Recently, some members have asked me to address certain questions for the benefit of all at True Life BPC. Please find my responses below.
Q1: Do the saints in heaven pray unto the Lord?
A: In Revelation 5:8–10, 6:9–11, 8:3–4, we find the saints in heaven praying (specifically, we find the mention of the “prayers of [the/all] saints”). The 24 Elders in Revelation 5:8 (cf 4:4) are the 12 Patriarchs and the 12 Apostles representing Old Testament and New Testament saints who have been redeemed by the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. These Representatives in heaven are worshipping the Lord and offering to Him the “prayers of saints”. The fact that prayers are designated as “golden vials full of odours” teaches that prayers are an act of worship to God. We pray only to God and not to any creature—angels or humans or animals or nature. The prayers of the saints ascend to God as a sweet-smelling sacrifice (Ps 141:2). Moreover, in Revelation 8:3, we read of “the prayers of all saints”. The term “all” is all inclusive and speaks of the prayers of the saints past, present, and future, and according to John Wesley, includes “the prayers of all the saints in heaven and earth”.
Q2: Are there millions or billions of intercessors in heaven other than Jesus Christ alone?
A: God forbid! The Bible is very clear, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5). We who are on earth pray and intercede for one another as commanded in James 5:16 and 1 Timothy 2:1. When we do so, do we thus deny that the Lord Jesus Christ is our only Mediator and Intercessor? Of course not! Likewise, when the saints in heaven pray (eg Rev 6:9-11), they are not intercessors like Christ, for we do not pray or intercede on the basis of our own name or merits (for we have none), but only in and through the name of Christ and Christ alone. The Bible is clear on the teaching of prayer: We pray to God the Father (Matt 6:6, 9; 7:11), through Jesus Christ His Son (John 14:13, 15:16, Eph 2:18), and in the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:26–27).
Q3: Should we tell the saints in heaven what our needs are so that they can pray for us?
A: We should never talk to the saints in heaven and tell them to pray for us. The Bible commands us not to converse with or consult the dead (Lev 19:31, Deut 18:9–12, Isa 8:19).
Furthermore, why would earthly saints tell their earthly needs to the saints in heaven when they have the Lord Jesus Christ who alone is all they need? They can tell Him all their needs for He is their Great High Priest, “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb 4:14–16). The Lord Jesus not only feels for all of us, He is also able to provide for all of us. The saints in heaven are not omniscient or omnipotent and as such are totally helpless to come to our aid. Only God, being all knowing and all powerful, is able to help us, and Jesus is God. Pray only to Him.
Q4: If we cannot share our prayer items with the heavenly saints, then how do they know what to pray for?
A: We do not need a prayer list before we can pray for others. We can pray when we are burdened to pray according to what we already know and remember (cf Luke 16:25–28, Rev 6:9–10). It must also be clarified that the saints in heaven are not privy to everything that is happening on earth or in our lives. That is not their prerogative, nor their privilege. Only the Lord Jesus Christ has that prerogative and privilege for only He “is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us” (Eph 3:20). It is also enough for us that our Father in heaven knows, for He “knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” (Matt 6:8). In addition, nowhere in the Bible are we told to pray for the departed saints.
Q5: Are the prayers of the saints in heaven more efficacious because they are in heaven and therefore nearer to God?
A: The answer is no. Whether a prayer on earth or in heaven is efficacious or not depends not on any human being or his merits or his location, but only on God, His Person and His will. That was why the Lord taught us to pray saying, “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matt 6:9–10). The Lord Jesus Himself set the infallible example by praying, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42). Note that the prayers of the saints in heaven were not answered immediately (Rev 6:9–11). The Lord said His justice and judgement must wait to be carried out according to His plan and schedule. His will be done!
Q6: Do we inevitably cry to dead saints in times of distress and desperation?
A: No, we do not and should not cry to dead saints in times of distress and desperation. In times of distress and desperation, we cry unto the Lord, like the saints in heaven, “And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” (Rev 6:10). We cry like the Psalmist, “LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph? How long shall they utter and speak hard things? and all the workers of iniquity boast themselves? They break in pieces thy people, O LORD, and afflict thine heritage.” (Ps 94:3–5).
Q7: Is the teaching of saints praying in heaven for saints on earth a Roman Catholic teaching and a heresy?
A: No, the teaching of saints praying in heaven (rightly understood) is not a heresy. It is the praying to the departed saints and seeking their intercession that is a Roman Catholic teaching and a heresy.
Calvin himself affirmed, “In asserting the intercession of the saints, if all you mean is, that they continually pray for the completion of Christ’s kingdom, on which the salvation of all the faithful depends, there is none of us who calls it in question.” He explained in his Institutes, “With respect to the saints who are dead in the flesh, but alive in Christ, if we attribute intercession to them, let us not imagine they have any other way of praying to God than by Christ. But it has been practised in some ages, and is now practised wherever Popery prevails, to pray through the saints. By this, they dishonour Christ, and rob Him of the character of the only Mediator.”
Q8: Are heavenly saints duty bound, when they arrive in heaven, to pray without ceasing?
A: Prayer and praise are part and parcel of the worship of God in heaven. “And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne. And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
“And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.” (Rev 5:6–14).
“Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.” (Rev 7:15).
We look forward to the day when we “are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb 12:22–23). What a gathering of saints that will be when we will worship the Lord together and forever! JK
Rev Dr Timothy Tow
Is it wrong to commemorate the birth of our Saviour? Some member of Calvary B-P Church, Pandan (Singapore), gave me a well written treatise on “Why we should not celebrate Christmas?” The reasons given are four: (1) We don’t know the date. (2) It is connected with some heathen festival. (3) It was a Mass, a church festival or feast day. (4) It is commercialised.
Our answer to these objections is with the Chinese proverb Yin Ye Fei Shih, “Giving up eating for fear of choking” or “Giving up an indispensable undertaking because of a small obstacle.” In spite of a background of heathen connections and present-day commercialism Christmas as defined by Reader’s Digest Oxford Complete Wordfinder is “the annual festival of Christ’s Birth celebrated on December 25.”
Now, we celebrate the Event and not the Day. Whatever is presented as a heathen background and howsoever it is commercialised, all we do know is we are commemorating the Birth of our Saviour. Do you ever make a big Birthday Party to honour your father? Is it right or wrong? Surely, in filial piety to your father, it is doubly right. Is there any law forbidding? So we joyously commemorate the coming of the Saviour in that He is born to save us from our sins (Matt 1:21).
The Bible teaching on celebrating Christmas, or Easter, is: “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it...” (Rom 14:5,6). “But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ... Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way” (vv. 10–13).
We who commemorate the Birth of our Saviour have never criticised those who do not. Let those who boycott Christmas keep diam (silent) before us. It is sad that a small group in Calvary who think themselves purer by reading some Puritanical literature begin to condemn others who do not follow them. Such puritanism, I am afraid, can degenerate to Pharisaism.
(Source: Timothy Tow, The Story of My Bible-Presbyterian Faith, pp101–102.)
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