How Jesus’ Present Ministry Allows You to Confess Your Sins

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What is Jesus doing in heaven right now? What does His present ministry have to do with your prayers of confession?

Jesus’ Heavenly Session

The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

– Hebrews 7:23-25

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

– Romans 8:34

Much has been said concerning the earthly work of Christ for the believer. Christ lived a perfectly righteous life before God, preached the gospel of His kingdom, proved His claims about himself through signs and wonders, bore the sins of His people on the cross, vindicated His message through rising from the dead, and ascended into heaven as King with all authority over heaven and earth (Mt. 28:18).

On the other end of the timeline, plenty has been taught of Christ’s return including its nature, its timing, and what will happen at his return. However, little attention in modern theology has been paid to what Christ is doing presently, a term theologians call Christ’s “heavenly session.”

Jesus the High Priest and King Over All

The heavenly session is a term that describes Christ’s ministry on behalf of all believers spanning the time of His ascension until His second coming. It includes all that Christ is currently doing as both High Priest and King.

Two of the main passages that speak of Christ’s present work for believers are Hebrews 7:23-25 and Romans 8:34. The Hebrews passage contrasts the temporary and earthly ministry of the Levitical priests with the eternal and ongoing ministry of Christ in heaven. Hebrews 7:25 describes this ongoing ministry as “making intercession” and focuses on Christ’s role as High Priest.

Similarly, Romans 8:34 affirms that Christ, presently seated at the right hand of the Father in his kingly role, is currently interceding for believers. Both passages speak of Christ currently interceding but one focuses on His high priestly role and the other His kingship.

What Jesus’ Heavenly Session Is

Though the details of this intercession have been debated, for the sake of this article, John Walvoord’s broad view of intercession as “the entire work of Christ in his present work of mediation in heaven”[1] will be adopted. Berkhof emphasizes the active nature of this current intercessory work,

“It deserves emphasis that Christ, while He is seated at the right hand of God, is not merely a passive recipient of divine dominion and power, majesty and glory, but is actively engaged in the continuation of His mediatorial work.”

– Louis Berkhof 1

Jesus is not in heaven waiting around until the time is right to return. He is actively engaged in important ministry.

As hinted above, this all-encompassing intercessory work of Christ spans His multiple offices and roles. He is a High Priest who ministers in the heavenly places on behalf of His people. Jesus is also the ascendant King who reigns from His throne. Additionally, He is the divine-human representative and advocate for man before God. All these roles of Christ have a vital impact on a believer’s prayer, specifically prayers of confession. The purpose of this article is to show the many ways in which Christ’s various roles in His heavenly session form the basis for a believer’s confession of sin.

Jesus’ Heavenly Session and the Churches of Revelation

Perhaps the most detailed explanation of some of Jesus’ present ministry occurs in Revelation chapters 1-3. Here Jesus is pictured as a high priest who also exercises authority and oversight of His churches. He is the one who calls them to account for their sins, blesses their obedience and faithfulness, promises reward, and even threatens to remove a church’s witness if His calls to repentance are not heeded (Rev. 2:5). Much more could be said concerning this aspect of Jesus’ work but the purpose of this article is primarily focusing on the believer’s prayer and Christ’s current ministry.

You Can Approach God Confidently in Prayer Because of Christ’s High Priesthood

Before you can even begin to confess your sin, you must know that it is acceptable for you to approach God. The central issue is the problem of human sin and how it damages your relationship with a holy God. The prophet Isaiah warned Israel that, “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Is. 59:2). God’s punishment for sinful beings is expulsion from His presence.

God Responds to Sin Through Expulsion of the Sinner From His Presence

From the time of Adam and Eve onward, the Bible shows how sin separates man from his Creator. After Adam and Eve sinned, they were denied access to God as evidenced in their removal from the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:20-24). Though chosen as God’s people, the Israelites were denied access to God’s presence in the tabernacle save for the high priest’s entrance once a year, and only then after purification and sacrifice had to be offered to atone for his sin and the sin of the people he represented (Lev. 16).

Additionally, the penalty of death was threatened against anyone who entered into God’s tabernacle presence in any way, or at any time, other than through the divinely prescribed means (Lev. 16:1-2). The barriers in the tabernacle system that kept people away from God’s holy presence communicated a clear message that God’s sinful people were not allowed access unless a purified representative came on their behalf bringing sacrifice.

Fortunately, Jesus’ death, resurrection and intercessory role in heaven deals with this impasse. Hebrews 10:19-20 assures God’s people that Jesus has provided a way of heavenly access to God through the sacrifice of Himself on the cross.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that 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.”

– Hebrews 10:19-22

Notice that this passage from Hebrews teaches that it is both the work of Jesus on the cross and His current role as High priest before God that allows the Christian to draw near to God. Jesus does not serve in an earthly tabernacle like the Israelite priests of old, but serves as a “minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man” (Heb. 8:2). The earthly tabernacle in the Old Testament was merely a copy of the true tabernacle in heaven where Jesus currently serves as High Priest.

Because of this, believers are invited to “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” because Jesus’ sacrifice has applied His atoning blood on their impure hearts and consciences (Heb. 10:22). The issue of sin’s separating influence has been defeated. The result of this purification is “confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19). As William Lane concludes,

“Christ’s present intercessory ministry is seen to be a direct consequence of his sacrifice, which provides a ground for boldness in approaching God.”[2]

– William Lane

Without this intercession, man would never be allowed to approach God acceptably in prayer.

Christ’s Exalted Position as Priest-King Requires Humility in Confession

Though the believer has justification for boldness in approaching God in confession, an attitude of humility is still required. This humility is necessary for two reasons.

First, Christ reigns as an exalted and divine priest-king. Since Christ is one person with multiple roles, His role as High priest should not be disconnected from His kingship. Therefore, confessing believers approach both a priest and a king. Farrow makes the following connection,

“Ephesians, for example, makes it quite plain that the church is founded in and with the ascension of Christ, who by virtue of his heavenly session is given to it as ‘head over everything.’ The ecclesial communion as such is the prophetic sign to the world that God has organized all things around the one whom he has enthroned at his right hand.”[3]

– Douglas Farrow

Thus, if Christ is the head of the church presently reigning as King, the subjects of the King ought to approach with a humble disposition suitable to this relationship. The Apostle Peter affirms humility in prayer (1 Pe. 5:6-7) as does James in describing how one should draw near to God (James 4:6-8).

Second, humility is warranted since the confessing believer does not approach on his own merit. As already stated above, access is granted in prayer only through Christ’s sacrifice and mediating work. MacLeod argues that it is only Christ’s representing work on behalf of the sinner which allows one both favor and acceptance before God.[4] Thus, there is no justifiable confidence in self in prayer, only confidence in the work of Christ on the sinner’s behalf.

Jesus’ Sympathy Encourages Your Confession

It might be intimidating for someone to approach a divine king with the shamefulness of his personal sin. However, Scripture also affirms that Jesus is a sympathetic high priest who understands human feebleness and struggles as sinners. There isn’t anything you’ve done that Jesus doesn’t know about or understand.

Consider these words from Hebrews,

“we do not have 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 sin”

– Hebrews 4:15

Though Jesus is perfect and never sinned in any way, he still understands our weaknesses as humans since He too experienced a human nature and all its weakness. This description of Christ’s intimate knowledge of man’s struggle is followed by an invitation to approach God,

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need”

– Hebrews 4:16

As the divine high priest, Jesus is completely aware of why you sin and what you’ve done. He too personally experienced every temptation that men do. Moreover, the fact that Christ is God and thus omniscient, reminds confessors that He understands their situation fully and knows their sin already yet still invites them to come and receive forgiveness!

Additionally, the very concept of priesthood implies a representative mediator that intercedes on behalf of a party in need. Christ, as high priest, is designated as one to represent sinful people. MacLeod observes that under the Levitical system, “the high priest entered the holy of holies as the representative of the people” (Heb. 9:7). [5] Calvin describes this representation in more detail:

“It is certain that, from the beginning, those who prayed were not heard save by the Mediator’s grace. For this reason, God had taught in the law that the priest alone entering the sanctuary should bear the names of the tribes of Israel upon his shoulders and the same number of precious stones on his breastplate [Ex. 28:9-21], but the people should stand afar off in the court, and there join their petitions with the priest. . . . Therefore, that foreshadowing ceremony of the law taught us that we are all barred from God’s presence, and consequently need a Mediator”[6]

– John Calvin

Christ’s heavenly ministry in the New Covenant follows the same pattern as the Aaronic high priesthood in that He enters into the heavenly tabernacle “on our behalf” through His shed blood (Heb. 9:24). Therefore, instead of fleeing from God in shame after sinning like Adam and Eve, the sinner is encouraged to make use of Christ’s high priestly ministry on his behalf and draw near in confession to receive forgiveness.

Thus, Christ’s priestly and kingly roles work together to bring forgiveness to the sinner. Palmer points out that because Christ is a priest who ministers on behalf of sinners, He is not a King that refuses the appeals His lowly subjects.[7] Instead, His priesthood is intricately woven into his kingship. Herman Bavinck summarizes this marriage of roles by making the following connections:

“We have a perfect high priest, one who learned obedience, who perfected himself, who became like us, who can have compassion with us, who once for all offered himself through the eternal Spirit, but who in that way also secured the right to sit at the right hand of God. He is a high priest who, like Melchizedek, is at the same time king, king of righteousness and king of peace, an eternal, spiritual, and heavenly king; a high priest who acquired, possesses, and distributes the heavenly goods to come, who can appear before the face of God for our benefit, pray for us, and save us completely….And this describes the priestly activity that Christ still performs even now.”[8]

– Herman Bavinck

Thus, Christ’s kingship and priesthood work together, allowing the sinner to humbly approach the one who understands their need and ready and able to dispense the help required.

Christ’s Perfect Offering of Atonement as High Priest Assures You Will Be Completely Cleansed and Forgiven

So far, it has been argued that the confessing believer has confidence to approach God, that this approach should be done with an attitude of humility, and that the one who approaches should take courage through Christ’s sympathy and representation. But how is the confessor to know if the sins that he confesses will actually be forgiven?

First, God promises to do so. 1 John 1:9 conveys this promise:

“if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

– 1 John 1:9

Yet God does not forgive by fiat alone; He administrates forgiveness and cleansing through Christ’s intercessory work.

Additionally, this intercession cannot be separated from Christ’s offering of himself as both high priest and sacrifice. Berkhof, quoting Luther, argues that

“the essence of the Intercession is Atonement; and the Atonement is essentially an Intercession….[the Intercession] is judicial, representative, and priestly intercession, and not a mere exercise of influence, — because it is essentially an Atonement or substitutionary oblation, once perfected on Calvary, now perpetually presented and undergoing perpetual acceptance in heaven.”[9]

– Martin Luther

Thus, Christ’s intercessory work stands on His once-for-all atoning work on the cross as well as dispensing the benefits of that work to believers.

Furthermore, Christ serves as the believer’s advocate before God. An advocate is one who stands in support of a person or cause. Christ’s advocacy is explicitly stated in 1 John 2:1,

“if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous”.[10]

– 1 John 2:1

Here, Christ stands in support for the believer that has sinned. Instead of facing condemnation from the Father for that sin, Christ appeals for forgiveness to the Father on behalf of the believer. This appeal is based on Christ’s own work as the perfect divine-man who is the propitiation for sins for all who believe (1 John 2:2). The completeness of Christ’s atonement means that a believer’s sin is completely covered in its entirety. Thus, when a believer sins, he can come to Christ, as one covered by Christ’s sacrifice, and appeal for mercy and forgiveness. Christ then, as advocate, brings that appeal to the Father for efficacy. Hughes asserts that Christ’s appeals are always heard. He writes,

“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)!” [11]

– Philip Edgdcumbe Hughes

The Father hears the Son and grants the Son’s request. The Son’s appeal results in the sinner’s forgiveness and purification (1 John 1:9). Colin Kruse explains these benefits in greater detail:

“God’s forgiveness means that he no longer holds people’s sins against them; he cancels their ‘debt’. . . . God’s purifying them ‘from all unrighteousness’. . . means that he removes the defilement their sins had produced.”[12]

– Colin Kruse

Therefore, since Christ’s “single offering” perfects for all time (Heb. 9:26-28, 10:14), and since the Father accepts the Son’s offering and allows Him to advocate on behalf of sinful men, the confessing believer can be assured that his prayers for forgiveness are heard and accepted and that his sin is cleansed. Christ’s effective intercessory role achieves what the believer seeks in confession.

Christ’s Intercession Assures the Completeness of Salvation and the Promise of God’s Unfailing Love to the Confessing Believer

Christ’s advocacy not only assures the cleansing of daily sin, but also assures the completeness of salvation and the promise of God’s unfailing love. The Apostle Paul addresses the condemnation of Christ’s followers as it relates to Christ’s intercession in Romans 8:33-34 when he writes,

“Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who is interceding for us.”

– Romans 8:33-34

Paul is careful not to point just to the death of Christ as the believer’s assurance regarding eternal salvation. He includes Christ’s ascension and current intercession in heaven also as the basis for the believer’s assurance. Paul’s argument is that no one can condemn a believer due to Christ’s past death and current intercession on their behalf. No accusations against the believer, whether by human agents or evil spirits, have any standing before God. Berkhof affirms this and writes,

“Satan the accuser is ever bent on bringing charges against the elect; but Christ meets them all by pointing to His completed work. He is the Paraklete, the Advocate, for His people, answering all the charges that are brought against them.”[13]

– Louis Berkhof

Therefore, the confessing believer does not need to worry about any charges of condemnation due to his sin. In Christ, all has been taken care of. There is no need for a guilty conscience or fear of eternal separation from God.

Furthermore, Paul goes on to state that Christ’s intercessory advocacy assures the confessing believer of God’s unfailing love. Sin produces shame in the hearts of those that know they have done wrong but want to do better. Shame can also bring along with it a questioning of God’s love for the sinner. Paul removes all doubt when he asserts that nothing in all creation is “able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39). This assurance flows out of Paul’s affirmation of Christ’s intercession before God against all charges.

Whether the believer faces withering criticism, the hardships of life, or the pain of his own conscience, the truth of Christ’s ongoing advocacy confronts any doubt that God’s love has been pulled away from his child. Thus, approaching God in confession can, and should be, a reminder of God’s great love. In Christ, the sinner is accepted, his sin is removed and cleansed, and the love of God is reaffirmed once again.

Conclusion

Christ’s all-encompassing work as intercessor means that as a believer, you can have confidence to confess your sin. Christ’s role as High priest and King assures that you are invited to bring your sin verbally to the Father’s throne, to appeal for forgiveness in humility on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice, to receive forgiveness and cleansing, and to be assured of God’s love for you.

Thus, Christ’s ongoing intercessory work is of daily significance to the believer who is always sinning and always in need of pardon. Palmer summarizes this ongoing connection between the praying believer and Christ’s intercession in the following way:

“Wherein consists the secret of true prayer? The answer will be, In the perfect blending of our desires with the petitions issuing from the lips of our Advocate on high. There is a most precious sympathy, never fully understood on earth, established by the divine Spirit between the Christian in his closet and the Intercessor before the throne. We do not, perhaps, realize that the ardent longings of our hearts in prayer have been taken right out from the heart of the great Intercessor, and wrought into the affections of the saint below. This gives prayer its mysterious efficacy. Being at one with him who effectively pleads above, his petition becomes our prayer ascending to heaven with all the fervency of his desire. It is no longer the cold homage of the lip, but the outbreathing of a heart in strange, yet blissful, fellowship with him who has purchased all for us with his atoning blood.”[14]

– Benjamin Morgan Palmer

Every confessing believer should take heart that Christ is at this very moment willing and able to receive all acknowledgements of failure and ready, with the Father, to dispense the blessings of forgiveness and cleansing through his atoning sacrifice.

Bibliography

Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003.

Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996.

Calvin, John. Calvin’s Commentaries 22. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2009.

_____. Institutes of the Christian Religion. eds. John Baillie, John T. McNeill, and Henry P. Van Dusen. trans. Ford Lewis Battles. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960.

Ellingworth, Paul. The Epistle to the Hebrews. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993.

Farrow, Douglas. Ascension and Ecclesia. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999.

Frame, John. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013.

Hughes, Philip Edgcumbe. “The Blood of Jesus and His Heavenly Priesthood in Hebrews. Part IV: The Present Work of Christ in Heaven.” Bibliotecha sacra 131, no. 521 (Jan-Mar. 1974): 26-33.

Kruse, Colin G. The Letters of John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000.

Lane, William L. Hebrews 1-8. Word Biblical Commentary 47A. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.

Mackie, Scott D. “Heavenly Sanctuary Mysticism in the Epistle to the Hebrews.” Journal of Theological Studies 62, pt. 1 (April 2011): 77-117.

MacLeod, David J. “The Present Work of Christ in Hebrews.” Bibliotecha sacra 148, no. 590 (April-June 1991): 184-200.

Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996.

O’Brien, Peter T. The Letter to the Hebrews. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

Palmer, Benjamin Morgan. Theology of Prayer. Harrisonburg, Virginia: Sprinkle Publications, 1980.

Wallace, R.S. “Intercession of Christ,” Vol. 2 of The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979.

Walvoord, John F. “The Present Work of Christ. Part IV: The Present Work of Christ in Heaven.” Bibliotecha sacra 121, no. 484 (Oct.-Dec. 1964): 291-302.

Footnotes

[1] Walvoord, John F. “The Present Work of Christ. Part IV: The Present Work of Christ in Heaven,” 100.

[2] Lane, William L. Hebrews 1-8. Word Biblical Commentary 47A, 190.

[3] Farrow, Douglas. Ascension and Ecclesia, 32.

[4] MacLeod, David J. “The Present Work of Christ in Hebrews,” 189.

[5] Ibid, 188.

[6] Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, 875.

[7] Palmer, Benjamin Morgan. Theology of Prayer, 282.

[8] Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3, 478.

[9] Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology, 402. It is unclear from the footnote which work of Luther Berkhof is quoting.

[10] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptural quotations will be from the English Standard Version.

[11] Hughes, Philip Edgcumbe. “The Blood of Jesus and His Heavenly Priesthood in Hebrews: Part IV,” 30.

[12] Kruse, Colin G. The Letters of John, 69.

[13] Berkhof, 402-3.

[14] Palmer, 265.

Jim Rosenquist

Jim Rosenquist

Jim is Founder, Editor, and Author at 4Elect. He holds a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Reformed Theological Seminary. Jim rejoices that God chooses insignificant people to bring glory to Himself.

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Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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