Prayers to the Saints - Part 4: State of the Dead, cont’d.
Steven Robinson and Bill Gould · February 14, 2005
In the final program of the series on "Prayer to the Saints" we continue the discussion of the state of the departed from the Scriptures. In many enigmatic passages we find the foundations for why the Church affirms the "Communion of the Saints" as including both those "in Christ" on earth and the "departed in Christ." Within these passages we find the rationale for believing that those who have gone before us do stand before the throne of God and intercede on our behalf because of our prayers to them.
Program Notes - February 13, 2005
Prayer to the Saints - Part 4: The State of the Dead
PRAYER TO SAINTS IV
Steve: And good afternoon and welcome to this edition of Our Life in Christ, and I’m your host today, Steve Robinson, and I’m in the studio with Bill Gould. Hi, Bill!
Bill: How are you doing Steve?
Steve: I’m doing well. Today is a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
Bill: It is. We’ve had a lot of rain this week, but things are clearing up.
Steve: Yeah, at least it’s not three feet deep.
Bill: Well, we’ve had about eight years to get back from.
Steve: It’s been a blessing. So Bill, we’re continuing a series, and maybe today will be our last show on this series or not. We’ll just have to see how the material flows today, but we’re talking about what is normally called the prayer to the saints. I know it was Super Bowl Sunday last week, so a lot of our regular listeners may not have tuned in, and God bless you if you did.
Bill: And I forgive you.
Steve: Yeah, we forgive you, and I hope your team won whichever one you’re rooting for won. Um, who did win, Bill?
Bill: Um, the Patriots.
Steve: Oh, okay. Shows you what I know.
Bill: By three points.
Steve: Well, anyway, we do have extensive notes, and we also have last week’s program up on our website, so we’re not going to re-cover everything that we covered last week for those of you that might have missed it. But we’d like to recap a little bit about what we talked about last week to kind of bring everybody up to speed. But before we do that, Bill, let’s talk about our sayings of the Fathers, because we have a couple of really good ones today.
Bill: This one is anonymous.
There was a monk who was known for his profound humility. One day, an angel of light appeared in his cell announcing that he had found favor with God and promising some extraordinary reward. The monk simply replied, “I’m sorry. You’ve obviously come to the wrong cell. Perhaps, you are looking for one of those monks over in the next valley.” The angel changed his appearance into an evil demon then vanished.
Steve: Wow. That’s so typical of the kinds of stories that you get out of the early monastics. And we’ve been doing quite a few sayings recently about the topic of humility and people having a true understanding of where they are with God and their need for forgiveness. And pride enters our lives in so many subtle ways.
And this is one of the things, a consistent story throughout the lives of the saints, is that they are always tempted, because if you try to live a saintly life; if you try to live a godly life, you’re going to be flattered. And to fall for flattery is of course a demonic deception.
And so we always find these saints who are approached by the demons in the form of an angel, because the Scriptures do tell us that the demons disguise themselves as an angel of light, and they come and compliment people on their achievements in the spiritual life. And if they don’t fall for it, the reality of the demon’s temptation becomes real.
Bill: Yes, beware when all men speak well of you. Here’s another one.
Someone asked an old man, “How is it that some say, we see visions and angels?” And he replied, “Happy is he, who always sees his sins.”
Steve: Yeah, now this harkens back to Colossians 2, where Paul is talking about the people who take their stand on visions of angels and false philosophies and all of that. And here again, in today’s modern Christian world, we have so many people who are talking about demon possession and casting out of demons and all these kinds of signs and wonders and seeing angels. And seeing angels was a big deal for the last few years in the New Age movement.
And so much of this has been dealt with and talked about, and it’s been experienced by the saints of the Church from the very beginning. They understood these subtleties of the demonic temptations to pride and arrogance. And they understood the warnings that are contained in the New Testament to not fall for these demons that are disguising themselves as spiritual beings. And it doesn’t always come in a magnificent and wonderful way, but in very subtle temptations to pride; the very subtle temptations to flattery and believing your own press.
Bill: Right. Drinking your own bath water.
Steve: What was the one we had last week, Bill? If somebody falls for flattery, the demons are mocking him. Those are sober, sober warnings. So Bill, let’s talk about what we talked about last week, real briefly, before our first break comes up.
Bill: The state of the dead.
Steve: And last week, this is one of the big issues with the notion of praying to the saints and that is that people understand that the saints or the people who have died in Christ are dead, and they have no conscious existence after death. And of course last week, we went through just Scripture upon Scripture
Bill: 1 Peter 3.
Steve: The parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Hebrews 12. You go back to the Old Testament, and you see there are tons of passages that indicate to us and actually literally demonstrate to us that there is consciousness after death.
Bill: Right. It’s not just annihilation or unconsciousness.
Steve: Right. And the metaphor of sleep is not to tell us about a state of consciousness, but it’s more to tell us about the hope of the resurrection.
Bill: That’s right. We will be coming back.
Steve: Yes. We will be coming back. We will be waking up in Christ. And so the metaphor of sleep, when it talks about a Christian asleep in the Lord, is not talking about whether or not they are conscious or unconscious. They are talking about the hope of somebody waking up; that they are actually still alive, though they appear to be dead.
We need to let the Scriptures speak about this. And if people are listening and following us along here, they’ll probably notice that we haven’t used any Patristic references yet. We haven’t talked in a single sentence about traditions of the Church or traditions of men or anything outside the pages of the Scriptures.
Bill: That’s right. We’re letting the Scriptures speak to us.
Steve: And this is what we talked about in the opening of the show three weeks ago, Bill. What we are victims of, in approaching this topic about praying to the saints and asking the saints to intercede for us to God on our behalf, is we’re just victims of a lot of muddy thinking. We’re victims of a lot of unbiblical thinking. And we’re victims of not underlining enough passages in the Scriptures.
Bill: And we ended last week by mentioning that there is one Mediator between God and man – the man Christ Jesus. And so I think that’s where we’re planning on finishing up today. And we’re going to stay in the New Testament for a little longer and talk more New Testament passages that sort of make our point. While, death is in fact a mystery and we don’t fully grasp what is in death, except that we do know that the spirit and the body separate, but we’re going to get some more insight into the state of the dead in the first part of our program today.
Steve: Right, and what we need to do here is again let the Scripture speak. We can’t let our spirituality; we cannot let our Christian life; we cannot let our fellowship with other Christians, whether they are alive or dead, be driven and controlled by Rome-aphobia. Let’s just put that on the table.
We were talking on the way over here, Bill. I was raised Roman Catholic with seven years in parochial schools. I wanted to be a priest. And I ended up converting to a Protestant Evangelical Bible church and got married and went to Bible college and got my degree there and pastored for a few years. And so, I’ve been in those boxes. I’ve been in both of them.
And coming back to the Scriptures with fresh eyes and seeing them as the Church historically has understood, interpreted, and practiced in the pages of the New Testament has just been absolute freedom to me. And so when we still come to the Scriptures, we need to let the Scriptures guide our lives.
And in not doing that, we cut ourselves off from so much benefit. We cut ourselves off from so much that can help us, encourage us, and keep us walking on the straight path that leads to the image and likeness of God that we’re trying to all live in.
Bill: That’s right. And it gives us insight into what’s real too. It’s not just doctrine. It’s not just theory. The world and the spiritual world and the one reality that we talk about is explained in this in terms of people who go on and are with the Lord and are alive in Christ.
Steve: They’re still as real as you are sitting across the table. And that’s an awesome and sobering thought that you do literally have this great cloud of witnesses who are watching your walk in Christ. And that has some scary aspects to it, and it has some comforting aspects to it.
So Bill, we are coming up on our first break. After our first break, we’re going to talk about what do the Scriptures mean when they talk about Jesus Christ being the one true Mediator between man and God, and how is that interpreted in light of intercession and invocation or praying to the saints?
Steve: And welcome back to Our Life in Christ. I’m your host today, Steve Robinson, with my co-host as usual, Bill Gould.
Bill: Hey, that was beautiful. The nuns were singing there.
Steve: Yes, this is from a monastery in Macedonia, and this is from the Divine Liturgy. And you kind of get a feel for it, even though you’re not understanding the language. If you’re Orthodox, you kind of get a feel for what’s going on. But the Orthodox service is a conversation between a priest and the conversation.
And so you hear the priest say a prayer and then the people respond, “Lord have mercy,” or “Grant this O, Lord,” or whatever the responses are. So you hear this conversation going on between the priests and the nuns there. And this is typical Orthodox liturgical worship at the Macedonian Church.
Bill: That’s good stuff. They’ve been around since the book of Acts.
Steve: Yeah, they appeared in a vision to Paul asking him to come and preach the Gospel to them, and they’re still around. It’s just beautiful stuff, so we’ll be featuring this today as our musical breaks.
So Bill, we were talking about the big, big speed bump or the big road block of an understanding of the intercession of the saints. And we talked about the word, “prayer to the saints” last week. And we quoted this from the King James Version, and this is where the word is found and prayer just simply means to ask or to request something.
And so when the Orthodox Christian prays to a saint, and this is in our hymnography or the end of a hymn to a saint or the end of a lot of our hymnography, you will hear this sentence. It will say, Blessed St. Paul or St. Athanasius or Sts. Priscilla and Aquila celebrated today, intercede for us to Christ our God to save our souls.
And so a prayer to the saints is a request to the departed saint to pray for us to God on our behalf for the salvation of our souls. Now, how does this intersect with the concept of Christ being the one Mediator?
Bill: Well, we have a passage in 1 Timothy 2 where we see both of these things side by side. We see prayers and supplications, intercession, and then a mention of Christ as Mediator.
Steve: And this is the one passage that’s always brought up when we begin talking about the intercession of the saints. And people bring this passage up as Christ being the one Mediator. So, let’s read the entire context. We’re going to read 1 Timothy 2:1-7.
Therefore, I exhort, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who desires all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. For which I was appointed a preacher, and an apostle, (I am speaking the truth in Christ, and not lying;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
Steve: Now, the most important thing here is that we have both of these concepts (intercessions, entreaties, and prayer) and the mediation of Christ both mentioned in a single context. Now, Paul does not confuse the two. He encourages and commands us to make intercessions. He commands us to intercede. He commands us to make entreaties. He commands us to pray for all men.
And this is what we are doing. This is what we are requesting the departed saints, who are alive in Christ; who are conscious and conscious of us in our existence, to do on our behalf. They can pray just as we can pray. They go to the Father just as we can go to the Father. Now, we’re going to flesh that part out a little bit later in the program. We’ve got a lot of passages about that.
But Paul also then talks about Christ being the one Mediator. Now, it’s important that we understand that when Paul talks about Jesus Christ being the one Mediator between God and man, he doesn’t come back and say, “Now, cut out all that praying for people. Cut out all that interceding. Don’t make entreaties, and don’t go to the Father on behalf of anybody, because Christ is the one mediator between God and man. You can only go through Christ.”
Bill: Right. “You don’t need to pray with or for or about anything else. Just pray to Christ.”
Steve: No, it doesn’t say that. And so we have both of these ideas in a single passage. We do not confuse the mediation of Christ with the intercession of the saints or the intercession of us for each other in the life in Christ. Now, what is the mediation he is talking about here then? If we’re not talking about intercession, then what is the mediation that Christ does on behalf of all men?
Bill: Well, the key is in verse six where it says, “He who gave himself a ransom for all.” So Christ’s death is mentioned as referenced here. It’s also referenced over in Hebrews 9:15 where it says, “For this reason, he is the mediator of a new covenant by means of death for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant.”
Steve: Now that’s also a reference in Hebrews 12:24, where it talks about the mediation of the new covenant in the blood of Christ. And this is what Paul is talking about here in 1 Timothy 2. He says that the man Jesus Christ was the one mediator between God and man. Now, he’s not talking about God and individual men. He’s talking about the human race, mankind.
Jesus Christ the man, the Incarnate God, is the one Mediator who can reunite the entire human race in His flesh by His death and by His ransom, which was paid for the sins of all. And so basically what this means is that only through Christ’s mediation that intercession is possible. That’s the only reason that we have the privilege; that we have the honor or the duty to pray for one another, to intercede for one another, and to make entreaty for one another is because of Christ’s mediation of the new covenant.
Without the new covenant, we cannot intercede for one another. And we would have no union and no communion with one another in the body of Christ. We would have no relationship. Bill and I would have no relationship, even though we’re sitting across this table from each other. And we would have no relationship with those who have departed in Christ; who have gone on before us; who are in Heaven – the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 12 who are witnessing our journey in Christ, who have completed their journey.
So this is important stuff. We have to be precise when we’re thinking about these Biblical topics. We can’t be driven by fear of something. We have to be driven by an accurate understanding of what the Scriptures are talking about. Mediation and intercession are two entirely different things.
Bill: That’s right. Our brothers in Christ do not mediate the new covenant. Christ alone mediates the new covenant.
Steve: The blood of the martyrs do not mediate a new covenant. The blood of the martyrs is because we have a new covenant that was mediated by the blood of Christ. Again, we can’t emphasize this enough.
Bill: So it’s not right for us to be thinking when we pray to a saint who is departed, it’s not right for us to think of it in terms of going through them to get to Christ. We are only asking for their help.
Steve: Right, just as we ask for people’s help on earth. So Bill, I’m going to bring up one Patristic quote, because this is an important one. And this is not something that is new to our age. It’s been dealt with by the Church, and this is from the canons of the Council of Nicaea in 787 A.D. And we have to understand that this practice had been practiced for centuries, and the Council of Nicaea deals with one of the abuses, and this is a quote from that Council. It says:
God and the saints are addressed differently. We implore God to grant us the blessing which we want, or to deliver us from evil. We implore the saints to intercede for us to God, who grants the petitions. Therefore, we pray to God to have mercy on us and we pray to the saints to pray for us. It is strictly incumbent on all to beware, lest they transfer to any creature the rights which belong strictly to God. We do not adore any creature, nor honor the saints as though to adore them, but we call upon them as brothers and as friends of God, and therefore we seek assistance from these our brethren, who have departed.
Now, you can’t get any clearer than that. The Church knows the difference between the saints and God. The Church knows the difference between the saints and Jesus Christ. The Church knows the difference between the mediation of the new covenant in Christ and the intercession and the prayers of us for one another to encourage one another in our walk in Christ – whether we are here on earth or whether we are departed to be with Christ.
Bill: I think that’s so important. And I know that for people who are new to Orthodoxy or studying and looking at the words of the prayers in the services and the Liturgy, sometimes when we see the Church honoring and exalting the saints and giving the praise that is due them in terms of their example in Christ, and we also couple that with our supplication to the saints to help us, it may appear as though, we don’t quite get this correct. It seems like we’ve muddied the water, but it’s really quite clear from the canons. The Church really does understand the difference.
Steve: And I think part of the issue is too, Bill, is that when people come in from the outside, it’s like coming into anybody’s family or anybody’s weird way of doing things or the idiosyncrasies of how a particular family interacts and what kind of language they use and how they talk to one another. Unless you’re part of that family and lived with them for a few months or a couple of years, you don’t really get those kinds of idiosyncrasies.
Because I know we’ve had visitors to our family, and I’ve said things to my wife at the dinner table or my wife said something to my daughter, and one of my son’s friend’s face just went white. And we talked to him after, and he said, “If we said something like that in my family, my sister would have just broken down in tears. My mom would have just left the table crying. How can you guys talk like that?”
And I go, “What do you mean? What are you talking about?” Well, it’s the way that we talk. And so, the Church has a way of talking. The Church has a way of addressing these things, and we know what we mean by it. But people coming in from the outside and hearing it and seeing it for the first time might think we’re just totally off base.
Bill: And also the Greek itself, the original language that some of these were written in, is a very exacting language. And sometimes when we see the translations in English, we don’t fully comprehend the technicalities of the meanings, but we do. And we’ve just read and proved that we do understand the difference. And that’s very important.
Steve: And so when you’re immersed in the mind of the Church, and when you understand, and we said this a couple of weeks ago, Bill, if you get Christ right, everything else falls in place. And the Orthodox Church, as far as I’ve studied and as far as I know and as far as we’ve talked about on this show for five years, has Jesus Christ right.
And so, everything else surrounding Jesus Christ, which includes His saints, His martyrs, His mother, God the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Church, the proper way to pray, how to address and all of these things on how to worship, and all of these things just kind of fall into place. It’s a domino effect, so that’s why the early Church spent so much time on developing a proper Christology; of really preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified accurately. And everything else like this is just a no-brainer once you have Jesus Christ down. So that’s that.
Now Bill, let’s talk about necromancy. Well, we’re coming up on our break. But we need to talk about another big bugaboo, and that’s necromancy. And this is in the book of Kings where Saul goes and talks with the witch of Endor. Are we guilty of necromancy by invoking the saints to pray for us?
When we come back from the break, we’re going to talk a little bit about that. Then, we’re going to go to the book of Revelation, and we’re going to look at what the saints are doing in Heaven right now as we speak.
Steve: Bill, before the break, we started talking a little bit about necromancy. And this is another one of those objections that’s brought up to the idea of invoking the saints or asking the departed saints to pray for us on our behalf or intercede for us on our behalf to God even though they are dead. Now, is this necromancy? What is necromancy, and what’s the problem with that?
Bill: Well, in Deuteronomy 18:9-14, Moses warns the Israelites against pagan practices of divination, soothsaying, augury, sorcery, casting spells, consulting ghosts or spirits, and seeking oracles from the dead. So we have a problem that we have to address, and the Church would say that we’re not engaged in consulting the dead for our own selfish purposes or to seek our own will. As a matter of fact, we’re not speaking ghosts or sorcery or demons or any of that all of. We’re communicating with the saints.
Steve: And I think that’s an important distinction, but here again we have Saul in the Old Testament, the book of Kings, who consults the witch of Endor. And the witch allegedly brings up Samuel from the dead. But whoever really did it, God permitted him to appear to Saul and to the witch of Endor, and Saul was condemned for this.
You made an excellent point, Bill, that what happened here was based on Saul’s lack of faith. He was consulting the witch of Endor for a selfish purpose to be able to foresee the future that is not given to any man. And he had been disobedient to God. This is an entirely different thing. This is an entirely different matter. We don’t invoke the saints to come and show us the future; to give us any type of insight.
Bill: Or to tell us what lottery numbers to pick for Power Ball.
Steve: Well, I guess you could.
Bill: But it’d be suspect on what you get back.
Steve: Well, you’d be setting yourself up for demonic deception. So intercession of the saints is not necromancy. And it’s interesting, because N.T. Wright, who is one of the great, great Protestant apologists, he talks about the witch of Endor, and he says in his book about the resurrection that this is a positive proof. And he actually looks at this as an ancient affirmation of the potentiality of the resurrection. And even Jerry Falwell sees it this way.
Now, you can go on the Internet and find a lot of webpages that will bring this up. And they will talk about how the apparition of Samuel was actually a demonic apparition; that it was a demon disguised as Samuel and all of this. And N.T. Wright basically said that this is not solid exegesis; that people here are good intentioned. They want to keep people from necromancy, and so they are making this story out to be a demonic deception in order to keep people from practicing this. But he said, that’s not the case here.
Bill: Well, if we look at this in the proper way, we see that Samuel is recognizable as Samuel. So we knew who he was from that. And of course, if you analyze what he said, it certainly sounds like he’s speaking the word of God to Saul. So you have to go a long way to try and prove that that was a demonic deception.
Steve: So essentially what it says here is, what we were talking about in our last week’s show, the intermediate state of the soul after death, that there is consciousness, and there is awareness. We do have communication of some kind between the living and the dead if we are in God.
So let’s go to Hebrews 12 and talk about those souls, because we have a lot of New Testament left to cover, Bill. And Hebrews 12 is a great, great passage of what we call the communion of the saints. And the communion of the saints is basically the understanding of the Church as those who are alive in Christ – those who are here on earth, who are struggling toward the goal of finishing the race, keeping the faith, and dying in Christ and a fellowship and communion of those who have departed in Christ who are still part of the Church.
Basically, it’s just the idea that people who were Christians on earth and who died as Christians are probably still Christians in Heaven. And if they were alive in Christ on earth, then they are probably still alive in Christ in Heaven. And the passages in Hebrews 11 and 12 talks about this fact that we do have this fellowship and communion that transcends death; that transcends the reality of the separation of the soul and body. There is still a union in Christ that takes place, even though those who are departed have had or experienced the separation of the soul and body.
Bill: Right. In Hebrews 12:22, it talks about the worship when we come to worship in the Orthodox Church. This is how we view our worship. “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God.” I think that’s important. It’s the living God that we’re coming to, not the God of the dead.
Steve: And the God of the living.
Bill: “The heavenly Jerusalem; to an innumerable company of angels; to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in Heaven to God the judge of all; to the spirits of just men made perfect.”
Steve: Or as my translation said, “Of righteous men made perfect.” Now, the next verse, “And to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant and the sprinkling of blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.”
And so here again, we have that same concept that we had in 1 Timothy 2. We have come to the Church. We have come to the heavenly Jerusalem. We have fellowship with those who have departed. We have communion with these people through the mediatorship of Jesus Christ who shed His blood.
Bill: And I think it’s very important to point out that this is not a future event. This is something that goes on now, and I think we have some Scripture to prove that that’s the case.
Steve: Let’s go to Revelation, because this is where we find the heavenly worship. And the book of Revelation is an intensely liturgical book. It is an intensely worshipful book. And what we find in the book of Revelation is the image in Heaven that gives us a picture of what is actually literally happening here on earth.
All of the images of worship that we find in the book of Revelation are rooted and grounded in liturgy and the worship of the saints on earth. And this is why we can look at Revelation. When you walk into an Orthodox church, you look around and see the book of Revelation.
And this is our understanding of what Hebrews 12 says, “When we come to worship, we are joining in the innumerable myriad, not just of the angels but also of the saints who are both on Heaven and on earth and all around the throne of God.” Now what’s going on around the throne of God? This is what the book of Revelation gives us a picture of.
Bill: Well, in Revelation 6:9, it talks about the martyrs.
And when he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, until you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth? Then, a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them, that they should rest awhile longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.
Bill: So that proves that this just isn’t a future event.
Steve: Right. This is something that’s happening in Heaven right now or at least in the time of John was happening. Now it’s interesting, Bill, that these martyrs are praying to God for the avenging of their blood. And the reply is that they have to wait until those on earth and the number of them fulfilled and they are martyred also.
We’re going to go to Hebrews 11:40 when we come back from our break and see what we have to do with them waiting in Heaven to be fulfilled.
Steve: Bill, before the break we were talking about the martyrs who are under the altar in Heaven; who are praying to God for the avenging of their blood. And God says to wait until the numbers of the martyrs are fulfilled and your brethren on earth are also killed.
Now, in Hebrews 11:40, there’s an enigmatic passage in which Paul says that those who went before us are not perfected apart from us. Now that’s an incredible thought, because this is what we were talking about in our second show; about what it means to have communion in God. We are in this together.
As St. Augustine says, “Solo Christian is no Christian,” and we cannot be a Christian alone. Aloneness just doesn’t extend to the visible community in Christ. It extends into Heaven, and we are all perfected together. And there’s a passage in Colossians 2 that is also kind of an enigma, and I think it addresses this.
Bill: Yes. Verse 24 says, “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ for the sake of His body,” ’ which is the Church. I mean that is an amazing passage. “What is lacking in the afflictions of Christ,” what does he mean by that?
Steve: Well, that means what we talked about in Philippians 3. If we suffer together, we share in the sufferings of Christ on each other’s behalf. And it’s through this suffering and sharing, and it’s what drives us to intercession is entering into the sufferings of other people and bearing one another’s burdens as Christ bore ours. And this is how we share in the life of Christ.
So when we go to Revelation, we see this happen, and it’s happening in Heaven. Now in Revelation 5:8, we find the four living creatures and the 24 elders who are falling down before the Lamb, and it says, “Each has a harp and a golden bowl full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”
Now, where are they getting the prayers of the saints? Why do they have these golden bowls of incense if they’re offering up the prayers of the saints before the throne of God? Well, that’s exactly what the saints are doing. We pray to them. They offer our prayers to God, as the Council of Nicaea says.
And also in Revelation 8:3, we see there again that the angel comes before the throne of God, and it says, “He has a golden censer, and it was given to him so that he might add to it the prayers of the saints upon the golden altar that was before the throne.” And so here we have the angels that are offering up the incense, which is the prayer of the saints before the throne of God.
Bill: Which is of course why we have incense in our liturgical services.
Steve: And incense has always been representative of the prayers of God’s people, even in the Old Testament. One of the Psalms we sing at Vespers ever week is, “Let my prayer rise as incense before you.” So incense is just part of what it means to offer up prayer to God.
In Revelation 7:13, we see that these elders are the martyrs. These are the ones who have gone before. These are the ones who have departed in Christ. So Hebrews 12 is the summary of this experience of the fullness of the life of the Church both in Heaven and on earth – the heavenly Jerusalem, the Kingdom that we come to that transcends the physical world. And our fellowship is both with the physical and spiritual realm.
Now, let’s go to history, Bill, because we have done nothing but Scripture up to this point. Let’s take a look at the historical witness of the Church. Let’s take a look at is this something new, because most people see this practice as a late Roman Catholic innovation.
Bill: Well, of course it’s not.
Steve: Let’s go back first of all to the Apocrypha because this gives us a sense of the spirituality of the Jews as they understood the Old Testament in the 1st and 2nd centuries before Christ. And in the book of Tobit, we have a passage in which the angel Raphael says, “When you and Sarah and your daughter-in-law prayed, I brought remembrance of your prayers before the Holy One. I am Raphael, the one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and who goes in and out before the glory of the Holy One.”
Now, in 2 Maccabees 15:12, Judas Maccabeus sees a vision of the departed Onias, and he’s praying for the Jews. And then the prophet Jeremiah is also praying for Judas Maccabeus and appears to him and gives him a golden sword in which to conquer with. And this just harkens back to the rich man and Lazarus. This is exactly what’s going on in that story.
Bill: Coming from Jesus Himself.
Steve: And so we see that this idea the communion of the saints is part of the Jewish piety. It’s part of what was brought into the Church from the very beginning. This was just carried over into the life of the Church. Now, how do we know that that’s really the case? Well, let’s take a look at the catacombs. The witness of the catacombs from the 1st Century have inscriptions on the walls.
Bill: One of them says, “Pray for thy parents, Matronata Matrona.” She lived one year and 51 days. She was basically a one year old praying for her parents.
Steve: And another one, “Januaria, take a good refreshment, and make requests for us.” This is a departed person.
Bill: “Atticus, sleep in peace, secure in thy safety and pray anxiously for our sins.”
Steve: “Peter and Paul, help Primitivus, a sinner.”
Bill: “Peter and Paul, have us in mind in your prayers and more than us.”
Steve: And also, “Peter and Paul, pray for Victor.” So we could just multiply these over and over again that the early Church had in its piety the intercession of the departed saints on behalf of those who are on earth.
Now, what’s the upshot of all this, Bill? We have these facts. We can’t deny these things. Christ overcame death. The dead in Christ are not dead. Moses and Elijah spoke with Christ. We have a great cloud of witnesses. The souls of the martyrs are under the altar of God praying for us. We come to the Church. We come to the heavenly Jerusalem. We’ve come to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.
We are commanded to pray for one another; to intercede for each other. The people who are Christians in this life are probably still Christians in the next life. So the Church is the Body of Christ made up of the living and the dead. So the big question is, does the Bible really need to explicitly say that it’s okay to ask for the departed saints to intercede for us.
It’s like two and two is four, and what’s missing in the equation? All the parts are in the Scriptures. The only thing missing in the Sola Scriptura arena is an explicit command. And yet, we do a lot of things without explicit commands because we can summarize things. We can logically infer things where we say, if all of this is true, then this is the logical conclusion. This is the logical outcome of these facts. If everything is in place, then with two and two you get four.
So what we have to do is look at the Scriptures. We have to look at what the Bible has to say. And the saints and the angels in Heaven are praying. They hold our prayers up to God. They place them on His altar and our fellow Christians who have prayed for us here on earth are now perfected in Heaven; they’re witnessing our struggles here on earth.
And we are all alive in the Church as one body. We are members of one another. How can we not believe that the saints are capable of interceding for us on our behalf before the throne of God? Where is the real problem?
And so this is the spirituality of the Church. This is what the Church understands and believes about the communion of the saints. We don’t confuse Jesus Christ with the departed saints. We don’t confuse the mediation of the covenant of Jesus Christ in His blood with the blood of the martyrs. We don’t confuse Jesus Christ’s work on the cross with the intercession and the prayers of the saints on our behalf before the throne of God.
Bill: That’s right. We’re not committing necromancy when we invoke the saints.
Steve: No. If anything, we are expanding our vision of what the Church is. We are expanding our vision of what the Christian life is and can be. And if we don’t access the power of the prayer of the departed saints, who are the righteous made perfect, then we are cutting ourselves off from a vital and important part of our spiritual life and our own encouragement to live the spiritual life in a way that emulates and imitates their faith and their commitment and their martyrdom, their giving of their life, for the sake of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. That’s really the bottom line.
Bill: It’s so rich.
Steve: And we have so much available to us that we don’t take advantage of because of some historical church baggage, and we really, really need to. And we implore you, let the Scriptures speak about this to you. And as weird as it might seem and as strange as it might feel, try it, because the saints are there. The saints, like you and I, are willing to help one another, to pray for one another, to be there for one another. They are. They’re the same way.
Bill: That’s right.
Steve: They desire our salvation. They desire to help us. They desire for us to be what they are.
Bill: Right, and we’re all perfected together, so they’re not perfected until we’re all perfected.
Steve: So enter into this arena. It’s a great place to be. And pick a saint and implore that saint to pray for you on your behalf; to offer up your name before the throne of God, and see what kind of spiritual benefit you derive from that.
You have been listening to Our Life in Christ. Have a blessed week. Pray for one another. Ask the saints to pray for you.
Bill: Try to be a saint.
Steve: And try to be a saint for each other. Have a blessed week. We will see you next week.