by Dan Schaeffer
When we hear the word witness, we often think of sharing our testimony. However, the meaning goes deeper than that and has its roots in the Old Testament.
A witness is one who would be called to testify to an event at which he or she was present—although technically, a witness can even be a pile of stones. One of the most famous lines from a hymn goes, “Here I raise my Ebenezer.” An Ebenezer (literally, “stone of help”) was a stone monument erected as a witness to something God had done for the people of Israel (1 Sam. 7:12).
In Old Testament times, a witness was essential to the law, especially in criminal cases. Making an accusation against someone required two witnesses. Furthermore, when a convicted criminal was sentenced to death on the testimony of witnesses, those witnesses had to throw the first stones. This proved they were resolute about their testimony. Since being a witness could involve a hefty cost, it was a serious matter that was not to be taken lightly. Someone’s life was literally at stake.
In the New Testament, the Greek word martureo is used exclusively to describe a witness—that is, someone who has proven his or her belief in the gospel through suffering. In other words, to be a witness isn’t just what we say about Jesus and the gospel, but what we’re willing to endure if our testimony brings suffering. That’s why Jesus Himself is called the “faithful and true Witness” (Rev. 3:14).
The apostle John’s testimony con-cerned “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life” (1 John 1:1). When Jesus appeared to the apostle Paul in Acts, He told him, “But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you” (Acts 26:16). This is why we don’t justgo witnessing; we are witnesses.
In Acts 1:8, Jesus tells the church, “You shall be My witnesses.” Being a faithful witness to Jesus comes with a cost. In fact, later in the book of Acts, the first martyr, Stephen, was killed for being a faithful witness. But we face a sobering truth: People’s eternal lives are at stake. And we are called to tell a lost world the truth. Believers have a sacred task—to serve as living evidence of God’s goodness; our very lives should tell the story of it. As Oswald Chambers once said, “Angels cannot preach the gospel; only beings such as Paul and you and I can preach the gospel.”