Bibliotheca Sacra 131 (Jan.-Mar. 1974) 26-33.
Copyright © 1974 by
The Blood of Jesus and His
Heavenly Priesthood in Hebrews
Part IV: The Present Work of Christ in Heaven
Philip Edgcumbe Hughes
"Christ," says the author of Hebrews, "has entered . . . into
heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf"
(9:24). There in that sublime sanctuary which is the presence-
chamber of God Himself the risen and glorified Savior presents
Himself, not to claim benefits for Himself, for He is crowned with
glory and honor (2:9), but as our representative and mediator to
receive for us the eternal blessings which His atoning death has
procured. Yet these blessings are not, so to speak, external to or
apart from Himself, for in presenting Himself at the throne of
grace He presents also those who through divine grace have been
made one with Him. It is the union of believers with Christ that
ensures their acceptance before God. The royal favor with which
he is received embraces at the same time those who are one with
and in Him. As Paul says, God "raised us up with him, and made
us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:6).
The Christian's whole and only status before God is in Christ. True
and wonderful though this is, however, the sphere of the Christian's
existence is still here on earth. He is still beset by temptations;
he is hampered by weakness and frustrated by failings; he falls
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of articles entitled "The Blood
of Jesus and His Heavenly Priesthood in the Epistle to the Hebrews," which
were the W. H. Griffith Thomas Memorial Lectures given by Dr. Philip
Edgcumbe Hughes at
The Present Work of Christ in Heaven / 27
short of "the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph.
4:13); the perfection for which he longs is not yet. He needs a
holiness not his own, made available to him by the Lamb of God
who has made atonement for his sins and who now interposes Him-
self as his representative in the heavenly sanctuary. And this is
the representation which Christ fulfills as He appears in the presence
of God for us.
In the earthly sanctuary the levitical high priest entered into
the holy of holies taking with him the blood of the victim that had
been slain at the altar of sacrifice. In himself, this high priest had
no more right of entry than did the people for whom he was acting,
for he, like them, was a sinful man for whose sins, no less than for
those of the people, atonement had to be made. Accordingly, the
blood he carried into the holy of holies was not his own but the
blood of the victim which had been offered up in his stead. Our
great High Priest, however, being entirely without sin, had no need
to take the blood of another into the sanctuary; nor did He need
to present His own blood, for since the blood was the token of
the life that had been offered up in sacrifice, and since He was
both offerer and offering, He, the sinless and glorified incarnate
Son, presents not His blood but Himself in the heavenly sanctuary,
into which He has the full and inalienable right of entry. This
unique victim, unlike the victims of old, is not left outside, but in
the power of His risen life He Himself, and none other, has passed
into the glorious presence of God, where He "has gone as a fore-
runner on our behalf" (Heb. 6:20). It is He Himself, in all the
perfection of His, and our, exalted manhood, who now represents
An important function of the royal high priest is to bestow
the divine blessing upon the people of God. Thus we read in
Leviticus 9:22-23: "Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the
people and blessed them; and he came down from offering the
sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. And
Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting; and when they
came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the LORD ap-
peared to all the people." And the form of the high priestly blessing,
which is simply the declaration of the blessing which comes from
God, is given in Numbers 6:22-27: "The LORD said to Moses, Say
28 / Bibliotheca Sacra January 1974
to Aaron and his sons, Thus you shall bless the
you shall say to them, The LORD bless you and keep you: the
LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you:
The LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
shall they put my name upon the people of
bless them'." So also we are told that Melchizedek, priest of God
Most High, blessed Abraham (Gen. 14:19), and in doing so he
prefigured the blessing which was to flow from Him who is our
Melchizedek to all who through faith are the children of Abraham
(cf. Gal. 3:29). Indeed, the blessing promised to the world through
the seed of Abraham is, as Paul teaches, concentrated and fulfilled
in the single person of Christ (Gal. 3:8, 16-17).
The blessing which our heavenly High Priest bestows from the
true sanctuary above is made effective through the outpouring of
His Holy Spirit upon all flesh. Hence the affirmation of Peter on
the day of Pentecost: "Being therefore exalted at the right hand
of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the
Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear" (Acts
2:33). Through the blessing which the outpouring of the Holy Spirit
guarantees to us, our Redeemer exercises in our midst His threefold
office of prophet, priest, and king. As prophet, He who is the Truth
continues to teach us through the apostles whom He Himself had
taught, and to whom He had specifically promised that the Holy
Spirit, whom the Father would send in His name, would teach them
all things and bring to their remembrance all that He had said to
them (John 14:26). Accordingly, in the apostolic doctrine of the
New Testament we have the authentic doctrine of Christ Himself,
and through these writings He does not cease to lead us, as our
Prophet, into everlasting truth. The New Testament Scriptures
belong to the benediction of our exalted High Priest.
The central truth with which we are blessed, thanks to the
enlightening action of the Holy Spirit, is the knowledge of the
gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But the Spirit of Christ
does not only bring us face to face with evangelical truth, He also
applies the saving work of Christ to our hearts and lives. Through
the blessing of the Holy Spirit which Christ has poured out from
heaven we are enabled to experience the regenerating power of
God. The benefits of the Savior's atoning death are made a vital
and transforming reality, so that we who, like the prodigal in the
parable, are alienated from God by the rebellion of our sin are
The Present Work of Christ in Heaven / 29
blessed by restoration to the family relationship, calling penitently
and joyfully on God as our Father, as "the Spirit bears witness with
our spirit that we are the children of God" (Rom. 8:14-16).
So we experience the reconciling priestly work of Christ in
our lives; and so also, by the operation of the same blessed Holy
Spirit, we surrender ourselves to His service as our King. It is the
Holy Spirit who enables us to "sanctify Christ as Lord in our
hearts" (1 Peter 3:15), so that we know daily the benediction of
His sovereign rule in our lives. Our heavenly High Priest, "is seated
at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven" (Heb. 8:1);
but the same crucified Jesus, whom God raised up and made both
Lord and Christ, is at the same time, through the blessing of the
outpoured Holy Spirit, enthroned in every believing heart (Acts
2:36 ff.) Thus the blessing of the prophetic, priestly, and kingly
work of Christ is made a dynamic reality in our experience.
In consequence of the fact that His priesthood is everlasting,
Christ, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us, "is able for
all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he
always lives to make intercession for them" (7:24-25). Our Lord's
heavenly intercession is His continuing high priestly work whereby
He achieves the divine purpose of "bringing many sons to glory"
(2:10). It is, as we shall see, a most important and necessary work.
"So great and glorious is the work of saving believers unto the
utmost," John Owen comments, "that it is necessary that the Lord
Christ should lead a mediatory life in heaven, for the perfecting
and accomplishment of it: . . . It is generally acknowledged that
sinners could not be saved without the death of Christ; but that
believers could not be saved without the life of Christ following it,
is not so much considered."1
The most eloquent symbols of the intercessory function of
the high priest are found in the prescriptions for the sacerdotal gar-
ments which Aaron was to wear. In the shoulder-pieces of the
ephod two onyx stones were set on which the names of the sons
remembrance," because Aaron bore "their names before the LORD
upon his two shoulders for remembrance." And attached in front
1 John Owen, An Exposition to the Epistle to the Hebrews
1869), V, 542.
30 / Bibliotheca Sacra -- January 1974
to the two shoulder-pieces of the ephod was the breastpiece in which
were set twelve precious stones, in four rows of three, also engraved
with the names of the twelve sons of
names of the sons of
heart" when he went into the sanctuary, "to bring them to con-
tinual remembrance before the LORD (Exod. 28:6-12; 39:1-14).
Thus the people of God were carried by name into the divine
presence, supported, as it were, in their weakness ,on the strong
shoulders of their high priest,. and bound closely to his loving and
compassionate heart. Their high priest was their remembrancer.
He who is the Good Shepherd knows His own sheep by name
(John 10:3, 13). It is by name that as High Priest He intercedes
for them in the heavenly sanctuary, supporting them with His
victorious strength and ceaselessly surrounding them with His love.
In the hour of testing His help is always at hand (Heb. 2:18).
Precisely because "we have not a high priest who is unable to
sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has
been tempted as we are, yet without sinning," we are encouraged
to "with confidence, draw near to the throne of grace, that we
may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (4:15-16).
In his hour of trial Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, sees the
heavens opened and Jesus standing at God's right hand to support
him in martyrdom and to welcome him into His glorious presence
Our Lord's intercession on our behalf is always infallible in
its effectiveness. This we see even during His earthly ministry, for
He assures Simon Peter as the time of his testing approaches:
"I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you
have turned again [as the Master's intercession ensures that He
will], strengthen your brethren" (Luke 22:31-32). What confidence
it should give us, not only that our High Priest always intercedes
for us, but also that the Father always hears the Son (John 11:42)!
And above all, in the "High priestly prayer" of John 17 we have
a sacred glimpse of our Redeemer engaging in offering interces-
sion to the Father for those who are His: "I am praying for them;
I am not praying for the world but for those whom thou hast
given me, for they are thine. . . . Holy Father, keep them in thy
name which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as
we are one. . . . I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out
of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil
The Present Work of Christ in Heaven / 31
one. . . . Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth.... I do not
pray for these only, but also for those who are to believe in me
through their word, that they all may be one. . . . Father, I desire
that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where
I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for
me before the foundation of the world.... " (John 17:9, 11, 15,
17, 20, 24).
His intercession is our security. "Who will be the accuser of
chosen ones?" asks
it is who pronounces acquittal. Who will be the judge to condemn?
Will it be Christ he who died, and, more than that, was raised
from the dead--who is at God's right hand? No, he it is who
pleads our cause" (Rom. 8:33-34,
would dare to accuse us, whom God has chosen? The judge himself
has declared us free from sin. Who is in a position to condemn?
Only Christ, and Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ
reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us," i.e. "intercedes for
us," RSV). Obviously, then, nothing can possibly separate us from
the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, nothing in the whole of
creation not tribulation, distress, persecution, hunger, nakedness,
peril, sword, not even death (Rom. 8:35-39). When the Christian
falls into sin, Jesus Christ is still his righteousness, for it is still
in Him, and not to the smallest degree in ourselves, that we are
justified before God. There in the heavenly sanctuary He intercedes
as our advocate (paraclete):
"If a man should sin," says
"remember that our advocate before the Father is Jesus Christ the
righteous, the one who made personal atonement for our sins"
(1 John 2:1-2, Phillips).
Moreover, our Lord's advocacy in heaven is reinforced, so to
speak, by the advocacy of the Holy Spirit within us here on earth,
in accordance with His promise that when He was glorified He
would pray the Father, who would then send another advocate
(paraclete) to be with us forever, even the Spirit of truth (John
14:16-18; cf. 7:39; 16:7). The sending of the Holy Spirit is a
comprehensive blessing for which we are indebted to the intercession
of Christ! And the Holy Spirit, who "bears witness with our
spirit that we are children of God," inwardly "helps us in our
weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the
Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words,"
and he does so in harmony with the will of God (Rom. 8:16, 26-27).
32 / Bibliotheca Sacra January 1974
Hence the apostolic injunction to "pray at all times in the Spirit"
(Eph. 6:18). The intercession of the Holy Spirit in the temple of
our bodies (1 Cor. 6:19) is united with the intercession of the Son
in the sanctuary of heaven and brings the joy of heaven into the
heart of the believer.
It follows that, since Christ is the sole mediator between God
and men (1 Tim. 2:5) and our perpetual intercessor in the presence
of God, there is no place for any other intercessor or mediator.
To imagine that saints or angels can be influenced to intercede for
us is not only a delusion, but also casts doubt on the perfect
adequacy of the intercession of Christ on our behalf and thus is to
deprive oneself of the fulness of the security which is available to
us only in Christ. Our Lord clearly taught that no man can come
to the Father except by Him (John 14:6) and that our requests to
God are to be made in His name (John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23,
24, 26), precisely because there is no other name which avails and
prevails with God (cf. Acts 4:12).
In considering the intercessory work of our heavenly High
Priest, there is of course no place for any kind of "dualistic" notion,
as though a well-disposed Son were attempting to persuade a
hostile Father to regard us with favor. God is not divided, and there
is always perfect harmony between Father and Son. The oneness
in purpose and performance in the relationship between the Father
and the Son was plainly and constantly taught by our Lord, as the
following quotations show: "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can
do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father
doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise;.... I have
come down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of him
who sent me. . . . My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me... .
And he who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I
always do what is pleasing to him. . . . I and the Father are one:.. .
He who believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.
And he who sees me sees him who sent me. . . . Believe me that I
am in the Father and the Father in me" (John 5:19; 6:38; 7:16;
8:29; 10:30; 12:44; 14:11). So also Paul asserts that the whole of
our redemption, from beginning to end, is from God, since "God
was in Christ reconciling the world to himself" (2 Cor. 5:18-21).
And the author of Hebrews places the words of Psalm 40. "Lo, I
have come to do thy will, 0 God," on the lips of Christ, explaining
that "by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of
The Present Work of Christ in Heaven / 33
the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (10:7-10). The grace of God
precedes and is the sole cause of our restoration: thus "God shows
his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for
God's love (1 John 4:9-10).
The intercession of the Son, then, is in no sense a pleading
with the Father to change His attitude toward us. Nor does the
Father have to be reminded of the full redemption that He Him-
self has provided for us in His Son. The presence of the Lamb
bearing the marks of His passion in heaven is itself the perpetual
guarantee of our acceptance with God, who gave His Son to be the
propitiation for our sins. In ourselves, however, though we have
the forgiveness of our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ and
though we are united to Him in love and trust, we are unworthy
because Christ has not yet been fully formed within us and we still
sinfully fall short of the glory of God. This consideration explains
our continuing need of the advocacy and intercession of Him who
alone is accounted worthy before God (cf. Rev. 5:1-10). It is in
His worthiness that we too rejoice in the blessings of the divine
favor; and it is He who, by virtue of His atoning death on the
cross, has entered as our forerunner into the heavenly sanctuary
(Heb. 6:19-20), thus opening the way for us, unworthy though we
are, into the glorious presence of God Himself. By the grace of
God His merit has been reckoned to us as our merit; His heaven
has become our heaven and His eternal glory our eternal glory.
What, then, could be more appropriate than for me to conclude
these articles, with the great exhortation of Hebrews 10:19-25 an
exhortation which stands logically on the firm basis of the wonderful
doctrine of divine grace which has been engaging our attention?
Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary
by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened
for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we
have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a
true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled
clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure
water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering,
for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir
up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet
together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and
all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
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