In Acts 7 Stephen bears courageous testimony that leads to his martyrdom. As Stephen is about to be dragged outside the city to be stoned to death, Luke informs his readers in Acts 7:55 that Stephen is given a vision of heaven to see the glory of God and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. This position of Jesus standing on the right hand of God is an image that communicates that Jesus is there standing as the advocate and intercessor of Stephen before the throne of God.
As we consider what it means for prayer to be an indispensable component of the basic pattern of the Christian life, we must first recognize that our praying activity is predicated on the reality that Jesus stands in heaven as our intercessor who prays for us.
This is the fundamental reason that we are called to offer our prayers to God in the name of Jesus. When we are first taught to pray, we are taught to always end our prayers by saying something along the lines of “in Jesus’ name.” It is easy for those closing words to become perfunctory and meaningless, something that we say without much thought as to what exactly we are saying when we end our prayers “in Jesus’ name.”
Yet, we end our prayers that way based on good, biblical reasons. In John 16:23, Jesus tells His disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.”
The special significance of the name of Jesus is a recurring theme in the book of Acts. Indeed, when Ananias is told by Jesus to go and find Paul in Acts 9:14, Ananias simply refers to Christians as those “who call on your name.”
Calling on the name of Christ is the most basic act of our salvation. On Pentecost, Peter quotes from the book of Joel in a quotation that ends, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21, emphasis added). Luke tells us repeatedly in Acts that the name of the Lord is the name of Jesus. Hence, later, when Peter stands and preaches to the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:12, he tells them that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (emphasis added).
To call upon the name of Jesus is to call upon the One who has ascended to heaven and is standing at the right hand of the Father; it is to call upon the only name through which we can have saving access to God the Father.
There is no other way for us to have our prayers reach the presence of God other than through the name of Jesus, who is the only intercessor who stands on our behalf in the Father’s heavenly presence.
The significance of Christ’s ascension to heaven climactically changes the shape of prayer in redemptive history. From Acts forward, God’s people now pray to God through the name of Jesus, the One who has been made both Lord and Christ, and who is Himself praying for us in that exalted state. And thus, the efficacy of Christian prayer flows from Jesus’ own heavenly prayer.
We can intercede on earth because He intercedes in heaven. We can supplicate on earth because He supplicates in heaven. We can enter into God’s presence on earth because He has entered once and for all into God’s presence in heaven. The whole of our praying life in these last days (Heb. 1:1ff; see Acts 2:17)—both individually, in private prayer, and collectively in corporate worship —is predicated on the reality that Jesus is the One who prays for us in heaven.
When we end our prayers “in the name of Jesus,” we are recognizing the reality that in our prayer we can enter a special space—not the space of a union lodge or the bridge of an aircraft carrier or even the Oval Office, but the special space of God’s heavenly throne room, and that because we call upon the name of Jesus.
Christian prayer is an action through which we are able to have special access to God’s heavenly presence, because Jesus always stands there at the right hand of God, and we can come through Him as His special guests.
It is no accident, then, that when we read Acts 1, after the disciples have watched Jesus ascend into heaven, that the very first thing we see them do is go back to Jerusalem, shut themselves in the upper room where they were staying, and pray (Acts 1:14).
The disciples of Jesus intuitively recognize that if Jesus has ascended to heaven, they need to be busy praying to Him as He is in heaven as their intercessor so that He might act on behalf of His church.
If Jesus truly has ascended to heaven to the right hand of the Father, how can we not be a people devoted to prayer? It is one of the most practical things we can do as Christians.
Prayer recalibrates our perception of the world. It helps us see afresh the reality that God’s kingdom has broken in to the present world order as Jesus the King sits enthroned at the right hand of God wielding the power He has been granted in His exaltation, a power that extends across the entire scope of history and the cosmos, a power Christ wields for the sake of us as His people (Eph. 1:22–23).
Prayer to God in the name of Christ reminds us of that reality. It reminds us that the most important and practical thing we can do is petition God in the name of King Jesus who has been made Lord of all. When we fervently and faithfully pray in the name of Jesus, it reminds us that even when we are not praying, we have a King standing in heaven who is always praying for us.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on November 18, 2020.