Before the Throne for You
What It Means for Christ to Intercede
Article by Chris Bruno, Professor, Bethlehem College & Seminary
If you are a follower of Jesus, he is interceding for you right now.
When was the last time you paused to consider this? I’m persuaded that we do not give this important truth the attention that it deserves. Think about it: The risen Christ, the one to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given, is pleading with the Father on your behalf. Not only that, but he is pleading on the basis of his own person and work. The very life of the risen Christ is a plea for us. If we are united by faith to him, his ongoing life at the right hand of the Father is a form of intercession for us. Whether and how he brings each of our specific cases to the Father, our union with him means that he always stands in our place before the Father. This truth, when we recall it more, will fill us with tremendous confidence and hope.
As I’ve been reflecting on the intercession of Christ, I’ve taken my cue from John Bunyan, who wrote a devotional book on 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.” Rather than simply repeating Bunyan’s insights, however, I want to step back and consider this amazing verse in its context to see the unique nature of Christ’s intercession; from there, we will consider the foundation of this intercession and its implications for us.
He Saves to the Uttermost
To see the glory of Christ’s intercession, first consider the argument of Hebrews 7:23–28. Verses 23 and 28 make the same essential point. Both verses contrast the priesthood under the old-covenant law and the priestly ministry of Christ in the new covenant. In verses 23–27, the author moves from the superiority of Christ’s priestly office to the result of his priestly work. In short, he is interceding for us; therefore, he is able to save us to the uttermost.
What does it mean to save to the uttermost? The word that the ESV translates “to the uttermost” (pantelēs) could have two different senses. It could mean something like “completely,” or it could mean “always.” Both translations fit with the context, because Jesus’s intercession is both complete (so that we can have confidence that he will complete his work in us) and ongoing (so that we can have confidence that he will never abandon us). He saves both completely and forever — to the uttermost. But as we continue to trace the argument in Hebrews 7, notice the last part of verse 25. This gives us the reason why we can have confidence that Jesus is going to save his people in every way: “He always lives to make intercession for them.”
If you are united by faith to him, Jesus is interceding for you right now in such a way that he will most certainly save you in every way. This means we don’t need this kind of intercession from anyone else, living or dead. I have several friends who are Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, and they hold to some version of prayer to the saints, who will then intercede to God on our behalf. I love these friends dearly, but I cannot see a biblical foundation for praying to the saints.
The best versions of this doctrine do not teach that we pray to the saints so that they will somehow intervene in events on earth; instead, my friends will say that we ask the saints to intercede on our behalf because they have closer access to God. Retired Roman Catholic professor Robert Doud describes this understanding well: “We think of saints as especially close to God and as influential for others in their relationship with God. . . . The saints love us; they care for us; they intercede for us” (“Saints, the Church and Personal Prayer,” The Way 55:1, 41).
Some might say that this intercession is just like asking our fellow church members to pray for us. But when the New Testament speaks of intercessory prayer, it is a call to labor together in ministry as brothers and sisters in Christ, as Paul asks the Corinthian church to do (2 Corinthians 1:11). It is not pleading to God on the basis of our superior closeness to him with the aim of winning acceptance from him. That kind of intercession is reserved for Christ alone.
Apart from the lack of any biblical evidence supporting prayer to the saints, there is a real danger of letting those prayers supersede our dependence on Christ. He alone intercedes for us in such a way that we will be saved to the uttermost. If we think that saints who have gone before us can help more because they are especially close to God, we could lose sight of the foundation of Christ’s intercession: his own person and work.
We intercede for each other to share in ministry together and plead with God on behalf of our brothers and sisters, but we do not intercede with each other on the basis of our own righteousness that we give to each other. However, we can see in texts such as Romans 8:34 and 1 John 2:1 that Christ’s intercession for us is exactly that. No saint, living or dead, can intercede for us the way Christ does and must.
Christ Pleads Himself
In Romans 8, Paul reminds us that we have supreme confidence in God’s acceptance of us because Christ, who died and rose again, is at the Father’s right hand, interceding for us. In the ongoing argument of Romans, the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection is clear. A few chapters earlier, Paul concludes that Christ “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). Christ died for our sins, rose again so that we might be justified in union with him, and is now pleading our case before the Father on the basis of his work for us. His intercession can save us to the uttermost because his intercession is rooted in his death and resurrection. In other words, the great gospel events provide the foundation for Jesus’s ongoing intercession for us: he pleads for us on the basis of who he is and what he has done.
This is also why John can write with the reassurance that if anyone sins, “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). A few lines earlier, John writes that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us” (1 John 1:9). This forgiveness is on the basis of Christ, the righteous one. He actively pleads his righteousness on our behalf. As surely as Christ pleads for us, our sin will be forgiven.
So then, we need not pray to the saints, because we have the same access to Christ that they have, and he is the one who is interceding for us! His intercession means that he will save us to the uttermost because he pleads on the basis of his work, with the result that our sins will be forgiven. This should fill us with unshakable confidence and a hope that seems almost irrational to anyone watching us.
Boldly Come Before the Throne
We live in days that could easily drive us under the covers and into hiding. When we look out of our windows at the injustice and pain around us, we will not have much reason for hope. Neither will running to any political parties or institutions that devalue life and perpetuate what John Paul II called the “culture of death” in the West. No, our confidence and hope is found in this: Christ, the righteous one, the one who died for our transgressions and was raised for our justification, is interceding for us right this moment.
And because of this, we can be sure that he will save us to the uttermost. He will save us completely, and he will save us forever. He is pleading his case for us now, and he will continue to do so for all eternity. Because he intercedes for us, we can come to God with what looks like unexplainable confidence and irrational hope, because we come on the basis of Christ.
In his work on Christ’s intercession, Bunyan concludes:
Let this doctrine give thee boldness to come to God. Shall Jesus Christ be interceding in heaven? Oh, then, be thou a praying man on earth; yea, take courage to pray. Think thus with thyself — I go to God, to God, before whose throne the Lord Jesus is ready to hand my petitions to him; yea, “he ever lives to make intercession for me.” This is a great encouragement to come to God by prayers and supplications for ourselves, and by intercessions for our families, our neighbours, and enemies. (Christ — A Complete Saviour, 239)
May we pray with this confidence, knowing that Christ himself intercedes for us.
Chris Bruno (@chrisbruno1) is assistant professor of New Testament and Greek at Bethlehem College & Seminary and author of the book Paul vs. James: What We’ve Been Missing in the Faith and Works Debate. He and his wife, Katie, live in Burnsville, MN, with their four sons.