This article is the first in a set of studies that focuses on the core principles of salvation. Over the series, our purpose will be to attempt to peel away metaphor and symbolism, and expose and explore the underlying realities of the work of Christ.
In this first article, we consider an aspect of salvation that lies almost at the end of the process, so to speak. We’ll be thinking about the present work of Christ. I’d like us to consider the question: ‘What is Christ doing now? What is his present work?’
Our likely assumption
Most of us would say that Jesus has some kind of role to play as an intermediary between ourselves and God, perhaps that he takes our prayers and presents them to the Father. Many might go on to say that he pleads our cause (when we ask for forgiveness), and adjusts our prayers (when we don’t know what to pray for, or how to express ourselves adequately), that Jesus presents our case to God, seeks forgiveness for us and, in a sense, pacifies God so that we may be reconciled to Him. In our minds we draw the parallel with Moses pleading to God to giveIsrael another chance, and God responding and relenting from the destruction He had planned. We place Jesus in a similar role: he is greater than Moses, and he is now exalted to God’s right hand, and it makes a kind of sense that he intercedes with God on our behalf.
But is all this correct? Is this a Biblical view?
There are a number of scriptures that appear to support the view: for example:
Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them (Heb. 7:23-25, NIV as all quotes unless noted).
However, there are a number of scriptural challenges to this commonly held view. We’ll look at three in turn.
Challenges to the common view
1. We begin in John 16, where Jesus himself says that it is not his role to be this kind of intermediary. The last supper has just taken place. Jesus and his disciples have left the upper room and are walking through the streets of Jerusalem, towards the outskirts of the city where he is about to offer his extended prayer (John 17), before crossing the Kidron en route to the garden of Gethsemane. In this very urgent and tense situation, he speaks to them:
In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God (John 16:26-27).
Let’s paraphrase it: “Don’t think”, he says, “when you pray in my name that I will be taking your message to the Father. It’s not like that at all. You will be able to deal directly with the Father. He loves you, because you have loved me and believed in me.”
So that’s the first challenge: Jesus says he will not be in the role of an intermediary in our prayers. We can pray to the Father directly.
2. Here’s a second challenge. Remember the incident in the Lord’s ministry when the paralytic was let down through the roof of the synagogue? There he was, lying on the floor at Jesus’ feet, unable to move. And Jesus says to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” The Pharisees said he was speaking blasphemy — no one can forgive sins but God alone. Jesus’ response is in Luke 5:23-25:
Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…’ He said to the paralyzed man, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.
The man took up his bed and walked out, healed and forgiven! But note the lesson that Jesus wanted everyone to learn. It was that he personally had the authority to forgive sin!
Now all this was before his death and resurrection. Do we seriously imagine that our Lord has any less authority now, seated at God’s right hand? He himself says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matt 28:18). Our Lord, who had authority to forgive sins in the days of his flesh, has all that authority and more in his glorified state. So why, then, would the Son need to go to the Father and say, “Please forgive their sins, for my sake” when he has that power himself? It just doesn’t make sense.
3. A third challenge to consider comes from a principle discussed in John 14:8-10 (earlier in the long discourse which continues through chapter 17), where we have a record of a notable conversation between Philip and Jesus.
Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.’ How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.
Jesus’ reply to Philip’s request is, “Don’t you realize what I have been doing for the past three years, Philip? I have been showing you the Father. Everything I have been saying and doing has been designed to reveal my Father to you.”
This was the whole tenor of Jesus’ life. It was devoted to considering what the Father would feel about this situation, or what He would do or say in that situation, and then acting accordingly. “I do only those things which I have seen of my Father, which I have learned of my Father, which the Father hath taught me,” and so on. That’s what Jesus’ life was all about: He was completely attuned to his Father’s will.
And so here in John 14 he says, “If you want to know what God is like, look at me!” If ever we want to know how loving God is, we should look at Jesus and see when he showed love, and kindness, and compassion. If ever we want to know how concerned God is about our salvation, we should look at Jesus grieving that the people are as sheep without a shepherd, and doing everything possible to meet their needs. If ever we want to know how angry God can get we should look at Jesus, and see the fire blazing within as he takes a whip and cleanses the temple. We look to the Son, because he displays the Father in all the dimensions of the Father’s character.
But this means that Jesus is neither stricter, nor more lenient than the Father. He has exactly the same judgment as his Father! The Father judges rightly, for He is righteous and true altogether (Psa 145:17), so how could he possibly give all judgment to the Son if the Son were to come to different conclusions? It is only because the Son is perfectly attuned to the will of the Father that he has been appointed judge of heaven and earth. By necessity this means that there is no occasion where God would want to forgive and the Son would not, nor vice versa. So how could there be a situation where Jesus would need to plead our cause to the Father?
These are three serious challenges to the common view that Jesus takes our prayers to the Father and presents our case to God. To summarize:
- Jesus says explicitly in John 16 that he won’t be this ‘middleman’ between us and the Father. We can pray directly to the Father.
- He also says and demonstrated in his ministry that he personally has the authority to forgive sins. It was true then, it is still true now.
- He goes to great lengths to demonstrate that he is perfectly in tune with his Father’s will. There is no conflict or debate between them as to when it would or would not be appropriate to forgive sins.
We need to read carefully
Apparent scriptural conflicts are quite common: when you read one passage it seems to say one thing, and when you read another it seems to say something contradictory. What do we do when we come across these apparent conflicts? We dig deeper. We compare multiple passages and look for what the scripture is really telling us. Before we dig in this case, it is worth noting that the idea that Christ intercedes with God on our behalf is taught by the bulk of Christianity. We should be on our guard, therefore, as we re-examine the relevant scriptures, lest we unwittingly allow ourselves to be partly influenced by popular theology.
Doctrinal bias of translators
Popular Christian theology holds the following doctrines about Jesus as fundamental: (a) that he is part of a Trinity, (b) that he died instead of us as a substitutionary sacrifice, and (c) that he is our mediator, pleading with God on our behalf, presenting our case acceptably to the Father. All of these doctrines show up in translators’ bias. To see an example of the third, consider 1 John 2:1. First read the RSV (the King James is similar).
My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
The odd choice of the word ‘advocate’ already suggests someone arguing our case in a legal context. But the NIV is far worse. This is what it says:
My dear children I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense, Jesus Christ the Righteous One.
Now that’s not translating the Greek text. It’s adding baggage under the guise of ‘dynamic equivalence.’ The NIV, though a marvelous translation in so many ways, is here reflecting the doctrinal bias of its evangelical scholarship.
So what does the verse actually say? The word translated ‘advocate’ is the word parakletos, the same word Jesus uses in John 14 when he is describing the ‘comforter’ or ‘counselor’ he is going to send them to help them. Literally the word ‘parakletos’ simply means helper. In John 14:18, Jesus states that the parakletos is actually his own spiritual presence coming among them. So the verse in 1 John 2 is simply telling us “if any one does sin, we have a helper with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. For the moment our purpose is simply to demonstrate the kind of doctrinal bias that can creep into our thinking with a little help from the translators, i.e. that we have “one who speaks to the Father in our defense.” That is not what the Greek text says.
WHAT THE SCRIPTURES DO SAY
I Timothy 2 – from God to man
It’s now time to consider what Scripture does teach us about the work of our risen Lord. There are three major concepts we’ll cover: mediator, priest, and intercessor. We’ll start with mediator.
The phrase “Jesus Christ our mediator” is very commonly used, but surprisingly enough, it is actually not a Biblical phrase, at least not quite. The Bible at no point describes Jesus as ‘our’ mediator. He is always presented to us as God’s mediator, and in particular, as the mediator of the new covenant. This makes a considerable difference. Let’s consider the verses, starting with 1 Timothy 2:3-7:
This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men — the testimony given in its proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle — I am telling the truth, I am not lying — and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.
Paul starts with the idea of ‘God our Savior.’ This is true in a fundamental sense. God is the one who is our Savior. It is by extension that the Lord Jesus is also our Savior, because he is a manifestation of the Father, and was instrumental in carrying out God’s plan. But salvation starts with God, and it is in this context that Paul describes Jesus as mediator.
Now look carefully at what the ‘mediator’ did. He gave himself as a ransom, a testimony given at the proper time. To whom was he testifying? To God, or to man? As soon as we ask the question the answer is completely obvious. God didn’t need the testimony. We did. Christ Jesus was testifying to mankind.
In fact, the whole thrust of this passage is: from God, to man. God, the author of salvation, is working through Christ (and subsequently through the apostles), to bring the knowledge of the truth to men and women. The direction is from God to man, and Jesus is the appointed mediator of that message.
In everyday speech we speak of ‘a medium of instruction,’ or ‘the media,’ meaning TV, radio and newspapers. The medium is the channel through which a message flows. The message is mediated through the channel. And so it is here. Jesus is the medium through which God speaks to us. He is the mediator of the message, which was the ransom, the testimony.
Once again, note the direction. It is not that we picked Jesus as our representative to talk to God.
Not at all! It is entirely the other way round. God has appointed Jesus as His representative to reach out and communicate with us.
Same idea in Hebrews
We see the same thing in Hebrews 9:14-15:
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance — now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
Christ is the ‘mediator’ of the new covenant. But where does that covenant come from? Did we come up with the idea? Of course not! It was God’s idea. He developed the plan, and He sent Christ to bring the glad message to us. Christ mediates the new covenant, bringing it from God to us.
We have exactly the same teaching and emphasis in Hebrews 12:22-24:
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Again, the Lord Jesus is God’s mediator, bringing the covenant to us. He is not our mediator, appointed to present our case to God. That concept is completely absent from these verses. The direction is from God to man.
I know it’s often hard to reprogram ourselves but we should try to catch ourselves every time we say the phrase: ‘Jesus Christ, our mediator.’ He is God’s mediator, reaching out to me, reaching out to you, reaching out to all the world.
The Old Testament precedents
The situation under the Old Covenant was directly parallel. Moses wasn’t chosen by Israel to present their case to God. Quite the reverse. God chose Moses as His representative, gave him the 10 commandments and the words of the covenant on Sinai, and Moses then had to present it all to the people. He had to ‘mediate’ the covenant between God and man. The direction was the same.
There’s one other interesting use of the same word in the Greek (at least, the verb form of the word), in Hebrews 6:17:
Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath.
Did you spot it? It’s the word ‘confirmed,’ surprisingly enough. Literally, God mediated his statement by an oath. Again, this is not a mediator in a legal dispute. Rather it is the mechanism by which the word comes to us, in this case, though an oath.
Given that the scriptural concept of Jesus as mediator refers to his work in establishing the covenant from God, what is his role now? If Jesus was representing God to men during his ministry, what is he doing now? Is the work continuing, or has his role changed in some way? Given what we have seen already, we will have to examine the relevant scriptures carefully. There are two key scriptures we need to examine. The first is in Hebrews 7 and the second in Romans 8.
Christ as priest in Hebrews 7
This chapter is about Christ being made a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek. Consider Hebrews 7:23-25:
Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Before looking at intercession, let’s consider what the role of a priest was in Bible times. Maybe the purpose of the priest was to go to God and plead with Him on behalf of the people. After all, the priest would take sacrifices, and would offer them. He would carry out all the necessary ritual under the law of Moses, presenting the sacrifice to God in the hope that God would see it, be pleased, and forgive the offerer.
For a long time I thought this way, that the main purpose of a priest was to represent the people to God. But, you know what? I was looking at it backwards again! The main purpose of a priest is not to represent the people to God, rather it is to represent God to us. But before we see this directly, let’s first consider sacrifice.
Sacrificing animals not priest’s main role
Let’s go to Psalm 51 written when David realises the terrible situation that he has got himself into – not only having a child with someone else’s wife but then trying to cover it up with deception, before finally resorting to murder. He is agonizing over how he can be reconciled to God once again (Psa. 51:16-17):
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Let’s paraphrase this: “If you wanted dead animals, Lord, I would have brought them. But I know that’s not what you really want. That’s not what the Law is all about. What you really want is repentance and humility.” Certainly, the law required that the sacrifices be made, but only because of the effect they were designed to have on the people bringing the offerings. They were expected to learn from the process. David recognizes this: “You don’t delight in the sacrifice itself, Lord. What you want is a penitent spirit, a broken and a contrite heart.”
Samuel drives a similar point home to Saul, emphasizing the value of obedience over sacrifice in I Samuel 15:22:
But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
These two passages are telling us that if we see the primary work of a priest as presenting dead animals to God, we have missed the point.
The priest was to represent God to the people
So what is the primary work of the priest under the law? Malachi gives us the lead we are looking for. In Malachi 2, the prophet is explaining God’s original covenant with the tribe of Levi, and what He expected of them if they are to continue in office.
True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin. For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction — because he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty (Mal. 2:6-7).
Notice how this turns our earlier concept of a priest around? Previously, we described him as the people’s representative going before God with their sacrifices. But God says “No! That’s not what I intended in establishing the priesthood. The priest is to be my representative to the people. He should preserve knowledge, and provide instruction. He is my messenger. He should take my words and make them known to the people. He is to lead them away from sin. He must represent me to the people.” And, of course, this is exactly the role that Christ exemplified during his ministry.
The same principle applies today. Consider II Corinthians 5:18-20 where Paul exhorts all believers to take the message of salvation to whoever will accept it:
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. This is very like Malachi 2: taking the message of reconciliation and salvation, and making it known to the people. Notice that we are back to where we were earlier: the direction is from God to man. It begins with God, and He makes His appeal through Christ. The appeal is extended through the apostles appointed by Christ, and so on. All are representing God to the people. Not the other way round.
Christ as intercessor in Hebrews 7
Come back to Hebrews 7. Given that Jesus is a priest, he must be carrying out the fundamental priestly role that Malachi highlighted. He must still be representing God to His people: instructing us, guiding us, leading us away from sin. He is the messenger of the covenant. Moreover, because Jesus lives forever, he is able to save completely those who come to God by him. Every day, he carries out his priestly work of getting involved in the lives of those for whom he is appointed. And it is effective, because he always lives to intercede (or make intercession) for them.
And there’s that word ‘intercession.’ Immediately we may think, “Ah, yes, that means intercede with God for them.” But it doesn’t say that. Let’s look at the verse again:
The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them (Heb. 7:23-25).
Let’s be clear. It does not say that he is interceding with God. It simply says he is going to intercede for believers. What does it mean?
Well, let’s ask the question: where do we need intercession? Who or what is it that we have a problem with? Do we have a problem with God, or do we have a problem with Sin?
Again, as soon as we ask that question we realize the answer. We don’t have a problem with God at all. It isn’t God who needs to change His ways. But if Jesus is interceding in our lives in the battle against Sin, in the very area where we do need to change, then suddenly his priestly role makes sense. Here is a priest who gets involved day by day in the lives of those who are coming to God through him. He is the messenger of the covenant. He is there as God’s representative for our benefit.
Romans 8 – Father and Son on our side
Now let’s go to Romans 8, which provides further insight into the nature of Jesus’ involvement. We start with the passage commencing in v. 31. The context is the grace of God in choosing, calling, justifying, and glorifying many sons and daughters in Christ. Now read verses 31-34:
What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
Now reflect on the force of this passage. First of all, Paul says, God is for us. That’s foundational. God is on our side. Then, if you want to know how much he is on our side, He has shown us by not sparing His Son. And if He didn’t spare his own Son, Paul says, can you imagine Him not wanting to give us everything necessary to achieve salvation? Of course not! Note that, as Paul continues, he’s asking rhetorical questions (the words in italics in the King James are terrible here: cross them out). “Who will bring any charge?” Paul asks. Implied answer: No one! Because God is the one who justifies. “Who will condemn?” Again, implied answer: No one! Because the resurrected Jesus is at God’s right hand.
And then, having established that God is on our side in every possible way, we read of Christ making intercession for us. Given the context, it is absurd to think of Christ’s intercession in terms of him pleading with God for us, as if he’s our lawyer standing before the court of heaven. What would he be trying to do? To get God on our side? But God is already on our side! And He has proved it in a way we cannot possibly doubt.
So we say again, “What is the problem that we face in salvation?” It is not the Father. We don’t need to change the Father’s mind. The real problem we face is our battle against sin. Jesus intervenes and intercedes in that area of our lives. He helps us through our trials and tribulations. And being at the right hand of God, with all authority in heaven and earth, he has access to all the resources he needs.
Responding to our needs
If Jesus is expecting to be directly involved in our lives, we would imagine he would have told us. And indeed he did. Here’s what he says in the middle of the parakletos passage we referred to earlier in John 14:13-14:
And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
He makes it clear. He, Jesus, will act upon our prayers. If we know what we (or others) need, we just pray in Jesus’ name, and he is the one who brings about the result.
Understanding Romans 8:26-27
However, this raises another possibility: what if we don’t know what to pray for? Listen to Romans 8:26-27. We will discover that it is directly in line with what we have been saying.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the spirit [he] intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.
This is a defining passage for evangelical doctrine, which gets interpreted as follows: when we pray to God, we can’t always express ourselves in a way that is appropriate. So the Holy Spirit takes those prayers, and refashions them with groans that words cannot express. This way, our prayer is presented acceptably to the Father on our behalf. However, this interpretation raises all sorts of questions about the God whom we worship. Can He not hear faltering prayers, or is He confused by bad grammar? Is God not able to understand us, although He created us? Does the Spirit somehow have an ability that the Father doesn’t, an ability to sort out the mess and straighten things up? It is very difficult to come up with any coherent understanding based on this interpretation.
Let’s read the verses again, but with a different mindset. Instead of assuming that intercession means pleading with God, let’s think of it as being an intervention in our lives. Now the verses are clear. Christ (in spiritual presence) knows what we are going through. In our weakness there are times we really don’t know what to pray for. Should we pray that someone we love be healed from their severe illness? Or should we pray that they may fall asleep and be released from pain? We face a quandary. But with the deepest empathy, Jesus intercedes in the situation. He becomes involved in ways words cannot express, his purpose being to accomplish the will of God, and bring us to the promised redemption. And so in all things he works for our good.
Incidentally, the word ‘groaning’ occurs earlier in this chapter in vs. 22-23:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our [body].
The whole creation is groaning and travailing in pain because of sin. Also, the sons of God groan inwardly, longing for the redemption of the body, waiting patiently in hope. And similarly, in the days of his flesh, Christ was moved with compassion, often sighing and groaning within himself as he exerted himself to meet the needs of the people around him. He intervened in their lives and tackled their problems. And this passage tells us that nothing has changed. He is still doing it! Always. Even to the end of the age.
Interceding for Peter
Scripture is mostly made up of practical examples, so let’s see an example of Jesus’ intercession at work. Consider Peter’s denial of his Lord. When Jesus warned him that it was going to happen, Peter protested vehemently, “I won’t deny you even though, every one else does.”
But Jesus starts his intercessory work with Peter. “You’ll deny me three times, Peter.” He’s getting involved in the situation, to help Peter survive through it, and even to come out the other side stronger for the experience. He’s standing beside him. Jesus is the parakletos, there to assist him.
Consider some of the things that Jesus did to help Peter in this situation. The first thing we note is that he prays to the Father to strengthen Peter (Luke 22:31-32):
Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.
This request is particularly instructive, as Jesus would be unable to help Peter in those next crucial hours and days. This powerful idea is very present in Jesus’ prayer heading up to Gethsemane, given in John 17:11:
I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name — the name you gave me — so that they may be one as we are one.
Jesus knows that when he’s dead, he will not be able to protect them, and so calls for the Father to carry on his protective and intercessory work. But until that time comes, he’s not finished. There are more things he can do to intercede.
In Gethsemane, Jesus exhorts Peter to keep awake, Luke 22:46: ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.’ “Prepare yourself, Peter,” he is saying. This is essential if he is to resist the temptation coming his way.
Then there is a third intervention: after the three denials in the courtyard, the Lord turned and looked at Peter (Luke 22:6). I can’t imagine that there was condemnation in that look. Rather it was a look of compassion and concern. “I know you Peter, I know your heart. I love you, Peter.” And suddenly, caught short by the love of his Lord, Peter realizes what he has done! He goes out, and he weeps bitterly.
Because we know the story, we know that Peter’s path of sin stops at this point. But how far might he have fallen without the intervention of Jesus? Fatal depression? Suicide? We can’t possibly know, but we do know that through the intercession of Christ, Peter takes the first step to recovery from the abyss of failure.
Fourth: Jesus isn’t finished. On the morning of the resurrection the Lord instructed the women to give a special message of reassurance to Peter, “Go and tell my disciples and Peter that I have risen and will meet them in Galilee” (Mark 16:7). And fifth: He later made a special appearance to Peter. We don’t have the details, but the visit was no doubt to give him further encouragement (Luke 24:34).
And finally, on the shore of Galilee, Jesus gave Peter opportunity to cancel out the three denials with a three-fold declaration of his love and his loyalty. “Peter, do you love me?” “Lord, you know that I love you.” And again. And again.
At least six separate acts! This is what intercession is: the Lord intervening in the lives of his saints to help them in their struggle against weakness, temptation and sin. He does not put a hedge about them so that they never fall, but helping them through the experience, so that they come out stronger on the other side, so that they grow spiritually in preparation for the Kingdom. And if the mortal Christ, in the midst of his arrest, trial, torture, crucifixion, and death, is able to intercede so effectively, how much more today: exalted to the right hand of God, enthroned in the heavens, with the powers of the universe his to command.
Now, isn’t this exactly what we were reading earlier in I John 2:2? “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin we have a ‘parakletos’ with the Father.” One who, in addition to the Father, stands beside us to comfort, strengthen and guide. Jesus Christ the righteous one.
This study, of course, raises all sorts of questions. Precisely how does our Lord do his intercessory work in our lives today? What mechanisms does he use? How does he go about it? We aren’t told the details, but no doubt all the ways of providence are at work. Sometimes he uses our brothers and sisters, bringing them to us with a word or deed as occasion may require. Perhaps he uses angels to shape the events of our lives at critical times, so that we learn important lessons. Perhaps he guides us to look at the right passages of scripture when problems arise, so that the teaching strikes us very powerfully, or he provokes thoughts or insights within us.
Precisely how Jesus does his work in any particular situation, we cannot predict. But we can give great and abundant thanks that he is an active high priest, that he is always there to intervene, to help guide, strengthen, and comfort us day by day, in preparation for his coming in glory.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Heb.4:14-16).
We can relate to Jesus, because he’s been through it all himself. Our High Priest has been appointed precisely to provide mercy and forgiveness and grace, to help us in our time of need. Moreover, we are told that he is able to save completely those who come to God by him. Why? Because he lives for ever, and so can do this work on an ongoing basis, unlike the Levitical priests who were mortal. We’ll return to this idea in a subsequent article.
‘On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.’ Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, ‘But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’ Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him (John 14:20-23).
This is intercession taken to its logical conclusion: intervention to the extent that it becomes permanent, because a unity of thought, purpose and action has developed between Savior and Saint. We pray God, that through the interventions of our High Priest, we may ultimately be deemed worthy of this incredibly great honor.
[With special thanks to D. Styles, A. Oosthuizen, and P. Launchbury.]