Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, is the one whose perfect life and sin-atoning death serves as the only possible bridge between sinful man and a holy God. Accordingly, all our prayers must go “through” him.
As Our Savior, Jesus Opened the Way to God
Our status as sinners originated when Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden, resulting in enmity between them and God. As descendants of that first man and wife, we “all sinned” in Adam (Romans 5:12), inheriting the guilt of sin as well as a sin nature and consequent need for a Redeemer. The appearance of that Redeemer was foreshadowed right there in the garden. Our sacrificial lamb. To hide their shame by their own means, Adam and Eve sewed together a covering of fig leaves (Genesis 3:7-10). God saw that their sin and shame required a covering over; he also saw that their attempt was completely inadequate. So, in mercy he provided a proper solution, foreshadowing the ultimate solution: God made them garments of animal skins (Genesis 3:21). The fact that these were skins speaks clearly of sin being so serious an affront against God’s holy nature that it calls for death. Thus, death entered the garden as a direct result of sin. Just as blood had to be shed to create adequate garments for Adam and Eve, thereby covering over the shame of sin, one day the blood of the Son, the Lamb of God (John 1:29), would be shed for sinful humanity, conclusively solving the problem of sin. The atoning work of Jesus on the cross, where he voluntarily offered his own shed blood, opened the way to God.
As Our High Priest, Jesus Stands Between Us and the Father
Now that Jesus has ascended back to the Father, his ministry to us continues. The door to God that the Son opened for us, through his death, he now keeps open in his role as our High Priest.
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.Heb. 10:19-22
To its original readers this passage carried more meaning than it naturally does for us. “Holy places,” “curtain,” “great priest,” “house of God,” “draw near,” “sprinkled clean,” and “washed with pure water” all refer to Old Testament physical practices that foreshadowed New Testament spiritual realities. In this complex, layered passage we see reference to Jesus as Savior (“the blood of Jesus”) but also as our “great priest over the house of God.”
Making a sacrificial offering. In ancient Israel the holy place was the exclusive, innermost room of the Temple in Jerusalem. It was open only to the high priest, only once per year, and only on the condition that he enter with the blood of an acceptable offering. As the ultimate High Priest, Jesus would later enter the true holy place in heaven, just once, to offer himself as the sinless sacrifice for his people (Hebrews 9:24-26; 10:1-14). By bringing his own blood to the throne of God, Jesus satisfied God’s holy standard and bore away God’s wrath against our sin (Romans 3:25). He achieved all of this “through his flesh,” that is, by his humanity, the “curtain” torn apart to gain our access to God (Matthew 27:51).
Interceding. In addition to offering sacrifice while in the holy place, the high priest of ancient Israel would also pray for the people, interceding on their behalf before God. Again, this was ultimately a foreshadowing of Jesus. As our “great priest over the house of God,” Jesus Christ is the eternal, living intercessor for God’s household, the church, and is uniquely qualified for this role as the only one who has lived both in flesh as man and in heaven as God. This leads us to the next section.
As the God-Man, Jesus Understands Human Frailty.
Just as the high priest in the Temple of ancient Israel could relate to and thus represent his people before God while in the physical holy of holies, our High Priest in the heavens took on flesh and lived on earth in that body for more than 30 years. Therefore, he can relate fully to our struggles.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For 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. 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.Heb. 4:14-16
In Jesus, every Christian possesses the acceptable Mediator who has already satisfied the holy wrath of God against our sin. As a result, we may boldly come to the Father “in Jesus’ name”—that is, through the blood and complete worthiness of Jesus. But Jesus our great High Priest did more than complete a task for us; as our mediator he also understands us.
“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Hebrews 5:7). Are you not struck by the phrase “with loud cries and tears?” I am. The image of Jesus weeping should stamp upon our minds the reality of his humanity. When he cried out to the Father in anguish in the garden called Gethsemane—his raw emotions wrestling against the fact of his impending death—his bloody sweat was mingled with many tears. This helps us realize just how human Jesus was (and still is). Our theology rightly teaches us that Jesus is both 100% God and 100% man, but do we ponder enough the connection between the humanity of Jesus and the privilege of prayer?
It was in “the days of His flesh” that Jesus prayed. As the virgin-born Son of God, Jesus walked the same human road we walk (except for the guilt of sin). As part of his humanity, the pattern he established at the beginning of his public ministry to rise early in the morning and go to a desolate place to pray continued until the night before his death (Mark 1:35; Matthew 26:36).
Through the disciplined lifestyle of prayer, Jesus admitted the weakness of his—and thus our—humanity. As Henry Thiessen puts it, “If the Son of God needed to pray, how much more do we need to wait upon God.” By calling us to pray, and by opening the door into this fellowship by means of the shed blood of his Son, God reminds us of our human weakness and invites us to ongoing fellowship in his presence. From personal experience Jesus knows exactly how hard life can be in these bodies, having experienced every kind of temptation we will ever face. Our Savior is both sympathetic and empathetic. Therefore we can confidently draw near to him in our time of need. His throne is truly a “throne of grace,” dispensing mercy and help to us whenever we call upon God through him.