Great Themes From Acts: Witnesses
Tom M. Roberts
Ft. Worth, Texas
When Luke, the inspired historian, penned the chronicles of some of the apostles in the spread of the gospel throughout "Jerusalem, and in all Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8), he provided much more than what many believe to be a simplistic telling of early church growth. That document usually referred to simply as "The Acts" bridges that era of time between the gospel accounts of the life of Christ and the letters to the established churches and individuals within those churches. Had there been no "Acts," we would have been left to wonder where these churches came from, how they came into existence and, in many cases, who was responsible for their founding. But more importantly, "The Acts" provides a connection between the story of the Gospels and the great theme of justification, a presentation of Jesus to the world as a demonstration of the resurrection, a showcase of the power of gospel preaching, a viable means of integrating all nations into a united kingdom, and much more.
It will be the object of a series of articles (beginning with this one) to explore some of the grand themes of The Acts and to encourage a deeper and richer application of this valuable document to modern faith in Jesus Christ. This series will not pretend to be exhaustive of all the themes open to Bible students, but it will hopefully encourage others to plumb the depth of these riches for the treasure lode of knowledge supplied by the Holy Spirit through Luke.
It has been suggested by some "friend" of the Bible that a seeker must turn loose of his reason and make a "blind leap of faith" in order to become a Christian. Such a rationale is foolish and harmful to the cause of Christ. It suggests that one cannot be, at the same time, both a rational person and a Christian. A "blind leap of faith" would discredit the testimony of the Scriptures and advocate an inadequate and weak approach to evidences when the opposite is true. In fact, the evidence for Jesus Christ as Savior of the world, based upon his resurrection from the dead, is one of the greatest themes, if not the "crown jewel" of Luke's entire work.
When we use the word "evidence," we emphasize a forensic or legal presentation as though before a court of law in which jurors must bring in a verdict. In fact, this is exactly the context which is established by our theme, "witnesses." I do not believe it to be an accident that Jesus labeled his apostles as witnesses in Acts 1:8. He was preparing the forum for these who were "eye-witnesses" to argue their case. The apostles were to walk into the world (their court room), present the facts, provide the evidence and establish their case. The Acts establishes clearly the manner in which this was done and it agrees remarkably with our current procedures in any court of law.
The Function of Witnesses
In any court of law today, evidence upon which a verdict is rendered by a jury follows a rational and logical procedure. It should be noted that any evidence, clearly established by this procedure, is valid and cannot be rejected arbitrarily. The format which is always followed is this:
Event - Eyewitness - Testimony - Verdict
An event happens, it is seen by eyewitnesses, these witnesses present their testimony in a court of law and the jury reaches a verdict based upon the evidence presented. This method of operation is used daily in America in verdicts concerning car accidents, murders, etc., and is established law. It is my contention that this procedure was familiar to those of Luke's day among both Jews and Romans, that it was a procedure acceptable to God, and that the testimony of the apostles qualifies on the same basis and with the same validity as any eyewitness evidence. If one is arbitrarily to reject the testimony of the apostles, one could just as easily reject any court testimony today. However, if we are to be fair and accept testimony in a court of law today, we should also be fair and accept the testimony of the apostles as to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It was intended by God from the beginning that the story of Jesus was to be established "at the mouth of two or three witnesses" (Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1). The event of the resurrection, so established, can no more be rejected by honest people than any other matter of evidence. If one rejects Jesus' resurrection out of hand, we could, by the same illogic, reject the existence of Napoleon or Nero, since we have never personally seen these individuals, having only others' eyewitness testimony of them. On the other hand, if you accept that Napoleon or Nero actually lived, you should, by the same criteria, accept that Jesus rose again. The evidence is valid in both instances.
The Apostles As Witnesses
That Jesus planned for the apostles to function in their capacity as eyewitnesses from the beginning can be clearly seen. Luke even begins his gospel account by referring to those who taught him as being eyewitnesses (Lk. 1:2) and their testimony provided the basis for his narrative. In giving the Great Commission (again, Luke's account), Jesus said, "Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things" (Lk. 24:46-48). Jesus knew that the apostles were qualified to testify to these things: "And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning" (Jn. 15:27). In replacing Judas with Matthias, the Lord required: "Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection" (Acts 1:21,22). It might be noted here that modern "witnessing" by people who speak of their own personal faith is not the same as the eyewitness testimony of the apostles. We have their testimony, duly entered into evidence, and do not need the spurious word of latter day claimants who cloud the issue by misuing "witnessing."
After the resurrection and prior to imparting the Holy Spirit, Jesus promised the apostles: "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost port of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
Did the apostles understand this? Perhaps not fully until Pentecost, but surely then, for they (the twelve) asserted, "This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we are witnesses" (2:32) . . . "we are witnesses" (3:15) . . . "And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus" (4:33) . . . "And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost" (5:32) . . . "But unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead" (10:41) . . ."And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people" (13:31).
Even Paul, the apostle born "out of due season" (1 Cor. 15:8), was made an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ so that he might enter his voice into the evidence. On the road to Damascus, Jesus told Saul, "But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou has t seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee" (Acts 26:16). Ananias also told him, "For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou has seen and heard" (22:15). He later asserted that if Christ was not raised, then all the apostles had been false witnesses (1 Cor. 15:15).
Peter added his own voice by claiming to be an apostle, an elder and a witness (1 Pet. 5:2), having been privy to his transfiguration (2 Pet. 1:16).
John, the apostle whom Jesus loved, said, "For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us" (1 Jn. 1:2).
Using the Testimony
Brethren, our faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead does not depend on a blind leap, secular history or less than rational testimony. Indeed, the biblical record is entered into evidence on the same basis and with the same credibility as any testimony in any court of law. We should present the case for the resurrection (and, consequently, the Lordship of Christ) as a reasonable (Rom. 12:1) conclusion, based upon valid proof. Christians need not take a back seat to anyone when it comes to demonstrable verification of what we affirm.
Jesus Christ lived, died and rose from the dead. The substantiation of this is one of the great themes of the Book of Acts.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 6, pp. 174-175