To the Uttermost
How Jesus Keeps Us Day by Day
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. (Hebrews 7:25)
Some phrases carry such strong comfort, such enduring consolation, that they ought to be engraved on the walls of the heart. Airplanes ought to write them daily in our spiritual sky. They ought to be carved on every tree in the forest of the soul. “To the uttermost” is such a phrase.
Jesus is able to save to the uttermost. “That word ‘uttermost’ includes all that can be said,” John Newton once wrote. “Take an estimate of all our sins, all our temptations, all our difficulties, all our fears, and all our backslidings of every kind, still the word ‘uttermost’ goes beyond them all.” The word carries the idea of both fullness and finality: Jesus is able to save completely, and he is able to save forever.
And the reason he is able to save his people so fully, so completely, is because “he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). In a world of ever-present danger, we have an ever-praying Savior.
Our Praying Savior
For many, a mist surrounds the present ministry of our exalted Lord. We know Jesus as a past Savior who lived, died, and rose for us. We know him as a future Savior who will come again for us. But now, between the two trumpet blasts of his resurrection and return, we can struggle to speak of him in the present tense. What is Jesus doing right now?
“Our great Moses upon the mountain, our true Aaron within the veil, Christ ever keeps us on his heart.”
He “is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). Though exalted in glory, the head has not forgotten his body, nor the bridegroom his bride, nor the older brother his little siblings. Our great Moses upon the mountain, our true Aaron within the veil, Christ ever keeps us on his heart. He prays for us.
We may wonder, however, what his intercession really means. Does Jesus literally pray to the Father, vocally asking for our deliverance, forgiveness, protection? Some theologians (like Stephen Charnock, 1628–1680) think so, while others (like John Calvin) argue that he intercedes metaphorically, his glorified scars (representing his death) serving as our eternal plea. Either way, how intercession works matters less than what intercession is: at every moment, the living Jesus applies the power of his past sacrifice for our present help.
Like Israel’s high priest of old, who would enter the temple wearing stones upon his chest and shoulders that represented the people (Exodus 28:15–30), so Jesus carries us and our concerns into the very heart of heaven. As Michael Reeves writes, “God the Son came from his Father, became one of us, died our death — and all to bring us back with him to be before his Father like the jewels on the heart of the high priest” (Delighting in the Trinity, 74). Because he died and rose then, Jesus represents us in heaven now, able and willing to save us to the uttermost.
To get a sense of the height and length and breadth and depth of that word uttermost, consider three promises guaranteed by the present prayers of Jesus for his redeemed people.
1. Your faith will not fail you.
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. (Luke 22:31–32)
At the dawn of Good Friday, the streets of Jerusalem were stained with the apostle Peter’s tears. The same man who had once leaped from his boat to follow Jesus, and raised his voice to confess Jesus, and walked on the water to meet Jesus somehow, someway found himself denying Jesus. Satan had taken the rock and thrown him like a pebble.
Yet even then, somehow, someway, Peter’s faith did not fail — not completely. Unlike Judas, he would meet Jesus once again by the sea, and once again he would leap from his boat to follow him (John 21:7, 19). And why? Five simple words from Jesus: “I have prayed for you.” Satan may sift you, Peter, but still I will save you.
We, like Peter, may sometimes find our faith spilled upon the ground. But for those who truly belong to Jesus, a deeper magic moves beneath our midnight weeping. Our faith lives on through our Lord’s intercession, and in time it will rise.
“It is Jesus who protects us, rescues us, quickens us, turns us, restores us, strengthens us, keeps us.”
If only we knew how often his prayers have rescued us — how often their heat has kept our embers burning, how often their voice has called us home, how often their hands have weaved the rope that lifts us from the pit. If we are his sheep, it is Jesus who protects us, rescues us, quickens us, turns us, restores us, strengthens us, keeps us. For it is Jesus who prays for us, always and forever.
2. Satan cannot condemn you.
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:33–34)
The same devil who sifted Peter is called “the accuser of our brothers,” and so he does. “Day and night before our God” he prosecutes his case, dragging our sins up to heaven so he might drag us down to hell (Revelation 12:10). Who hasn’t heard the dark whisper? There’s no mercy for a wretch like you. Your sins are too scarlet to be washed white.
We may default in such moments to remembering the death of Christ, saying with Paul, “Christ Jesus is the one who died” (Romans 8:34). How often, however, do we move from Christ’s death to the “more than that” of his resurrection and the “indeed” of his intercession? How often do we follow our Lord from the cross to the tomb, and from the tomb to God’s right hand? Charnock writes,
His death is not such a ground of assurance as this, because that is past; but when we consider how the merit of his death lives continually in his intercession, all the weights of doubts and despondency lose their heaviness; faith finds in it an unquestionable support.
In the prayers of our interceding Christ, the power of Good Friday lives on today, even right now. The same Calvary love still beats in his risen heart; the same scars still say, “It is finished”; the same merit that emptied the tomb still answers, moment by moment, every accusation. So even when the devil heaps up condemnation, we can sing with the hymn,
My name is graven on his hands;
My name is written on his heart.
I know that while in heaven he stands,
No tongue can bid me thence depart.
No tongue can bid us thence depart, for the only tongue heaven hears continually bids our welcome.
3. The Father will always be for you.
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. (1 John 2:1)
Our faith will not fail us, Satan cannot condemn us — but what of the Father? How do we know he will not send us away someday, weary of our wavering love? We know because Jesus intercedes not only for us, and not only against the devil, but also “with the Father” (1 John 2:1). And as long as he intercedes for us, the Father will forever be for us.
If our advocate in heaven were someone other than Jesus, we would have no room for hope. Let Mary sweetly whisper all her grace, and Peter speak his boldness — let James and John thunder forth, and Gabriel implore with the angels — still the gates of heaven would stay fast shut to the likes of you and me. But oh, if only Jesus says the word, we are the Father’s forever.
No angel, and no mere saint, could work so great a wonder. But Jesus can. He is none other than the Father’s “beloved Son” (Mark 1:11), whom heaven always hears (John 11:42). He is “the righteous” one, “the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:1–2), whose wounds and words satisfy every claim of justice. And best of all, he is the advocate of the Father’s own appointing. It was the Father who sent Christ, the Father who raised Christ, the Father who installed Christ as our everlasting advocate. All the intercession of Christ, then, only echoes his own heart-love.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1) — and kept children of God by the advocacy of his interceding Son.
Christ a Complete Savior
When John Bunyan (1628–1688) wrote a little book on the intercession of Christ, he titled it Christ a Complete Savior. Without his present intercession, Jesus would still be a Savior, but a partial Savior rather than a complete one. He would be the founder but not the perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), the beginner but not the finisher of salvation’s good work.
With his intercession, however, our Lord is a complete Savior, a Savior who rescues us not only in the past and the future, but in the moment-by-moment present. As Bunyan puts it, Christ is Lord “of salvation throughout, from the beginning to the end, from the first to the last. His hands have laid the foundation of it in his own blood, and his hands shall finish it by his intercession” (Works of John Bunyan, 1:215).
Or as Hebrews puts it, “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him” (Hebrews 7:25). To the uttermost. Such a phrase silences the objections, calms the fears, and resurrects the hopes of Christ’s believing people. There is no height, nor depth, nor breadth, nor length beyond the reach of the uttermost — because there is no height, nor depth, nor breadth, nor length beyond the prayers of our ever-living, always-interceding Christ.