The Role of Witnessing: Telling People What We’ve Seen

When people see some unusual event – whether a possible kidnapping or the return of someone from the dead – what do they do? They tell people. That is what we did when we heard the woman’s scream and saw her pushed into the car. We called the authorities and later told our friends.

That is what the apostles did. They told their friends, told the authorities, told everyone who would listen – and others who would not. You might think they would tire of telling the same story, but they had come (with Jesus’s help) to understand its relevance. The future of the world was wrapped up in what they had seen. People needed to hear about it in order to adjust to the coming reality.

At first, the disciples told only their friends. They knew what they had seen: Jesus, alive after having been crucified; but they didn’t yet understand what it entailed, the vastness of its scope.

But they did understand that the people who killed Jesus might kill them too. The authorities had grilled Jesus about his followers before they executed him. That was ominous.

Jesus had been executed as a revolutionary, and the disciples knew how their Roman overlords treated revolutionaries. During the slave revolt, Rome brutally executed thousands of – not combatants but – POWs. The same general who conquered Jerusalem had once lined the Appian way from Rome to Capua with crucified POWS. Every 2/10ths of a mile for about a hundred miles, travelers on that road saw a different dead slave nailed to a cross – 6,000 in all.

The Empire thought of crucifixion as an attention-grabbing billboard that would leave everyone talking about what happens to people who challenge Rome. The apostles had seen smaller copies of that same billboard many times.

Rome had killed Jesus … and yet here he was alive again, which meant God has veto power over Rome! Over the next forty days, the risen Jesus explained to the disciples the significance of what had happened: God was fulfilling his promises, bringing his kingdom. He told them that the next step in the Kingdom of God revolution was for them to announce the good news far and wide.

So they told everyone, even the authorities – and they pulled no punches. Listen to the Apostle Peter: “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.” (Acts 3:13-15).

Before the very people who ordered Jesus’s death, the apostles said, “The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:30-33).

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