He always lives to make intercession for them. – Hebrews 7:25
Michael Ramsey was the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, reigning from 1961-1974. In 1979 he wrote a fantastic little book called The Christian Priest Today in which he has a number of short chapters about various aspects of the priesthood. Many of these chapters were addresses or homilies said to a group of seminarians. Chapter 3 is called Man of Prayer, and is a marvelous reflection on the prayer life of the priest. Although it is written especially for, to, and about priests, the insights about prayer are valuable for any Christian seeking growth in closeness with God. Each of these fifteen posts (which I will endeavor to maintain as a weekly series on Thursdays) is a reflection on one paragraph from the late Archbishop’s chapter, Man of God, from his book The Christian Priest Today.
Jesus died, rose again, and ascended into heaven. The disciples now believed that he, exalted as he was in the Father’s glory, was still near to them: near, sharing, bearing as in the former days. They could not doubt that his prayer continued. This conviction underlies the imagery, both in St Paul and in the Epistle to the Hebrews, of Jesus as the high priest whose intercession continues: “he always lives to make intercession for them”. Amidst the blended images of the ascended Christ as priest, prophet, and king, which the Reformation divines called the triplex munus, we should not miss the simplicity of what is meant by his continuing intercession. He prayed on earth: he goes on praying still. The nights of prayer, the prayers a great while before day, the prayer of the garden, are somehow not of the past alone.
Growing up in a nondenominational evangelical church, I never really heard about the reality of Christ’s continued intercession; it was never emphasized, in fact, almost completely ignored. In teaching others about the continued intercession of Christ I actually have had some pushback from well-meaning Christians. The verses of Romans 8:35 and Hebrews 7:25 have been missed by so many people. And that is a great loss: the knowledge of Christ’s continuing prayers on our behalf in the presence of the Father is both an encouraging comfort that we’re not on our own and a cautionary reminder that we still rely on Christ as our mediator.
The three-fold office of Christ (known in Latin as triplex munus) provides a framework for understanding Christ’s intercession. Specifically in the image of Christ as our high priest, one of the priest’s primary functions is to make intercession on behalf of the people. So although his priestly work of the sacrifice on the cross is finished, the intercession before God which follows the sacrifice is still taking place. And, going deeper, because we are one body with Christ, members of him and of one another, the unity we have with Christ is such that time & space don’t matter so much anymore. His prayers in the Scriptures are living and active today, just as his prayers in heaven right now.
As we enter into prayer to God, there is a sense in which we are kneeling down alongside Jesus, who is already (and always) praying on our behalf. Thus, once again, the prayers of Christ that we find in the Bible are valuable resources for meditation as we draw near to the One who prays perfectly, and who invites us to pray with him too!