Witnesses, Martyrs

Wednesday, April 15th, 2020

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John – to the seven churches that are in Asia:

Grace to you and peace

From Him who is and who was and who is to come,

And from the Seven Spirits who are before His throne

And from Jesus Christ,

The Faithful Witness, the Firstborn from the dead, the Ruler of the kings of the earth.

Revelation 1:4-5a

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Snow is falling outside as I write this.

Yes, seasonally, spring has already arrived, along with nest-building robins, emerging tree buds, and even pesky buzzing bugs. The calendar reads April 15th, or midway through the month, the ides of April. But without fail here in the great, picturesque State of Michigan, winter will not go down without a fight. Annually, it feels the need to take a parting shot, right about now. So the snow silently asserts itself, once more.

At least an inch has accumulated since yesterday. Here is some photographic evidence:

April Snow

Most of the people who receive this column live nearby in Michigan, so, as locals, you know all this talk of snow on April 15th, 2020 is true and accurate. You need only look out the window. There it is. But some of the people who receive this column live somewhere elsewhere. Unless they have another source to verify what I am saying, they cannot be 100% certain that what I’m reporting is true and accurate. They may wonder. They may have their doubts.

Perhaps I am mistaken. Perhaps I am deluded. Perhaps for some nefarious reason I want to mislead my readers about the current weather conditions where I and my family reside. Perhaps I am giving you second-hand information, which I believe to be true but is not.

Nope. I’m giving you accurate, first-hand information. My weather report is not misleading. At least on this point, I’m a wholly reliable witness. It’s exactly as I say. You should believe me.

But if you’re a suspicious sort and inclined to doubt me, find another reliable witness. I can suggest some, if you’d like. The Weather Channel comes immediately to mind.

By now, you may have guessed that today’s theological word, and the subject of this column, is witness. Congratulations! That’s right. I want to talk to you today about the word witness. If you were to read the Book of Revelation in its original language, you would discover that the word routinely translated as witness is actually the word martyr. Originally, the word martyr simply referred to a witness, to someone who gives testimony to something they have seen or heard. That’s it. There’s nothing more to it. In its original meaning, a martyr is simply someone who reports what he or she has seen or heard firsthand. Only later did the word martyr morph into how we understand it now. That being, someone who dies for what they believe. Martyr did not originally mean that. Only later did it take that connotation.

In the Book of Revelation, Jesus Christ is the original martyr. He is the faithful and true witness. Jesus faithfully relayed what he saw and heard to his audience. His testimony was (and is) true, accurate, and trustworthy. In addition to that, Jesus was slain exactly because of his testimony. His testimony was rejected. It was not believed. People thought his testimony not to be true, not to be accurate, and not to be trustworthy. Therefore, Jesus was also a martyr in that latter sense of the word, in the way we understand the word today. He was a martyr in both senses. Jesus Christ is the faithful martyr.

The Book of Revelation does not stop there, though. Martyrdom begins with Jesus but ends with the Church. What was true of Jesus will also be true of us. As followers of Christ, we can also expect to be martyrs. This is an important theme throughout the Book of Revelation, as I will show you in the next episode of the DeKrakenator Daily.

But until then, realize that I primarily mean martyrdom in the original sense of the word. We must be faithful as witnesses, faithful in our testimony to others. We have a job, a calling. One of the primary reasons we are here on the planet is to serve as witnesses for Christ. Years ago, I heard a pastor say that the only reason God keeps us, as Christians, here below is to serve as witnesses to those who do not yet believe. While that might be an overstatement and an over-simplification, it is nonetheless insightful and important. Paul once said that it would be better by far to depart and be with Christ, but that he intends to stick around for the sake of fruitful ministry (see Philippians 1:21-26). We would do well to be like-minded. We should be deliberate and intentional about our testimony, and be diligent to do it, while we still can.

As for martyrdom in the latter sense of the word, we are indeed called to die. But most of us will probably not need to die a violent, public death. Instead, our martyrdom is likely to be a daily death of ego, here and there, now and then, quiet and unnoticed. It will be martyrdom all the same, though; and it will be because we choose to be faithful and true to the One who was and is the Faithful and True Witness.

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