Dr. Steve Hankins, Seminary Professor
Christ, Our Great Model Intercessor
Our Lord Jesus Christ is always our first example in all things. He is the Great Intercessor for us through prayer, as evidenced by His climactic prayer to the Father recorded in John 17 at the end of the His Upper Room Discourse just before His arrest and crucifixion. He prayed for His disciples then, and in so doing prays for us now. In that prayer, He prayed that we would abide in love and unity as believers. He prayed that we would remain in the world, but not be crushed into its mold or be overcome by its darkness. He prayed that we would provide the light of the gospel for the lost world, just as He had done during His incarnate ministry.
Now, Christ’s never ceasing ministry for us is one of intercessory prayer, as He sits at the right hand of God the Father. He defeated death and sin, rose from the grave, and ascended to the throne of God for His present ministry. As the writer to the Hebrews stated it, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” When we fail and commit sin, He is our advocate, the One through whose blood we have daily forgiveness as we confess our sins. John wrote, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1-2). Christ intercedes for us moment by moment that we may have daily mercy for our sins.
Christ also intercedes for us that we may have the grace we need for all of our physical and spiritual weaknesses, for our spiritual growth, and for our service for Him. Paul assures us that through Christ’s intercession for us at the throne of grace God will impart all we need, just as II Corinthians 9:8 says, “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things may abound to every good work.”
Christ’s never stops thinking of us. He never stops praying for us. What great confidence we derive from this reality and what a compelling example He has set for us. We, like Him, are to pray for others, constantly, that they may “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18). That men be restored in His image was His great redemptive purpose and is His daily ministry ambition at the right hand of the Father. It should be our ambition for others as we come to the throne of grace.
The Importance of Intercession
The frequency with which Paul mentioned his intercessory prayers for the believers he served underscores the importance of this spiritual ministry. He wrote concerning the Roman believers in Romans 1:8, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all.” To the Corinthian saints he penned, “I thank my God always concerning you by Christ Jesus” (I Corinthians 1:4). He said concerning his heart for the Philippians, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and in all judgement” (Philippians 1:9). The wide-ranging intercessory nature of his prayers for the Ephesians and all other believers is revealed in his words in Ephesians 3:14-15, “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” Encouraged by the spiritual reputation of the Colossians, he said to them, “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Colossians 1:9). The spiritual well-being and progress of fellow believers was always on Paul’s mind when he prayed.
Paul taught that the ministry of intercession was an essential part of prayer. When praying, believers are to offer praise and thanksgiving to God in worship. They are to pray for the advancement of the Christ’s kingdom and the fulfillment of His will in the world through their obedience and His sovereign actions. They are expected to pray for their physical and material needs. They are to confess and repent of their sins, seeking forgiveness for them. They are to pray to escape temptation and sin in the both near and far future. All of these emphases are presented in the Lord’s pattern prayer recorded in Matthew 6:9-13. As believer’s we are taught by the Lord Jesus himself that the second great commandment is to love others as ourselves. Implicit in this great commandment is an additional element of prayer, not explicitly mentioned in the Lord’s pattern prayer but certainly a part of His will being done on earth as it is in Heaven. As Paul wrote in I Timothy 2:1, “Therefore, I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men” (italics added).
Transformation of Heart is the Heart of Intercession
Christian compassion makes concern for the physical well-being of our brothers and sisters in Christ natural and an appropriate subject of our prayers for them. As John wrote to Gaius in III John 2, “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” John hoped that Gaius would experience physical health that equaled his spiritual health.
Christ’s great concern for the physical health of men, women, and children during His ministry sets a great example for our appropriate concern for believers. The bodies of believers are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Men serve through their bodies by presenting them as living sacrifices, according to Romans 12:1 in order to glorify God through their bodies, just as Paul taught in I Corinthians 6:19-20. So, a part of our praying for others should be for their physical health.
But what dominates in the descriptions of prayers in the New Testament for other believers is for their spiritual growth and prosperity. When Paul described his prayers for the Ephesians in 1:16-19 of his letter to them, he prayed that their spiritual understanding would grow (vv. 17-18) so that they would comprehend the richness of the benefits of being in Christ (v. 18), and they would grasp the great spiritual power made available to them as believers through Christ (v. 19). Later in chapter 3:14-21, he prays for them to be strengthened in the inner man by the Holy Spirit (v. 16), that Christ would dwell in their hearts by faith (v. 17a), that being rooted and grounded in love they would understand the incomprehensible love of Christ (vv. 17b-19a), and that they would be filled with all the fullness of God. To this he added a promise that the power of the Holy Spirit in them would make this all possible for the glory of God in the Church through Christ (vv. 20-21).
When Paul describes his prayer for the Philippian believers in 1:9-11 of his letter to them, his focus in on their hearts. He prayed that their love would abound more and more in all knowledge and discernment (v. 9), that they would approve always what was best spiritually (v. 10), in order that they would be sincere and without offense until the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness (vv. 10-11).
The Apostles prayers for the Colossian saints described in 1:9-12 of his epistle to them are similar to those for the Philippians and the Ephesians. He prayed that their spiritual understanding and wisdom would abound (v. 9), that they would live in a manner pleasing to God in every way, increasing in the knowledge of God (v. 10), and that they would be filled with His glorious power (v. 11a). This power would be manifested as they lived lives full of endurance, longsuffering with others, joyfulness in all circumstances, and thanksgiving while serving for His glory (vv. 11b-12).
The Colossians also had the great benefit of a pastor, Epaphras, who faithfully prayed for them just as the Apostle Paul did. His biography is brief in the New Testament, but dominated by a description of his fervent, agonizing prayers for the Christians in Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis. He prayed for their spiritual stability, maturity, and ongoing obedience as believers (Colossians 4:12-13).
Like Christ we must be intercessors for grace and mercy for others. We are compelled by His example and we are compelled by His commands. Our purpose in intercessory prayer, above all else is to pray that men and women will be transformed into the likeness of Christ by the power of the Spirit of Living God. This is praying for their sanctification which is the will of God for every believer, according to I Thessalonians 4:3. Paul offered his classic prayer for the sanctification of others in I Thessalonians 5:23-24. This should always be ours for our brothers and sisters in Christ as we intercede for them: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.”
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.