Do angels carry our prayers to God? Do angels play a mediating role between us and heaven? That’s today’s question. And what makes this question especially interesting is a theme we’ve already looked at three times on the podcast in the past: the fact that angels do hold the prayers of the saints. They hold them. That’s the glorious point of Revelation 8:3–5. The prayers of the saints — our prayers — accumulate in “golden bowls full of incense,” bowls that are held by the angels (Revelation 5:8). It’s an incredibly encouraging image. It’s meant to be. God wants us to know that every one of our prayers — our answered prayers and our yet-unanswered prayers, all of them — are heard by him, are precious to him, and always exist before him. It’s a trio of glorious truths we saw in APJ 37, APJ 630, and APJ 1226.
But this question today is different. Do angels carry our prayers to God? That’s the question on Barb’s mind, a listener to the podcast. “Pastor John, hello! Do angels carry our prayers to God? I have heard this ever since I was a little girl. But passages like 1 Timothy 2:5 seem to suggest otherwise.” Pastor John, what would you say to Barb?
I had a grandmother growing up who lived with us and who embodied some of the impulses, I think, for why over the centuries some churches and people have felt the need to shrink back from direct Christian access to God through Jesus and instead put various other beings between us and God to represent us before him.
Between God and Man
Barb, in this question, mentions angels as a go-between. In Roman Catholicism, the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, is put between us and God as a mediator. People all over the world, sadly, pray to Mary. They say their Hail Marys and do their rosary instead of coming to God directly and confidently and humbly through Jesus alone.
My grandmother was fond of saying — as she declined to participate in family devotions, to the great grief of my father — “God has more important things to do than listen to my prayers.” Now, on the face of it, that sounds humble. It is meant to sound humble. But in reality, it is not humility. It’s a form of Christ-belittling, Christ-rejecting pride. Her supposed sense of unworthiness was not the reason she didn’t pray. She didn’t pray because she did not believe the word of God. She did not believe and cherish who Jesus was and the price he paid to open the door to God for sinners.
Her refusal to come to God the way God offered through Christ was not a humble refusal. It was a self-asserting refusal to see herself as needing a Savior whose life and death were utterly, gloriously sufficient to open the way to God and bid her come boldly to God. She did not believe that God is glorified by welcoming our burdens and carrying them for us, like the strong God that he is. She didn’t believe that what Jesus did on the cross and what he’s doing today in heaven would be glorified if she really humbled herself and was stunned out of her mind with wonder that the Son of God came into the world to open a way for repentant sinners, beyond all imagination, to come into the presence of the infinitely holy God through Christ alone — and find a fatherly reception rather than incineration. She did not believe.
No Other Mediators
Millions don’t believe that the infinite, blazing holiness of God is so great that no angel, nor the mother of God, Mary, could be a better protection for us than Christ. Let me say that again. That’s just so crucial. She didn’t believe, and millions don’t believe, that the infinite, blazing holiness of God is so great that no angel and no mother of God could be a better protection for us than Christ.
“No angel, nor the mother of God, Mary, could be a better protection for us than Christ.”
If we’re going to approach infinite holiness in prayer now, in fellowship with God now, and finally approach him face to face, then the thought of adding Mary or an angel to Christ for supplementary protection and acceptance is absurd. It’s simply absurd. It’s like saying, “Well, I’ve got an asbestos fire suit here, and it’s twelve inches thick. Now, let’s add a layer of tissue paper to make it more resilient.”
There is not one scripture that teaches us to approach God through angels or through Mary — not one. Let that sink in. Not one. All of that insertion between us and God in addition to Christ is unbiblical tradition, and it is a dishonor to Christ, what he accomplished on the cross, and what he’s doing today.
So let me celebrate with you for just a moment the glories of Christ’s finished work for us on the cross, and its ongoing application to us in heaven as he intercedes today for us and opens the way to God moment by moment for you to come.
Through His Flesh
So we start with that text that Barb mentions in her question: “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). There are not multiple mediators that make it possible to relate to God joyfully, without being destroyed. There are not. Christ and Christ alone accomplished this once for all.
Then there’s the gloriously clear statement of Paul in Ephesians 2:17–18 and 3:12: “[Christ] came [into the world] and preached peace to [those who] were far off and peace to those who were near.” And now here’s the key phrase: “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:17–18). And then he writes this phrase: “In [him] we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (Ephesians 3:12). I mean, could it be clearer?
And how did Christ do that? How did he open the way for sinners to come boldly through him to the Creator of the universe in infinite holiness? Ephesians 2:16: “[He reconciled] us both to God in one body through the cross.” Glory! I love it. What a great gospel. “Through the cross” — through his death.
Or here’s the way it’s put in Hebrews 10:19–20: “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.” So the blood of Jesus and the torn body of Jesus, dying on the cross in our place, covers our sins. It provides us with the righteousness we need to stand in the presence of the holy Creator of all things.
“The living, risen Christ goes on today, forever interceding for us by pleading his perfect sacrifice.”
And then the living, risen Christ goes on today, forever interceding for us by pleading his perfect sacrifice. Romans 8:34: “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” — right now as I talk. Or 1 John 2:1 puts it like this: “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
We don’t need another advocate. It’s almost blasphemy, I want to say, to say we need another advocate or some intercessor or mediator besides Christ. And it’s forever. Hebrews 7:25: “[Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Always — always and forever welcoming us to God through his work.
In Jesus’s Name
So how do we come into the presence of a holy God in prayer and fellowship now? How do we come? Here’s Hebrews 10:19: “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.” I can’t say it too many times. “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God . . . let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:14, 16). How do we pray as we come to this throne through Jesus? Do we hold on to our rosary and pray our “Hail Marys,” as if the mother of God could improve on the access that Jesus has made? Do we call down some angel, and hope he has greater access with our prayers than the Son of God? No, we don’t.
Here’s what Jesus said, and this is simply amazing. How precious, glorious, and unthinkable it is. He said, “In that day, you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God” (John 16:26–27). In other words, “When you speak to God, pray to God, the infinitely holy Creator of the universe, in my name — that is, in my forgiveness, my righteousness — I don’t even have to ask Father to hear you. He loves you. He loves you as he loved me. That’s what it means for me to be the one and only mediator between you and God.” “Trust me,” he says. “Come to God through me.”
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Come, Lord Jesus.