07
Jul
13

The Intercessory Work of Christ

It is important to remember that biblical writers used different motifs and metaphors to express the same truths concerning God’s work of salvation and Jesus’ accomplishment of that salvation. For example, Jesus is the living bread, the fountain of living waters, the light of the world, the shepherd of the sheep, he is the rock that satisfies his peoples’ thirst, he is the lamb of God who is sacrificed for people of all nations, he is the prophet who declares the Father to us, he is the advocate who represents us before the court of heaven, he is the High Priest who offers himself as our sacrifice, then enters the heavenly most holy place to appear as our forerunner and representative, and he is our Sovereign Lord and King.

It is not difficult to discern that all these motifs and metaphors find their roots in the Old Testament Scriptures. Taking them all together, one begins to get a composite picture of the Anointed One and his work as our redeemer from sin. Systematic Theology seeks to bring all these components together into a composite whole, while Biblical Theology seeks to take a closer look at the individual elements that, taken together, make up the whole.

It should not escape our attention that the New Testament writers viewed salvation in radically different ways. The apostle Paul generally viewed salvation in forensic terms. For him, a person is either justified or condemned before the high court of heaven. The issue is our standing before the judge. Though it would be wrong to categorize sanctification as a non-essential issue, it should not escape our notice that the discussion of sanctification in the Epistle to the Romans is introduced, not as a part of the main argument but as a series of answers to questions [one might say objections] regarding the freeness of justification. It is not that Paul said, “Now that we have finished our discussion of justification, let’s discuss the doctrine of sanctification.” Instead, he interrupts his argument relative to the absolute certainty of the final glorification of all who have been justified, an argument he resumes in chapter eight, to answer the sort of base questions that carnal hearers often pose regarding the “dangers of antinomianism.” Those questions are as follows, “What shall we say then, shall we continue in sin so that grace may overflow?” (6:1), “Shall we sin because we are not under the Law but under grace?” (6:15), “Is the Law sin[ful]?” (7:7), and “Has then what is good become death to me?” (7:13). His answer to all these questions is the same—“God forbid” or “May it never be.” His ultimate argument in this regard is that it is the believer’s righteous standing before God that effects the righteous life God’s Law demanded but could not produce.

One of the divisive issues of the present day concerns the believer’s sanctification. Is such sanctification even necessary or important? If it is, how is it to be produced? Can a believer produce it on his own now that he or she has been regenerated or must there be a believing dependence on the Holy Spirit? Is justification completely unrelated to and hermetically sealed from sanctification or is justification that judicial act of God that is necessary to effect a life of holiness?

It is important we understand that no one in this debate believes sanctification in the believer’s life is unimportant (I say this of those who actually believe that sanctification has anything to do with salvation. Those who are now calling themselves “free grace” believers such as one might find at http://www.expreacherman.com, for example, would be an exception to this statement). The issue concerns the manner in which God produces such a life. Does God produce holiness by imposing Law or by intervening with grace? The apostle’s answer is unequivocal—“Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code”(Romans 7:4-6). It is a simple reality that people who know their guilt will never approach a holy God. People who sense they are under God’s righteousness judgment will not love the judge. For this reason, sinners will invariably suppress any revelation of God they encounter. In a state of sinful nature, we, like Adam and Eve, will always flee from God and seek to hide our nakedness. The only thing the Law is able to do is mirror and magnify that nakedness; it can do nothing to clothe us. We can preach duty to sinners until we are blue in the face, but it will never produce obedience to God. Righteousness is never produced by a commandment. It makes no difference whether the Law is applied to believers or unbelievers, it can never justify or sanctify. It is the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus that sets us free from the Law of sin and death. The truth that effects sanctification is “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1). It was out of this understanding that C. H. Spurgeon said,

While I regarded God as a tyrant I thought my sin a trifle; But when I knew Him to be my Father, then I mourned that I could ever have kicked against Him. When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so, and sought my good.

“The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews shared this understanding but couched his understanding of salvation in a different motif. The term “justification” never occurs in the Epistle. Instead, the writer thinks in categories of perfection or restoration of man to his original glory, fulfillment of O. T. covenants, promises, and types, access into the holy presence of God, and inheritance of spiritual promises.

The people to whom he wrote were in deep trouble spiritually. Not only had their growth been stunted in the process of sanctification, but they were in danger of casting off the Christian faith altogether and returning to Judaism. His message to them should be highly instructive to us. He did not instruct them to concentrate more carefully on the Law and their duty to God. It was Law and duty to which they wished to return. Law was not the solution; it was the problem. The remedy proposed by the writer was simple. It was a matter of focus—a matter of contemplation if you will. The message of the Epistle from beginning to end is the same. Though it may be stated in different forms, its focus does not change. It is simply this—“. . .fix your attention on Jesus Christ, the Apostle and High Priest we confess.”

Even in the writer’s sternest exhortations we do not find a call to obey commandments but to persevere in faith. It is an evil heart of unbelief that departs from the living God. He does not exhort his readers to return to works of obedience but to enter into rest.

Please understand, I am not suggesting that obedience is not important. I am suggesting obedience is not produced by exhortations to obedience or reproof for disobedience. It is not produced by a daily examination of one’s progress in holiness. Such an exercise will only produce more doubt and fear. Holiness never results from a guilty conscience.

It is in this context that our writer brings forth the doctrine of Jesus’ High Priesthood and his functions in that office. Drawing from the analogy of the Levitical priesthood and the activities of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement, it becomes clear that the high priest was to perform two principal duties. He was to offer the sacrifice on the altar and he was to sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on the mercy seat, the gold covered lid of the Ark of the Covenant. He could not appear in the holiest of all places without the blood of the sacrifice. He was accepted there because the sacrifice had stood between him and God and had suffered the penalty of the broken covenant in his place. The sprinkling of the blood added nothing to the efficacy of the sacrifice, but its acceptance and thus the acceptance of the high priest and those he represented in God’s presence was the unmistakable evidence that the sacrifice offered in the outer court had been efficacious. We should never think of the sprinkling of the blood on the mercy seat as a reoffering of the sacrifice. Instead, it was an application of the completed sacrifice in the outer court.

This sprinkling of the blood of sacrifice on the mercy seat corresponds to the intercessory work of Jesus, our Great High Priest, in the heavenly holy of holies. His very presence there for us evinces the efficacy of his sacrifice for us in the outer court of this world. We should not think of Jesus carrying on some liturgical activity in heaven on our behalf. His continued presence there for us believers gives eloquent testimony to the efficacy of his once for all sacrifice for us.

As long as he presents his finished sacrifice before the mercy seat, the place that has now become the throne of grace, all his people will continue to be accepted in God’s presence. We are accepted there because he is accepted there. We are accepted because of our union with him.

We must not think of Jesus’ present work of presenting his finished sacrifice before God’s throne as a perpetual sacrificial offering. Unlike the sacrificial work of the Levitical high priest whose work on the Day of Atonement was not completed until he had sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice on the mercy seat, Jesus’ sacrificial work was finished on the cross.

It is not that God has to be reminded of his finished work any more than he needed to be reminded that the sacrifice had been completed in the tabernacle court. Why, then, the sprinkling of the blood on the mercy seat? The presence of the priests and his acceptance before God was the evidence that the sacrifice had been accepted. The continual appearance of Jesus, our High Priest in God’s presence simply gives eloquent evidence that God’s holy wrath has been satisfied for all who draw near to him by faith. It is not that God needs to be reminded by Jesus’ continual appearing in his presence that the work is finished. Instead, it is that we need to be reminded that the veil of the consciousness of guilt that barred us from God’s presence has been removed once and for all. The Christian message is not that God will get even with you if you fail to obey; it is that if you are a believer, God already got even with you at the cross. By his eternal redemption, Jesus has purified our consciences from dead works to serve the living God (See Heb. 9:14). An examination of our evidences of saving faith will not grant us a clean conscience. Gazing at our partially sanctified hearts will not grant us peace. Only a continued meditation on the finished work of Christ and the evidence of that accomplishment in his perpetual appearance for us in God’s presence will maintain our clean consciences so that we might serve the living God.

There are two important issues we must consider in relation to the work Jesus, our High Priest, now performs for us in the heavens. The first concerns the nature of his intercession. Does his intercession merely consist of his appearance in God’s presence for us as a presentation of his finished work or is his intercession vocalized? Does he actually pray for and in place of believers? The second concerns the content of his intercession. With what is his intercession concerned? Does he intercede only for our weakness, needs, spiritual growth, protection etc., or does his intercession also extend to the forgiveness of our sins?

The nature of Christ’s intercession has been a matter of no small controversy, and a resolution of the issue is not easy to attain since we are not given a clear, biblical answer to the question. Additionally, the manner in which Jesus could vocalize all the exigent requests that need attention before God’s throne is beyond our feeble comprehension. Still, our ability to comprehend such an intercession is not the criterion by which we should judge its reality. The truth is, we simply do not know the answer to this question, and any attempt to give a definitive answer would amount to vain speculation. In any case, it is clear that we are saved no less by his resurrection life and his application of his finished work of redemption than we are by his vicarious death that accomplished that redemption. If anything, the writer to the Hebrews seems to concentrate more on the results of Jesus’ sacrificial offering than on the offering itself. That is to say his focus seems to be on the demonstration of the once for all character of his sacrificial work. The issue is how sinners can know there is a way of free access into the presence of the infinitely holy God? How can we know a sacrifice has finally been offered that has satisfied his wholly wrath? The presence of our High Priest in the heavenly Holy of Holies definitively answers that question.

Concerning the content of his intercession, some have suggested that this intercessory work can have nothing to do with the perpetual forgiveness of sins since, in justification, God has declared all the believer’s sins, past, present and future, forgiven and has imputed to us a righteousness that cannot be impugned.

There are several factors we should consider in seeking to answer this important question:

1. Intercession or advocacy [which I take as merely a different metaphor for the same work] is mentioned in relation to sin and condemnation and salvation. For example, “Who is he that condemns? It is [or will] Christ who died. . . who also intercedes for us” (Rom. 8:34). Notice the use of the present tense—“who also is interceding for us.” In this context, Paul cites not only Jesus’ death but also his present intercession as a reason for the believer’s non-condemnation. Relative to his work as our advocate, we read, “and if anyone should sin, we have an advocate with the Father and he is the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:1-2a). It is significant that the sentence does not read, “he was the propitiation for our sins.” In the Apocalypse, John sees in the center of the throne “a lamb standing as though it had been slain. . . .” (Rev. 5:6). The clear teaching of the New Testament Scriptures is that believers stand justified because Jesus stands crucified. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “. . .but we preach Christ crucified. . . .” (1 Cor. 1:23), he used the perfect passive participle, to indicate a continuing state that resulted from a completed action in the past. Even in his exalted state, Jesus remains the crucified one and the efficacy of his redemptive work remains undiminished.

2. We should not think of Jesus in his official capacity as our High Priest as literally standing before the mercy seat, presenting his pierced hands and feet to the Father any more than we should literally think of Jesus, our Advocate, literally approaching the judges’ bench to plead our cause. These are merely metaphorical expressions that, taken together with other such metaphors, attempt to express the fullness of his redemptive work. The acceptance of Israel’s high priest in the holy of holies in the presence of the manifest holiness of God was evidence that Jehovah’s wrath for his peoples’ sins had been appeased by the blood of the sacrificial beast. The metaphor of Jesus’ perpetual priestly intercession is simply intended to convey to the believer that his finished sacrifice at Calvary will forever retain its efficacy. No post conversion sin we commit can condemn us since we are secure in God’s presence in the person of our High Priest and representative.

3. It is important we remember that Jesus’ appearance in the presence of God is “for us” and that he intercedes “for those who come to God by him.” He is our “forerunner” who has entered into the place within the veil “for us.” This all teaches us that apart from him there would be no access into God’s presence. Not only did he die under the curse of the Law as his people’s substitutionary sacrifice, but he now appears in God’s presence as our representative. His acceptance there is our acceptance there. Severed from him, we have no hope. All depends on the believer’s union with Christ. If we have ever been truly united to him through faith, he will be our perpetual representative until eternity. He ever lives to make intercession for us. The hymn-writer stated this well when he wrote,

Great God! if you should bring me near,
to answer at your awful bar,
And my own self defend;
If Jesus did himself withdraw,
I know Your holy fiery law
My soul to hell would send.

Chennick
4. We should consider an alternate view that suggests justification is a “done deal” the moment we first believe. Once we have been justified, we have no need of the gospel and no need for Jesus’ intercession in relation to the forgiveness of our sins. Apparently, those who hold this view believe Jesus’ work of intercession is limited to his prayers for our weaknesses, temptations, etc. I have no desire to misrepresent the views of those who believe this, but it sounds as if they are saying that once we have our justification ticket punched by believing the gospel, we do not really need Jesus any more.

This does not differ from the view I have espoused here in regard to the immediate declaration of free justification the moment a sinner trusts God’s promise of salvation in Christ. A believer is never deemed more righteous in God’s sight than he is the first moment he believes. The point of difference is that, in my view and I believe according to the Scriptures, believers never get beyond the need for fresh applications of the finished work of Christ.

5. We should think of the work of intercession as the application of Christ’s once for all accomplishment of redemption. His intercession insures the believer’s full enjoyment of every spiritual blessing Jesus died to procure for his people. Jesus does not need to offer himself in sacrifice again and again in order to satisfy for his people’s sins. This he accomplished once and for all at the cross.

6. In answer to any who question whether the intercessory work of Christ maintains the believers righteous standing before God, i.e., justification, it might help to consider the same question in regard to the believer’s salvation explained using a different metaphor. Does the believer’s free and bold access into the presence of our holy God depend on Jesus’ appearance in his presence as our representative? The answer of the Epistle to the Hebrews is a resounding, “yes!” We are invited to approach God’s throne with boldness only because we have a Great High Priest who has passed through the heavens and now appears in the presence of God for us.

From these considerations it should be clear that Jesus’ intercessory work as our Great High Priest perpetually presents the efficacy of his finished work for the forgiveness of our sins. It is through this work alone that we can obey the biblical injunction to draw near to God’s mercy seat with boldness.

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3 Responses to “The Intercessory Work of Christ”


  1. July 7, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    That’s an important post, especially how Paul settled the issue of ‘antinomianism’ \.

    ““What shall we say then, shall we continue in sin so that grace may overflow?” (6:1), “Shall we sin because we are not under the Law but under grace?” (6:15), “Is the Law sin[ful]?” (7:7), and “Has then what is good become death to me?” (7:13). His answer to all these questions is the same—“God forbid” or “May it never be.”

  2. July 9, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    I’ve had several personal run-ins with “Free Grace” preachers who are so allergic to works-based salvation that they deny the nature of the new creature who has been raised from spiritual death! Christians are raised up to new life in Christ to walk in the newness of that life and unto the good works prepared for us BEFORE the foundation of the world! We must present a litmus test for proof of salvation (must speak in tongues, etc.) but we must not comfort folk as brothers and sisters who have no longing for Christ and His righteousness and who continue to live like and love the ways of this present age. We who are redeemed are sinners yet; but we war against the flesh and its sinful desires – we do not go easily along with our enemy. The “Free Grace” war against “Lordship Salvation” is a straw man war. Much like Paul Dohse, they make up false arguments from scraps that are less than optimum portrayals of “Lordship Salvation” from several men and then ridicule the straw man as having no substance. Jesus IS Lord of all and does not wait for sinners to elect Him.

    • July 9, 2013 at 1:58 pm

      I am reminded to George Whitefield’s response to John Wesley’s ravings about “Free Grace.” He titled it “Free Grace Indeed.” There was a time when I would have called myself a “free grace” believer. Now I suppose I would have to call myself a believer in free grace indeed.

      I have tried to post several times at Expreacherman.com and even sent them emails regarding their straw man arguments. Of course, they never post anything or answer my emails. Their attitude is, our minds are made up, don’t confuse us with the facts.


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