Q: #409. Is Jesus praying for us right now?
By: Steve Shirley
A: There is some difference of opinion on this issue amongst Christians. The belief that Jesus is praying for us right now is primarily based upon two Bible verses: (Rom 8:34) and (Heb 7:25). Neither of these specifically say that Jesus is "praying" for us, but rather, He is making "intercession" for us. Therefore, we must determine what "intercession" means.
Let me begin by saying that I do not believe we
should take the word "intercession" to mean that Jesus is literally praying for
us. This being said, let me explain why. First, let's look at the meaning of the
word "intercede" in Webster's Dictionary: "to intervene between parties with a
view to reconciling differences : MEDIATE." The Greek word "entugchano" is used
for intercession in the Bible. Thayer's Greek Lexicon gives these definitions:
(1) to light upon a person or a thing, fall in with, hit upon, a person or a thing
(2) to go to or meet a person, especially for the purpose of conversation, consultation, or supplication
(3) to pray, entreat.
Looking at the Thayer's definition, it is possible that "intercession" can indeed mean "to pray." However, I believe that "mediate" works better with the Bible verses. Let me first share several reasons why literally "praying" doesn't seem to work.
First, it doesn't really seem logical to me to say that Jesus is literally "praying" to the Father, as He is "seated at the right hand of the Father" (Eph 1:20-22)(Mk 16:19)(Acts 2:32-35)(Col 3:1). I just can't envision Him on His knees pleading over and over for each of those who belong to Him. This leads to me to the second point.
Secondly, if Jesus is literally "praying" for us "continually," this seems to be basically pitting Jesus against the Father. For example, the Father wants to do something to punish us, and Jesus is pleading for Him not to do so. Or, the Father isn't sure whether to heal us or not, so Jesus steps in to convince Him. Or, we need help with something, and Jesus tries to convince Him to grant our request. In short, it is kind of like a "good cop / bad cop" thing, with Jesus being the "good cop" and the Father being the "bad cop." Thinking this way disturbs me, and I just don't see it as true. The Bible teaches that Jesus and the Father are one (Jn 10:30)(Jn 14:7-11). They are unified in purpose (as are as the "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)." Jesus is not trying to get the Father to "change His mind," but to follow His will (Mt 26:39-42)(Mk 14:36)(Lk 22:42).
Thirdly, when Jesus prayed to the Father while on Earth (in His humanity), the Greek word for "prayed" is "proseuchomai." If Jesus is still praying, why is this word not used instead of "entugchano?"
Ok, so now let's look at why "mediate" works better. (Heb 7:25) seems to make this point the clearest, but we need to read it in context, reading verses 23 and 24 as well. Doing this, we see that it is going back to the High Priest in the Old Testament, and how over and over, one would die, and then another would have to take his place. However, Jesus is NOW our High Priest, and because He will never die, He has a "permanent priesthood." Verse 25 continues, "Wherefore (because of this) 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." See this? Taking it in context, it seems to clearly point to the fact that Jesus' "intercession" is based upon His position as the High Priest who will never die.
**Note: I have an old copy of the paraphrased "Living Bible," and I find
how it phrases (Heb 7:25) to be helpful:
"Since he will live forever, he will always be there to remind God that He has paid for their sins with His blood."
To fully understand this, one must look at how the High Priest made atonement for sins in the Old Testament. This can be found in Leviticus 16. Once a year, the High Priest would enter into the Holy of Holies (God's presence) to make atonement for the people's sins. However, this atonement had to be made again every year, and by different High Priests as each previous High Priest died. But now, Jesus Christ is our High Priest, and through His sacrifice for us on the cross, He has made atonement for sins once and for all. No other atonement needs to be made. The High Priest in the Old Testament could ONLY make this atonement (entering into God's presence) once a year. The atonement that Jesus made, who is now our High Priest, never stops because He is continually in God's presence. His sacrifice makes Him the "mediator" between God and man (1 Tim 2:5)(Heb 9:15)(Heb 8:6).
This is why I say that "Mediator" works better. His "mediation" is based upon the atonement He made for our sins on the cross. This sacrifice for our sins allows us access to the Father (the Holy of Holies). Jesus has bridged (mediated) the gap between the Father and sinful man. Atonement no longer needs to be made. This is what Jesus meant when He said on the cross, "it is finished" (Jn 19:30). When those who belong to Jesus sin, or need help, the Father sees us through Jesus. (1 Jn 2:1) calls Jesus our "Advocate." (1 Jn 2:2) says this is because of His "atoning sacrifice for our sins." Therefore, Jesus' "intercession" (and mediation) is based upon His atonement for our sins as High Priest, and His very presence "at the right hand of the Father," is a continual reminder of this. Saying this another way, "Jesus' very presence before the Father is how He is making intercession," rather than He is "verbally making intercession (praying)" over and over.
Ok, now having said this, there are also many who take "Jesus' intercession" to mean that Jesus is literally "praying" for us. There is some support for this view as well. The primary verses pointing to this seem to be (Rom 8:26-27), which say:
"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. (27) 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."
These verses seem to point pretty clearly to the fact that the Holy Spirit helps us to pray when we need help, "making intercession" on our behalf. However, I see this "intercession" as somewhat different from the "intercession" of Jesus. When a person becomes a Christian ("born again"), the Holy Spirit comes to live inside of him (Eph 1:13-14)(Rom 8:9). The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit does many things for the Christian. I list most of these here, however, one of the primary things is as a "Helper" (NASB) / "Counselor" (NIV) (Gr. "parakletos")(Jn 14:16,26)(Jn 15:26)(Jn 16:7). **Note: "Parakletos" is also used for "Advocate" in (Jn 2:1).
The Holy Spirit "helps" those who belong to Jesus in various ways. One would include "helping us to pray" when we need help. I don't really see Jesus as much in this role today. He did do this a number of times while on Earth, but when He ascended into Heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit, and this seems to be more the role of the Holy Spirit today. However, I still see the "intercession of the Holy Spirit" as more of helping us to pray when we need help praying, rather than "pleading with the Father on our behalf." The Holy Spirit wants our will to conform to the will of the Father, which should be the primary purpose of ALL prayer (Mt 6:10)(Jn 4:34)(Jn 6:38)(Jn 8:29)(Acts 21:14)(James 4:15)(Ps 40:8). His "intercession" helps make this possible.
Those who believe that Jesus is "praying" for us right now also use the prayers that He prayed on behalf of others while He was on the Earth as a picture of what He might be praying for us now. The primary prayer is found in John chapter 17, with some others being (Lk 22:31-32)(Lk 23:34)(Lk 24:50).
There is great comfort in thinking that Jesus, at this very moment, is praying for each of us. I do not wish to take away any comfort you might get from this. I am simply trying to "rightly divide the Word."