The Living and the Dead Saints

(Leigh Ann Coudriet) #1

I’m wondering… (given the scriptures below my question)

***** How do we reconcile these occurrences in scripture with the present teaching in protestant churches that these experiences, interactions, and appearances cannot happen in our present times? *****

Hebrews Chapter 11 and Chapter 12 where it speaks of a "Great Cloud of Witnesses …. "

Do these “great cloud of witnesses” include new testament believers that have died, as well as those mentioned in Hebrews 11?
Do these “witnesses” see us on earth and what is happening in our lives?
Can Mary, Peter, John and others see us presently on earth?

And at the transfiguration — since Elijah and Moses came with Jesus to appear to Peter and other disciples, – can other heavenly saints make appearances like Elijah and Moses did?

In the OT there was Samuel that appeared to King Saul… and spoke to him.

Also referring to the account in Luke 16 :

How is Abraham(with Lazarus beside him) answering this request from the dead rich man, if we are to believe that OT saints do not converse with both the living and the dead?

Is Jesus telling of an actual conversation that took place to teach those in the present moment?

Here’s the passage from Luke :

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.

20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores

21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.

23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.

24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.

26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

in addition to the above, I’d like to add that Jesus (The Living Word) is the same yesterday, today and forevermore. so is it possible that what He allowed to take place in the scriptures 2000-4000 years ago, he would allow to transpire today – appearances, and such.

Thank you in advance for your thoughts on these.

Successful Prayers To The Saints
(Lakshmi Mehta) #2

@Leigh_Coudriet, Great question! I too would like to understand this issue of the interaction between the living and dead saints more.

Our pastor recently did a sermon on the concept of the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews and he said pretty much all scholars agree that this is a metaphorical statement, where the living saints are the runners and the dead saints are the spectators as in an amphitheater.

New Testament Greek scholar A.T. Robertson describes it like this: The metaphor refers to the great amphitheater with the arena for the runners and the tiers upon tiers of seats rising up like a cloud.

More quotes:
In the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, which is a large, multi-volume, scholarly Greek treatment of the language, the writers say this: The readers are represented as runners who have entered the arena. They make ready to run by laying aside everything that would impede them. Around them on the stands are the packed ranks of spectators, the cloud of witnesses, who with avid interest follow the course of the runners as eye-witnesses.

B.F. Westcott, in The Epistle to the Hebrews (1889) admits: “It is impossible to exclude the thought of the spectators in the amphitheater”; cf. Class. Rev., 5 (1891), 21b3

William Lane in his commentary, The Word Biblical Commentary, says:
In the context of the athletic metaphor, it is perhaps natural to think of an amphitheater, with its ascending rows of spectators who gather to watch the games. The participle “surrounded by,” particularly suggests that they are witnesses to our efforts

Ben Witherington, in his commentary on Hebrews says,
.but in view of the running metaphor in our context, our author may be thinking of a crowd of spectators watching the race. On the other hand, who are these spectators? They are those who have passed on, being faithful witnesses to God. Our author says there is a great cloud of these witnesses. David deSilva stresses that our author wants his audience to see themselves as surrounded by friendly and encouraging witnesses from the hall of faith, not hostile and violent neighbors wishing them ill

Leon Morris in his commentary in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, says: Perhaps we should think of something like a relay race where those who have finished their course and handed in their baton are watching and encouraging their successors.

Further information from my pastor’s sermon:
So what do witnesses mean? Do they or do they not see? The origin of the Greek word that was primarily used was the idea of an eyewitness, such as in a court of law, or a spectator. The writer of Hebrews uses the same word as in Heb 12:1 in Heb 10:28, as an eyewitness in a court of law. The word has evolved a bit to also include this idea of being a testifier, and that’s how it’s used in chapter 11. The idea is that, those great heroes of the faith who gave testimony to their faith in God were considered witnesses. It would be very unusual for the writer of Scripture to change the definition of a term when it’s used in that close proximity between chapter 10 and 12. So, if in chapter 10, verse 28 it meant an eyewitness, it’s most likely what he’s meaning by the exact same term in chapter 12, verse 1. In a sense what he’s saying is: they aren’t actually spectators; they are teammates. They have run their race. This is a relay race; there are no individual races, and as teammates they have passed the baton. They are now in the stands, and they want to cheer on their teammates who are now carrying the baton until we finish our race and join them in the bleachers.

So, I agree that saints from the past can view us as Rev 6 also confirms. But even this verse doesn’t confirm that they can all see everything all the time. Only God is omniscient.

Rev 6:9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.

Saul’s encounter with Samuel in 1 Samuel 28:
The gospel coalition article answers this well. What is of note is that the witch was shocked when Samuel does show up - so that suggests God’s intervention. The passage does not endorse divination but proves Samuel’s prophecy of Saul’s disobedience.

It is clear that the spirit of Samuel appears to the witch and speaks. There is no other way to understand the text in verses 15 and 16, which states that Samuel speaks. But there are other questions to ask. Why was the medium shocked when she saw the spirit of Samuel? Why did she not recognize him but have to wait for Saul’s confirmation of his identity? It seems as if this experience was different from her usual practice of divining departed spirits. Why? Perhaps the narrator is mocking her. In my judgment the reason has to do with the wider context of Samuel. This particular story is an example of God bringing up the dead from Sheol (Samuel) and bringing down the living to Sheol (Saul), exalting the humble and abasing the proud. In the Song of Hannah with which the first book of Samuel begins, Hannah sings about Yahweh’s power: “The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up” (1 Sam. 2:6). The second book of Samuel essentially begins with David’s lament for the fallen dynasty of Saul, and its refrain reminds everyone of Hannah’s song: “How are the mighty fallen!”

Assessing the Meaning

There is a dark supernatural power to which mediums and diviners sought access in the ancient world. For the Israelites, however, this power was off limits. Yahweh was the ultimate power, and his transcendence meant that Israel must trust in him alone. This dark power was no match for Yahweh and in the end would be terribly harmful. For example, all the demonic powers behind the Canaanite Baal cult were no match for the prophet of God on Mount Carmel during the time of Elijah.[10] But in this example in 1 Samuel 28, it is only fitting that because Saul continued to defy God to the end, his end was brought about through his own rebellion, which was the result of disobedience. The depths to which Saul had sunk in seeking counsel from a witch prove Samuel’s prophetic words when he was alive and first condemned Saul because of disobedience: “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry

Luke 16 - Lazarus and rich man story
This story too if true and not just an illustrative story only suggests a conversation between those in hell and heaven but does not lead us to a conclusion that the living must communicate with the dead saints. No where do we see that we are to pray to saints.

So, putting it all together, the nature of interaction of those who have gone before could be as our teammates, as those praying in faith, cheering us on but not as someone who decides or mediates how our prayers are to be answered. Contacting the dead is clearly forbidden in the Bible as described in the previous thread on ‘successful prayer of saints’. As Heb 12:1 says, we are to focus our eyes on Jesus and do our part to experience the victory that Christ has already won and God weaves our stories with those in the past and those in the future in His overall redemption plan. I think NT believers will one day join the OT saints as also suggested by Luke 16 with Lazarus meeting Abraham. I think Mary, Peter, John can view us as God allows. Whether God can make a dead saint appear - it’s possible as with Saul, but not probable I think. I don’t believe Luke 16 proves conversation between living and dead as the rich man’s request is not even granted. The rich man asked out of desperation, not by rationally considering a possibility of dead communicating with the living.

I hope this is helpful…look forward to other input.