Throughout the New Testament, Christians are told to “go therefore and make disciples” (Matthew 28:18-19, Acts 1:8-9). The Christian has been empowered by the Holy Spirit to go and make disciples to the glory of God. This is highlighted by Jesus statement in Acts 1:8-9, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Jesus has empowered His people through the Holy Spirit to be His witnesses. Throughout the Gospel of John, John uses key words in the first 18 verses of His Gospel. These words are Jesus as the life, the light, and the truth, witness, believers as God’s children, and the world’s rejection of Jesus. One of these words is witness in John 1:7. In this article, I want to highlight the seven ways that John uses the word witness in his Gospel, including the three features of our witness.
Let’s first look at the seven ways John uses the word witness in his Gospel.
First, is the witness of God the Father in John 8:18, “The Father who sent me bears witness about me.” Second, Jesus bears witness to Himself. John 8:18, “If I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going.” If that is not enough, Jesus points to His works as the third witness in John 10:25, “the works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me.” This is an important emphasis in John; the chapters that follow record miraculous works that conclusively demonstrate that Jesus is the Son of God and our Savior. Third is the witness of Scripture. This is one of the most important purposes of the Old Testament: to give prophecies that when fulfilled point to Jesus; to teach God’s will in a way that would be completed by Jesus; and by various means to symbolize and anticipate Jesus’ coming and the salvation He brings. John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,”
One of the prophecies concerned a forerunner to the Messiah, whose ministry would resemble that of the prophet Elijah. This was John the Baptist, the fourth of John’s witnesses. The fifth witness is given by men and women who personally encountered Jesus. One was the Samaritan woman who Jesus met by the well. After Jesus has revealed Himself to her, she went through her town presenting her witness. John 4:29, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” Another such witness was the man who had been born blind, but was miraculously given sight by Jesus. When the religious leaders tried to silence him, He gave this witness in John 9:25, He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
John’s sixth witness is that of Jesus’ disciples, including Himself. Jesus told them in John 15:27, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” Seventh, and last, is the witness of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised to send when He returned to heaven. John 15:26, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”
The name John means “gift of God.” Through John the Baptist, God gave Israel the gift of a witness to Christ: John 1:7, “He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.” John’s importance is proved by his inclusion in all four Gospels. The other three Gospels give more details about his ministry, calling Israel to be baptized to show repentance and to prepare for the Messiah. But the emphasis in John is the Baptist’s role as a witness to Jesus. Jesus said in John 5:35, “He was a burning and shining lamp”, and through his witness many of John’s disciples went on to become Jesus’ disciples.
Three Features Of A Faithful Christian Witness
I listed those eight witnesses that John presented so that we could believe in Jesus Christ. But another witness is essential to the work of the gospel today. This is our witness to the world as Christian people. The work of witnessing that Jesus gave to the first disciples now falls to us. Jesus prayed to the Father in John 17:18, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” We are thus essential witnesses to Christ today.
By considering this description of John the Baptist, we can see three key features of a faithful Christian witness. The first had to do with the content of our witness. John 1:7 says that John “came as a witness, to bear witness about the light.”
A Christian witness is first and foremost about Christ. We tell people what the early church enshrined in the Apostles’ Creed: that Jesus is God’s only Son and our Lord; that He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary; that He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, was buried, and descended into Hades, but on the third day rose to resurrection life; that He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; and that from there He will come to judge the living and died. These are the claims that make up a Christian witness.
John the Baptist sets an ideal example for us today. His message was not about his experiences or about what he felt about God, it was about Jesus. When he saw Jesus, he declared in John 1:29, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” We, too, need to declare that Jesus is the Savior for our sins. The next day, “John bore witness” to Christ, saying that he had seen “the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him” (John 1:32). We, too, must testify that Jesus is the One who came to do God’s will by God’s power. John the Baptist proclaimed, “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34), and we must, too.
Second, what we read about John the Baptist tells us the manner of our witness. John 1:8 says, “He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light” It is important for us to lead lives that will commend our witness to Christ, but our testimony is never based on what good people we are or what we ourselves have to offer to non-Christians. When John began his ministry, the priests and Levites came out from Jerusalem to inquire about him. He deliberately directed them away from what he was doing and to Jesus Christ and what he would do. He stated in John 1:26-27, “John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”
When many Christians give their witness, they talk about themselves. This is why we often speak of “giving our testimony”; that is, we tell people about our conversion and how Christ has helped us. While our experience might commend Christianity, our witness must center not on our experiences but on the facts of Christ’s coming into the world.
It is especially important that we never think that whatever we are doing for Christ is of ultimate importance. We must never permit people to glorify us for what God has done in our lives. If people notice that you have changed, you must praise God and tell them that it is Jesus’ work, the only way for them to gain what you have is not by admiring you but by believing on Jesus. In some cases, this will result in hostility from people who had previously admired you; if the world hated Christ, it will often hate a faithful witness to Christ. But we must accept this risk so as to bear testimony not to ourselves but to Christ.
In John 5:35, Jesus said that John the Baptist “was a burning and shining lamp.” Some Bible versions say that John was a “light,” but the word Jesus used means “candle” or “lamp” (Greek luxnos). A lamp does not shine with its own light. It had to be supplied with light from another source, and it requires a supply of oil or it burns out. The same is true for us. The manner of our witness is to shine not our own light but Christ’s light. Just as a lamp requires oil, we depend on our fellowship with Christ and the Holy Spirit’s enlivening presence, so that Christ’s light can shine through us. To use a different metaphor, we are like the moon reflecting the light of the sun; on our own we are in darkness, but a great light has shined on us, and we are to reflect that light into the world.
Finally, we see in John the Baptist the goal of a faithful Christian witness. John 1:7 says that John “came as a witness.., that all might believe through him.” Our goal is for others to believe through our witness. James Montgomery Boice writes, “It is possible for a person to become so mechanical in his witness that he can go through all the motions of witnessing without actually looking and praying for the response to Christ in faith by the other person. If we could remember this, we would find witnessing exciting, and we would learn that winning the argument often becomes far less important than winning the person to the Lord.”[i]
Since our goal is actually to persuade unbelievers and win over sinners, we will be eager to display the power and grace of the gospel in our lives, we will labor earnestly in prayer before and after our witness, and we will persist in telling others about Jesus even in the face of hardship and persecution. If we will commit to this pattern of a faithful witness, as seen in the ministry of John the Baptist, we will find that God will cause people to believe through us and we will have the great joy of being used by the Lord for the salvation of others.
[i] James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of John, 5 volumes (Grand Rapids: Baker, 199), 1:54.