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“It is finished” (John 19:30). These words have comforted Christians for two millennia, proclaiming that Christ has accomplished full atonement for our every sin. No book celebrates this “once-and-for-all-ness” more than Hebrews, with its repeated emphasis that Jesus is unlike the Old Testament priests, who had to offer endless sacrifices for sin.

Yet Hebrews also tells us that Jesus is “a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 7:17) and that “he holds his priesthood permanently” (v. 24). The finishing of Jesus’ atoning work was not the finishing of His priestly work. What is Jesus doing as Priest today? The author goes on: “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” (v. 25). Core to Jesus’ ongoing priestly ministry is His interceding for His people. This had already been foreshadowed in the work of the Levitical priests. Their duties were not only to offer sacrifices at the bronze altar in the temple courtyard but also to enter the tabernacle proper, God’s house, and burn incense on the gold altar within. This incense, constantly burning as a sweet aroma before God’s footstool, was a picture of the intercession of Christ.

To intercede simply means “to ask on behalf of another.” Although the exact form of the heavenly intercession is somewhat mysterious to us, we are being reassured that Jesus is constantly bringing the needs of His people before the Father. During His earthly priestly ministry, Christ accomplished atonement; in His heavenly priestly ministry, He now applies that atonement to us, pouring out its benefits. Imagine a doctor who has a cupboard full of every medicine his patients need. The medicines were bought once but will be dispensed over time. So too with Jesus, the great doctor of our souls. He has made atonement once and for all and has won every blessing. But many of those blessings are given to us over the course of our journey homeward.

What is Jesus praying for us? Everything we need so that we might be “saved to the uttermost.” The greater our view of what Jesus achieved at the cross, the greater our understanding of His ongoing intercession. Likely when we think of the cross, we tend to focus—rightly—on the blessings of being forgiven and justified, being declared righteous in God’s sight. If you’re a believer, these blessings were won for you at Calvary. But you weren’t justified two thousand years ago; you were justified the moment you became a Christian, at a specific moment in history. It was not, ultimately, your initiative but Jesus’ that applied the blessing of justification to your life. If you’re following Christ today, it’s because He has stood before the Father and asked that His righteousness be credited to you, that you would be counted as “in Him.”

Our hope rests not on the fervency and purity of Our prayers but on that of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As with the beginning of the Christian life, so with its continuation. Justification is a “once and for all” blessing: we don’t need to be re-justified. But Jesus won every blessing for us. As we walk through the many dangers, toils, and snares of this life, we need constant grace. Grace to resist temptation, grace to persevere when it feels as if we’re almost overwhelmed, grace to hang on when our faith is faltering. God in His wisdom has arranged the Christian life so that we are not instantly made perfect the moment that we become His children. Instead, over time, we learn dependence on Him and grow in faith, hope, and love. Each step forward is ultimately a result of Jesus’ asking His Father for the grace we need that day.

The intercession of Jesus, therefore, helps us see how personal His care for us is. It might be easy to slip into thinking that Jesus died for us, returned to heaven, and is now effectively retired from the work of saving His people. He has done His part, and now it’s up to us. But no. Notice the language of Hebrews again: “He always lives to make intercession.” Always. Jesus never switches off, never loses sight of one of His brothers and sisters, never grows cold to our daily battles. He knows our hearts, He knows our struggles, and He cares. He cares so much that He is constantly pleading for us, to ensure that we receive exactly what we need.

This is a tremendous encouragement to God’s people. We wonder whether we are praying for the right things, but Christ is the wisest of all men, so He knows exactly what to ask the Father for on our behalf. We fear that our prayers won’t be heard, but the Father delights to honor His Son, so Christ’s petitions will always be welcomed. We grow tired, distracted, and cold in our prayers, but Christ in His resurrection life is constantly interceding for us. We fall into sin, but Christ is already pleading our case, applying the blood of Calvary for our forgiveness. Christ indeed has far more compassion for us, pity for us, and love for us than we do for ourselves. He is, thank God, more committed to our safe arrival home than we are. Here is real assurance and comfort for the embattled Christian: my hope rests not on the fervency and purity of my prayer life but on that of the Lord Jesus Christ. There He sits, enthroned in heaven, above all angels, archangels, and cherubim, yet full of compassion for sinful, struggling sheep.

One final thought. It is not that Jesus must twist His Father’s arm to extract blessings for us. “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage” (Ps. 2:8). The Father and Son have joyfully agreed that Jesus ask for a saved people. And now, Father and Son delight to shower that people with cross-bought, grace-soaked blessings, poured out from heaven through the prayers of God’s Son.

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From the January 2024 Issue
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