THE TWO INTERCESSORS

  By Milburn Cockrell

              “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).

            “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself (Himself) maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26).

            We must never join together what God has separated. We must not join the world with true religion (Matt. 6:24; I John 2:15; Jas. 4:4). On the other hand, we must not separate what God has joined together (Matt. 19:9). We must not separate principles and practice, doctrine and duty, the Savior and the Sanctifier. There is a close connection between the work of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. Christ works for us; the Holy Spirit works in us. Every believer has two Intercessors or two Advocates.

I. THE INTERCESSION OF CHRIST

            In council and covenant of grace Christ assumed the office of an Intercessor as our great High Priest. An intercessor is a person who intercedes, or entreats, or prays in favor of another. In the before-time covenant the Father said to the Son: “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession” (Ps. 2:8). The Son asked the Father for the elect. In response to the Son’s request, the Father gave him a peculiar people. These were a love gift from His Father. Christ mentions these in His high priestly prayer in John 17. He spoke of them “as many as thou hast given” me (John 17:2). In John 17:6 Christ said: “I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine thy were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word.”

            The redemptive work of Christ is equal to His intercessory work, and these cannot scripturally be separated. Note some Scriptures: “. . .and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12). “Who is he that condemneth? 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). Christ as our great High Priest “appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:24), and now He appears in the presence of God for us (Heb. 9:24). The same ones for whom He is an atoning sacrifice are the same ones for whom He is an advocate (I John 2:1-2). Since His intercessory work is limited to those the Father gave Him, even so His redemption was for these same people.

            Arminians separate between Christ’s redemptive work and His intercessory work. They have Christ dying for all men without exception, but then they are forced to admit He died for a people for whom He refused to pray. I say this because Christ said in John 17:9: “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.” Sovereign gracers, in line with Holy Scripture, are consistent. We have Jesus dying for the same people He prays for in Heaven.

            When Christ finished His redemptive work on earth He ascended to Heaven to the right hand of God to do His intercessory work. “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession” (Heb. 4:14). The name “Jesus” speaks of Christ’s humanity, and the name “Son of God” of His divinity. Christ is our eternal and all-sufficient High Priest in Heaven. Literal sacrifices are not now being offered up on earth because the God-man put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. The only sacrifices being offered on earth are the spiritual sacrifices of believer priests (I Pet. 2:9).

            Honest students of Holy Scriptures must admit the Bible speaks sparingly of the intercessory work of Christ. However, as we search the Scriptures, we can glean certain things about His intercessory work. First, it is vocal. Christ does not merely stand in Heaven as the slain Lamb with nothing to do. Our great High Priest does not stand before God the Father in absolute silence. Christ actually intercedes in our behalf. John 17 is a sample of Christ’s intercessory work in behalf of His people. In John 17 Christ spoke real words to the Father.

            Second, the entreaty work of Christ is real. Christ personally appears in the presence of God for us. He appears to claim the benefits arising from His sacrifice. “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). The high priest in Israel appeared before the ark and mercy-seat which was but a type of God’s presence (Lev. 16:2). Christ appears before the face of God, and He is there “for us.” “For us” points back to “holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling” in Hebrews 3:1. Christ’s appearance in Heaven as our Intercessor is as real as His appearance on earth over 1900 years ago as our Substitute and Surety.

            Third, Christ’s intercessory work is personal. He does not appear in God’s presence for Himself. He appears as the representative of all the elect. He undertakes for all sorts of believers, high and low, rich and poor, strong and weak. Christ makes no exceptions, neither in respect to persons or sins. He entreats for the weakest believer as well as the strongest believer.

            Fourth, His priestly work is always successful: “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always. . .” (John 11:41-42). The Father always hears the prayers of Christ in behalf of His people. Christ never offers a prayer out of harmony with the will of the Father, and He never does anything contrary to His Father’s Word (John 8:29). His oneness with the Father guarantees the Father will always hear His intercession. Christ and the Father have one essence, one nature, and one will.

            If, as some Arminians teach, Christ is in Heaven praying for the whole world without exception to be saved, and if the Father hears the Son “always,” then the whole world must be saved without any exception. No one but a universalist believes every person on earth shall be saved. If Christ is praying for the whole world to be saved without exception, then the Father must not hear the prayer of Christ “always” as the Bible says. Let the Arminians give the answer to these things.

THE CONCERN OF CHRIST’S WORK

            First, it pertains to our salvation: “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word” (John 17:20). Those for whom Christ prays in this verse are unconverted elect. These are not in danger of some final miscarriage. These unconverted elect are as sure of eternal salvation as the saints already in Heaven. But an unconverted person cannot make any conclusion for this, for he cannot know his position in atoning blood until he believes (Rom. 3:25).

            Please note in John 17:20 that Christ’s intercessory work concerns those who already believe and those who shall believe. It does not include those who die in unbelief (Mark 16:16). The prayers of Christ on earth and in Heaven explain the extent of His atoning sacrifice. Christ did not pray for Judas in John 17. Our Lord said in John 17:9: “I pray not for the world,” and Judas was a part of the world. Judas was lost and a son of perdition (John 17:12).

            John 17:20 reveals that Christ prays the unconverted elect who shall believe on Him through the words and writings of the apostles: “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word” (John 17:20). The Word in the hands of the Holy Spirit is the instrumental means of faith. This is seen also in Romans 10:14-15: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” Four facts are asserted here in the form of questions. First, there is no real prayer without genuine faith. Second, there is no faith unless one hears the Word of faith. Third, there can be no hearing of the Word of faith without a preacher of the gospel. Fourth, there can be no preacher of the gospel unless he is sent by God and the church. Where there is no gospel preaching there is no faith, and without faith there can be no salvation (Rev. 21:8) or even election, for election is unto faith (Acts 13:48; II Thess. 2:13; Tit. 1:1). The preached Word is “the word of faith” (Rom. 10:8), and so “then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17).

            One whole religious movement has been built upon the idea that God saves the elect without the gospel. They will ask you: “Don’t you believe God could save the elect without the gospel?” When you say, “Yes,” then they quickly say: “Well, He does.” I want to ask some questions. Can God enlighten the world without the sun? If they answer, “Yes,” then I would ask: “Why does He not do it?” Can God save sinners apart from the death of Jesus Christ? If they answer, “Yes,” then I would ask, “Why does He not do it then?” The Bible teaches that God saves His elect by the foolishness of preaching (I Cor. 1:21). It says the gospel is “hid to them that are lost” (II Cor. 4:3), and the Bible says those who do not obey the gospel are going to Hell (II Thess. 1:8-9).

            For the sake of argument let us assume that they are right for a few moments. If God saves the elect without the preaching of the word of the apostles, then some are saved contrary to the high priestly prayer of Christ in John 17. Christ prayed: “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word” (John 17:20). My opponents need to show me where Christ ever prayed that the elect would be saved without the Word. Where is one verse that says unbelievers are saved? Such a verse cannot be produced. I personally would not want to be guilty of saying that God saves sinners contrary to the prayer of our great High Priest.

            Second, Christ prays for our faith: “And the Lord said, 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: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:31-32). Here is an example where our Lord exercises His high priestly work before His ascension into Heaven. Christ prayed for Peter’s faith that it fail not, although Peter did not sense his danger from the Devil. Our Lord did not pray that Peter might be spared from being put in Satan’s sifter, but He prayed Peter’s faith would persevere. The Greek word translated “fail” is the root of our English word “eclipse.” The intercession of Christ prevailed before the throne of God, for Peter was turned again and used mightily of God (Acts 2).

            The faith of a believer may eclipse for a time, but it never fails because Christ ever intercedes for the believer. Faith is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 1:29; Heb. 12:2), and faith is kept alive by Christ’s continual intercession in Heaven for us (Rom. 5:10). How good to know that Christ prays for us personally: “I have prayed for thee.”

            Third, our Lord mediates for our preservation: “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou has given me. . .” (John 17:11). The name and honor of God the Father are concerned in the preservation of Christ’s sheep. Christ prays the Father may keep them through His own attributes of power and wisdom.

            In John 17:15 Christ 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). In these words Christ pleads with the Father to keep them from all evil that may assail them from the world, the flesh, and the Devil.

            Fourth, our great High Priest interposes for our sanctification: “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17). Here Christ prays the truth of the written Word may bear powerfully on the inner man to bring believers to a higher degree of holiness and purity. The Bible is the ordinary means which God uses to sanctify His people. Those who think themselves above the Word have no holiness or salvation.

            I John 2:1 declares: “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.” The term “we” indicates the supposed case is in the Christian ranks. Those Christians who sin “have an advocate with the Father.” Hebrews 4:14 says: “. . .we have a great high priest. . .” Our Advocate does not excuse our sins, nor does He try to justify our actions. He is righteous, and He deals righteously. Our Intercessor has a sacrifice as a righteous basis of His advocacy. This is why the Father regards His pleas. Our Pleader is on the side of the law in the high court of Heaven!

            Fifth, our Intercessor intervenes in behalf of our glorification: “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am. . .” (John 17:24). At death we go to be with Christ in Paradise (Luke 23:43), and at the Rapture we go to be “for ever with the Lord” (I Thess. 4:17). To be with Christ is to be like Christ (I John 3:1-2).

II. THE INTERCESSION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

            Those born of the Spirit (John 3:6) should walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). We are weak, and we need the help of the Holy Spirit: “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:26-27). You will note that the intercessory work of the Spirit is limited to “the saints.” Also he always intercedes “according to the will of God.” There is harmony between the intercessory work of Christ and the Holy Spirit.

            What a revelation we have of human depravity! If we cannot know how to do a simple act like praying without the Spirit, how can we do any act apart from the help of the Spirit? Enough depravity remains even in a converted man that he does not know how to pray properly (Jas. 4:3). Because of our ignorance the Spirit must teach us how to pray properly.

            The Holy Spirit is another Intercessor for us: “The Spirit itself (Himself) maketh intercession for us.” John 14:16 reads: “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever.” The word “other” (allos) means another of the same kind, a Divine Helper. The name “Comforter” (parakletos) implies One sent alongside to help. This same Greek word is translated “advocate” in I John 2:1. Christ is our Advocate with the Father; the Holy Spirit is Christ’s Advocate with us.

            Prayer can be groanings which are not intelligible. Hezekiah said: “Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter: I did mourn as a dove: mine eyes fail with looking upward: O LORD, I am oppressed; undertake for me” (Isa. 38:14). Asaph declared: “I am so troubled that I cannot speak” (Ps. 77:4). “Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. . .” (I Sam. 1:13). We have much ignorance and inability. We do not know how to express ourselves in prayer to God. But God knows the meaning of the Spirit’s groans, and He interprets the inarticulate aspirations of our hearts.

            Left to ourselves, we would ask for scorpions instead of a fish. The Holy Spirit in our hearts enables us to engage in prevailing prayer. The Spirit intercedes in perfect harmony with the mind and will of God the Father. Hence we must “pray with the Spirit” (I Cor. 14:15). Paul said: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit. . .” (Eph. 6:18). The Spirit intercedes with God who loves us and who will answer us according to His will and our best interests.

THE RELATION TO EACH OTHER

            Christ makes intercession in the heavenly Temple; the Holy Spirit makes intercession in the earthly temple of our body. Christ is in the court of Heaven, while the Holy Spirit is in the court of our conscience. Christ makes intercession for us; the Holy Spirit makes intercession in us. Christ intercedes without us, in and by Himself. The Holy Spirit intercedes in and by us. Christ pleads His own merits, while the Holy Spirit pleads the merits of Christ.

            If Christ did not make intercession for me as a sinner, the Holy Spirit would  never make intercession for me as a saint. If we can know by our Christian experience the Holy Spirit is making intercession in us, we can be sure Jesus Christ is ever making intercession in Heaven for us. Christ represents us in Heaven; the Holy Spirit represents us on earth.

            When it is said in Romans 8:26 the Spirit “maketh intercession” in the Greek language these words are very beautiful. They literally mean to go out to meet a helpless creature for the purpose of intercourse and consultation, then to intervene by taking up his cause and pleading on his behalf. The Spirit is not some influence, or impersonal force. He is a Divine Person who is ever present to help us when we pray before the throne of grace. The object of the Spirit’s intercession is the laying bare of all the deep and hidden needs of the saints before God and Christ.

CONCLUSION

            1. Christ pleads our cause before God’s throne in Heaven. May we plead His cause on earth. “Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy” (Ps. 107:2). “And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again” (II Cor. 5:15). “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (I Pet. 2:9).

            2. Let us as believers be thankful we have two Intercessors, two Advocates, two Helpers, instead of merely one. We have a Divine Friend in the high court of Heaven, Jesus Christ. We have a Divine Friend in our body, the Holy Spirit.

            3. Some person may say, “These words are well and good for a person who is saved, but I am unsaved.  Do you have any message for a poor sinner like me?” Your Christian friends are praying for you. But it could be that Jesus Christ is praying for you in Heaven that you may be brought to faith through the Word. Remember the Bible says that Christ make intercession “for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12). If for so many transgressors, then why not for you?