Audrey, a podcast listener, writes in to ask this: “Pastor John, if our sins are already atoned for by the death of Christ, why is it necessary now for Jesus to currently make intercession for us in heaven as our advocate before the Father?”
I like that question. I like it because we know that both of those are presented in the New Testament, and there is an effort on her part to try to bring them into some deeper harmony. Every time I try to do that, I see more of Christ, and I love more of Christ. I think the answer to that question is that Jesus Christ receives more glory because God does it this way since that is the reason God does everything he does — so that Christ gets more glory.
Christ’s Intercession: Three Key Passages
In the long run, the glory of Christ will shine more fully, more brightly, more durably for having made a complete atonement once for all at the cross and for interceding for us. But let’s see if we can see in the New Testament how they are related. There are three key passages on the intercession of Christ.
1. Christ is our perfect righteousness forever.
The first one is 1 John 2:1: “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.” Right now, with the Father in heaven, we have an advocate — parakleton — Jesus Christ the righteous. The fact that he is called the righteous — our advocate is Jesus Christ the righteous — suggests that what Jesus achieved here on earth in his perfect obedience, his perfect fulfillment of the law, his perfect righteousness, is a necessity in an ongoing way in heaven.
We always have a record like a criminal. We fail in this life. That is against us. We sin. When Christ died to cover these sins, one of the ways he did it was to become for us our righteousness, so that in him we have a perfect record.
But that means we need him to keep on being a perfect record for us, now and forever. We never have a standing before God that is acceptable apart from the righteousness of Christ. The fact that we don’t sin in heaven doesn’t matter. We aren’t going to sin in heaven, but we sinned on earth, and we are the same person. We have got a record, and God can’t accept anything but perfection. Therefore, he provides the righteous one who stands always before him, and we, by faith, are always in him and, therefore, always acceptable because of Christ.
Think of it this way: Just as in hell there is an eternal consequence of suffering for a lifetime of sinning, so also in heaven there is an eternal consequence of needing for our record to always be covered. That is what Christ the righteous one does for us. We were saved by being united to Christ so that his righteousness counts for ours. And it must count for ours forever.
Therefore, he is our living, eternal righteousness in heaven now and forever and, in that sense, our advocate. He ever lives to be what he became for us on the earth — namely, righteous. That is the first text.
2. Christ’s life in heaven is proof that his death was successful.
Here is the second one — Romans 8:34: “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.” Notice the sequence. No one can condemn us, because Christ died; second, was raised; third, is interceding. The implication is that what he achieved in his death for us he now pleads or applies for us in his life for us in heaven.
I think one way to think about it is that Christ’s life in heaven today is the ever-present proof that his death was successful. If God had not raised Jesus from the dead Paul says we would be still in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:17). So that he lives means that his death was effective in covering our sins, and so his living presence in heaven by its very nature is his intercession.
His life is essential for his death to count, so his life is an essential part of our present and eternal forgiveness and acceptance.
3. Christ’s death was once for all.
Here is the last one — this is the most explicit one of all, probably the most helpful one of all, if she studied it in context. I think it would make all kinds of lights go on.
The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, [and that is a key word] 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. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. (Hebrews 7:23–27)
Isn’t it interesting that the once-for-all-ness of the offering is underlined? That is one thing Audrey loves and is concerned about. Once for all he offered himself up, and that is the reason why he, always living, can make intercession.
I think it is the same thing as we said for Romans 8 — that Christ’s life in heaven today, unlike the priests of old, never ends and, therefore, he has taken into heaven one offering made once for all and in himself, standing before God as the Lamb that was slain. He is therefore worthy of all praise because that slaughter of that Lamb is embodied in the presence of Christ in heaven forever.
So I think we could ponder the possibility of God saving us another way besides a once-for-all, finished sacrifice that then is embodied, as it were, in the slain Lamb in heaven, which becomes our advocate and our intercessor. But the fact that he did it this way, I think, will get more glory to him for what he did in the past, what he is doing now, and what he will do forever.