What are the Prayers of the Saints?
I read an interesting article the other day by a Catholic apologist who was defending the idea of praying to the saints. I do not want to rebut everything he said here (though everything he said can be rebutted), but I want to address one point he made. I tackle this one point because I had never heard it before, yet upon looking it up online, I noticed others using this as evidence as well.
The point was this: In Revelation 5:8, the four-living creatures (angels) and the twenty-four elders (saints) bring the prayers of the saints to Jesus.
When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. – Revelation 5:8
The argument is that these saints and angels have these prayers and are presenting them to Jesus. They must have received these prayers and not intercepted them. They must be able to hear the silent prayers of the saints to know them. That they possess the prayers mean these must have been intended for them. These are our prayers to them and they are mediating on our behalf by presenting them to Jesus.
Is this what is actually going on here? Are the elders and the four living creatures presenting prayers that were lifted up to them. Are they mediating for us?
Methods of Reading Revelation
This is easily answered when we read this in context and with a Pre-Tribulation, Pre-Millennial, Futuristic view of Revelation. The Catholic understanding regarding this verse comes from a belief that these things are historical. They have already happened and are happening now. (For a summary of the major methods of interpreting Revelation, click on this link to an article on Bible.org)
Hence, if Revelation is historical, then Jesus has been crowned. He has received the scroll. He has accepted the worship of those in Heaven. He is now answering the prayers that have been presented to him by the angels and the saints.
However, if Revelation is still in the future, then the worship of Revelation 4-5 has not yet happened. This is, in my opinion, the proper view. When we view it this way, then we will understand that we are watching the coronation of Christ before His entire Body. For the first time since the beginning of Eternity, all the believers in Christ are together in one place. We have been snatched up to be with Him forever (Revelation 4:2, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). At the sight of Him, we all worship Him.
The Great Worship Service
Looking at the verses around our passage, we find worship. This is the great Worship Service after the Rapture. Revelation 4 finds us worshiping God on His Throne. Chapter 5 begins with the desperation John feels when he realizes no one is worthy to open the scroll (Revelation 5:1-4). This is followed by the presentation of the Lamb who was as if he were slain, standing (i.e.: resurrected) in the midst of the elders and the living creatures (Revelation 5:5-8). At this, all of Heaven worships (Revelation 5: 9-14).
Of course, since this is happening in the future, we already know that Jesus is the Lamb who was slain and yet lives. We already know, thanks to God’s Revelation to John, that we will one day stand before Him and worship Him as One Body in Heaven. We will not weep as John did, for we already know what will happen. God has told us. So we will watch in anticipation and joy as our King is presented before us.
Therefore, we praise Him now. We give Him worship now. We worship Him in the congregation and we worship Him in our solitude. We give our lives as worship to Him (Romans 12:1) and we give Him praise and power and honor and glory in our praises, our songs, and our prayers, even today.
The Prayers of the Saints
And this is what the elders and the living creatures will bring before Jesus on that Day. The praises we have offered up in the past will be brought together with the praises we will offer up on that Great Day, so that all the praises that have ever been given unto Him will be presented together. Our praise and worship that we gave in the past have not only been heard and received by our God but have been stored up for that Day.
When the Lamb is presented as the Only One Who Is Worthy, the worship-fest will begin with the praises that have been presented throughout history. They are brought in by the elders and the four living creatures.
The Problem with the Catholic View
Prayers lifted up to the saints are intercessory prayers. They are prayers for Aunt May’s health or for journey’s mercies or for the finding of lost articles. Intercessory prayers that are lifted up to the saints are brought to God by the saints as mediators.
Why would those types of prayers be lifted up to the Lamb at this moment in Revelation?
The Lamb has been presented as the Only One Who Is Worthy. There is worship and praise being presented to Him. It is a non sequitur to have the saints present a request for Bill’s job at this point. If Bill is a Christian, he is worshiping Christ in Heaven at that time and doesn’t need any prayers for his job.
No – these are not intercessory prayers of the saints. The elders are presenting the praises to the Lamb that we have been singing and praying since the Church began.
Revelation 5:8 does not give a picture of prayers being lifted up to dead saints to mediate for us. It is a picture of the praises that have been lifted up to the Son of God for the past 2,000 years.
Let’s fill up that incense bowl right now! To His Glory now and on that Day.
These are the Prayers of the Saints!