“Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” – Rom 8:26f.
“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” – Rom 8:34
In Romans 8, Paul tells us the Spirit intercedes for believers whilst going on to state that Jesus intercedes for us as well. So, it seems worth asking, is the intercession of Christ identical to that of the Spirit?
It seems apparent from these verses that the Spirit’s intercession – in this context – relates specifically to the content of our prayers. It is not so much that we do not know how to pray as what to pray for. According to Thomas Schreiner, “Paul intends to say that the Spirit intercedes for believers according to the will of God” (Romans: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 1998). In other words, we do not know what to pray for because we do not fully know God’s will; our weakness in prayer stems from the fact the totality of God’s will is not fully revealed to us. However, the Spirit intercedes for us “according to the will of God”, in other words, he makes the will of God known to believers such that we can pray according to God’s design and purposes.
The intercession of Christ, on the other hand, has something else in view. As Schreiner notes, “this intercession should not be separated from his death on behalf of his people; rather, his intercession on behalf of the saints is based on his atoning death”. Christ’s intercession for us begins with the access he grants us to the Father by his death on the cross. Moreover, as 1 John 2:1 suggests, Jesus’ advocacy is a calling to attention of his perfect righteousness in defence of sinning believers. In other words, when we sin, Jesus intercedes that his once-for-all sacrifice was indeed enough to expiate and propitiate our sin as well as keep us forever adopted as sons of God. Moreover, we can argue that Jesus’ intercession goes further still. We have good grounds, based on his earthly priestly prayers (e.g. John 17 and Luke 22:31-43), to believe that Jesus actively engages in prayer for us to the Father as well.
So, we may view the intercession of the Spirit and that of Christ as having different functions. On the one hand, the Spirit intercedes from the Father to the saints. On the other hand, Jesus intercedes for the saints to the Father. The Spirit intercedes by illuminating the Father’s will to inform the content of our prayers. The Son intercedes in two ways: (1) He grants access to the Father through his death. Our prayers are heard because we are adopted into the Son’s sonship and, just as the Father is pleased to hear the Son, so he is pleased to hear the saints that are in the Son. (2) He actively petitions the Father on our behalf.