Anchoring to the Faithful and True Witness
Read the first post in this series, Anchoring to Christ.
When Jesus delivers a message to his church in Revelation in order to comfort them and bolster their faith in times of testing, he first confronts them with a description of himself. And the first description of Jesus in the book of Revelation is that he is a faithful and true witness.
This is what we desperately need when we feel surrounded by troubling events in the world and are tempted to fear them. We wonder whether they will threaten us personally, threaten our families, threaten our children, our jobs, our security, our health.
If it was not enough that our society’s response to Covid-19 has thrown our economy into a freefall, with millions out of work and many of our jobs being threatened, now our entire nation is embroiled in a battle over political ideologies, and the unrest in many cities in the U.S. is at a revolutionary proportion.
The unrest and the violence and threats to topple local government authority are very troubling. It seems that so many people are caught up in the excitement that they’re not thinking about the far-reaching implications of their words and actions. It is alarming to hear people talk openly about a violent take-over of America’s cities one by one, as if it’s a virtue, and to watch governmental authorities, sworn to protect the people, respond by getting out of the way or “taking a knee.”
And as I’ve listened to the news media and watched the unrest and the angst and the violence and have heard many confusing and contradictory assertions on both sides of the issues, my mind has often wandered to Isaiah 5:21. Here, Isaiah prophesies to the nation of Judah in a time when the nation was not following the Lord and the people were heading for certain judgment.
The Lord says through Isaiah,
Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter!
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
and shrewd in their own sight!
So when we are confronted with confusing and contradictory opinions, and almost all reporting has a political bias, and experts disagree, and we know that lies are being propagated for political gain, but it is difficult at times to discern between truth and falsehood, we need someone with intimate knowledge of the situation to simply tell us the truth.
Jesus is that faithful and true witness in Revelation.
The idea of Jesus bearing witness really begins in the opening verses of the book. John begins, “The revelation of Jesus Christ,” or about Jesus Christ, “which God gave to him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He,” that is, Jesus, “made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ”—that is, the testimony that was from Jesus Christ. The word “testimony” and the word “witness” both come from the same Greek word group, martyria (μαρτυρία). Jesus bore this testimony, this report from the Father to John through an angel.
The next we read of Jesus is in the doxology that appears in John’s trinitarian greeting in Rev 1:4–5, where Jesus is referred to simply “the faithful witness.” Then, when Jesus addresses the church at Laodicea, he expands this description to, “the Amen, the faithful and true witness” (Rev 3:14).
The word “witness” is a juridical term. A word that has its home in the courtroom. Think of someone bearing testimony or being called as a witness for the defense or the prosecution in a jury trial and you’ve got the idea. It’s that kind of witness. A person who is called to give sworn testimony in a legal proceeding.
It’s true that the Greek word for witness is now our English word for martyr, a person who dies for his or her faith. But the word only gained that meaning because of the rise of Christianity and the fact that Christian witnesses became known for their bold testimony for Christ even in the face of death.
But the word witness in essence simply means a testimony to the truth, or sworn testimony.
This description of Jesus Christ is of essential importance. Because the most important virtue of any witness is that he tells the truth! A truthful witness is a delight to the Lord and his people; but a false witness is an abomination in the land.
In Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15, God commands that a person cannot be charged for a serious crime unless there are two or three witnesses against him—two or three of his fellow Israelites who tell the same story of his wrongdoing. Why? To make sure that the witnesses are telling the truth.
And if anyone was found to be a false witness, that person would be punished and would be subject to the wrath of God.
In fact, we often summarize the ninth commandment by simply saying, “You shall not lie.” But the actual commandment was given in order to prevent the Israelites from bringing false charges against one another. The ninth command reads, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exod 20:16). Because the Lord knows that no people can survive without the truth.
Now, on the one hand, we expect competing narratives in culture and politics and news media. But the sheer difference between versions of the truth in our country today is staggering. And that means we are in trouble. In Isaiah 59:14, Isaiah says, “Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter.” And there is no justice, no salvation apart from truth. So in the rest of Isaiah 59, God himself enters and redeems his people because truth is no longer known.
It therefore gives us great comfort and hope that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is the Amen, the TRUE witness. He always speaks the truth.