Christ’s priestly work in heaven is unique. At his Father’s side, he is perpetually applying the shed blood of his sacrifice on behalf of his people.
We have already noticed that Jesus Christ’s once-and-for-all, single act of propitiatory sacrifice need never be repeated (see previous article in ET, July 2017).
It was perfect and is accepted by the Father, so we conclude that masses and prayers to the ‘saints’ are useless, in the face of Christ’s perfect sacrifice and unique intercessory ministry in heaven. Personal confession of sin is to be made to the ascended and seated High Priest of the church, Jesus Christ, only (Matthew 6:5-8).
No other sacrifice
All earthly priests, with their sacrifices which can never take away sins, are now obsolete. But the risen Son of God, ascended into the presence of God for us, is our Saviour. ‘With his own blood he entered the most holy place, once for all, having obtained eternal redemption’ (Hebrews 9:12).
The uniqueness of Jesus’ priesthood was shown when the apostle Peter was about to come under satanic attack. Jesus said to him: ‘Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail’ (Luke 22:31-32).
As J. C. Ryle said, Peter had a mighty Friend at the right hand of God ‘daily pleading for him, seeing all his daily necessities, and obtaining daily supplies of mercy and grace for his soul’ (Expository thoughts on the Gospels — St Luke).
Thirdly, Christ’s salvation is unique, as no other can save a sinner. Since he continues for ever, having an unchangeable priesthood, Jesus ‘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).
This unique salvation brings eternal protection. There is no danger that any true believer will be lost. God’s people have eternal safety and protection, dwelling in mystical union with Christ by faith.
Their eternal security rests on his perpetual intercession for them, and not on themselves. He is able to save them for all time, because his ministry at God’s right hand can never be interrupted by death. When they sin, Jesus represents them as their ‘advocate with the Father’, at the right hand of the throne on high.
As the apostle John says: ‘My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous’ (1 John 2:1). Even if the born-again believer sins, God is still his Father; fellowship is broken, but not the relationship.
When Satan brings some accusation against a believer, the Lord Jesus can point to his own finished work on Calvary. He is not only our Advocate, but ‘the propitiation for our sins’.
Bold shall I stand in that great day,
For who ought to my charge shall lay?
Full absolved through Thee I am,
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.
Count Zinzendorf (1700–60).
The fact that the Lord Jesus Christ is now seated in heaven shows that his work of atonement is finished: ‘But this Man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till his enemies are made his footstool’ (Hebrews 10:12-13).
While seated there, Christ remembers his atoning work on the cross — the shedding of his blood for us as our substitute and Redeemer. He waits for the day of consummation of all things. He is there as Lord of the dead and the living (Romans 14:9).
Why does Jesus wait? What is stopping him from coming the second time without delay? Four reasons seem clear. First, he waits until all his elect people are born and gathered into the church from every tribe and nation. He does not wish that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Peter 3:9).
Second, he waits until all his elect are reached with the gospel message. It is then that they believe in him and are sanctified by God’s Word (John 17:15-18, 20).
Third, the seated Christ is waiting in heaven for the last day, for the appointed moment of his Second Coming. On that day, he will subdue his enemies, fulfilling the prophecy of King David, ‘The Lord (Jehovah) said to my Lord (Adonai), Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool’ (Psalm 110:1).
This verse reveals the personal relationship that David had with Adonai. No psalm is more quoted in the New Testament than this one. J. A. Alexander said: ‘The repeated, explicit and emphatic application of this psalm in the New Testament [is] to Jesus Christ’. The enemies of God and his church will be utterly conquered by Messiah on that day.
Fourth, Jesus is there to give repentance to Israel. Peter and the other apostles proclaimed: ‘The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to his right hand to be Prince and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins’ (Acts 5:30-31).
The Lord Jesus Christ waits for the Father’s command to come a second time, with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30-31, 36). The exact timing of this is knowledge that the Father has reserved to himself (Mark 13:32).
Jesus Christ’s heavenly session is good news for sinners and saints alike. For he is now ‘able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through him’ (Hebrews 7:25); that is, those who pray in faith to him as the Son of God at God’s right hand.
‘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 … 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).
This means that God’s people are to live their lives ‘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 12:2). With this understanding God’s people can sing with joyful hope:
Because He lives I can face tomorrow;
Because He lives all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living
Just because He lives.
The Lord Jesus gives his people his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21), providing acceptance with God and access to him. His priestly ministry belongs to the present, as well as the past.
He dwells in heaven, not only for his own glory, but for our eternal salvation. He is there, as John Owen says, ‘to carry on the complete work of purchased grace’, to sanctify our present imperfect works.
If Christ Jesus had not entered his heavenly session, his words to Peter — ‘I have prayed for you’ — could not be applied to all God’s children. But now he sits interceding at God’s right hand to secure for us full and final salvation (Romans 8:23).
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