THE FAITHFUL WITNESS
A. The faithful witness to the judgment of the Day of the Lord and God’s long-suffering kindness in restraining from judgment is typified in the martyrdom of his own Son for the forgiveness of the sins of his enemies.
When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals– one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (NIV Luke 23:33-34)
For God so loved the world (cf. wicked) that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV John 3:14-16)
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (NASB Romans 5:6-8)
1. This restrain from judgment in light of the greatest injustice in history is the central aspect of the early apostolic witness to those who had martyred Jesus.
This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men… 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, 35 until I make your enemies your footstool.” 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. (ESV Acts 2:23-36)
The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses… 17 And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers… 19 Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out. (ESV Acts 3:13-19)
Rulers of the people and elders… 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead- by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone (cf. Ps. 118:22). (ESV Acts 4:8-11)
2. This restrain from vengeance is exemplified in the first apostolic martyrdom in the Book of Acts. Stephen’s final declaration reveals the deepest drive and agenda of his heart.
You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers… 52 Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him… 57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him… 59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed… “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. (NIV Acts 7:51-60)
3. Those saints and prophets who were shamefully treated throughout the scriptures are honored as those with the greatest faith in the age to come and thus exemplifying the heart of the Lord in this age (cf. Heb. 11).
Remember those earlier days after you had received the light (concerning the messianic age), when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions (in the resurrection). 35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God (as a witness), you will receive what he has promised (i.e. kingdom). 37 For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. 38 But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope (cf. the kingdom) for and certain of what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for… 35 Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. 37 They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. 39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect (in the resurrection). 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses (to God’s long-suffering), let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (in the resurrection, cf. 2:10), who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men (out of love for them), so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood (in martyrdom). (NIV Hebrews 10:32-12:4)
4. Paul thus considers it an honor to face martyrdom since his life goal was to witness to the long-suffering of God in the Cross.
And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me– the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. 25 Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. 26 Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God (cf. the sufferings of Christ before the glories of Christ, cf. Lk. 24:26; Acts 3:18; 17:3; 1 Pe. 1:11). (NIV Acts 20:22-27)
5. Jesus himself exemplifies the witness of Antipas, and his martyrdom, as service unto the praise of God the Father’s long-suffering.
Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come (i.e. Father), and from the seven spirits (“sevenfold Spirit” NLT) before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father. (NIV Revelation 1:4-6)
I know where you live– where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city. (NIV Revelation 2:13)
6. The capstone of the “two witnesses” of Revelation is their own embodiment of their testimony.
“I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” … 7 Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them… 11 But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. (NIV Revelation 11:3-11)
B. As the definitive prophetical witness of the end of this age, Matthew 24 clearly spells out the purpose of the Church in the face of the culmination of human rebellion.
1. As humanity rejects God in unison, represented by the “abomination that causes desolations” (v.15), the nations rage against those who represent God. As we have seen, this representation is essentially amnestic in nature and prophetical concerning the judgment to come.
Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. (NIV Matthew 24:9)
2. In light of the universal martyrdom of the Church, the church is called to remain faithful in prayer, faith and proclamation, patiently enduring to the end of this age.
At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other… 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. (NIV Mt. 24:10-13)
3. As the Church remains faithful in her faith, she is called to likewise remain faithful in her testimony of the coming wrath and God’s present kindness and patience. This will result in a climactic global witness to all the nations, typified by a global martyrdom which will be God’s final testimony to the nations before the great and terrible Day of the Lord
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (NIV Mt. 24:10-13)
- You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations… 13 All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. (NIV Mark 13:9-13)
- So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? … 9 Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire… 17 His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 So with many other exhortations he preached the gospel to the people. (NASB Luke 3:7-18)
C. It will be the “filling up in the flesh of the Church what is lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions” (Col. 1:24) that will finalize the testimony of God to rebellious humanity, ushering in the Day of the Lord.
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death (at the Cross), in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him (at the Day of the Lord), 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. 24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake (as Christ did, cf. Heb. 12:2; Phil 2:8f), and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church (i.e. long-suffering witness that many might be saved, cf. 2 Pe. 3:9), 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known. (ESV Colossians 1:21-25)
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus (emulating Jesus’ suffering), so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body (in the resurrection). 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body… 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence (at the Day of the Lord). 15 All this is for your benefit (cf. Col. 1:24), so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away (in suffering and persecution), yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day (in faith and hope in the resurrection). 17 For our light and momentary troubles (emulating Jesus) are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (in the resurrection). (NIV 2 Corinthians 4:8-17)
1. The church is called to embrace suffering and martyrdom wholeheartedly as an expression of service to the Great Martyr, Jesus, who died for the salvation of sinners (cf. Mt. 20:28; Lk. 19:10; 1 Tim. 1:15; 1 Jn. 3:8).
I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. 11 Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him (in this age), we will also live with him (in the resurrection); 12 if we endure (in this age), we will also reign with him (in the kingdom). If we disown him (in this age), he will also disown us (in the judgment); 13 if we are faithless (in this age), he will remain faithful (in the judgment), for he cannot disown himself. (NIV 2 Timothy 2:10-13)
Now if we are children, then we are heirs– heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (NIV Romans 8:17-18)
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved– and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have. (NIV Philippians 1:27-30)
I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ… 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (NASB Philippians 3:8-11)