Communion of Saints


“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have gazed upon and our hands handled concerning the word of life—and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and announce to you the life, the eternal one, which was toward the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard, we announce also to you…”

IF I BELIEVE that the first resurrection occurred around AD70 [1], and that the New Covenant administration consists of saints living and reigning with Christ in heaven [2], these “joint-heirs” become co-mediators in some fashion. Does this open the door to the Roman Catholic practice of praying to glorified saints, or to the Eastern Orthodox love for beautiful icons?

Working my way through Peter Leithart’s commentary on the epistles of John, I found the answer, and it is thoroughly iconoclastic.

From John’s emphasis on the visibility and tangibility of the Word, Eastern Orthodox Christians have concluded that we are no longer forbidden, as Israel was, to communicate with God through images… This is not, however, the direction John goes…

Life is available to us in the Word of Life, now manifested in human flesh, but there is an order to this manifestation. The apostles had direct access to the visible and tangible Word. We do not. Living twenty centuries from the ascension, we have not heard, seen, beheld, or handled Him. Instead, we rely on the testimony of the “we.” Through fellowship or communion with them, we have fellowship with the Father and the Son (I John 1:3), and we have fellowship with them by believing their written testimony concerning the Word of Life (v. 4) and by abiding in the community of which they are the foundation stones (c. Eph. 2:20).

John moves from telling us that he and the apostles have seen and touched life to telling us that he announces this discovery to us. If we want to have life, we have to receive the announcement, the gospel proclamation. What they have seen and touched, we access by hearing. John emphasizes as strongly as possible the visibility of the Word, but then falls back to the old Hebraic emphasis on the ear. The movement is from their eyes and hands to our ears. We have not seen the Word, and we do not need to. We have the law, the prophets, and now the apostles. That is more than enough…

Despite appearances, we are even more intimate with Jesus than the disciples were prior to His ascension and Pentecost. They heard Him speak, but often misunderstood what He said. Though we also get things wrong, we have the Spirit to lead us into truth…

This intimacy is what John is getting at when he talks about the communion of the church with apostles, the Father, and Jesus. There is a necessary order here. We have no communion with the Father without communion with the Son; no communion with the Son without communion with the apostles; and no communion with the apostles without receiving their written testimony in the communion of the church. [3]

What this means is that those saints living in heaven are tablets of flesh that still speak. We hear their voices from heaven as we read their eyewitness testimony. This is how they govern, and of course it is exactly how God governs. He speaks through the testimony of the saints to us, cutting our hearts, and we speak to the world. But what about fellowship in the other direction? Icons don’t speak to us, but should we pray to the saints? [4]

There is no exhortation to do any such thing in the New Testament, and no record of the practice in the early church. To do so would be to contravene the very witness of the apostles through which we have communion. Any church that sets itself up as an authority over the Scriptures (as Rome does) is thus limiting the communion possible with the Son and the Father. Conformity with the apostolic testimony gives us direct communion not with the apostles, but with the Son and the Father. We have direct access to His table, to His body and His blood, as they did. In the New Covenant church, there are no fences around the sanctuary.

Leithart goes on to show that this communion, this unity and intimacy of life, is not common ideas but a person. Why then does the written Word often seem the opposite of what we desire? What the apostles left us, of all things, is a book! We desire the “tangibility” of Spirit-filled life, but instead the Word feels like bitter death.

So much of our Christian life seems to be mere words; dead words. The Christian book industry must have devoured many virgin forests. But this does not mean words are to be disparaged to make way for power. The Word is living, and it brings Life, but via death. The apostles who testify and the Christ to whom they testify are all living. But their hard Words are to be obeyed.

Conformity to the written Word—which is common ideas—is a living sword that cuts the sacrifice. Obeying feels like death. Becoming united very often feels like death (especially for opinionated men). It is costly to us. But the resurrection Life—the access that follows—is direct. It is a consuming Pentecostal fire on the Altar. As always, simple obedience to God is the key to unimaginable power. The church which will not submit to this death-by-eyewitness-testimony is denied The Life.

John writes to a divided church, a church in crisis. How is such a church to be unified?… The church is unified by a radically divisive adherence to the witness of the apostles, committed to writing in the New Testament. [5]

So, if we can’t pray to the saints, why a first resurrection? Why not just leave us the apostolic words (as most Christians believe God did) and leave the apostles (and Old Covenant saints) in their graves? Why bother preparing a place for the disciples and then taking them there so soon?

This was the necessary climax of the Old Covenant, the “heavenly country” for which Abraham looked. The Old Covenant martyrs and the New Covenant apostles are all JEWS. [6] The first resurrection was the end of Judaism. The goal of God was never merely the salvation of the faithful, but their inclusion in His government. We see this signified many times throughout the Old Testament, most notably when Moses and the elders feasted with the Lord on the mountain and, somehow, He didn’t lay a finger on them.

The apostolic witness was completed before the destruction of Temple worship. They spoke like trumpets, and all the old walls came down. No more fences. No more darts and spears. Full access to the mountain of God for all. The Holy Place on earth was destroyed by the testimony of those who now governed as redeemed men (Adams) in the Holy Place in heaven. The Temple finally became a reality.

“For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation.” Ephesians 2:14

The firstfruits church founded a new building which is a body. Yes, there is mediation, as there is in any body. But the Old Covenant was a dead body, a dead sacrifice. The New is a living body, a resurrected sacrifice, and as with the members of any living body, all access to the life is direct. The blood flows to every corner of the Altar. Our communion is not with a fence of Jesus’ minders in heaven. We don’t have to make an appointment. As we obey their testimony, the testimony of Jesus, their communion with Him is our communion with Him. He is an open door.

And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4-6)

[1] See The First Resurrection and The End is Not Yet.
[2] See Jesus’ New Broom and Big Government.
[3] Peter J. Leithart, From Behind the Veil, pp. 39-42.
[4] On the danger of icons, see People Are Good.
[5] [3] Peter J. Leithart, From Behind the Veil, p. 44.
[6] By Jews, here, I mean the “sons of God,” the various forms of priesthood as it developed throughout the Old Testament beginning with Abel. But referring to them as Jews makes my point sharper to your ears.

Share Button

8 Responses to “Communion of Saints”

  • Drew Says:

    John 5:25 seems to state that the First Resurrection was already taking place prior to 70 AD. Also, numerous passages of the New Testament use resurrection language to describe the regeneration of the human spirit.

    Also, I think John 21:23 nonetheless seems to cast doubt on your idea idea of a First-Century rapture. I’m unsure why you seem so determined to adopt this odd view.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Hi Drew

    There are actually three resurrections: Garden, Land and World. Despite the fact that Revelation 20 refers to two resurrections, the first is that of Christ, and Matthew confirms that other graves were also opened. This was necessary because resurrections are “corporate” harvests of wheat.

    The view might be considered odd, but it avoids the error of spiritualising the first resurrection (as orthodox preterists do) or the second (as hyperpreterists do). It answers the justifiable gripes that hypers have against partials, but it also answers the hypers because a “World” resurrection (the outer courts) is yet to come.

    It makes sense of Daniel 12. It also makes sense of what is going on in the Revelation. The angelic elders retire at the ascension of Christ, the apostolic church is offered as a sacrifice, and then installed as a new government. If Revelation 20 refers to this as “resurrection”, so be it. This view solves way more problems than it causes. It makes sense of the “imminence” of the resurrection the apostles expected, and it contains no gnosticism.

    Thanks for your comment!

  • Drew Says:

    You may say there are three resurrections, but both John 5 and Revelation only seems to discuss two. And I’m not real concerned with the problem of spiritualizing the First Resurrection. Revelation is a whole book of symbols and artsy illustrations so it seems perfectly reasonable that the First Resurrection would be talking about spiritual rebirth. In fact, I’ve read enough of your writings to know that you spiritualize just about everything in Revelation so it’s hard for me to see why you would even complain about that.

    And I don’t see how Daniel 12 fits your theory because Daniel 12 discusses the wicked being raised to ignominy, whereas your theory only talks about the redeemed being raised up.

    And again, to top it off, John 21:23 definitely seems to suggest (although it doesn’t explicitly state it) that John physically died. And then, of course, there’s the logical question of why God would spend forty years building up a “pure” firstfruits church to bless the entire earth as mentioned in Abraham’s covenant, only to rapture all the people away and leave the world in darkness.

  • Mike Bull Says:


    The problem I have with most interpreters is that they ignore one crucial factor: all the events in the New Testament follow patterns laid down in the Old. Most arguments about this consist of throwing isolated texts back and forth and, although helpful to a point, beyond that point it is futile. The Bible cannot be understood fully in this way.

    So, my main argument is structural. You can see a brief outline of it in Bible Matrix and a detailed one in Totus Christus.

    Also, Revelation 20 does describe enthroned saints as living and reigning, and that with Christ. Although there are many symbolic and typological “resurrections” in Scripture (and some individual literal ones), it is highly unlikely that these first and second resurrections differ in nature, despite the fact that they differ in scope (ie. Garden, Land, World). And Jesus did promise thrones to His disciples:

    Concerning leaving the world in darkness, see:

    Concerning “spiritualising” the text: all the symbols come from previous Scripture, as well as the structures that contain them. I found that once these have been pointed out, their meanings are not up for grabs at all. The Bible is certainly “encoded” but the code is consistent.

    Concerning Daniel 12, I do believe the judgment of the nations in Matthew 25 is history. Jesus did say that Old Testament Gentiles would condemn His generation. Perhaps these two events correspond.

    Thanks for the backchat! Much appreciated.

  • Angie B Says:

    Good post, Mike.

    Praying to the saints/icon-veneration is ecclesiastical porn; preferring a symbolic, idealized image of the Bride to the living, breathing body of Christ as manifest in His Church.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Thanks Angie.
    Coming from a godly woman, that observation is even more cutting.

  • Travis Finley Says:


    I’m not sure I understand this, “So, if we can’t pray to the saints, why a first resurrection?”

    Jesus’ going away to “prepare a place” and “coming to receive to himself” has always puzzled me coming out of a Dispey background. At times it seems like the pattern of Ascension leads to a Dispey gnosticism and at other times it seems like Isaiah’s postmillennial hope of a new earth is the boon. Any thoughts?

  • Mike Bull Says:

    In supporting my position that Jesus has a living, apostolic human government, I have to make sure this doesn’t get hijacked to support an unbiblical doctrine – praying to these saints.
    Not sure I understand the second bit – maybe the last few chapters of BMX will help. Isaiah’s prophecies concerned the restoration. They only pictured the final new heavens and new earth: