We are familiar with the role of an advocate in court trials. He or she will be an experienced lawyer who can command high fees as he or she attempts to get the accused person found not guilty by the jury. Sometimes by referring to our current legal practice we can distort or hide important features of the work of Jesus as an Advocate. So we can ask some straightforward questions about his work.
What does the word ‘advocate’ mean? The word used by John is the same word used by Jesus in the Upper Room (John 13–16) to describe the role of the Holy Spirit. It has a wide range of meanings such as helper, comforter and counsellor, which means it can be used in a variety of contexts. Here it is used in the context of a courtroom scene.
Why do believers need an advocate? The answer to the question is not difficult. They have an accuser who has access to the court of heaven. In another of his writings (Revelation 12:10) John describes how this happens when he says that the devil accuses the brethren day and night before God. Another biblical insight into this activity is the Book of Job, chapters one and two, where Satan is depicted as accusing Job of being a hypocrite. At this moment, we as believers are being accused in the court of heaven of various sins, and while some of the accusations may be false, others will be true.
Where is Jesus, our advocate? In our courtrooms, an advocate stands before the judge because he has no say in the verdict. It is different with Jesus because he sits alongside the Judge on the heavenly throne – he sits on the same place as where God the Father is. Our advocate also shares the power of God. He informed his disciples that he possessed all authority in heaven and on earth, and he exercises his power when he functions as an advocate. Jesus does not act hoping to achieve a result; instead he serves as advocate fully aware that he has all authority.
What does Jesus know about the judge and the accused? When an advocate on earth takes part in a court case, he does not know what is going through the mind of the person he represents. He may suspect that the accused person is guilty of the crime, yet his task is to persuade the jury and the judge that the accused is innocent. Nor does the advocate know if the judge is interested in the person on trial; after all it is likely that the judge and the accused have never met before.
When we come to consider Jesus Christ, we realise that he knows everything about his clients and about the Judge, his heavenly Father. Jesus knows that his clients are guilty; in fact he has a policy of only representing those who are guilty. And when he speaks about them to the Judge he stresses that they are guilty of their sins.
Further, Jesus knows that the Judge to whom he is speaking on behalf of his clients is determined to ensure that justice will always be done. The heavenly Father will never make an unjust decision; every sentence that he will pronounce will reflect this consistent reality, that sin will be punished, even the sins that the clients of Jesus confess.
In an earthly courtroom, if an advocate admitted his client was guilty and the judge sentenced him justly, the accused would be punished. So why are believers not punished? The answer to this question is that the Advocate also represented them at Calvary when he paid the penalty for their sins. We will think about this amazing reality tomorrow.