rabbi’s blessing and some expression of kindness in their time of need. To them he was the Tzaddik. And they believed he stood in special relation to God on their behalf.

Were these heart-felt pleadings to these earthly rabbis actually “prayers”? Were these men truly mediators and intercessors between the people and God? Many Jews today believe they are.

2 — “Belief in the efficacy of Mary’s intercession and hence direct prayers to her is prob. very old. It is attested in a Greek form of the well-known prayer “Sub tuum praesidium” found in a papyrus dating from the late 3rd-early 4th cent. After the Council of Ephesus [AD 431] devotion to the Theotokos [lit. “God bearer” or “mother of God”] became so strong that her name was even substituted in the official service books in place of that of the Lord at the end of some of the liturgical prayers.” [emphasis added]     (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church [2nd ed., ed. F. L. Cross, E. A. Livingstone, Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1974], p. 883, under “Mary, The Blessed Virgin.”) [return to text]

In his article “The High God and the Mediator,” Martin Nilsson traces how, after the first trinitarian councils in the 4th century, the church’s image of Christ changed and the exaltation of Mary rapidly occurred.

“At the same time the veneration of the Holy Virgin increased ever more.... Christ had become the High God, elevated above man. The Holy Virgin was God’s mother, but she was a human being, she had suffered and felt pain, she had compassion for the suffering and the sorrowful. She was a fit mediator between God and man” (119). (Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 56 [April 1963]: 101-20) [return to text]

In contrast to the Roman and Orthodox views of Mary, see her biblical portrait in The Hasidic Mother of Yeshua.

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