There are many wonderful works Jesus did for His people. Jesus said that He came in His incarnation “[not] to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus gave Himself for His people. He lived the life we could not live, and He died the death that should have been ours, He paid the penalty we deserved. We praise Jesus for His atoning life, death, and resurrection. And we should. That is the proper response.
But I wonder, when was that last time you (I’m looking at me, too) sang a song of praise to Jesus for His work of intercession? Better yet, when was the last time that you thought about the glorious truth and reality that Jesus prays for you? This is a neglected truth about an important work of Christ on behalf of His people. Jesus prays for us; He intercedes for us.
The Atonement and Intercession
The atonement of Christ is the foundation of His intercessory work. Two passages that show us the connection between the atonement and Christ’s intercession are Romans 8:32-34 and 1st John 2:1-2.
First, let’s give attention to Romans 8:32-34:
“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 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.”
This passage, Romans 8:31-39, is meant to convince the believer that they will never be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39). There is a logical progression here. God will graciously give us all things because He did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all.
No one can bring a charge of condemnation against us because Christ is the one who justifies the people of God. Paul already stated this at the beginning of the chapter, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Why can no one effectively bring a charge of condemnation against us? Paul’s reasoning in verse 34 is because Christ Jesus is the one who died, He is the one who was raised from the dead, and He is at the right hand of God.
What is Jesus doing at the right hand of God? He is interceding for us. There is a clear connection for Paul between the different aspects of the work of Christ. It is not that the atonement is a separate work from Christ’s intercession, but they all work together. You cannot separate them. If Jesus had not died, rose again, and ascended to the right hand of God He would not be interceding for us.
We see the same logic from the Apostle John in 1st John 2:1-2:
“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. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
John writes to these believers so that they might not sin. Sin is abnormal for the Christian. We fight against it and we do not want to do it. But we all know the painful reality is that we do still sin. Because we do sin, we need an advocate before the Father—and we have one. But, not just any ordinary advocate, we have Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, as our advocate. When we sin, Jesus, as our Advocate, pleads the merits of His own blood before the Father and forgives us through His righteousness (1st John 1:9). While considering these truths, we also need to understand, as we considered with Romans 8:31-39, our standing with God remains. What we are referring to here relates to our fellowship—or communion—with Christ, not our standing with Christ.
John echoes Paul by connecting Jesus’ work of atonement with His work of advocacy or intercession. In verse 2, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, is called the propitiation for our sins. Jesus bore the wrath of God on our behalf so that we might be made right with God. If Jesus had not borne the wrath we deserved and paid the penalty we should have paid for breaking God’s law, then His intercession would be ineffective.
This is an important reminder for us to not separate the various facets of the work of Christ. Each activity that comprises the work of Christ, active and passive obedience, death, resurrection, are all part of one great work that we call the work of Christ. We should stand in awe of what Christ has done, and does, on behalf of His people.
A question remains, though. If the atonement of Christ is complete and perfect, if He offered Himself once for all (Hebrews 9:26), why do we need the intercession of Christ?
Why Do We Need Christ’s Intercession?
Before we answer this question, we need to answer another one. What does it mean that Christ intercedes for His people? Jesus is our Great High Priest, who always lives to make intercession for His people (Hebrews 7:25).
John Owen defines it this way: “His continual appearance for us in the presence of God, by virtue of his office as the ‘high priest over the house of God,’ representing the efficacy of his oblation, accompanied with tender care, love, and desires for the welfare, supply, deliverance, and salvation of the church” (Exposition of Hebrews, vol. 5, p. 541).
In short, Jesus prays for those who are His own—His disciples—in the presence of God. A beautiful display of Jesus praying for His disciples is John 17. Twice Jesus says He is not praying for the world in general, but is praying for those who belong to Him (John 17:9, 20). In short then, Jesus prays for His people on their behalf, that is His work of intercession.
The answer to why we need Christ’s intercession is seen in the content of Jesus’ prayers. There are many different things Jesus prays for, but we will focus on two. Jesus intercedes for His people for their sanctification and their perseverance.
The Intercession of Christ and Sanctification
Firstly, what is our sanctification? Sanctification can only happen in a context where we know God. Jesus prays that the Father would glorify Him in John 17, and part of this glorification is Jesus’ ability to give eternal life to whom He will (John 17:2). Eternal life is knowing God and Jesus Christ, who was sent by the Father (John 17:3). We must know God in order to be sanctified. Jesus’ prayer to be glorified has been answered so we can be confident in His prayer for our sanctification.
In John 17:17 Jesus requests that the Father would sanctify His people. How will this sanctification happen? It will happen through the Spirit working through Scripture (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13).
The Apostle John was clearly affected by this prayer as we saw in 1st John 2:1. We need an advocate with the Father because our flesh fights against the convicting work that the Holy Spirit does in our lives to make us more like Jesus. In God’s wisdom He has worked our sanctification in such a way that we need Christ’s intercessory work for it to happen.
The Intercession of Christ and Perseverance
The second reason we need Jesus’ intercession is for our perseverance. We, God’s children, have three enemies that will do anything they can to keep us from persevering to the end. The world, the system of evil setup against God and His will, would love nothing more than to see us fail. The world is passing away as well as its desires (1st John 2:17). While it is on its way out, it wants to trip up the saints and keep them from crossing the finish line.
The second enemy is our own flesh. This is why Paul encourages the Galatians to not walk in the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). We have experienced the battle. We know what to do to walk in holiness, but we don’t do it (Romans 7:14-25). We are new creations in Christ, but we still live in this fleshly body that wants us to go the way of the world.
Our final enemy is also a defeated one, but is still fighting hard against us: Satan. He roams around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1st Peter 5:8). Satan and his demonic forces want to destroy the church and they will do everything they can to make it happen.
Because our enemies have a common goal—stealing, killing, and destroying our souls—we need all the help we can get. God, in His grace, does not leave us alone. He sends His Spirit to help us, and Jesus is praying for us that we might persevere. Jesus prays for this explicitly in John 17:24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” Jesus desires that His disciples would be with Him so that they might see the glory He possessed before the foundation of the world. Jesus wants us to persevere until the end, and He prays that it would happen.
Romans 8:31-39 displays this by inference. Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, interceding for His own. Paul teaches that nothing will separate God’s children from His love in Christ Jesus. We can assume from this that part of Jesus’ intercession is that we would persevere, so we would not be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
We can take comfort in Jesus’ work of intercession. He always prays according to the will of God; He prays for our sanctification and our perseverance. We can live confidently in this world with all its trouble (John 16:33) because Jesus has accomplished much for us, and is interceding for us. He is our Great Intercessor.