The Mediator of the Law and The Mediator of the Gospel

A Very Brief Look at Exodus 18:13-26 & Mark 6:30-44

There is a passage of Scripture in the New Testament whose specificity has always struck me, causing me to wonder what significance, if any, it held. That passage is Mark 6:40, where the Lord Jesus commands the hungry crowd of five thousand plus people to sit down in groups of hundreds and fifties. The specificity of their sitting down in groups of hundreds and fifties is indicative of the historicity of the passage itself; however, the specificity also points us backward, I think, to Exodus 18:13-26 where Moses is given counsel by Jethro to divide the people of Israel into groups of thousands, hundred, hundreds, fifties, and tens.[1] Moses was to place “able men…men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe…over the people” as judges over their individual cases of lesser importance, while Moses was to receive the Law from the Lord directly.[2] Moses’ role as mediator, therefore, was a purely legal one in this passage of Scripture. He is called to receive Word directly from YHWH, and to give the Law to his subordinate judges, who would be equipped to deal with smaller legal cases.

The parallel is striking, for Christ stands in an antithetical relationship to Moses in His reception of bread and His distribution of bread to the hungry masses people who looked like “sheep without a shepherd”[3] through His disciples.[4] Moses received the Law from God, but Christ received bread/the Gospel/life giving Manna to distribute to the thousands, gathered in groups of hundreds and fifties. Moses was given the Law to judge, but Christ was given the bread to feed/give life/save those who followed Him as He sojourned on the earth. Moses was a human leader upon whom the necessity of delegating tasks to subordinates pressed urgently; Christ is God Almighty who has given His regenerated and sanctified saints the privilege in preaching the Gospel to the lost, in feeding His sheep, in participating in the great commission given in Matthew 28:19. As John 1:17 says: “…the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

The significance of this antithetical parallel, then, can be seen in the Law/Gospel, Old Covenant/New Covenant distinction. There are many who advocate a “narrative theology,” moreover, who should be ashamed of their attempts to overthrow the Biblical distinction between Law and Gospel when these two narratives clearly present the distinction in the actions of Moses and Christ. Moses represented the people of God through the Law, as we read in Exodus 18:19-20: “You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, and you shall warn them about the statutes and laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do.” Our Lord Jesus, on the other hand, represents us as the One who has fulfilled the Law in our place. Paul tells us that through the obedience of our federal representative, the Lord Jesus Christ, “brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”[5]

Christ is not only our federal representative; He is also our Advocate, Sacrifice, and High Priest.[6] Moses’ representation brought condemnation, but Christ’s brought life. This isn’t to say that the Law is bad and that the Gospel is good; I am merely outlining the Law/Gospel distinction that is evident from a brief comparison of these two passages. Scripture presents us as being under either (a.)a covenant of works which leads to condemnation or (b.)a covenant of grace which leads to life everlasting. This is evident from the opening pages of Scripture. As the London Baptist 1689 Confession  states:

Although God created man upright and perfect, and gave him a righteous law, which had been unto life had he kept it, and threatened death upon the breach thereof, yet he did not long abide in this honour; Satan using the subtlety of the serpent to subdue Eve, then by her seducing Adam, who, without any compulsion, did willfully transgress the law of their creation, and the command given unto them, in eating the forbidden fruit, which God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory.[7]

It goes on to explain that,

The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience to him as their creator, yet they could never have attained the reward of life but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.

Moreover, man having brought himself under the curse of the law by his fall, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace, wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.

This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect; and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocency.[8]

We should take note, therefore, of this fact: Law/Gospel distinction was not created out of thin by the Reformers and those who follow in their theological footsteps. Rather, the Bible itself presents this doctrine all throughout the Bible, in both propositional revelation and narratival enunciations of such propositional truths. Moses’ rule by Law is contrasted with Christ’s rule by the Gospel, never causing there to be a conflict between the two, but never merging the one into the other.  The Law came through Moses, but the Gospel came through Christ.

-h.


[1] Cf. Ex 18:21

[2] Cf. vv.22-26

[3] Cf. Mark 6:34

[4] Cf. vv.40-43

[5] Cf. Rom 5:16-17

[6] Cf. 1 John 2:1-2; Heb 7-10

[7] London Baptist 1689 Confession of Faith; Ch. 6, Art. I

[8] Chapter 7, Art. I, II, & III

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