This article seeks to answer the question of why we are not seeing many more miraculously sudden inner healings in the church today. Whilst not denying the great work being done by the increasing army of Christian counsellors and pastoral workers, we need to think beyond the paradigm of lengthy therapy and “tolerable recovery” (Neil Anderson) that often seems to be accepted as normal. I want to suggest the key to this transformation is the authority of the intercession of Christ in heaven.
In commenting on Ephesians 2:13 “the blood of Christ”, Markus Barth says: “Spilled blood speaks louder than a voice. If God hears the prayers of oral petition and intercession – how much more does he hear the cry of his beloved Son, the Messiah! Blood augments the urgency of intercession.” This is a very potent biblical perspective.
The Intercession of Jesus on the Earth
According to Isaiah 53:12, “Jesus bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.” This reminds us of his “loud cries and groans” (Heb 5:7) in the Garden of Gethsemane, or his words on the cross, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). It is completely legitimate, when we consider the inner nature of intercession as identification with the suffering others for the sake of relieving their pain, to say of the crucifixion, “Jesus prayed himself to death.”
According to scripture, “the life of the flesh is in the blood.” (Lev 17:11). The shedding of Jesus blood therefore means the “giving of his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45). It is the blood of Jesus beyond the words of Jesus that tells us that his life is the prayer offered for our salvation on the cross. As they say, “actions speak louder than words.” The blood tells us that Jesus has actually died, that is, paid the wages for our sin (Rom 6:23).
Nevertheless, we seem to have a basic problem: “How can the death of a man 2000 years ago impact us today?” The answer lies in the heavenly realms – Jesus’ blood is still active in heaven at the present time.
The Intercession of Jesus in Heaven
The author of Hebrews, who is particularly interested in the High Priesthood of Christ, tells us that “he is able to save completely those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Heb 7:25). According to this inspired writer, when Jesus ascended to heaven “through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.” (Heb 9:11-12). We need to ask, “What was his blood doing in heaven?”
The author goes on to explain, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Thus it was necessary for the sketches of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves need better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” (Heb 9:23- 4). In other words, Jesus is able to effectively intercede for us in heaven because his blood proclaims before the Father our forgiveness.
This is made even clearer by a later passage: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and to the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Heb 12:22-24). This very illuminating scripture informs us that whilst the blood of Abel “cries out from the ground” (Gen 4:10) for vengeance, the blood of Jesus cries out in heaven for our forgiveness. Yet someone might still say, “I am not in heaven!” This brings us to the centre of this article.
The Church is the Heavenly Tent where Christ’s Blood is Sprinkled
The passage immediately quoted above tells us that we (Christians) have “come” to the heavenly world. This is unsurprising as Isaiah teaches that the “the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity… dwells also with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit” (57:15; 66:1- 2). Paul additionally speaks of believers as “Seated in the heavenly places” (Eph 2:6; 1:3 etc.). The heavenly reality of Christian existence is therefore not a strange topic to the biblical testimony.
The most helpful, and I think conclusive text, for this subject is Revelation 13:6: “It (the beast) opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven.” The church is not merely the final dwelling place of God (Rev 21:1 -3) but it is the dwelling or tent or temple of God now! But we still seems to be faced with a problem, “Even if the blood of Christ shed 2000 years ago is active in heaven where a Christian is situated spiritually or relationally, how is this registered in our experience? How is it real to us?”
The answer is as simple as it is profound; the interceding blood of Jesus speaks immediately to the conscience. If the law brings a “consciousness of sin” (Rom 3:20; Heb 10:2), “the blood of Christ cleanses our conscience from works that lead to death to worship the living God!” (Heb 9:14). We are able to approach God (who lives in heaven) “with our hearts sprinkled clean (by Jesus’ blood) from a guilty conscience” (Heb 10:22).
To put this another way, if the church is the temple/tent/dwelling of God, then the conscience corresponds to the Holy Place where the blood of atonement is applied to authorize full and final forgiveness of sins. It is the state of the Christian conscience that is so crucial for interaction with the heavenly sphere as the realm of God.
It is self –evident that our physical bodies, decaying as they are, presently belong to this world and not to the world to come (Rom 8:10). It is plain that our confused minds have not yet attained to the perfect clarity of eternity (1 Cor 13:12). Yet the perfection of conscience is the gift offered by God in the gospel of Christ: “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified….I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” (Heb 10:14, 17). The perfect conscience of the Christian, or, what Paul would call their justified status, is the one element of our current earthly existence that can interface on equal terms with the glorious realm above. We could say that whilst our bodies and souls are on earth our conscience is in heaven.
Jesus is Preaching To and Through the Church Today
We have already established from Hebrews 12:23 that, conscience – wise, we are in the company of Jesus and other perfected saints in heaven. This is the Jesus who remains active in our midst: “For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one Father. For this reason he is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying, ‘I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.” (Heb 2:12). Jesus is proclaiming to us today what he is interceding for us in heaven – this can only be the message of full and final forgiveness.
This is exactly the authority that he promised to hand on to his disciples before he was exalted to the Father: “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven, if you retain the sins of any they are retained.” (John 20:23). In other words, the church on earth, because it is also the dwelling place of the eternal God in heaven, has authority to declare to the troubled consciences of men and women that the barrier between them and God is totally removed.
Surely the impact of this is to be astounding. As astounding that is as the sort of miraculously sudden inner healings that appear on the pages of the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. Doubtless, if God can release this reality in our midst we will see a revolution in all forms of Christian counselling and ministry.
Conclusion: Do We Want a Heavenly Church
In writing this piece the thought suddenly entered into my mind that perhaps we don’t want what Jesus has to offer. Whether we are intercessors, counselors, pastors or simply “pew dwellers” perhaps we are comfortable with an identity that allows things to drag on indefinitely as they have more or less always been. This certainly seems to fit the picture of what is actually happening in the Australian church.
It would be foolish of me to claim to be familiar with everything that is going on, but I do not seem to be aware of many who take an approach to ministry that is focused on the matters discussed above. Certainly, the very earthly emphases of the dominant preaching modes in the contemporary church – “how to get on with life” sort of stuff, hardly correspond to the heavenly dynamic of the New Testament revelation. In many cases we may have become so earthly minded as to be of little heavenly use.
Perhaps we want to keep ourselves within the predictable and safe law – priest/mediator – offering system that belongs to the old covenant. This system kept rearing its ugly head time and again even in the days of the apostles. (See especially Galatians and Hebrews.) It is a system that certainly has its earthly rewards.
I suppose, given the very radical nature – heavenly and perfect –of the work of Christ discussed in this paper only God can do something about freeing us from old systems. Nevertheless, if Blood Speaks Louder Than Words, perhaps it is time to reconsider the nature of our prayers for ourselves and our world. Certainly, in those regions where believers are literally following in the way of Jesus and praying themselves to death, an impact of the gospel on the consciences of the hearers of the sort described in this article is real.
Are we willing to pray ourselves to death too? If the answer is “No!” it can only be because we still fear death as the wages of sin. Caught in such a vicious circle all we can do is look towards our heavenly intercessor and ask that his perfect sacrifice prevail in our midst.
Questions for Discussion and Application
1. Does your approach to Christian prayer ministry base itself on consciously aligning itself with what Jesus is interceding in heaven? (The constant danger in counselling is the reversion to formula.)
2. The popular motivation for healing as a better experience of life is incompatible with healing as an expression of the glory of God in heaven. Is this truth consciously factored into your approach to helping suffering people?
3. This paper focuses upon the heavenly and eternal dimensions of what has already been achieved for the believer in Jesus e.g. Heb 911- 12;12:22- 24. Linking Isaiah 57:15; 66:1-2 with Philippians 2:5- 11 suggests humility is the key to experiencing the perfect and eternal. What are some ways you have been able to grow in this area as it applies to the practice of prayer ministry.
4. Here are a few quotes on the place of conscience:
“conscience rules the intellect.”
“the new creation is a recreation of the conscience.”
“this is the authority…not of conscience, however enlightened, but of Christ in the conscience…” (P.T. Forsyth)
“faith rises through conscience and not through intellect” (O. Hallesby)
“Guilt alone is he absolute evil.” (Karl Heim)
“Conscience is a far greater thing than heaven and earth. If it did not exist, hell would have no fire or even pain….if the devil did not have a bad conscience he would be in heaven.” (Luther)
“Nothing can pacify an offended conscience but that which has satisfied an offended God.” (Matthew Henry)
This paper gives a central role to conscience and so assumes that at the root of all bondages is a sense of alienation from God (guilt). How does this profile compare with your practice of counseling – e.g. you could e focused on emotional pain, the powers of evil etc.
5. What are some of the ways God is using to promote urgent intercession in contemporary comfortable Australia where it is extremely unlikely we will be able to literally “pray ourselves to death”?