The heavenly session of the risen, ascended Jesus Christ is often neglected, even when thoughts of his glory are considered. However, this subject is relevant to prayer and essential to the spiritual joy and peace of all God’s people.
J. C. Ryle noted, ‘If we are Christians, we shall find it essential to our comfort in religion to have clear views of Christ’s priestly office and intercession. Christ lives, and therefore our faith shall not fail. He is at the right hand of God’.
Jesus Christ’s saving work is made clear in Romans 8:34: ‘Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also raised, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us’.
This verse stresses that Christ’s works of righteousness and power were all ‘for us’. Four glorious events are highlighted: his death, resurrection, ascension and heavenly session at God’s right hand. He has always acted on behalf of God’s people as our mediator and representative.
Because of Christ Jesus’ saving work, the sins of God’s people have been atoned for, once and for all, and all those who approach the Lord in prayer are welcome, for Christ is ‘at the right hand of God’ and ‘makes intercession for us’.
The heavenly session of Christ was prophesied in the Psalms — that Jesus would sit, after his ascension, at God’s right hand in heaven. ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool’ (Psalm 110:1).
This verse was picked up by the author of Hebrews in his important introduction to the person of Jesus Christ, ‘But to which of the angels has he ever said, Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool’? (Hebrews 1:13).
This event was also set to music in the Jewish psalter. David wrote, ‘Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle (Psalm 24:7-8).
In Psalm 68:18, again we see the Messianic, priestly office of Jesus Christ foretold. David said about Christ’s ascension into heaven, ‘You have ascended on high, you have led captivity captive; you have received gifts among men, even from the rebellious, that the Lord God might dwell there’.
This truth also pervades the New Testament. Jesus Christ, we are told, was raised from the dead and seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, ‘far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come’ (Ephesians 1:20-21).
Jesus is above all angels, devils, kings rulers and religious figures, including Muhammad the founder of Islam. He is ‘Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth’ (Revelation 1:5).
The author of Hebrews, moved by the Holy Spirit, thought the heavenly session of Christ so important that he spoke of it in the first chapter of his epistle: ‘When [Christ] had by himself purged our sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high’.
He referred to it in several other chapters, including his practical application that we should ‘[look] 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 12:2).
Old Testament priests were prevented by death from continuing their work, but Jesus, ‘because he continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. 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 7:24-25).
After ascending into the ‘heaven of heavens’ (1 Kings 8:27), the priestly office of our Saviour was not made redundant but was fully active. The death, resurrection, ascension and heavenly session of Christ Jesus all combine to declare that, ‘There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12).
We should note three things about this. First, the glory of Christ’s ascension is unique. Our Saviour’s session reveals his kingly dignity and glory. He is at the right hand of the throne of God, a position that reveals his unique divinity and majesty. ‘Higher expression cannot be used to lead us into a holy adoration of the tremendous invisible glory that is intended’ (John Owen).
This glory is foretold by the psalmist, as quoted by Paul: ‘Therefore he says, When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men. (Now this, he ascended, what does it mean but that he also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things)’ (Ephesians 4:8-10).
It was the ascended Son of Man that John saw in his vision on the island of Patmos: ‘And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying to me, Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last. I am he who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of hades and of death’ (Revelation 1:17-18).
Second, Christ’s eternal priestly work in heaven — his prayer ministry for us — is unique. That high priesthood is eternally his. It will never be passed on to anyone else and there will be no interruption to its effectiveness.
It is unchangeable, because it is ‘after the ‘order of Melchizedek’, ‘king of Salem, priest of the Most High God’. Now, with the ‘power of an endless life’ and annulling the Aaronic priesthood that went before him, Jesus has become the surety [guarantee] of a better covenant (Hebrews 7).
Other people have tried to take Christ’s role for themselves, calling themselves ‘priests’, but Jesus Christ is the only true High Priest of the church.
He encourages his people to come to him in prayer, seeking his help in their time of need: ‘Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, his flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, 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).
Christ is in heaven to pray for us, as ‘a minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man’ (Hebrews 8:2). We are reminded by these words of Israel’s high priest of old, who once a year on the Day of Atonement — Yom Kippur — entered the holy of holies in the tabernacle, with the blood of sacrifice, to make atonement for the people.
Christ Jesus lives forever, to apply all the benefits of his atonement to all the redeemed. ‘He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through him, since he ever lives to make intercession for them’ (Hebrews 7:25).
The word ‘save’ in this verse includes the continuing process of salvation, by which God’s people are freed from the power of sin. This process will eventually be completed in our glorification, when we are saved from the very presence of sin.
Because Jesus lives forever, he is able to completely — totally, entirely, fully — save those who come to God by him. As Saviour and High Priest, he is ‘able to keep you from stumbling (falling) and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy’ (Jude 24). Christ’s work is unique. He prays for us and, in heaven, is our sole and unique intercessor.
Ian S. McNaughton is a retired FIEC pastor, the writer of several books, including Opening up Job (Day One), and a member of Hoylake Evangelical Church, Wirral