“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.” (1st John 2:1-2)
The ascension of Christ in Question 46 of the Heidelberg Catechism prompts the discussion on the hypostatic union in questions and answers 47-48. In question and answer 49 of the Heidelberg Catechism, the ascension of Jesus is again mentioned, outlining the benefits of the ascension of Christ to Heaven after the resurrection. In turning to 1st John 2:1, the Heidelberg Catechism teaches that the ascension of Christ establishes Him as the Advocate of the people of God. In the ancient world, it is an advocate—much the same as a modern defense attorney—who pleads a defendant’s case before a Judge. When the Apostle John calls Jesus an “Advocate”, he means that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, stands before the Father to plead on behalf of His redeemed people.
Jesus’ Work as Advocate and the Christian
The work of Jesus as Advocate goes beyond the defense of an earthly lawyer. Jesus’ case is grounded in His finished and sufficient work, which secures God’s verdict of not guilty for God’s people (Romans 8:1-4). Those who are forgiven are now in Christ. God is no longer the Judge who condemns His people, but the One who adopts them into His family. While we are guilty of sin and unable to meet the perfect, holy, and just demands of the Lord, the perfect righteousness of Jesus, imputed to God’s people in justification, sets them right with God. Matthew Henry explains, “The clients are guilty; their innocence and legal righteousness cannot be pleaded. It is the advocate’s own righteousness that he must plead for the criminals.”
The Lord no longer condemns Christians since Christ has forever satisfied the Father’s just demands. 1st John 2:2 describes the foundation for Jesus’ work as our Advocate. Therein it states that He is the “propitiation” for the people of God, the one who endured the full, white-hot fury of the wrath of God, that you and I deserve, so that divine justice would be fulfilled. Christ is the propitiation for “the whole world”, in the sense that Jesus redeemed not only Jews, but all people from every tribe, tongue, and people of every nation. To further expand on this point, the Father accepts no atonement from anyone except that from God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And this is why Jesus is the world’s only hope, the only Savior, and the only way to be saved.
Jesus’ Work as Advocate and Sanctification
1st John 2:1 explains Jesus’ priestly work as Advocate involves the ongoing sanctification of the people of God, as well as their once-for-all justification. Christians, from the first moment in time when they trust Jesus, have the righteousness of God imputed to them, giving them a righteous standing before God—one that cannot be lost (Romans 5:9; 8:30). While there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, we have not yet reached glorification. Therefore, we continue to sin until the day we die and are then clothed in white—completely and utterly like our Lord. And that means, while here on earth, that Christians continually need the forgiveness He provides to help them daily walk in holiness before the face of God. And as we repent of sin, Jesus advocates for His people before the Father, to restore our fellowship with God.
Jesus Right Now is Pleading Before the Father
At this moment, as you reading this article, Jesus is—right now—pleading with the Father on behalf of His people; interceding for them that they might be forgiven, purified, and strengthened in holiness. While every Christian must work out his/her salvation in fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13) and strive for holiness, by the grace of God through the Holy Spirit, we can only do so because of Jesus. Jesus prays for the people of God, which guarantees that they will persevere. Of all the truths we could consider, even briefly, that last sentence should cause us to draw near to the throne of God, in worship of the Lord Jesus, who forgives our sin. Jesus alone gives us a new standing before God the Father, and calls us now to carry forth the glad tidings of good news in His name, for His glory.
Adoption and Jesus’ Work as Advocate
Jesus is our Advocate when God first accepts us into His family as His children (John 1:12). And He remains our Advocate forever. 1st John 1:9 says that, when we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive our sin and to cleanse us from it. As His followers, we will still sin. But, when we do, we are commanded to confess that sin to God. Confession is an agreement with God about how bad sin is. We stand guilty before Him, with no argument and no justification of our own. Our Advocate steps before the Judge, and together they agree that, because we are “in Christ”, no further punishment is necessary. Jesus has already made sufficient payment to redeem us.
Jesus is a Compassionate Advocate
Another aspect that makes Jesus a compassionate Advocate is the fact that He has experienced life in this world, too. He has been tempted, rejected, overlooked, misunderstood, and abused. He does not represent us theoretically; He represents us experientially. He lived the life we live, yet He did so without succumbing to the evils that assail us. He successfully refused to give in to temptation and can be our High Priest because He perfectly fulfilled God’s law (John 8:29; Hebrews 4:15; 9:28). Our Advocate can plead our case from personal experience.
An earthly advocate can only plead our case from external evidence or witness testimony. Our heavenly Advocate knows our hearts and pleads our case on the basis of what is there (Mark 2:8; Luke 5:22). He also knows the intricacies of God’s legal system. He has already satisfied the demands of justice, so His advocacy is from a position of strength and righteousness. God accepts His Son’s advocacy on our behalf as part of their divine agreement, established before the world began (John 17:24; 1st Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8). Our position as “the righteousness of Christ” is secure because the One who purchased our position with His own blood is also our Advocate (Romans 4:25; 8:3; 1st Corinthians 1:30).