Updated: Aug 2, 2019
The following is the tenth post in a series looking closely at the teachings of Robert Henderson found in his book Operating in the Courts of Heaven. I first suggest some theological questions that require answers before the teaching is embraced whole-heartedly, then evaluate the biblical passages used to back-up the teaching.
Henderson uses Daniel 7:10; Jeremiah 23:18; Genesis 1:26; 2 Timothy 1:9; Isaiah 6:6-8; Hebrews 4:16; Job 1:6-12 to justify the existence of a council before time began in which he made decisions and recorded the content of the heavenly books.
Aspects of this scheme already grounded by responsible biblical interpretation and good systematic theological reasoning include the eternal communion of the triune God in the absence of creation and the perfection and excellence of his knowledge about all his creation. This knowledge includes all creatures, the situations those creatures will be placed in, the purposes for their being there and the decisions they make. These aspects I do not challenge.
The aspects I do challenge is the existence of a heavenly council prior to the creation of time and that this council was convened to assign purpose and destiny, recording them in heavenly books. Such aspects are read into the text, rather than out of the text. Below you will see how these aspects are not justified by the proof texts provided by Henderson.
Daniel 7:10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.
The presence of thrones in this passage suggests this is a kingly court, as does the authority, glory and sovereign power being given to the ‘son of man’ figure (7:14). Here there is even mention of the worship that is given him, with his everlasting dominion and kingdom. These are the actions and language that belong in a throne room; not a courtroom. Moreover, the power of the rival ‘little horn’ kingdom is handed over when the Most High sits; judgement is implied with the imagery of the books (7:10), but the whole emphasis is “I’m taking over” as supreme ruler.
The court of Daniel 7:10 refers with apocalyptic imagery to a judgement after a period of tribulation. This interpretation is given by the angel of Daniel’s dream in the passage immediately following (7:22-27), and is echoed in Revelation 11:18; 20:4.
Jeremiah 23:18 But which of them has stood in the council of the Lord, to see or to hear his word? Who has listened and heard his word?
Mention of the ‘council’ here comes in the context of a rebuke to prophets who have not heard from God, but are instead are speaking visions from their own minds. To ‘stand in the council of the Lord’ therefore, is to hear what the Lord is actually saying. This does not speak of a council before time began that determined the destiny and kingdom purpose of various individuals and groups. This speaks of the communication between God and his prophets in the current timeframe.
Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
Typically used a prooftext for the doctrine of the Trinity, the plural noun “us” may simply be a linguistic device to signal the majestic nature of the speaker, such as when the Queen of England announces “We are not amused.” It is called the plurality of majesty.
Although this announcement could represent the council and does state the general purpose for humanity – to be rulers in God’s creation – it falls short of providing a full justification of the council of Henderson’s model. For one, it is not before time began, but during the creation account. The picture of Genesis is of a God who is actively involved with his creation, hovering above the waters (1:2), calling out his creative decrees on each day, separating spaces and filling them with life. Secondly, it only provides proof of a general purpose for humanity, and not specific purposes for individuals or smaller groups.
2 Timothy 1:9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time . . .
This scripture does confirm that our purpose was to have a holy life in Christ, and provision was made ‘before time began’ so that this could be accomplished. “Before time began” is a way of saying this was always God’s plan. The eternal mind of God knew from the first that Christ would have to appear, destroy death and bring life (2 Timothy 1:10) if we were to be saved. Extrapolating from this the council of Henderson’s model is again, unjustified.
Isaiah 6:6-8 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
That this happened in the year King Uzziah died (Isaiah 6:1), that seraphim are worshiping the Lord and that Isaiah is a participant, all indicate that this is not happening before time or creation. The picture Henderson presents is of secret council chambers, with God’s voice asking, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” as if the Lord were actually curious how his message were to be taken. The vision here, however, is of the King (6:5) of the universe on his throne (6:1) who has already prepared Isaiah with coal on his lips (6:6-7) and is now commissioning Isaiah to be his appointed messenger (6:8).
Hebrews 4:16 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
This refers to a ‘throne of grace,’ more appropriate in a throne room than a council chambers, and better suiting the Father model of prayer than the impartial, perhaps even duty-bound, God implied by the Courtroom model.
Job 1:6-12 6 One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” 8 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” 9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedgearound him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 12 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
Did this scene actually play out? Being wisdom literature the historicity of the book of Job is not at all certain. The opening scene even less so, as there were no earthly witnesses to report on the proceedings of the council, and more likely, is simply an invention of the storyteller who has licence to introduce characters and setup the moral of the story in his own way. So again, the conclusion that there is a heavenly council before time is unjustified.
Thinking about the context of the book as a whole, the point is that we, like Job, will probably never receive an answer as to why evil happens, and the correct response to this is to be faithful to the God who always remains in total control. Henderson’s model would subvert this message on two scores. First, because he sees this as a glimpse into the heavenly council, we can know through prophetic insight why we experience certain evils, adding that we could potentially avert people’s sufferings by arguing the case in the heavenly courtroom. Second, because on his view Satan won the exchange, God’s sovereignty is maligned and total trust in him is no longer viable.
Zecariah 3:6-7 If you will walk in obedience to me and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here.
The courts here are more likely a reference to the temple courts. The person God is speaking to is the High Priest Joshua (3:6) and his associates seated with him (3:8). The Messianic prophesy that follows is of the stone that will replace the Temple as the centre of the faith and foundation for forgiveness. So again, this is not a courtroom and not before time began.
In “The Courtroom on Trial?” series of posts, some theological problems with the Courtroom model of intercessory prayer are discussed. These include;
- Is the nature of the Courts of Heaven obscured by the limitations of human language?
- Does the courtroom model suggest God is not the ultimate?
- Does the courtroom model suggest either God is not all-knowing or heaven is imperfect?
- Does the courtroom model suggest Christ’s atoning death on the cross was inadequate?
- Does the courtroom model suggest a theology of works?
- Does Operating in the Courts of Heaven imply a theological method that prioritises personal experiences over biblical revelation?
Following these the exegetical problems are discussed. These include;
- The persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8)
- The heavenly books
- Heaven’s council
- The five stage process (Romans 8:29-30)
- Simon Peter’s courtroom trial (Luke 22:31-32)
Finally, I provide my own conclusion and recommendations.