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.
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.