There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light (John 1:6-8).
It is interesting how the apostle John interjects this short snippet on John the Baptist into the theology of Christ, especially when he gives a fuller account of John’s ministry in the latter part of the chapter. What is its purpose? Why here, why at this point?
The point can be gathered, I believe, by looking at the verbal emphasis of these few verses. Of John the Baptist, the apostle writes, “[John] came as a witness, to bear witness about the Light … [John] was not the Light, but he came to bear witness about the Light.” The term “witness” is used three times, whether in its noun or verb form, and it is an important part of the apostle’s discourse.
Why? From the law it is written, “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established” (Deut. 19:15). Though the law on witnesses is concerning crimes committed, the principle can be established that, where truth is found, there will be a plurality of witnesses to it. And since the apostle John is making some extraordinary claims, namely that Jesus of Nazareth is not merely a man but is the Son of God through whom the universe was made, a witness outside of Jesus himself is necessary to validate his claims.
In the first chapter of the Gospel of John, we are given these multiple witnesses. Most obviously we are given the testimony of the Apostle John in his writing of the account of Jesus Christ. Secondly, we are given our present text which validates the claim that the apostle has made, namely that Jesus Christ is the Light of men (cf. v. 4). John the Baptist came, as the latter part of the chapter intimates, baptizing with water and bearing witness to the Coming One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. At that point, John the Baptist is given another witness, namely the visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus and remaining, to which fact John responds, “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (v. 34).
When we think upon it, Christianity is a religion of witnesses. It is not a blind faith, as so many profess it to be, but it is a faith based upon strings upon strings of witnesses throughout human history—these bearing testimony that they have seen, have heard, and have experienced the risen Lord. Jesus’ final words to the apostles was a prophetic one, proclaiming, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). These apostles were sent out into the world (the word apostle meaning, “One who is sent out”) with the primary task of bearing witness to the Gospel of our Lord. And because of their witness, we, who are two-thousand years removed from them, have heard their witness and have believed by seeing and hearing the truth through them and through the witness of the Holy Spirit so that we now bear witness about Jesus Christ to the world.
This principle of multiple witnesses to the truth is essential to evangelism. For if it were by our singular witness alone, we would be viewed by all who heard our witness as kooks and crackpots. Indeed we are viewed as thus by many who hear our witness. Yet to those who receive a second witness, that is the Witness of the Holy Spirit, our testimony is viewed and validated as truth, and they believe the Gospel that we proclaim. The same Spirit who descended upon our Lord and settled upon him testifying that he was the Christ, the Son of God, is the same Spirit who descends upon the heart of the unregenerate and in them bears witness to the Son and creates new life therein.
We praise you, our Father, that you have not left us without a witness to the Gospel of the glory of your Son. We thank you, Holy Spirit, for bearing witness in our hearts to the truth that was proclaimed to us by some faithful witness of man, and for giving us new life at the belief of that witness. We pray that we would be faithful witnesses to what we have seen concerning Jesus Christ and that your Holy Spirit will go before us, proclaiming the truth of the Gospel to those we encounter. Amen.
Categories: Through John