The Cloud of Witnesses

Last month something glorious happened for Ravens fans; their team made it to the Super Bowl and won. Oh the joy and excitement! Tickets were precious. Moreover, who knows how many millions of people were watching the game world-wide? The teams were surrounded by viewers intent on the competition unfolding before them.

Whether we are aware of it or not, we are surrounded ─ surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:4). These witnesses, according to the immediate context of Hebrews chapter 11, are the saints that have gone before us. We may include the angels as well. This cloud of witnesses inhabits the spiritual realm. They are watching the great “game,” the greatest of competitions even greater than the Super Bowl. They are not only watching, but very much involved with our perfection in progress (Heb. 11:40 with 12:22-24).

The perfection of those in the cloud of witnesses and our earthly struggle for perfection opening up before them, are not separate, but one. The Church, both in heaven and on earth, is one organism, to which we have come, “Mount Zion,” “The city of the Living God,” “the heavenly Jerusalem,” and “an innumerable company of saints, “the general assembly and church of the Firstborn registered in heaven,” “to God the Judge of all, and “to the spirits of just men made perfect,” all before Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant.” All beings in heaven and earth are active participants in the great drama unfolding in space and time. Those of us who pass on to the cloud of witnesses take our place in the ranks, and actively participate in the perfecting of God’s plans in heaven and earth.

But what do the angels and saints do? We have already seen in the last posts that angels bring the graces of God to us as God’s ministers. We may be sure that the “dead” in Christ are not “dead” but very much more alive than we are in our mortal states. True, the Scriptures tell us that the dead are waiting for the resurrection. However, we must understand this in perspective of those of us in the flesh now in space and time. From the perspective of the spiritual realm, the spirits of the “just men made perfect” are “with the Lord” (II Cor. 5:1-8). Whatever their state in the cloud of witnesses, we can be sure that they are “not naked” (i.e. disembodied spirits with no form), but are clothed in spiritual bodies. We can be sure that they, like the angels, have function. God does not create anything without function; function is to be a channel of grace to others.

Therefore, we know that saints and angels surround us, and that they are very active in prayer for us, and in being a means of grace to us. We do not hesitate at all to ask of others in this life for their prayers and spiritual help. Why would we hesitate to ask the saints and angels to pray for us and for ministering God’s grace to us? Is it because we think the saints are dead? Is it because we believe that they are in an impossible remote place with God somewhere? Is it out of fear that to pray to God through the saints and angels that we would diminish our devotion to Christ, who is the sole mediator between God and Men?

This last fear is the show stopper for many Christians. However, they do not comprehend that they are blinded by a truncated cosmology that allows only for a subjective experience of Jesus on the one extreme and a radical transcendence on the other hand, with nothing of the spirit world in between. True, Jesus is the only Mediator between God and humanity, but He also is the great King with a royal court before Him where angels and saints do His bidding. They are then no longer conscious of the great cloud of witnesses; such a realm is not real to them, and is explained away as remnants from a pagan world view. They do not see that their cosmology is framed by the rationalism of the Enlightenment, yet deemed absolutely true by their own real encounter with Christ as Savior and Friend which seems to dovetail wonderfully with a rational rejection of spiritual intermediaries that reason will not accept. It is not the Bible, therefore, that frames their cosmology as much as their own subjective experience and the rationalism of our culture.

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