(John Piper is a very well known Reformed Baptist pastor)
Anti-Catholic Baptist apologist James White has sought to deny that saints ion heaven are aware of earthly happenings, by denying that Hebrews 12:1 ("surrounded by a cloud of witnesses") has anything to do with this notion, and dismissing any contention that the souls who pray under the altar (Revelation 6:9-10) are aware of what happens on earth. I have responded to him already. In his latest "reply" to my new book, The One-Minute Apologist, White reiterates, in his comment on Revelation 6:9-10 (bolding added):
These are martyrs "who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained." It is easy to see the role these play in the text: the Christians to which the book is being sent by God are undergoing just this kind of persecution. Their cry to God is simple: how long will justice be delayed in avenging their deaths? The response is that they are given white robes (evidently they didn't need a trip through purgatory before being pure), and they are told to wait a little while longer. There was a certain number of martyrs yet to be made (hard to read this without seeing God's sovereignty, for, "blessed in the sight of God is the death of His saints"), and they are to wait until that time is completed.Today I have found some interesting material that would contradict this understanding, from various Protestants. Well-known Protestant activist and prolific author Randy Alcorn, for example, writes with great insight on this question:
Now, this is the contextual meaning of the passage. Where does Hahn, and by extension, Armstrong, get all the rest of these assertions? Where is the evidence that these souls have knowledge of current events on earth? Where is the evidence that they have communication with anyone on earth? They are not aware of events on earth; and to say they have "foreknowledge" of the future is to say nothing more than they know God is just and will punish sin, which, of course, means we all have foreknowledge of the very same kind. They are informed about the fact that there will be more martyrs, they do not have this information naturally (which they would have known were they observing events on earth).
. . . Ironically, the Roman Catholic apologist, who so often refers to "private interpretation" as all you can have as a Protestant, has nothing more himself, in fact. And when we examine his use of Scripture, we find it strained, even tortured, and anything but compelling.
6. In heaven, we will be aware of at least some of what is happening on earth.
Another controversial concept, yet again the Bible confirms it:
a. The martyrs in heaven appear to know what is still happening on earth (Rev. 6:9-11).
b. When Babylon is brought down, an angel points to events happening on earth and says "Rejoice over her, O heaven! Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! God has judged her for the way she treated you" (Rev. 18:20). Since he specifically addresses them, the clear implication is that the saints in heaven are watching and listening to what is happening on earth.
c. There is "the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting Hallelujah" and praising God for specific events of judgment that have just taken place (Rev. 19:1-5). Again, the saints in heaven are clearly observing what is happening on earth.
d. When heaven's saints return with Christ to set up his millennial kingdom (Rev. 19:11-14), it seems strange to think they would have been ignorant of the culmination of human history taking place on earth. The picture of saints in heaven blissfully unaware of what is transpiring on earth, where God and his angels (and they themselves) are about to return for the ultimate battle in the history of the universe, after which Christ will be crowned king, contradicts clear indications in the context. But even apart from such indications, this notion of heavenly ignorance seems ludicrous.
e. When brought back to earth from heaven, Samuel was aware of what Saul had been doing and what he'd failed to do on earth (1 Sam. 28:18). Unless he was specially "briefed" on this, it follows he must have been already aware of it.
f. When called from heaven to the transfiguration on earth, Moses and Elijah talked with Jesus about his death about to happen in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). They seem aware of the context they stepped into, of what was transpiring on earth.
g. Hebrews 12:1 tells us to "run the race marked out for us," creating the mental picture of the Greek competitions which were watched intently by throngs of engrossed fans, sitting high up in the ancient stadiums. The "great cloud of witnesses" he speaks of are clearly the saints who've gone before us, whose accomplishments (some of them recorded in the previous chapter) on the playing field are now past. The imagery seems to suggest those saints, the spiritual "athletes" of old, are now watching us and cheering us on from the stands of heaven. (The witnesses are said to "surround" us, not merely to have preceded us.)
h. The unfolding drama of redemption, awaiting Christ's return, is currently happening on earth. Earth is center court, center stage, awaiting the consummation of Christ's return and the setting up of his kingdom. Logically, this seems a compelling reason to think those in heaven might see what is happening on the earth. If in heaven we will be concerned with what God is concerned with, and his focus is on the spiritual battle on earth, why would we not witness his works there?
i. Christ, in heaven, watches closely what transpires on earth, especially in the lives of God's people (Rev. 2-3). If the Sovereign God's attentions are on earth, why wouldn't those of his heavenly subjects be? When a great war is transpiring, is anyone in the home country uninformed and unaware of it? When a great drama is taking place, do those who know the writer, producer and cast-and have great interest in the outcome-refrain from watching?
j. Angels saw Christ on earth (1 Tim. 3:16). There are clear indications angels know what is happening on earth (Luke 1:26; 1 Cor. 11:10). If angels, why not saints? Don't the people of God in heaven have as much vested interests in the spiritual events happening on earth as do angels?
k. Christ said "there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who do not need to" (Luke 15:7). Similarly, "there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (Luke 15:10). Who is doing this rejoicing in heaven, in the presence of angels? Doesn't it logically include the saints in heaven, who would of all people appreciate the joy and wonder of human conversion? (If they rejoice over conversions happening on earth, then obviously they must be aware of what is happening on earth.)
7. In heaven, saints will pray to God and ask things of him, and perhaps intercede for those on earth.
a. Christ, the God-man, is in heaven interceding for people on earth (Rom. 8:34). In at least one case, then, a person who has died and gone to heaven is now praying for those on earth. The martyrs in heaven in Rev. 6:10 pray to God, asking him to take specific action on earth. They are praying for God's justice on the earth, which may have intercessory implications for their brethren now suffering on earth. The sense of connection and loyalty to and concern for the body of Christ of which saints in heaven are part with the saints on earth, would likely be enhanced by being in heaven, not eliminated by it (Eph. 3:15). In any case, we know these are saints who have died, now in God's presence, actively praying concerning what is happening on earth.
b. Prayer is simply talking to God. Angels can talk to God, and therefore angels pray. We will communicate with God in heaven, and therefore we will pray in heaven, presumably more than we do now, not less. Our prayers will be effective given our righteous state (James 5:16).
c. The burden of proof lies on those who would argue saints in heaven cannot or do not pray for those on earth. On what biblical basis would we conclude this?
Rev. 5:8 speaks of the "prayers of the saints" in a context that may include saints in heaven, not just on earth. In any case, if saints are allowed to see some of what transpires on earth, and clearly they are, then it would seem strange for them not to intercede for them. (While we are not told angels pray for people, neither are we told they do not.)
It's a question of assumptions. If we assume heaven is a place of ignorance of or disinterest in earth, then we will naturally assume those in heaven couldn't or wouldn't pray for people here. In contrast, if we believe it is a place of interest in and observation of God's program and people on earth, and where the saints and angels talk to God, then we would naturally assume they do pray to God for those on earth. This is my assumption.
James White loves the great American Protestant theologian Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). For example:
Jonathan Edwards on the sovereignty of God. It was one of the most exciting studies I did at that time. The "Edwards" field is huge, with many modern writers and speakers addressing the topic.But Jonathan Edwards would wholeheartedly agree with me on this general point of awareness of saints in heaven, of the earth, and disagree with James White:
. . . brilliant, godly, Scripturally sound men like Edwards, or Spurgeon, or Warfield . . . [ link ]
I think this represents a scandalous lack of understanding of the deeper, more meaningful works of Calvin, Edwards, the entire body of the Puritans, Bunyan, Spurgeon, Warfield and any number of modern writers. [ link ]
Is it not very clear that the reason we produce Spurgeons and Edwards and Bunyans and the like is because we have a fundamentally different view of Scripture? [ link ]
Men like Spurgeon and Edwards and Warfield and Machen and Sproul, defenders of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the crucifixion . . . [ link ]
The gospel preached by the Reformers, the gospel of Paul preached wit h such power by men like Edwards and Spurgeon. [ link ]
I feel like reading some Edwards or Spurgeon or something just to wash my mental mouth out . . . [ link ]
There can be no doubt but that the saints in heaven shall see the flourishing and prosperity of the church on earth; for how can they avoid it, when they shall be with the King himself, whose kingdom this church is, and who as King manages all those affairs? Shall the royal family be kept in ignorance of the success of the affairs of the kingdom?White can dismiss, if he likes, my exegetical and theological arguments as the raving of an unregenerate, ignorant Catholic apostate (that's what he thinks of me), but surely he can't dismiss Jonathan Edwards so easily.
. . . doubtless they are not ignorant of the flourishing of the church here on earth.
. . . why should their knowledge of the affairs of Christ's kingdom on earth cease, as soon as Christ was ascended?
The saints in heaven are under infinitely greater advantages to take the pleasure of beholding how Christ's kingdom flourishes than if they were here upon earth . . . They can see the wise connection of one event with another . . .
(Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. VIII, pp. 540-541)