Faithful Witnesses

Two terms appear multiple times in the Book of Revelation, namely, “witness” and “overcome,” themes that are closely related. Beginning with Jesus and the witness he gave in his death on the Roman cross, the Book calls his disciples to persevere in his “testimony” regardless of any consequences they may suffer. It is in this way that they “overcome” and reign with the “Son of Man,” as well as qualify for everlasting life in “New Jerusalem.” Jesus himself summoned his saints to “overcome, just as I also overcame.”

The man from Nazareth is presented to the “Seven Assemblies of Asia” as the “FAITHFUL WITNESS and the Firstborn of the Dead.” The term “Faithful Witness” points to the “testimony” that he gave in his death. By his shed blood, “He freed us from our sins and made a Kingdom, Priests for his God.”

Testimony - Photo by Nycholas Benaia on Unsplash
[Photo by Nycholas Benaia on Unsplash]

He became the “
Firstborn of the Dead” through his resurrection, and the “First and the Last” who now possesses authority even over “Death and Hades,” the realm of the dead and even Death itself – (Revelation 1:5, 1:18).

The Greek noun translated as “witness” or “testimony” in many English versions is ‘martur,’ the term from which the English word ‘martyr’ is derived. In secular Greek, it was used for a “witness,” especially one who gave testimony in a legal proceeding.

By the late first century, this term may not have acquired the full sense of “martyr,” but as it is applied in Revelation, it certainly approaches it. In the Book, the “saints” who give “testimony” for Jesus pay the price for doing so, including martyrdom.

Likewise, John himself is described as one who “bore witness of the Word of God and of the Testimony of Jesus.” Because of faithfulness, he found himself banished to the Isle of Patmos “on account of the Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus.”

In this clause, the term “Word of God” is synonymous with the “Testimony of Jesus.” It was not just any testimony that John gave, but the “Testimony” about the Son of God that placed him in jeopardy.

The English term “testimony” translates the Greek noun ‘martyria,’ meaning “testimony, witness,” a noun related to ‘martur.’ In Greek usage, it refers to the “testimony” given by a witness. While John may not have given his life for his “testimony,” he certainly paid a heavy price by losing his freedom and legal rights, and he was by no means the first or the last disciple of Jesus to do so.

In the city of Pergamos, a saint named Antipas was “killed among you, where Satan dwells.” In his letter to the congregation, Jesus calls this Antipas “my FAITHFUL WITNESS [martyr].” In doing so, he uses the same term applied to himself in the Book’s Prologue – (Revelation 2:13).

When the Fifth Seal was opened, John saw the souls of saints who had been “slain for the Word of God, and for the Testimony [martyria] which they held,” just as he was exiled for the “Word of God” and the “Testimony of Jesus” – (Revelation 6:9-11).

In Chapter 12, having failed to destroy the “woman clothed with the sun” or her Messianic “son,” the enraged “Dragon” set out to “wage war with the rest of her seed, those who keep the commandments of God and have the TESTIMONY OF JESUS.”

Satan is not alone in his vendetta against the saints. The “Great Whore, Babylon” is “drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the WITNESSES [martyrs] of Jesus.”  – (Revelation 12:17, 17:6).

At the commencement of the “Thousand Years,” judgment was made on behalf of the saints who were “beheaded for the Testimony of Jesus and the Word of God and did not worship the Beast, neither his image and received not its mark upon their forehead and upon their hand.” Once again, the “Word of God” and the “Testimony of Jesus” are paired in the Book’s narrative - (Revelation 20:4).

OVERCOME


Not only is Jesus the “Faithful Witness,” he was the first to “overcome.” In Chapter 5, John wept bitterly because no one could be found who was “worthy” to open the “Scroll sealed with Seven Seals.” He then heard one of the “twenty-four elders” commanding him to “weep not, for the Lion of the Tribe of Judah has OVERCOME to open the Scroll.”

However, when John looked, he saw the “slain Lamb” rather than the lion. Jesus fulfilled his messianic mission and he “overcame” through and because of his self-sacrificial death – (Revelation 5:5-6).

At the end of each letter in Chapters 2 and 3, the reader finds promises made to the “one who OVERCOMES.” That saint will “eat of the tree of life in the Paradise of God.” He will not be harmed by the “Second Death.” He will eat of the “hidden manna,” receive authority over the nations, and he will not have his name “blotted out of the Book of Life.” The overcomer will become a “pillar” in the Sanctuary in “New Jerusalem” and sit with Jesus on “my Father’s throne.”

Overcoming” believers also persevere through tribulations, bear faithful “witness,” and refuse to compromise with the surrounding idolatrous society (“Do not eat meat offered to idols”).

After the “Dragon” was expelled from heaven in Chapter 12, a voice declared that the “brethren overcame” him by the “blood of the Lamb, by the Word of their Testimony, and because they loved not their lives unto death.”

In other words, they were victorious over the Devil by giving faithful testimony even when doing so meant certain death.

By following the Lamb “wherever he leads,” the saints “overcome the Dragon.” Emulating Jesus by giving “faithful testimony” and “overcoming” Satan are two sides of the same coin. Faithfulness in “Testimony” is HOW the believer “overcomes” in the same way that Jesus did, as well as HOW he or she reigns with him on his “Father’s Throne” - (Revelation 3:21, 12:11).

In Asia, some believers suffered “imprisonment,” while others were accused falsely by the “Synagogue of Satan.” Not all of them suffered martyrdom. Regardless, Jesus exhorted his assemblies to become “faithful unto death and receive the Crown of Life.”

The last clause reinforces the idea of how believers “overcome” – “FAITHFULNESS UNTO DEATH.” It is that level of commitment to Jesus, the “Faithful Witness,” that separates “overcomers” from those who “eat meat offered to idols” and otherwise fall short of his calling and example.

To “overcome” the saint must persevere in his “Testimony” for and about Jesus whatever the consequences may be. If that means an untimely death, he will most certainly “overcome” the Devil in the same manner as Jesus did.

Thus, in the paradoxical visions of the Book of Revelation, martyrdom for the Lamb’s sake is not defeat, but instead, victory over the Devil and all his works.



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