What does “witness” mean to you?
If you’re like most Christians in the West, you probably think of it as a verb, an action word describing the act of sharing the gospel with someone else. Over the years this has been seen as the epitome of Christian activity and the goal of so many churches’ Sunday programming: To lead people toward placing their hope for eternity on Jesus.
It’s certainly an appropriate use of “witness.” But it’s also a limited one. We should be aware that Jesus used “witness” as a noun, not a verb. He told his disciples “you are witnesses” (Luke 24.48) and “you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1.8) (emphasis mine). His use of the word implied that “witness” is an identity. Jesus’ hearers were those who’d seen the Messiah and could provide first-hand testimony to the truth. The word “witness” had all the expected legal implications at the time, just as it does for us today: Eyewitness testimony is trustworthy, valid and truthful.
The identity change of Jesus’ disciples was so strong that their disciples took being a “witness” to heart, even though they technically weren’t eyewitnesses. They lived out their faith with such passion and consistent faithfulness that even when facing persecution they also were “witnesses”—even to the point of suffering and dying for it.
“We should be aware that Jesus used “witness” as a noun, not a verb.”
Over time, the Greek (the common written language of the time) word for “witness” took on a broader meaning. Just as “Google” today has come to mean an internet search, the Greek word for being a “witness” became Anglicized and a new word was born.
That Greek word is “martyr.”
The point? Being a faithful follower of Jesus is not something we do, it is something we are. We don’t (just) “witness” (share the gospel) to show we are Jesus’ followers, our very lives witness to the truth of his life, death and resurrection and all that goes with it. We live that truth, in good times and hard, in poverty and plenty and in times where others want to kill us for it. Today, believers of Christ around the world are being persecuted for their faith in Christ, many to the loss of their earthly lives.
“Being a faithful follower of Jesus is not something we do, it is something we are.”
Never forget: If you have placed your faith in Christ, he is your life (Colossians 3.1-3, Romans 6.1-14); you are a “martyr.”