When I was a little boy, my home cell group would go out for evangelism one Sunday evening every month. That was my first exposure to evangelism, which meant walking the streets of Barnawa, sharing tracts and informing people that Jesus loved them. I wasn’t saved at the time. And all I knew I had to do was to give out tracts, tell people that Jesus loved them, and invite them to church the next Sunday. But I learnt what it meant to witness at the age of 10. What I didn’t know was that we were doing what the apostles did hundreds of years before us.
The apostle John, in the prologue to his first epistle, tells us that the apostles were witnesses (1 John 1:1-4). He had stated at the close of his gospel that he was bearing witness about the life of Christ (John 21:24). In his epistle, he expands the witness list to include the other apostles. He uses strong verbs to communicate this truth—we have heard, we have seen with our eyes, we looked upon, we touched with our hands. He says that the the apostles were witness-bearers to the life of Christ. And not just mere witnesses. They were eyewitnesses.
I find the legal profession helpful in stressing the importance of the apostle’s claims. The legal system deals with witnesses and evidences. Two types of evidences exist: direct and indirect evidence. Direct evidence directly proves a fact, usually based on a recollection of events by an eyewitness. Indirect evidence doesn’t directly prove a fact, but presents evidence of other facts that can help prove the main case. This helps to explain why direct evidence is stronger than indirect evidence. Only eyewitnesses can provide direct evidence. The apostles were eyewitnesses and they provide direct evidence concerning the life of Christ.
When people doubt the authenticity of the apostles’ record, one thing they often fail to consider is that the New Testament was written by eyewitnesses, men who were giving direct accounts of their dealings with Christ. In the Old Testament, God had made it clear to his people that no charge could be established without at least two witnesses (Deut. 19:15). Witnesses were needed before a matter could be established. No case could be closed, no person acquitted or condemned, without witnesses.
This was so important that Jesus, at the beginning of his earthly ministry, had to choose and appoint men to be witnesses. Witnesses are that important. When John writes that “the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life” (1 John 1:2), he is not making interesting conversation but virtually swearing a deposition. He is making a claim. He is establishing a charge. He is swearing, as it were, about the authenticity of his message.
John doesn’t just say we are witnesses of the Christ in the flesh. John is saying, “We are firsthand witnesses. We used our senses to see and touch and feel Christ.” If ever men knew a fellow man, these twelve men certainly knew the Christ more than any other person alive. Their witness is true. Their witness is the Bible. And we can believe with all our hearts that the Bible is true.
The apostles were the original witnesses, men who turned their backs to the world and dedicated their lives to the proclamation of the gospel message to a lost world. If we have believed their testimony and put our faith in Christ, then we must also be witnesses. In this sense, we could speak of Christ’s old and new witnesses, his dead and living witnesses. The dead witnesses, the apostles of our Lord, were witnesses to the facts of his life. And we must be witnesses to the gospel that we have believed. We must be witnesses to the results of the gospel in our lives.
We can’t bear witness to his birth, or his life, or his death and resurrection. We weren’t there when he turned water into wine or when he raised the dead back to life. But if we have been saved by his work, then we must go and tell it on the mountains. We must tell it over the hills and everywhere. If we have tasted of Christ and seen that he is good, we must also invite others to do the same.
We must be living witnesses. We must testify of that which we have heard, seen, looked upon, and touched with our hands. We must follow in the footsteps of the apostles, doing what they did hundreds years before. We must be witnesses.