Who is Praying?

I am part of the prayer movement and a common teaching in the prayer movement is that intercessory prayer is engaging or partnering with Jesus in His prayer ministry as the High Priest who ‘always lives to make intercession.’ While I firmly believe in that last phrase, I also firmly believe we generally misunderstand and misapply it. Frankly, if I believed Jesus was praying for what is happening to and through the church in the world it would lead me question how effective His prayers are. Thankfully, I don’t believe there is any lack on His end.  

Let us look at the phrase ‘make/makes intercession.’ We find it in four places in the New Testament. Once in Hebrews and three times in Romans 8.

25 Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:25 (NKJV)

26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26–27 (NKJV)

On the surface these three verses seem to indicate that both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are praying for us. With a little deeper digging we find that the phrasing and tense in Greek in verse 27 refer to a meeting or conversation – Makes intercession for (ὑπερεντυγχάνει). Only here in the New Testament. The verb ἐντυγχάνω means to light upon or fall in with; to go to meet for consultation, conversation, or supplication. So Acts 25:24, “dealt with,” Rev., “made suit.” Compare Rom. 8:34; 11:2; Heb. 7:25.[1]

The idea is that the Holy Spirit comes upon us to help us and pray through us. Therefore, it says He ‘helps.’ He does not pray apart from us; He prays through and in union with us. Jesus and the Spirit are part of the Godhead and in unity. Jesus was clear that after He went to the cross, He would no longer pray for His followers.

26 In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; John 16:26 (NKJV)

Given Romans 8 is about the Holy Spirit helping us in our prayers and Jesus said He would not be praying for His followers after the cross we need to look at Hebrews 7 and the context to see what it means that Jesus ‘always lives to make intercession.’

I will not quote the chapter but the context in Hebrews 7 is showing that Jesus priestly role is in the line of Melchizedek not the Aaronic priesthood. For the Aaronic priests their priestly duties were ended by death. Jesus priestly role never ends because He never ends. That is the focus of the idea of Jesus always living to make intercession. The always is about His endless priesthood.

24 But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Hebrews 7:24 (NKJV)  

This leads to needing to understand what intercession means in this passage if it is not about Jesus praying for us. While in many sectors of the church we use the term intercession to refer to prayer, which it often does, the intercessory role of those who functioned under the Aaronic priesthood was not focused on prayer. It was about the offering of sacrifices to set aside sin so people could be right with God. This is what Isaiah prophesied about Jesus intercessory role and Paul affirmed. 

12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:12 (NKJV)

34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Romans 8:34 (NKJV)

Jesus is our High Priest at the Father’s right hand. Paul described His priestly role in a very similar way to Isaiah.

5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, 1 Timothy 2:5-6 (NKJV)

Jesus priestly intercessory and mediatory role is His presenting Himself as a sacrifice on our behalf and His sacrifice is eternally efficacious because His life is eternal. This means that we may at any time come boldly to the throne of grace through a new and living.

14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16 (NKJV)

19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:19-22 (NKJV)

Let us therefore embrace Jesus intercessory priestly work. He has made a way for us to come and present petitions for ourselves and others before the throne of grace at any time and for any need. Let us place our trust not in in His praying for us but rather discern how He seeks to pray through us.  

[1] Vincent, M. R. (1887). Word studies in the New Testament (Vol. 3, p. 95). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

A Practical God

Ezra is an interesting book of scripture. We can see right from the beginning the Lord’s hand in what took place. Jeremiah had prophesied the return to Jerusalem and the Lord stirred the heart of Cyrus the king of Persia to initiate the process (Ezra 1:1). Ezra was a major instrument in carrying out this purpose and we see in this short book a balance of confidence in God and the practical preparation and working out of His purposes.

There is an idea that when it comes to the outworking of His purposes God won’t do our part and we are unable to do His part. His part was the stirring of the king’s heart to let the captives return and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. Ezra’s part was to provide leadership in practically engaging in the work. Once a number of captives had returned their first task was the restoration of worship.

            1 And when the seventh month had come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem. Then Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and his brethren, arose and built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. Ezra 3:1–2 (NKJV)

Worship is a practical expression of our dependence on the Lord and they recognized the need to make it a priority. This was very practical. It is like the old western idea cowboy’s held. At the end of the day you first looked after the needs of your horse before looking to your own needs as you could not do your job without your horse. I did some work in road construction my first summer out of high school and I noticed something. The good heavy equipment operators spent some time looking over their equipment at the end of the day’s work and greasing and refueling it so it was ready for the next day’s work.

Once the altar was completed they focused on the foundation of the temple.

10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the ordinance of David king of Israel. 11 And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord:

“For He is good,

For His mercy endures forever toward Israel.”

Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. Ezra 3:10–11 (NKJV)

Later on their enemies opposed their work and sought to stop it through legal means (4:1-24). The work ceased, however prophetic encouragement rose up and they began rebuilding and at the same time sought their own legal recourse (7:1 – 8:36). They not only received an order from the king to continue their work their enemies were forced to help pay for it (8:36).

So, some lessons we see in Ezra. When the Lord is behind something He is the initiator and our job is to cooperate with His purposes and obey His leading. Our work needs to have worship as a foundational priority. Opposition is not a sign we are doing the wrong thing, it is frequently an indicator that we are in the centre of His purposes. When we encounter opposition we need to seek His face for wisdom and prophetic encouragement. While we need to understand practical legal matters and use the tools at our disposal as needed the main thing is our obedience to His calling and commission. If He is in it then we can be confident in His leading and support.

Whatever He is calling us to do let us bathe it in worship and seek His wisdom in the face of opposition.

The Message of Symbols Part 3

The last symbol I want to address in this brief series is the idea of Jesus coming on the clouds. There are references to the clouds Jesus mock trial prior to His crucifixion, His comments to those who saw Him depart after His resurrection and the broader scriptural context including Daniel and Psalms. First Jesus trial.

63 But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!”

64 Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

65 Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, “He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy! 66 What do you think?”

They answered and said, “He is deserving of death.” Matthew 26:63–66 (NKJV)

Here Jesus is accused of blasphemy. What did the high priest and others understand from what Jesus said? The answer is in Daniel’s vision and the Psalms.

13 “I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him. 14 Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed. Daniel 7:13–14 (NKJV)

4 Sing to God, sing praises to His name; Extol Him who rides on the clouds, By His name Yah, And rejoice before Him. Psalm 68:4 (NKJV)

3 He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters, Who makes the clouds His chariot, Who walks on the wings of the wind, Psalm 104:3 (NKJV)

There are other references as well but these serve to illustrate the understanding held by the high priest and others at Jesus trial. When Jesus spoke of coming on the clouds and being at the right hand of power their minds went to Daniel and the Psalms. Yahweh was the one who moved in power in the heavens and the one who held authority. In fact the phrase ‘power’ was a Jewish expression used to avoid pronouncing the sacred name Yahweh. When the heavenly court scene was displayed in Daniel the one being given authority over the earth came on the clouds to demonstrate that He had the power and authority of Yahweh.  

 So now we look further at what Jesus had to say about Himself and clouds.

29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Matthew 24:29–31 (NKJV)

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” Acts 1:9–11 (NKJV)

If in our minds eye we see Jesus gently floating down out of heaven on a cloud we are missing Jesus message. Jesus ascended on a cloud, again demonstrating His authority over nature. His return on the clouds of heaven will be both a demonstration of power and judgement. The clouds speak of His deity, power and authority, an everlasting dominion. That is what we need to see as well. I close with two more cloud references from scripture.

16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17 (NKJV)

Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen. Revelation 1:7 (NKJV)

The Message of Symbols Part 2

Here we will look at an agricultural symbol pointing to Jesus. It starts with a question that Jesus asks the Pharisees, trying to get them to think beyond their preconceived religious ideas. Had they understood the symbolism in the scriptures they revered they would have been able to see Jesus as the Messiah or at least they may have had the humility to seek clarification from Him. This exchange took place in the days leading up to Jesus arrest and crucifixion.

41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?”

They said to Him, “The Son of David.”

43 He said to them, “How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying: 44‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool” ’?

45 If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?” 46 And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore. Matthew 22:41–46 (NKJV)

These the last questions the religious leaders asked of Jesus prior to His arrest and subsequent crucifixion. The Pharisees were both puzzled and silenced by Jesus question. Yet Jesus gave them a clue in the paradox between the Messiah being David’s son and yet David referring to Him as Lord. The answer lay in the scriptures they studied. First we have Isaiah, and later a clearer exposition of this verse in Revelation.

            1 There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. Isaiah 11:1 (NKJV)

In context it is clear for us looking back that that Isaiah was prophesying about Jesus and it is made very explicit in Revelation from Jesus Himself.  

16 “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.” Revelation 22:16 (NKJV)

The clue to answering Jesus question to the Pharisees is seeing Jesus as both the source (root) and outcome (branch). They lived in an agricultural context with olive trees and grape vines being very important in their daily lives. The Hebrew word translated as ‘stem’ could refer to either a stump or stock but clearly pointed to a source. It is humanly impossible for someone to be their own ancestor, thus the need for spiritual revelation.

Jesus was quoting Psalm 110 when He asked His question about David calling the coming Messiah Lord. The Pharisees knew it because Psalm 110 was a well known Messianic reference. While it is obvious to us, the answer was still available to the Pharisees had they understood the symbol of the Messiah being both root and branch.

Here are further clues, also made explicit by Jesus.

4      Who has performed and done it, Calling the generations from the beginning? ‘I, the Lord, am the first; And with the last I am He.’ ” Isaiah 41:4 (NKJV) – see also Is. 44:6, 48:12

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8 (NKJV)

As both the beginning and the end Jesus was the root and branch, the source and outcome. As such we can celebrate His work in our lives as Hebrews presents Him.

1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1–2 (NKJV)

We can have confidence that no matter what we are walking through in this season, He is faithful.

being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; Philippians 1:6 (NKJV)