Lou: Questions arise in regard to the second part of this chapter, your presentation on intercession. You’ve talked about intercession and a mediator as an emergency measure. Does that mean that we don’t need an advocate? First John says, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1, KJV). Are you saying that we don’t need an advocate?
Graham: As I mentioned, if one is still afraid of God, the Bible says we have an advocate with the Father. However, once we know we don’t need someone to intercede with the Father, do we still need an advocate? What counts is who is really against us. We need an advocate standing beside the Father because Satan is against us. He is the accuser of the brethren day and night before God (Rev 12:10). In Zechariah 3 who is accusing Joshua the High Priest? Who is defending? In Job 1 and 2, who is accusing? Who is defending? Since we have an enemy, we need an advocate. We need someone to represent us. To God? No. He’s our Friend as much as the Son and the Holy Spirit.
A further reason we need an advocate is that our future neighbors and friends, the inhabitants of the universe, might not be too sure about us. And God doesn’t ask them to accept His list of candidates blindly. He doesn’t run His universe that way. So He allows Satan to accuse, and He has Jesus explain. If Jesus can defend them, He does. If He can’t, He won’t. In this role of advocate and intercessor Jesus is defending His loyal children, some of whom are just babes in the truth. If they trust Him like the thief on the cross, Jesus can say, “Yes, he has a terrible record as the Devil has pointed out, but he has a new heart and a right spirit. I commend him as safe to save, even to live next door to.” And his guardian angel heaves a big sigh of relief.
Lou: So this advocate is not protecting us from God’s wrath.
Graham: No. So often, we’ve got the wrong enemy. The Father’s not our foe. “If God can be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31).
Lou: Speaking of Romans 8, in verse 26 it says that the Spirit makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered and sighs too deep for words. What about this text? How are both Jesus and the Spirit intercessors?
Graham: Well, we know the Spirit isn’t interceding with the Father. Jesus said there is no need. And the Spirit certainly isn’t interceding with the Son. So in the context of Romans 8 it says, “We do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit helps us to pray” (Rom 8:26-27). I also believe His intercession is exercised in teaching us the truth about ourselves (see texts like John 3:20-21 and Rom 2:15), and about our God (John 16:13)—that God is our friend. He helps us approach the Father in prayer. The intercession of the Spirit is helping us to see the truth and to tell the truth about ourselves. In a later chapter (Chapter Fifteen– “Talking to God As a Friend”) we will discuss the work of the Spirit in helping us talk to God.
Lou: You have talked about John 16:26 as a misunderstood or ignored text: “I say not unto you that I will pray the Father for you.” But there are so many texts about intercession and there’s this one that seems clear the other way, we don’t need an intercessor. You talked about the principle of understanding texts in the light of the whole Bible. But what if I said, “Look, let’s take all of these texts that talk about intercession and understand this one in the light of all the other texts?”
Graham: Yes. We so often say that if it’s a difficult verse, it should be understood in the light of all the clear ones. What makes this different is that Jesus labeled John 16:26 “plain and clear.” He didn’t say it was difficult. So we shouldn’t need the others to explain it.
I will accept the Son of God’s evaluation of His own statement. It is one of the only ones in the whole Bible designated as “plain and clear.” And I will understand all the other verses in the Bible in the light of this one. However, one should never leave the others out. We must build a model of understanding based on everything in the Bible. We must be able to put that precious verse in, and all the others, too.
Lou: Why does it tell us to pray in Jesus’ name? Does that mean God is too holy to approach and we need Jesus to kind of run interference, perhaps not against His anger, but in relationship to His holiness?
Graham: You said two things there of consequence. Sometimes we hear, “the Father is too holy to look on sin, so the Son came.” Are we implying the Son is not as holy as the Father? Forbid the thought! The Son is just as holy as the Father. I believe that to pray in Jesus’ name is a grateful recognition that if the Son had not come to reveal the truth, we wouldn’t know the Father. We wouldn’t know He is just as approachable as the Son. We wouldn’t be “bold to approach the throne of grace with confidence,” as Hebrews 4:16 says. We would be afraid to do it. So we pray in Jesus’ name, saying, “Thank You for the whole costly revelation and demonstration.” By the way, “Amen” is not simply a signal that the prayer is over. It implies: “I mean everything I’ve said, dear God. I really mean it!”
Lou: In Hebrews there are statements about how Jesus “was made like unto His brethren” (Heb 2:17), and He Himself has suffered being tempted (4:15), and that we can “come boldly” (4:16) because He has been tempted. Are you saying that these really aren’t important statements?
Graham: I think they are very important, but they certainly don’t mean that God had to come to this earth to learn how to be sympathetic. He came to show how sympathetic He already is. I do believe that Jesus learned as He was growing up (Heb 5:6). He learned from Scripture as we do, and He became convinced of the truth about His Father. And in this way He did grow up and became the marvelous person that He was. But He was no more friendly and understanding than His Father. He came to say, “This is what My Father is like” (John 14:9). But He also came to reveal that you can get all this from the Old Testament. That was the Bible He grew up with. How could He go out and say, “This is what My Father is like?” He got it from reading Jeremiah, and Isaiah, and Hosea, and Amos, and all those other places. The Old Testament is that clear.
The next chapter is an extension of this one, “God’s Law Is No Threat To Our Freedom.” The law has often been seen, by Christians of all denominations, as barring freedom in some way. So we will need to take some time on that topic.