If Jesus’s work on earth was completely finished, what is he doing as my advocate in heaven right now? That’s question that comes into us from Lynne on 1 John 2:1–2.
“Pastor John, what is Christ doing as our advocate? As a child of God, I am redeemed, complete, lacking nothing, I am justified, and forgiven of ALL my sins (past, present, future). I am united with Christ, I belong to him, am sealed in him, declared righteous in Christ, and sealed with his Holy Spirit. If I’m already seated in the heavenly places in Christ, what exactly is Christ pleading with the Father for on my behalf? If his work on the cross was complete, with God making him the propitiation of my sins, why does Christ have to plead to God to continue to forgive me? Why is Christ now advocating for me before God?”
Let me start with an unrelated text from Romans 11 simply to illustrate a point that governs how we think about the perplexities that arise from trying to follow the paths of God in the way he saves sinners. Oh, what a challenge. Listen, listen to this for a roundabout complexity of God’s ways and how Paul responds to this roundabout complex way of saving Jews and Gentiles. This is Romans 11:30–32,
Just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
Now, how does Paul respond to that convoluted way of going about salvation in the world? This is the next verse: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33). Now, pause there. He didn’t mean his ways were inscrutable in the sense that we didn’t have any insight into them. He just gave us in three chapters the most stunning insight into the way God saves Jews and Gentiles imaginable.
Rather, he is saying: God has granted me some insight and you, through me, some insight into these inscrutable ways. And we are saying, “Oh, the depth . . . ” not because we don’t understand anything, but because we have seen enough to know how strange they are. “‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:34–36).
In other words, when we come to read the Bible and trace out the ways of God in salvation, we should never come as counselors of God. Who has known the mind of the Lord? Who has been his counselor? Never. We should never come as ones who in any way could contribute any wisdom whatsoever to the ways of God and the way he goes about saving lost sinners. Our business is to watch and listen and learn and, insofar as we get some understanding, worship. Oh, the riches! That is the way we should respond.
“The connection between the death and the ongoing saving work of Christ is that the death makes it all possible.”
Now the question is posed: Given how wonderfully complete the work of Christ on the cross is in covering our sin and completing our righteousness, and given how complete the work of the Holy Spirit is in sealing us for the day of redemption, how does Christ’s ongoing advocacy or intercession relate to these things? Why is it even necessary, she asks?
So let’s put just two texts in front of us and see if they shed light on the answer. “My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin . . . ” — now, what is he going to say next? We have a cross? We have a crucifixion? We have an atonement? He says, “ . . . if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). So, John doesn’t simply say we have a Redeemer who died for us. He does say that in the next verse. But here he says: Take heart from the fact that this very day, the day that you sin and confess it, Christ the righteous one is your advocate in heaven.
And is it not significant that he calls Jesus the “righteous” one? “Jesus Christ the righteous.” It seems to me that the righteousness of Christ is highlighted here not because we need an upright lawyer in our defense, but because we ourselves are in Christ Jesus and are only accepted before the Father in the righteous one and, therefore, the advocacy of Jesus is the ongoing presentation of the reality established at the cross and through faith and by the Spirit. God the Father doesn’t just look back to the cross. He looks straight ahead into the face of the living, righteous Jesus Christ, who is our righteousness and is our life and is our purchase and payment.
In other words, we might think — if we were writing the story, we might think — that the work of Christ on the cross would be more magnified if all attention were backward on that event. God doesn’t see it that way. And we need to rest and rejoice. God doesn’t see it that way. That event, that past event led to a resurrection from the dead. It led to a coronation of the Son of God at the Father’s right hand. It led to an ongoing embodiment in the God-man, the Mediator of all that he had achieved and all that he is as our ground of eternal salvation.
Here’s one more passage: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Now, don’t miss how God’s not sparing his Son is the ground on the basis of which everything good that happens from now on to us sinners takes place, from now to eternity. Everything good that happens to us is based on that not sparing his own Son. There is no minimizing of the Father’s offering of the Son as a sacrifice. He is not minimizing it. That is the basis of everything good that comes to us. He is magnifying the death in the past by drawing attention to what is achieved for the future as Christ keeps on working.
And so, he continues — that verse goes on like this: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect” — in the future forever? “It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died.” Now, pause. There he stresses it again: “Christ Jesus is the one who died.” Death is the foundation of everything. And then he adds, “More than that.” So, we should be thrilled that there is “more than that.” “More than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:33–35).
“The death of Christ is not the end, but the beginning and the foundation of everything that God does for the elect.”
So, the point seems to be that the death of Christ is not the end, but the beginning and the foundation of everything that God does for the elect. All of those excellencies that Lynn pointed out in her question that God achieved — purchased forgiveness, perfected righteousness, devil conquered — these are the foundation for all that flows from the death of Jesus in the future of our everlasting salvation.
And then Paul celebrates the effects of this gloriously powerful death: “Who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). Nobody can separate us. In other words, resurrection because of the death that was decisive. Exaltation to the right hand of the Father because the death was decisive. Intercession for us forever because the death was decisive. Never ending love because the death proved it to be beyond doubt. So, the connection between the death and the ongoing saving work of Christ is that the death makes it all possible. The death secures all that, purchases that, guarantees it, finds expression in it, which may be the most important way to say it: finds expression in it. It is the death that our advocate presents and pleads.
So, let me try to say it in one sentence. Maybe the shortest way to say it is that the advocacy or the intercession of Jesus for us before God the Father is that God himself — that is crucial, because there is no division between God the Father and the Son here, like the Son is trying to twist the arm of the Father — God himself put Jesus there in the center of all things forever as the crucified and risen Redeemer so that his person and his words might make gloriously plain forever that every minute of our joy in eternity is owning to the one Mediator between God and man, the man, the crucified and risen man, Christ Jesus.