“In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (John 16:26–27)
I have for years questioned how some view Christ interceding for us. Perhaps one of the most used verses is Hebrews 7:25, Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. I am not sure I have ever heard anyone refer to Christ’s intercession in any other way than he speaks to the Father on our behalf, or he pleads our case or perhaps asks the Father to answer our prayers because he died for us. It is usually explained in some way like that. I have read some commentators like Calvin who seem to support what I am about to say which is reassuring since I would be hesitant to teach something if I couldn’t find some good theologians who didn’t also agree.
My main problem with viewing Christ’s intercession like that is that it seems as if the Father needs a little more convincing by the Son before he will take care of us. But if Christ made a perfect propitiation, then the Father’s wrath toward us has been removed and he loves us perfectly in the Son and there is peace. The Father can’t be any more favorably disposed toward us than he has been since we were born again and united to the work of Christ.
I have always seen his intercession, then, as referring to his one time work of redemption and Heb. 7:25 above is a good example. I don’t take it to mean that he is always living to plead our case before the Father but that as long as he is alive his cross work will always be sufficient to save us. As long as he lives, we will be accepted by the Father. Vs. 24 I think shows this, Heb 7:24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. The strength of his intercessory work is that he is risen and lives forever.
I quoted John 16:26-27 above because I recently read it for the “first time”. Have you ever come across a passage and it hits you like a ton of bricks and you wonder how you had never noticed it before? When I read it my first thought was, “Hey, that is what I have always thought the passages on intercession were to be taken. Here Jesus says that under the New Covenant, when we pray, we don’t pray to Jesus and ask him to go to the Father because he doesn’t have to. The Father loves us. Jesus’s death fully reconciled us to God and nothing more needs to be done. So he says that he doesn’t have to ask the Father on our behalf because we can go to him ourselves.
Perhaps you might be thinking of the several passages that refer to his interceding for us like Rom 8:34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. But the context is not us praying but in our continuous, never ending justification; go read the context. This would support what I have been saying. Earlier in that chapter we read of the Holy Spirit interceding in our prayers, Rom 8:26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. But here again I don’t think we are being told that the Holy Spirit is pleading our case but that we often don’t know what the Lord’s will is for us and don’t know what to pray for or sometimes we pray for things that are not good for us but not to worry because the Holy Spirit does know and the Godhead is taking care of it for us. That is a quick synopsis but I think it gets the point across.
What about other places like 1Jn 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 1Jn 2:2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. Again, the context is when we sin; how do we know our sins won’t condemn us? Because Jesus Christ is righteous and his blood has full atonement made. It is propitious, it has removed God’s wrath once for all. We don’t ask forgiveness when we sin so that he might forgive the guilt of our sins but to restore fellowship through confession. 1Jn 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Now let me try to show why this isn’t merely splitting hairs but there is some practical value to get this right. First of all, Christians are told to pray to the Father, not the Son. The whole point of Jesus telling us to pray in his name is because he has paved the way for us to come to the Father. One of the ways we are priests is that we can approach God on our own. Christ is the Mediator in that the cross work has provided access to the throne of God both in justification and in praying. We are never told to ask Jesus to go to the Father on our behalf.
This isn’t to say that the Holy Spirit and the Son don’t work with the Father to help us but there is never any hint that the Father needs further pacification or needs to be prodded by the Son, Heb 2:17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. Heb 2:18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. All members of the Trinity come to our aid because Christ has removed all obstacles.
Secondly, this truth undermines much of Roman Catholicism’s teaching on intercession which sees our sins never quite fully paid for and the Father’s disposition toward us never quite what it should be and so we must approach the Father through Jesus or Mary or some “Saint” and then they go the Father and try and get things done. I once read from a Catholic source that if someone prays to Mary, one way she would entice Jesus to do what she asks is by revealing one of her breasts to remind him how she used to nurse him and that would gain his favor. Of course, all that does is undermine the cross because we can’t be loved and cared for any more than we already are. Mary certainly can’t make the Godhead any more favorable to us than they already are.
Personally I am glad the Father doesn’t need any more convincing to answer my prayers and do me good. Christ’s life and death has done all that can be done and all that needs to be done.