Intercessory prayer requires costly sacrificial blood, both in the old covenant and in the new covenant. With this in mind, I’d like to offer a simple definition for intercessory prayer: prayer on the basis of covenantal prerogative.
Since we don’t use the word prerogative often, let’s start with its definition:
An exclusive right or privilege held by a person or group, especially a hereditary or official right.
Intercessory prayer, then, is first an exclusive right that Christ holds by virtue of his office as high priest. Second, intercessory prayer is an exclusive privilege that we hold by virtue of our union with Christ.
To understand the prerogative of prayer, we need to understand the covenants God makes with his people.
Prerogative in the Covenant of Works/Life
In the beginning, God made a covenant with Adam (Hos. 6:7). In that covenant, God promised eternal life on the basis of personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience (WCF 7.2; WLC 20, 93).* For this reason, the first covenant is called either the Covenant of Works (the requirement; WCF 7.2) or the Covenant of Life (the reward; WLC 20).
God does not owe his creatures anything. So, we should recognize that the Covenant of Works/Life with Adam was a gracious, “voluntary condescension on God’s part” (WCF 7.1). Adam’s original prerogative to dwell in the presence of God, then, was not on the basis of right, but of privilege.
Sadly, Adam transgressed the terms of the covenant by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. By doing so, Adam forfeited his original, creational prerogative to dwell in the garden of Eden in the presence of God.
Prerogative in the Covenant of Grace
Nevertheless, God did not abandon Adam, Eve, and their offspring entirely. Under a Covenant of Grace, God established a new prerogative of privilege for his people to come into his presence.
God inaugurated the Covenant of Grace with a promise to set all things right. In Genesis 3:15, God swears this to the deceiving serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
With those words, God promised to judge the serpent through the offspring of the woman. That is, God voluntarily condescended to enter into a Covenant of Grace to redeem and restore his people.
Prerogative in the Old Covenant of the Law
God administered his Covenant of Grace differently under the old covenant and the new covenant (WCL 7.5). Nevertheless, the old covenant of the law and the new covenant in Christ are not two radically different dispensations of God’s grace in the world.
Both covenants fall under the larger heading of God’s Covenant of Grace with his people. What the old covenant promises through types and shadows, the new covenant fulfills in Christ.
Under the old covenant of the law, God strictly limited the prerogative of his people to intercede in his presence. Only priests had the privilege of entering into the presence of God in the holy place of the temple to offer intercessory prayer for the people. Furthermore, they could only enter through the costly purification of sacrificial blood.
The rest of God’s people were not permitted to enter into God’s presence under any circumstance. So, God’s people had some prerogative to enter into God’s presence, but with strict limitations.
Prerogative in the New Covenant for Christ
When Christ came, he fulfilled all these types, shadows, and prophecies. He became our ultimate High Priest who has entered into the heavenly places for us through the once-for-all sacrifice of his own blood (Heb. 9:24–26).
Christ’s priesthood, however, is better than the Levitical priesthood. Christ’s priesthood (like his covenant) “is enacted on better promises” (Heb. 8:6).
The Levitical priests held the prerogative to minister in God’s presence by the provision of God’s grace. Jesus, however, actually took up and fulfilled the original covenant of works that God made with Adam.
During his earthly life and ministry, Jesus offered personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience. Therefore, on the basis of the covenant promises of God, Jesus merited eternal life as our second Adam.
He possesses the prerogative to enter into God’s presence not by the unmerited favor of grace, but by merited favor of his perfect life, death, and obedience. Jesus enters into heaven at his ascension by covenantal right.
Prerogative in the New Covenant for Us
Because of what Christ has accomplished, we also gain the prerogative to enter into God’s presence in prayer. Indeed, God implores us to enter into his presence on the basis of our new covenant in Christ (Heb. 10:19–25).
We cannot enter into God’s presence on our own merits. Instead, we enter into God’s presence on the merits of Christ. Jesus is the offspring of the woman who has crushed the head of the serpent. He is the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Covenant of Grace.
Our prerogative, then, is something more than privilege, but something less than right. While we have no standing on our own, God actually accepts us into his presence with the same fullness of access that he reserves to his own Son.
In Christ, God loves you, accepts you, and listens to your prayers. He bids you to come and present your petitions before him, and he promises to act on the basis of his covenant promises.
Therefore, let us exercise our covenant prerogatives in prayer before the throne of grace.
*WCF: Westminster Confession of Faith; WCL: Westminster Larger Catechism.