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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
J. M. Pendleton
From Christian Doctrines: A Compendium of Theology, 1878
Atonement by sacrifice, being the first branch of the priestly office of Christ, is appropriately followed by intercession, which is the second part of the same office. As the literal meaning of intercession is "going between," it will be seen that in this sense it might be used as synonymous with mediation, since Christ in the whole of his mediatorial work occupies a position between God and men.
The Scriptures, however, employ the term in a more limited sense, not as including the atonement, but as related to it and founded on it. This is the import of the word in theological writings. In treating of the intercession of Christ it will be well to consider the following points:
1. The fact of his intercession. Proof of this fact is found in such passages as these: "It is Christ that died, yea, rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us." (Rom. 8:34); "Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." (Heb. 7:25); "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." (1 John 2:1)
In the first two of these passages it is affirmed that Christ makes intercession. We are not left to infer that he intercedes, but the assertion is positive that he does. In the last passage he is termed "an Advocate with the Father." His advocacy is his intercession. Let us accept with gratitude the blessed fact that Christ intercedes, and notice:
2. Where he intercedes. The place is heaven. I do not mean that his prayer as recorded in the Gospel of John (Chap. 17) is not properly termed his intercessory prayer, but that heaven is emphatically the place in which he makes intercession. "For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us." (Heb. 9:24) There is here reference to the entrance of the Jewish high priest every year into the holy place, or rather the most holy place, of the tabernacle or temple.
As the high priest was a type of Christ, so the most holy place was a type of heaven. The high priest entered within the veil by the blood of a slain animal, but of Christ it is said by his own blood "he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us." (Heb. 9:12). Peter says of Jesus, "Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God." (1 Pet. 3:22) Heaven is the place in which Christ ever lives to intercede, "a high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.” (Heb. 6:20)
3. The basis of his intercession. This is manifestly his own atoning death. The plea which he urges in the presence of God for us cannot rest on our merit, for we have no merit. It cannot recognize our worthiness, for there is no worthiness in us. Nor does our helpless wretchedness furnish the reason which our Intercessor urges in our favor. This wretchedness, brought on us by our own sin, rather suggests that we be left to ourselves.
There are no considerations personal to ourselves which our great High Priest can plead in our behalf. His atoning death on Calvary is his plea. He died, and therefore pleads that those for whom he died may live. All the reasons connected with their salvation sustain a vital relation to his death. He intercedes in heaven, because he died on earth. The heavenly intercession was preceded by the earthly sacrifice, and the value of the sacrifice makes the intercession efficacious.
It is said that "Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor." (Eph. 5:2). This language denotes that the sacrifice is acceptable to the Father, and for this reason the intercession of the Son is also acceptable. The words heard more than once from the excellent glory, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," (Matt. 3:17) are full of meaning.
They are suggestive of the idea that, as God is well pleased with his Son. He is well pleased with his atonement, and therefore well pleased to grant, through the atonement, the requests presented by his interceding Son. Hence, when we are told that "we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous," (1 John 2:1) we are told also that "he is the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 2:2). Thus the advocacy of Christ is inseparable from his atonement, for his intercession is the outgrowth of his sacrificial death.
4. His qualifications as Intercessor. Of these I shall refer only to the more prominent:
(a) He has authority to intercede. In referring to the Jewish priesthood the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says: "And no man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest: but he [glorified him] that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to-day have I begotten thee." (Heb. 5:4, 5) It is true that this language is as applicable to Christ in his work of sacrifice as in that of intercession; but the latter topic is now under consideration.
Christ has the right to intercede, and his intercession is therefore authoritative. He does not appear as an intruder in the court of heaven. He has rightfully entered within the veil, for his own atoning blood has given him the right of entrance. He appears in the presence of God for us, and he does so in pursuance of the provisions of the covenant of redemption. As already said in substance, he bases his intercessory pleas on his atonement, made by appointment and approval of the Father, and therefore his presence as Intercessor in heaven is in accordance with the Father's good pleasure. Christ intercedes with rightful authority.
(b) The righteousness of his character. This differs from rightful authority. A king may have rightful authority, his occupancy of the throne may be constitutional, yet he may be an unrighteous man. Historical illustrations of this truth are without number. The character of Christ is perfect. It is the bright focus in which all the rays of glory meet. Eulogy is exhausted when it is said of him that he is "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners." (Heb. 7:26) In the same connection we are told that "such an high priest became us" that is, was suitable for us.
This truth we are obliged to accept, for it is self-evident that an intercessor of unrighteous character could not be permitted to plead our cause in the presence of a God whose name is The Holy One. He who mediates between a righteous God and sinful men must himself be righteous. Any defect of character would be a fatal disqualification. Sin has so disgraced and degraded us that it cannot comport with his majesty for God to permit us in person to approach him.
We dare not personally draw near to him. Every attempt to do so would be repelled. We must approach him in the name of an Advocate. We must appear before him by Attorney. Jesus is our Attorney, and in connection with his advocacy he is termed "the righteous." It is certain, therefore, that in his intercessions there is an inflexible adherence to the principles of righteousness. There is no connivance at sin, but a decided condemnation of it, and at the same time a plea for its pardon through the blood of the cross. It is a most encouraging fact that our Advocate in the court of heaven is Jesus Christ the righteous.
(c) He is full of sympathy. This qualification may be properly considered in connection with the preceding. While the righteous element in the character of our Intercessor makes it certain that he will properly respect and guard the interests of the divine government, his sympathy for the subjects of his intercession leads him to pity them and to make all necessary allowances for them.
What says an inspired writer on this important point?
"Seeing, then, that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens [rather, through the heavens, as Jewish high priests passed through the veil], Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feel-ing of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." (Heb. 4:14-16)
Some in apostolic times may have been tempted to believe that the exaltation of the Son of God to the throne of glory precluded sympathy for men. But the sacred writer gives assurance of Christ's sympathy, and gives the best reason for its exercise: "For we have not an high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities." This double negative is equivalent to an affirmative, and the truth taught is that our High Priest is touched with the feeling of our infirmities.
It is worthy of remark that in the Greek we have the word from which we derive our word "sympathize," and the literal rendering would be "to sympathize with our infirmities;" but who can give up the strong phrase, touched with the feeling of"? Christ is a sympathizing Intercessor. His heart is full of compassion—as full of compassion now as when it throbbed and bled with anguish on the cross.
But why is Christ touched with the feeling of our infirmities? The reason assigned is that he "was in all points tempted like as we are." During his humiliation on earth he experienced temptation in all its power and in all its variety. We may not be able to understand how he could be tempted in every respect as we are, but we have the inspired words, "in all points tempted like as we are." The scriptural teaching is that by personal experience of temptation he acquired the habit of sympathizing with his followers in their temptations, and that having "suffered, being tempted, he is able to succor those that are tempted." (Heb. 2:18)
In view, therefore, of the sympathy of Christ and of the reason for its exercise, there is abundant encouragement to come to the throne of grace. The intercession of a compassionate Saviour in heaven may well call forth the earnest prayers of the saints on earth. There is no fact better adapted to excite the spirit of prayer and supplication.
5. For whom does Christ intercede? I shall not take it on myself to affirm that there is not a sense in which Christ may be said to intercede for those who will not be finally saved, even as he offers them salvation in the gospel. Be this as it may, all will admit that Christ intercedes specially for his people, those given him by the Father.
If we wish to know what blessings he asks in behalf of his disciples, we need only refer to his intercessory prayer as recorded by the evangelist John, Chap. 17. There is nothing to forbid the belief that this prayer was a specimen and an anticipation of his intercession in heaven. He says of his disciples, "I pray for them," and his prayer expanded itself into four prominent petitions, as follows:
(a) Their preservation from evil. He said, "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil." (John 17:15) Some suppose that "the evil" here referred to means the evil one—that is, Satan—but the more satisfactory view is that evil in general, evil in its connection with the world, is meant. It must be admitted, however, that Satan has much to do with evil in all its forms. Paul speaks of "this present evil world." (Gal. 1:4) The world is full of evil. We see evil everywhere and in all circumstances. It is to be found in unsanctified prosperity and in unsanctified adversity. It is to be seen in boasting wealth and in complaining poverty, nor is a competency a shield from it. No situation in life protects from the incursions of evil. The world is a foe to grace, and this truth Christians learn to their sorrow. They are in danger from its fascinating smiles, from its disparaging ridicule, and from its intimidating frowns.
(b) Can they in their own strength preserve themselves from the evil to which they are exposed? As well may we ask whether the chaff of the threshing-floor can resist the victorious progress of the storm. There is absolutely no hope for the preservation of Christians from evil, unless they are "kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation." (1 Pet. 1:5) That they may be thus kept is one of the purposes which Christ has in view in his intercession. He intercedes for his disciples, and asks of the Father that they may be preserved from the evil which surrounds them.
The words of Jesus to Peter are very suggestive: "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." (Luke 22:31, 32) We may well console ourselves with the thought that our Intercessor in heaven prays for all his followers that their faith fail not, and that through their faith they may be preserved from all the phases of worldly evil. Christians themselves pray for the accomplishment of these objects, and their prayers have a blessed connection with the incense of Christ's intercession, as we are probably taught in Rev. 8:3.
(c) Their sanctification through the truth. Jesus said, "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth." John 17:17. This is a matter of vital importance, but as the subject of Sanctification is considered elsewhere, it is not dwelt upon here. I only ask the reader to remember that Jesus intercedes for his disciples that they may be sanctified.
(c) Their unity. "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one ; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." (John 17:20, 21) In these precious words the first thing that strikes us is the comprehensiveness of this prayer, which embraces all believers, all who shall believe in Christ through the word of the apostles.
It is delightful for the saints in all generations and in all climes to know that Jesus prayed for them on earth and intercedes for them in heaven. In the verses just quoted Christ prays for the oneness of his followers—"that they all may be one." It seems most reasonable that there should be unity among those who have the same faith in the same Saviour. There was for a time in the church at Jerusalem an exemplification of this unity, for it is said that "the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul." (Acts 4:32) Christ recognizes, as the model of the union for which he prays, the oneness between the Father and himself—"as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee, that they also may be one in us." (John 17:21)
He refers also to the effect which unity among his disciples would have upon the world—"that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." How important to the best interests of the world is unity among those who believe in Christ! For this unity, Christ intercedes in heaven, and we look for the day when his people shall he one—one in their loyalty to truth, one in faith, one in love, one in hope, and one in consecration to the work of the Lord.
(d) Their admittance into heaven. "Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory." (John 17:24)
This, so far as we know, is the last petition offered on earth by Christ for his disciples, and it is doubtless repeated in his intercessions in heaven. When this request is granted the work of intercession will cease, or, at any rate, we can see no reason for its continuance. Christ does not in so many words pray that those given him by the Father shall he glorified in heaven, but he says that which is in substance the same—"be with me where I am."
What heaven other than that created by the presence of Christ can the saints desire? Was not this Paul's leading conception of heaven? He wrote, "We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord." (2 Cor. 5:8); "having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better," (Phil. 1:23)
The same apostle, referring to glorified saints after the resurrection, and including himself among them, says, "And so shall we ever be with the Lord." (1 Thess. 4:17). Christ so loves those who believe in him that he desires to have them with him. He will never see of the travail of his soul, so as to be satisfied, till they are in his immediate presence.
His intercession based on his death will secure their admittance into glory. "For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." (Rom. 5:10) Yes, "saved by his life," for he lives to intercede, lives to carry into full accomplishment the purposed of his death.
Prominent, among these purposes was the glorification of his saints in the presence of his Father. He said to his first disciples, and through them to all his disciples, "I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." (John 14:2, 3) The preparation of this place is, doubtless, connected with the intercession of Christ. What a place it will be! Bright with glory, with what Christ calls, "my glory;" and it is his will that those ransomed by his blood shall behold this glory and exult in its splendors for evermore.