The Role of Witnesses: Revolutionary or Religionist?

Once the disciples had grasped the big picture – that the kingdom of God had broken into our world with Jesus’s resurrection – they began telling others. They started functioning, just as Jesus said they would, as witnesses to him and the resurrection.

We will go wrong if we think those early followers of Jesus thought they were spreading a new religion. Nothing could have been further from their minds or more repugnant to their hearts. They were Jewish people who worshiped the God of Abraham, who had acted through Jesus to bring the world under his rule and would take further action still.

The apostles didn’t think of themselves as starting a religion but as carrying on a revolution. They announced that Jesus, not Caesar nor anyone else, was the rightful ruler of the world. They were expecting the kingdoms of the world to become the kingdom of God and his Messiah, just as the prophets had promised. The world had changed because of Jesus and would change even more, and they were spreading the news.

Whether you see yourself as a revolutionary or as a religionist makes a great deal of difference. The revolutionary goes into the world. The religionist goes to services. The revolutionary is committed to bringing heaven to earth. The religionist is satisfied with going to heaven. The mindset is entirely different. One has had an insight; the other has received a call.

So, how do you see yourself? It will depend, I think, on how you see Jesus. If you see him as his disciples did – the exalted Lord and kingdom-bringer – you will see yourself more as a revolutionary. If you see him as he is often represented today – an economy-class ticket to heaven – you’ll see yourself more as a religionist.

Our text says that the risen Christ appeared to Peter, then to the 12, then to more than 500 disciples at one time, then to James, then to other apostles, and finally to Paul himself. These witnesses found themselves caught up in the revolution. They were in the vanguard of the coming kingdom. They knew their announcement of what God had done was preparing people for what God was doing—and would do.

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