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"Our Answer is God. God's answer is us. Through partnership we make our world better."
- Dorian Scott Cole


Intercession - speaking directly to God

Or not

Copyright © 2009 Dorian S. Cole


Is there any value in someone interceding with God for us? Is there any reason why we can't speak directly to God ourselves? Historically, people haven't always wanted to stand before God with their bad deeds in hand. But throughout history people have prayed for other's conversion or protection, but not for forgiveness for their sins. Forgiveness and guidance are personal and must be requested personally. Others sometimes represent God for other functions. But there are times when we would like for others to represent God in other ways.

The corporate and the personal relationship with God

There is a difference between the corporate (organized) relationship with God, and the personal relationship. Jesus demonstrated the personal relationship with God for us in both the way he prayed and the way he suggested we pray. He never asked us to pray through anyone else. When he told the disciples how to pray, he didn't start with the prelude, "Oh great God of all the universe...." No, he began with the more personal, "Our Father...." Nor did he say, "Oh, God, I'm having my more eloquent, affluent, wise, and less sinful religious leader pray for me. No, he said pray, "Our father... forgive us..."

Jesus’ prayers to God usually did not use the formal Hebrew personal address, Father, but used the common Aramaic word indicating close familiarity, "Abba." It was like saying, "Daddy," as a little child talks to his father. The Apostle Paul repeated this in Romans, defining our relationship with God as father/son, and using the familiar term, "Abba."

Romans 8:15-16 (NIV) 15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.[a] And by him we cry, "Abba,[b] Father." 16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.

The idea of someone representing us before God

The idea of someone representing us before God came from the Jewish priesthood, and the intercessory work of Christ. Christ's intercession ended a Jewish ritual. The Jews had been commanded from ancient times to make sacrifices of animals and food to make amends or reparations for their sins, or as a thank offering for what God had given to them. You sin, you give up something. You are given to, you give back. Sacrifice was the way to make peace with God, or show thankfulness. Sacrifice made you without fault and humble, so you could be in God's presence.

Jesus gave himself as a sacrifice so that we would not have to continue this ritual. He intervened or "interceded" on our behalf. He put himself between us and God. Christ said that we will have an intercessor with us always: John 14:16 (NIV) "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-" Jesus’ intercession ends the need for sacrifice. Christians end prayers by referencing Jesus’ sacrifice, saying, "In Christ's name we pray, Amen."

Praying for others comes from a long tradition in Judaism. 1 Samuel 12:23 (NIV) "As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you..."

The representative who made the sacrifice for us

The Apostles talked about the intercessory role of Christ, who had made the sacrifice for us, in various Biblical passages. In the following, the passages discuss the saving power of the sacrifice that Christ made for us:

1 John 2: 1 (NIV) "My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense - Jesus Christ, the Righteous One."

Hebrews 7:25 (NIV) "Therefore he is able to save completely[a] those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them."

The Apostle Paul wrote of the Spirit of God's intercession: Romans 8:27 (NIV) "And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will." And Paul writes similarly in Romans 8:26 (NIV) "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express."

The personal and familiar representative

Christ's role as one who intercedes with God was discussed as a more personal role, by comparing the role to a high priest and as someone familiar with our temptations and weaknesses:

In Hebrews 4:14-16 (NIV) The writer of Hebrews compared Christ's intercession to that of a high priest. He talked about a high priest who is sympathetic. "14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens,[c] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin. 16Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."

The writer of 1 Peter extended the idea to those who followed Christ: 1 Peter 2:5 (NIV) "you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." But the primary idea here is to offer yourself as a living sacrifice, which is a common idea presented in the New Testament.

John chapter 17, Jesus gives us a practical example of praying for others, when he prayed for his Apostles and all who believe in him. Christ said to us, Matthew 5:44 (NIV) "But I tell you: Love your enemies[a] and pray for those who persecute you..." There is one example of Jesus praying for other's forgiveness in Luke 23:34 (NIV). As he hung on the cross, placed there by others, he prayed "...'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.'...." This is not an example of people who know they are doing wrong, those people who should normally ask for themselves.

After the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 AD, ritual sacrifice by the Jews ended.

Examples of people praying for others is for their protection or in the case of enemies, for their change for the better. It is not to present them to God in a blameless way, or to get their forgiveness.

The unknowable, un-named, impersonal God of Abraham

Being in the actual presence of God was not something that one could do and survive. This was the tradition in the Ancient Middle Eastern countries. The Canaanites worshipped Ba'al, who was the son of the creator God, Ba'al. They believed that you could not see Ba'al's face or even speak his name. So they made a representation of his son, Ba'al, a bull. The bull was a common religious symbol for God, and was also found in Egypt.

The Hebrews (so named by the Egyptians while in Egypt because they originated in Hebrew speaking lands*1), were later known as the Jews sometime after leaving Egypt. These Hebrews, who knew themselves as the children of Abraham, did not have a name for God, except they probably used the generic "il" (Canaanite, Semitic derived), or "el" (Hebrew). Through Abraham, God called himself, "I am." We see this "can't see God and live" motif occasionally in the Bible - it was no doubt legend in the land, acquired at least from the Canaanites. This was not an idea that Abraham brought with him from Ancient Sumer, where gods definitely had names and personages.

Exodus 33:20-23 (NIV) 20 But," he said [to Moses], "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live." 21 Then the LORD said, "There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen."

Judges 6:22-24 (NIV) 22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the LORD, he exclaimed, "Ah, Sovereign LORD! I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!" 23 But the LORD said to him, "Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die."

*1 There is some archaeological evidence that some Hebrews in Egypt may have spoken Hurrian, which is not a Semitic language. Semitic was the pervasive language in the Middle East, and the language from which Hebrew, Aramaic, and many other languages in the area had their root. Hurrian, like Sumerian, is an older local language not related to Semitic, and eventually adopted the cuneiform writing of Sumer. The Hurrians are considered potentially an ancient knowledge bridge in the Middle East, connecting northern lands with southern and western, and mingling with the western (Semitic lands) at least at the Euphrates River in Iraq. Semitic was spoken in Babylon at this time. The Hurrians seem to have originated in Turkey and Armenia circa. 2500 BCE, swelled into other areas such as northern Iran and Iraq, and worshipped many gods, before their language became extinct. Abraham ~2000 BCE came from Sumer (Ur in Iraq), probably escaping the political turmoil in the land and the disintegration of Ancient Sumer, migrated through Northwest Sumeria, and may or may not have mixed with these Hurrian people. A combination of Semitic and Hurrian people conquered Northern Egypt in 1650 BCE. Jacob, a descendent of Abraham (paternal lineage: Abraham, Isaac), around ~1900 BCE, led his tribe into Egypt because of famine in the land. Jacob was called Israel after his brother's death, so the people became known as the people of Israel. In 1525 BCE, the Egyptians "drove" the Hyksos (foreigners) from their land, which is probably related to the Exodus. The name "Jew" is a name used by one branch of Israelites.

As the Hebrews were led out of Egypt by Moses, God led them by a pillar of smoke. Later he revealed himself to Moses through a bush that was on fire, but didn't burn up. Accounts in the Bible vary about the people's actions. In one account, Moses went up the mountain alone to talk to God. In another account Moses said that the people were afraid of the fire, so Moses stood between them and the burning bush. So in this account in Numbers 5:4-5, we have two poignant facts. The people were afraid to be in God's presence, and Moses interceded (was between them).

It is a peculiar habit of humanity to fully explore things to the point that they are fully known so that we can predict actions and even manipulate and control these things. Then, as the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. Somehow we all manage at some point in our lives to question God, as if we know everything and can do better than God. Is it any wonder that the impersonal creator God is so unknowable and unapproachable? It might be for our own good, as God said to Moses about the Hebrews he led out of Egypt:

Exodus 33:3 (NIV) "...But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked [haughtily stubborn or obstinate] people and I might destroy you on the way."

So from the earliest times, we know that people believed that they could not be in God's presence, or even speak his name, and survive. They feared God so they stayed away from him, and Moses acted to intercede between the people and God. Even today many Jews will not utter God's name (whatever that is) or even the title "God." Only the pure, the priests who led exemplary lives, had no physical blemishes, and had ritually washed, could be in God's presence, even if only by way of ceremony.

The Jewish High Priest was responsible for offering the sacrificial animal or grain to God, which was brought by the giver. Only the "pure" were allowed to offer sacrifices. The High Priest interceded with God with sacrifices and prayers. The giver, and the priest and his family, often ate the sacrifice.

The idea that only the pure can be in God's presence is nullified by Christ - we need only ask God for forgiveness. Today we certainly expect exemplary behavior from those who lead us, but we are not asked to go to a Temple and make sacrifices before we can feel forgiven. We are asked simply to talk to God as we would our own father. Baptism, as reflected by both John the Baptist and Jesus, is an act of ritual washing that makes us pure before God, and in Christianity is done only once.

Throughout the Hebrew (Jewish) Bible, God is represented by angels, "the Lord" (an angel of the Lord), priests, kings, and prophets. Each of these has a special role, with usually only priests and prophets dealing directly with the people. There is always someone who is between the person and God. Yet people in the Hebrew Bible often pray directly to God. There is a dichotomy here. One is of authority: those who represent God and have a special role, such as creating laws or acting as mediaries or intercessors. The other is of normal contact: individual prayer. One has to do with governing behavior. The other has to do with a personal God and personal requests.

Christ didn't establish any type of governance. He selected the twelve Apostles to carry the message to others. He created no barriers between people and God. He was often the intermediary in that people came to see him expecting a miracle or wisdom. He asked them to pray and have faith. If other people taught and threw out demons in his name, he was fine with it. He included foreigners. He avoided the exclusivity inherent in Ancient Judaism. Jesus was the ultimate remover of barriers. He expected people to interface directly with God.

Do we dare stand before God, or are we like the Hebrews who had Moses stand between them and the burning bush? We are often like the Hebrews, but for slightly different reasons. God is an abstract impersonal idea. It is very difficult to relate to an abstract and impersonal thing. We can be told that God is merciful, but we may not feel it. We want something less abstract and more personal - perhaps someone who has endured the same type of problems that we face. Someone sympathetic (can feel) our pain.

The Apostle Paul said to us in Hebrews 4:14-16 "15For we do not have a high priest [Jesus] who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. 16Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."

The approachable representatives of God in various religions

Perhaps this explains the proliferation of so called gods in many religions. We possibly get the title "God" from the Hindu word "Khooda," which linguistically probably migrated through Germany. The Hindu religion seems at first glance to have hundreds of Gods, but does it actually?

Hinduism is largely held to be a monotheistic religion with a trinity, and many representations of God. There is the creator God, Brahma, who is that abstract impersonal deity, but who also manifests as Vishnu or Krishna who preserve creation, and Shiva, the destroyer. God also manifests to people through characterizations that reflect facets of God. Emotions, needs (such as for grace or thanks), and even social backgrounds can be represented. In this way, people can relate to God in any way that is needed, through a very personal representation of God.

The Christian trinity is composed of God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. It is the Son, Jesus the Christ, who is to us a personal representative who we can identify with. There are not three Gods, but one God, who is only manifest (evident, palpable) to us as Jesus the Christ.

We also see in Catholicism the many patron saints that are appointed by the collective church to intervene for people. Each of these reflects a facet of God that more fully characterizes human need. Those sainted commonly were exemplary in character, and through intercessory prayer did miracles on behalf of others. Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus), was recognized as a patron saint for his intercessory miracles for people in need. He also was known for his secret gift giving, which began a tradition that became popular around the world. (The traditional holiday is December 5, but has been observed by many to coincide with the Christ Mass celebration recognizing Christ's birth, on December 25.) See: Saint Nicholas.

To talk directly to God... or not?

One of the major impetuses behind the Protestant Reformation was Luther's claim that people do not need an intercessor. They do not need a priest between them and God. It's very true. Yet in many ways, perhaps many people do need an intercessor of sorts. We often need to talk to someone who is sympathetic, who has trod a similar path to the difficult one we are on. We often need someone to talk to, who can say to us, God will forgive you. We sometimes need just to confess to someone who is human.

But even in a representative being human, there is another problem. We might not want them too human. Perhaps the person we talk to should even be behind a veil, or an anonymous person or site on the Internet.

We are all different. We all seek God in different ways. Religions have a way of making that individual quest possible. What is important is not so much how we seek God, but that we do seek Him.

Yours in Christ,

- Dorian Scott Cole

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About the author: Dorian Scott Cole is an independent, cross-disciplinary scholar with education and experience in psychology, philosophy, religion, language, visual semiotics, and technology. He is a licensed minister with a mainline denomination with full time pastoral and counseling experience. His education in religion and psychology was through a state university (IU) followed by independent study. Other books and publications: Ontology of God, How to Write a Screenplay, Writers Workshop Script Doctor,, and

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Echoing through time are the voices of ancient people telling us about God. From Mesopotamia and Egypt 5000 years ago, often from even earlier oral traditions, every civilization has been inspired to tell us about God. Their voices vary widely and even conflict. Is there a common message that they thought was so important that they had to pass it on? In this book, the ancient voices speak.

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Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing.

About the author: Dorian Scott Cole is an independent, cross-disciplinary scholar with education and experience in psychology, philosophy, religion, language, visual semiotics, and technology. Other books and publications: How to Write a Screenplay, Writers Workshop Script Doctor,, and

Reading type: Mainstream Scholarly Specialist

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