“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols”. (1 John 5:21)
These are the last words of the Apostle John in his first epistle. In a letter which he begins with a high Trinitarian and Christological declaration, he ends with a warning against idols.
Idols are not simply carved images of wood or stone. Rather, for most people today they represent the notions and ideas of God that are simply unworthy of God as He has revealed Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ. John Calvin, writing in the opening chapter of his “Institutes”, went so far as to say “…the human mind is so to speak a perpetual factory of idols” (Ch.1.XI.8). Sadly, this idol making factory finds its home in the minds of many Christians today. For far too long and for far too many, we have allowed notions and ideas unworthy of God to collect on the theological shelves of our minds. These idols over time become “sacred cows” that are defended to the death as orthodoxy. Yet, deep in our hearts, we know that they have not brought us Life. In fact, they have stared back at us with the same blank look they produce in us when we try and examine them or reconcile them to the Triune God of Grace.
The work before most Christians today is to rally the courage to examine their “sacred cows” and see if in fact they are being faithful to the revelation of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This revelation came to us through the Incarnation of The Son, Jesus Christ, and is “the ground and grammar” of all our theological discourse. It is the “Rosetta Stone” of translation and interpretation and must be the final adjudicator of idols coming forth from the factories of our minds. We must rethink our very familiar notions into conformity to The Triune God of Grace and refuse to allow concepts that drive a wedge of separation between the Oneness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To wedge apart one member of the Trinity from any other one is to move away from Monotheism into the mythological world of polytheism. Apart from being an impossible attempt…it is idolatry.
Chief among these unworthy notions and idols are concepts of the Atonement not grounded in the Trinitarian nature of God. Eleventh century feudal land lord concepts and legal penal satisfaction concepts handed down to us Western Christians through Anselm of Canterbury have produced notions that need to be re-viewed in the Scriptures with a Trinitarian pair of glasses on.
Not far behind that, and intricately intertwined with the Atonement, is our understanding of Intercession, which we are going to re-view in this post. In doing so, I trust that the beautiful picture that emerges may strengthen your adoration of the Triune God and enlarge your appreciation of just how much God is for you.
Let’s start by asking some direct questions of the objects sitting on the theological shelves of our minds. When Romans 8:34 says Christ is at the right hand of God interceding for you, what dynamic do you see happening and what do you think is meant by intercession? Is Christ “persuading” the Father; persuading him to act contrary to his feelings or a determination he is not interested in? Is he “reminding” the Father of his legal obligation to act in a certain way towards you now? Have you ever had the sense that Jesus is “for you”, but you’re not so sure about the Father? Is it possible for God the Son to have one set of feelings and thoughts about you and for the Father to have another set of thoughts and feelings? Is that the meaning of Hebrews 7:25 when it says that Jesus “is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them”? What exactly is the nature and content of this intercession? These are questions we must examine with faithfulness to the ground and grammar of a Trinitarian theology. To the degree to which they remain unexamined and/or unworthy of God, they remain idols.
What follows is by no means meant to be “the final word” on the intercession of Christ and The Holy Spirit for us nor is it meant to be a comprehensive theological polemic on the subject which would require volumes. Rather, it is one perspective; a biblical view offered to help us think about the above questions in faithfulness to the “ground and grammar” of a Christian and thus Trinitarian interpretation. As with most things pertaining to our eternal God, any view of Him and His activity is rarely a simple and static observation and statement. More often than not it is a glorious kaleidoscope of truths all moving and working together to form One Truth, but a Truth that is contrary to our natural mind’s suspicions. Thus it is with intercession.
By definition an intercessor, interceding with intercession is predicated on the fact that there must first be an accuser, accusing with accusations. This basic premise might be the first hint that for some of us our thoughts of intercession might not square with what we otherwise know to be true about God and what he has accomplished for us through His Son. For example, if Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for you, who is your accuser? What accusations is he accusing you of? Is God your accuser? Is He against you? Is it perhaps more abstract in that His “Holiness” or The Law is accusing you and condemning you? This is a very important first question to be clear in our minds about. Who exactly is my accuser and what is the accusation?
From one perspective we could certainly and biblically say that “The Law” accuses and condemns us, and thus in the framework of “The Law”, we need and in fact do have a High Priest, Jesus Christ, who can intercede for us when the Law condemns us. This is clearly the meaning of Hebrews 7:23- 8:2, “Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. 26Such a high priest meets our need--one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever. 8:1 The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.
We also know that there were promises made and dynamics in play both before and after The Law was given. These promises and dynamics were not set aside because The Law had been given or after it was fulfilled. This is the Apostle Paul’s argument to the Galatian believers when he addresses them in chapter 3 saying: 17”What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise. 19What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come…24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.”
So is there a valid biblical perspective of intercession that is at work before The Law was given and one that is not set aside after Christ has fulfilled The Law? The answer is yes.
The first and last books of the Bible, chronologically speaking, are the Book of Job and the Book of Revelation. Within these two book ends of the Bible we gain an insight to the meaning of intercession that may not be what naturally comes to mind, for within them are recorded events that clearly describe who our accuser is…and it is not God and it is not The Law.
In Job Chapter 1 we read: “One day the angels (Sons of God) came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan (the accuser) also came with them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, "Where have you come from?" Satan answered the LORD, "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it."8 Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." 9 "Does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan replied. 10 "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face." 12 The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger."
We find this same assembly of the Sons of God or angels gathered together again at Jobs second test in Chapter 2:1 “On another day the angels (Sons of God) came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him.
In the Book of Revelation Chapter 12 we read:
7And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9The great dragon was hurled down--that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. 10Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
"Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Christ.
For the accuser of our brothers,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
11They overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.
12Therefore rejoice, you heavens
and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
because he knows that his time is short."
13When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent's reach. 15Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. 16But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. 17Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring--those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus”.
From the very beginning of the oldest recorded scripture all the way to the very last book of the Canon of Scripture we find Satan acting as an adversary and an accuser accusing God’s people in a formal assembly before God in the heavenly realms.
Another level of insight comes to us when we look at the original meaning of some of the words used in these passages. For example, the title of Satan in the Old Testament Hebrew usage means adversary (Strong’s OT 7854) and accuser (Strong’s OT 7855).
The word ‘accuser’ used here in Revelation 12 is ὁ κατήγωρ Strong’s NT 2725, which means a complainant at law; specially, Satan - accuser. It is from kata- meaning against and agora- which means primarily an assembly; a public-place or forum; the idea always carries with it the idea of publicity, in contrast to private circumstances. (Vines Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words)
In both Job and Revelation we have Satan the accuser, speaking against a person or persons in a very public and heavenly assembly. His accusations are at times slanderous for he is διάβολος the slanderer making false accusations. At other times his accusations may in fact be accurate accusations of a person or person’s sins.
Our understanding of intercession gains further clarity when we recall the original meaning of the word sin in the Greek text as well as the Greek word translated as intercession in Romans 8:34 where we are told Christ is at the right hand of God and is interceding for us.
Sin- ἁμαρτάνω Strong’s NT 264, means to miss the mark and was regularly used in ancient times of an archer missing the target.
Intercession- ἐντυγχάνω Strong’s NT 1793, comes from en, "in," which intensifies 5177 /tygxánō, which literally means to "hit (the mark)"; "to obtain by hitting the mark (HELPS Word-studies) and is therefore the opposite of “to sin” hamartánō which literally means "to miss (the mark).
Let’s now try and pull these threads together. From the earliest of times mankind has had an adversary who is actively out to deceive and destroy us upon the earth and who has access to stand in the public court of the universal assembly in heaven to accuse us before all, including God. From Job’s day until mid-way through the Great Tribulation, The Accuser had and still has access to bring accusations against you and me. He “airs our dirty laundry” before the agora- the assembly in heaven and heaps his accusations upon us and before all assembled, accusing us of being sinners missing the mark. God the Father, the Sovereign One is there hearing all this as well. But there is also One seated at God’s right hand who as our intercessor hits the mark for us with a resounding “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” (Zech.3:2). We can with sanctified imagination hear him say, “That accusation does not stand here in this assembly. It carries no weight. Yes they have missed the mark, but I have hit the mark for them. You…Slandering Accusing Liar and Deceiver Satan…carry no weight here either”.
The intercession of Christ in response to the accusations is both the public defence of us who miss the mark and the public demonstration of God’s righteousness and justness in forgiving, reconciling and saving sinners through the atoning work of His Son.
Romans 3:22-26 puts it like this, “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus”.
While we can use our sanctified imagination to perceive this heavenly assembly, the accusation of Satan and the intercession of Christ for us, we can also see directly into this reality through the prophetic vision of Zechariah. In chapter 3:1-7 we read, “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. 2 The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” 3 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. 4 The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.” 5 Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by. 6 The angel of the Lord gave this charge to Joshua: 7 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘If you will walk in obedience to me and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here.’
Here we see the assembled court of heaven. Not a courtroom, but a regal heavenly assembly, the court of The King. Here we see Satan the accuser standing next to Joshua, who in spite of the fact that he is the High Priest is clearly a sinner, one who missed the mark, and Satan is eager to slander him and exploit his sin before those standing there. His filthy clothes represent his sin, and it is his sin that is removed when his filthy clothes are replaced with fine garments. The angel of the Lord is none other than Christ the Lord who intercedes for Joshua. He removes Joshua’s sin, rebukes the accuser, and declares him to be a burning stick snatched from the fire. This is exactly what Christ continues to do for us in his intercession for us. The day is coming when all true believers will be snatched up in the rapture or resurrection like a stick out of the fires of judgement that will consume the enemies of God. The day is also coming when the accuser of the brethren will be thrown down forever out of the heavenly court and his accusations will be silenced forever. God is not the accuser, Satan is. Jesus is not trying to persuade the Father to be for us, for He is eternally for us as demonstrated by the giving of His only begotten Son who through resurrection from the dead has been vindicated and is seated once again at His right hand. This is the objective reality of Christ interceding for us at God’s right hand.
In the meantime, Satan’s accusations continue day and night before God until that day, midway through the Great Tribulation, when he will be cast out of heaven (Rev. 12). But his accusations also continue day and night before us and within us, and this constitutes our subjective experience for which the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ (2 Cor. 3:17-18) also intercedes for us.
The first area of Christ’s intercession for us subjectively is in our prayer life. Romans 8: 26-27 tells us “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
This intercessory prayer on our behalf must continue to be understood in the context of an adversarial accuser. When we understand that a significant aspect of our prayer life is in the arena of the spiritual warfare described in Ephesians 6:10-20, we quickly appreciate the fact that in and of ourselves we are no match for Satan and his “spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places”. Martin Luther captured this in the second verse in his hymn “A Mighty Fortress”: Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing; Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing: Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He; Lord Sabaoth His Name, From age to age the same, And He must win the battle.
The second area of Christ’s intercession for us subjectively is as the Παράκλητον- the Paraclete; that is, The Helper; The Comforter; The Counselor; The Advocate. This is the indwelling Holy Spirit of Truth that Jesus promised He would send to indwell all true believers in Him (John 14:15-20). Again, this intercession must be understood in the context that we have an accuser whose slander and accusation is heard and felt within us. Shame, guilt, projection of the false self and continuing to “hide in the bushes” with our first parents Adam and Eve are what he can produce in us if we listen to his accusations and believe his lies. The Holy Spirit’s subjective intercession for us also takes the form of an internal Counselor, Comforter, Advocate and Helper who comes along side us and encourages us to accept the verdict of God in response to Satan’s accusations. That verdict toward us is “Loved and Forgiven” (John 3:14-21) and the verdict toward Satan the accuser is that he now stands condemned (John 16:11). Sin has so damaged us that without the indwelling Holy Spirit’s indwelling us and continual intercession we would continue to believe Satan’s lies that God is not for us, that God is our accuser and that we now stand condemned which is exactly 180 degrees turned the wrong way around. Satan is the one who is not for us, Satan is our accuser and he is the one who now stands condemned.
In summary, let us review. The objective intercessions of the resurrected Christ rebuke and defend us against Satan’s accusations of us in the “agora”- the public heavenly court of God’s assembled and before God Himself. He rebukes the accuser and declares the accusations of our missing the mark as invalid for He himself has hit the mark for us. Jesus Christ is the Παράκλητον- the Paraclete; the “advocate with the Father the Righteous One (Greek- “pros”; as used in John 1:1 meaning in face to face communion with God and in fact God himself ie: not separate from the Father). He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1). The objective intercession of Jesus Christ defends the righteousness and justice of God in having justified us and imputed to us the righteousness of God himself through the atoning work of His Son. His objective intercession for us removes our filthy clothes of sin and covers us in His own fine garments of righteousness. Finally, His objective intercession for us rebukes the accuser as less than a “light weight” in that assembly and condemns him to a futureless future.
Subjectively, the intercession of Christ as The Holy Spirit within us helps us in our spiritual prayer life to pray as we ought, though we may only comprehend “groanings” coming forth from our deepest being. His intercessions are also the pleadings of a close Counselor, Helper and Advocate who continually reassures us of the Father’s judgement-verdict; “Loved, Forgiven, and Reconciled”; “Adopted in Sonship”. He continually speaks to us as the Spirit of Truth and Reality to accept the way things really are and to not accept the false condemnation and shame producing accusations. He calls us to cease striving to hide from or deny the fact that we have in fact missed the mark, but rather accept that Christ has hit the mark for us…the very nature and meaning of intercession.
Do we not feel the calcium streaming into our spiritual backbones from the comforting assurance of the intercession of Christ for us? Let us worship, marvel and live in the good of the reward of his sufferings for us and find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? (Romans 8:31)