For that understanding we must first accept that there is a universal law that says that when a law is broken, be it a natural law or manmade law, there is a consequence, be that consequence good or bad. When a law is broken a penalty is attached, and that penalty must be paid. Justice must be satisfied. Justice must claim the lawbreaker and execute the law and the punishment. Therefore, broken laws must be satisfied with a punishment. Justice demands payment, and because of man’s disobedience there was no way to reclaim him from his fallen state. He was in the grasp of justice — the justice of God which relegated man to be cut off from His presence forever. Therefore, a plan had to be devised whereby man could be redeemed from the fall. The plan would require a way to pay justice her lawful dues. It would also require an atoning sacrifice by one who had not sinned to appease the demands of justice.
As many know, a covenant is a contract — a contract of performance which involves two or more parties. The old Feudal system, during the dark and middle ages, was one of agreement between differing parties — one party being the sovereign ruler, or overlord, and the other being the vassal, slave, or follower. The sovereign-lord and the vassal made agreements that the vassal would perform in a certain manner for favors such as food, housing, protection, etc., that could be offered by the overlord.
A vassal does not necessarily have to be a slave or servant to the sovereign-lord; he could simply be subject to the him, or merely a follower of the same. God’s form of government for His kingdom is actually a feudal system, and it works because there is only one Sovereign Lord who can justly administer the system. During the old Feudal system, long ago, Satan used the weakness of carnal man to administer an unjust system; that old devil creating a counterfeit of God’s holy order.
But like God’s holy order, it also had accountability. When a vassal did wrong, not only did that servant have to pay for that wrong in some way, but his sovereign-lord was also responsible to the one above him to whom he was subject, and he had to make an accounting for the actions of those under him.
In the military there is a supreme commander, then others who fall under his command. The soldier in the field is to follow his file leader, and so it is with the order of heaven. Jesus does what the Father commands and what the Father has done, and we do what Jesus commands and what He has done. Jesus Christ is our file leader, our direct link to the Father. He pleads our case before the Father’s throne. The Mediator doesn’t stand and plead between man and Himself. God, our Heavenly Father, is real.
Under God’s divine plan, Jesus has sworn an oath that when we keep our covenants with Him, He is under obligation to accept and deliver us. Christ is accountable to the Father, who is His Sovereign. We are accountable to Christ as our Sovereign.
Because of our sins we are unclean and have disqualified ourselves from being able to pay the entire price for those sins. But because of our covenant with Jesus Christ, and because He is our Sovereign Lord, He took the full measure of responsibility upon Himself for us, even though He, personally, was not accountable for those transgressions.
Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac, was a foreshadowing type of the sacrifice the Father was willing to make by offering His Son. In like manner, the Father gave us His only begotten son. Our Savior meekly took the necessary punishment upon Himself in the garden of Gethsemane and upon the cross of Calvary, paying the price and atoning for that which we could not. In this way, we vassal-servants who have been faithful to Jesus secure salvation because our Overlord, Christ, honors His part of the covenant.
The word "atonement" in the Old Testament is taken from the Hebrew word, kaphar (kaw-far), which means to cover, appease, cancel, cleanse, forgive, mercy, pardon, purge away, or to reconcile. In the New Testament it is taken from the Greek word, katallage (kat-al-lag-ay’), meaning "restoration to the divine," and "reconciliation." Atonement does not mean "at-one-ment," as many want to believe. Some try to be cleaver when they dissect the word and think it means at-one-ment, meaning to be "one" with Jesus Christ. As important as becoming one with the Father and the Son truly is, the word atonement actually means to cover, cancel, cleanse, forgive, pardon, and reconcile the sinner. And although this purging and reconciliation is necessary to become one with our Lord, the word still does not mean "at-one-ment." The precious blood of Jesus was shed to cover our sins and wash them away, cleansing us of the disability of sin’s effect. Because of His blood we are forgiven and redeemed of God, being reconciled and restored unto the Father. The Sovereign-Lord vassal-servant relationship indeed works when there is truly a just King.
Jesus the Mediator
To enter into God’s glory, though, we must take upon us His name, keep His commandments, be willing to sacrifice as He sacrificed, and in meekness, endure all things until the end. There is something else that is needed besides such commitments, however. Even after all of this, because we are unclean, we still cannot enter the Father’s kingdom. Since we cannot go to the Father we need something more; and that something more is Jesus Christ, the only one who can do this. He will intercede for us. He is the great Mediator in our behalf so we "might receive the promise of eternal inheritance." (Heb. 9:15.)
The reason He can intercede is because He is the only perfect and "unspotted" one, and is the only clean one who can go before God the Father. He will appear before the throne of God, our Eternal Father, and in our behalf plead our case for us. He is the Counselor, and the only Counselor, who can represent us before the throne of Father in the courts of heaven. There is none other greater than He. The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy, saying, "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time." (1 Tim. 2:5-6.)
As stated earlier, when a law is broken, a penalty is attached, and that penalty must be paid. Justice must be satisfied. When there are laws, there is usually a punishment for the breaking of those laws. Justice demands the payment and executes the law, and the law inflicts the punishment upon the one breaking the law. Broken laws must be satisfied with a punishment; and our Savior meekly took that punishment upon Himself for our sins in the garden of Gethsemane and upon the cross of Calvary. Perhaps a parable can help us understand how the atonement and mediation work.
There was once a man who incurred a great debt, which he was confident he could pay back in due time. However, the time quickly arrived when the debt was due, but the debtor was unable to prepare himself for its payment. The agreement demanded payment in full, or the debtor could be thrown into prison by the creditor and his property confiscated in lieu of the debt.
The debtor, not being able to pay the debt, pleaded to his creditor: "Could you give mercy and extend the agreement until I pull a few things together. Times have been hard."
But the creditor demanded, "It is just that you pay according to the agreement, for mercy only serves the debtor while I’m still holding the bag. Besides, you know the terms and had ample time to make payment."
There they were arguing with each other, one pleading for mercy while the other goes without justice, and the other demanding justice while the debtor goes without mercy. Justice had the edge because it had the agreement. Mercy, on the other hand, was not written into that agreement.
Now the debtor had an acquaintance who learned of his friend’s predicament. He knew the debtor quite well, and knew him to be a good man although quite incompetent at times. The acquaintance stood before the creditor as a mediator and said, "I’ll pay this man’s debts if you promise not to throw him into prison or confiscate his property. You get your money, the demands for justice will be satisfied, and his request for mercy will be granted."
"I’ll accept your offer," the creditor said. "Besides, if he goes to prison, it really does me no good, and his property isn’t worth the amount owed to me anyway. I will be satisfied."
The friend asked the debtor, "When I pay for your debt, will you agree to have me for your new creditor? Now you must realize that if you accept the offer you will be serving a new master, and there will be new terms required. You must repent of your attitude concerning many things, but I will teach you how. Rest assured, the terms will be worth it and I will provide a way for you. You will find peace and joy, for I will also be your friend."
The debtor, full of gratitude, humbly accepted his friend’s offer.
So there it was: the debtor’s friend paid the price, redeeming the debtor from the demands of justice while, at the same time, mercy was extended.
Our Savior, being the only Mediator between the Father and His children, explains to the Father the faithfulness of His children in keeping their covenants and that He, Jesus Christ, has paid the price for the violation of God’s laws; He became the surety, the one liable to pay the debt or obligation of another. "By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament." (Heb. 7:22.) So, at this time, the Lord petitions the Father because of His faithful followers. The blood of the Son was shed that the demands of justice could be met, thereby glorifying the Father by providing a proxy for His fallen children. Jesus paid the price for sin, and His merciful grace satisfies the demands of justice.
Once the demands of justice are met and the law satisfied, the sinner (the one indebted to the lawful demands of justice) has the choice of accepting that payment in his behalf through repentance and making a new covenant, or he can choose not to accept that gift. Upon repentance, the mercy and grace of Christ claim the penitent. Our Redeemer then becomes the sinner’s advocate before the throne of God the Father. Writing to the Hebrews, Paul said, "Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." (Heb. 7:25.) So we come to understand that Jesus exists to be the mediator and make intercession for those who come to God through Him.
God’s mercy comes because of the atonement, and His grace claims the repentant. When justice exercises all its demands, mercy claims only the truly humble and sorrowful. If the grace of Christ did not claim the repentant, justice would execute the law and inflict the punishment upon the sinner. Mercy cannot rob justice, so a payment plan had to be devised for all those who could not pay. Jesus came to earth and sinlessly fulfilled His calling by suffering for all the sins of mankind in a way that no mortal can comprehend. He paid the price for sin and satisfied the law by meeting the demands of justice. Now the rest is up to us. Will we humbly accept His gift and agree to follow the Still Small Voice of a new and benevolent Master? Or, will we remain a slave to personal pride, the dictates of man, and the sin-filled ways of the world?