Jesus - True and Faithful Witness
Fr. Thomas Hopko · August 7, 2010
What is the testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ as described in the Book of Revelation? Fr. Tom Hopko explores this with us in his next episode of The Names of Jesus.
In the Book of Revelation, the Apocalypse, at the very beginning of the book, it says that the book is the revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him to show to his servants. And then it says that he made known this revelation by sending an angel to his servant, John, who bore witness of the word of God and to the witness of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Then it says, “Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written therein, for the time is near.”
Just a remark on this sentence (Revelation 1:2), because this is very important for what we are going to say right now, and that is that you have in English: “who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ.” But, in fact, both of those words might be translated just the opposite way. It could be translated: “who bore testimony to the word of God and to the witness of Jesus Christ.” Or it could be translated: “who bore witness to the word of God and to the witness of Jesus Christ,” because “testimony” and “witness” are two different words in the English language, which pretty much mean the same thing.
In fact, in a court of law, which is very important for what we’re considering now, “testimony” and “witness” are pretty much the same thing. You bring in a witness who testifies. The witness bears witness; the witness testifies. But if we were just looking at how this is translated—I just read it from the RSV—if we read the same sentence in the King James version, it would say this: “who bear record of the word of God and of the testimony of Jesus Christ and of all things that he saw.” So you don’t even have the word “witness” being used, but in Greek, it would read like this: “hos emartyrēsen ton logon tou theou kai tēn martyrian Iēsou Christou.” So you could translate it: “who bore witness to the word of God” as a verb, and then: “and to the witness (or the testimony) of Jesus Christ.”
This is the point: that the term “witness” is “martys, a martys.” The term “martys,” in plural “martyre,” is a witness. And it’s also translated, in modern language, as “martyr.” We’re going to see this: as “martyr.” But then you have the verb forms: “martys” would be the person who is the witness. Then when that person would be testifying or bearing witness, it would be “martyreō,” and then the testimony itself, the evidence, would be “martyria,” and then it could also be “martyrion,” as evidence, proof, or opportunity to testify. But what we want to note here is that all these words, which in English could be “witness,” “bear witness,” “testify,” “testimony,” “make a testimony,” “testify,” these are all the same word in Greek. In the original language, you simply have “martyreō,” “martyria,” “martyrion,” and “martys.” They are all of the same term.
In the Book of Revelation, what we want to see is that you have two texts where Jesus himself is specifically called by the noun “martys.” The first is in the very first chapter, where John, the one who receives this revelation, continues to write, and this is what is written (Revelation 1:4-7):
John, to the seven churches who are in Asia: grace be unto you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come…
That’s going to be a formula that we’re going to speak about later: “ho ōn kai ho ēn kai ho erchomenos; the one who was, who is, and who is coming.”
...and from the seven spirits which are before his throne;
And then it says:
...and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness and the first-begotten of the dead and the prince of the kings of earth. Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Behold, he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see him.
And then it continues, “I am the alpha and the omega,” and so on. We’ll speak about that, but what we want to speak about here is that it says Jesus Christ who is the faithful witness. Actually, what it [says], there is no “who is” there. Let’s read the same text from the RSV and see how they translate it. This is how it’s translated in the Revised Standard:
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 of the dead and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us a kingdom, priests to God his Father (his God and Father), to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and everyone will see him.
But here is the text: And from Jesus Christ ho martys ho pistos, from Jesus Christ, the witness, the faithful. Or, in English, the faithful witness; ho martys ho pistos, the faithful witness or the true witness. “Faithful” could also be translated here: “true,” as the sense that God is faithful or God is true. You have that expression.
In the same Apocalypse, the same Apocalypse of John, the Book of Revelation, you have also, in this same text, in the second chapter—I believe it is the second chapter; let’s see here—or it’s the third chapter. Yes, it’s the third chapter, where you have this same very expression used for Jesus. It’s in the letter that is written by the Spirit (Revelation 3:14). John has to write “to the angel of the church in Laodicea the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.” That could actually be translated “the start” or “the origin of God’s creation. But here we have it again: “the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.” In the King James version, that particular text reads this way in English. Let me find the third chapter here in my King James and my Greek text here. It says: “These things says the Amen, the ho Amēn legei.” These things the Amen says. “And the Amen is ho martys ho pistsos kai alēthinos, hē archē tēs ktiseōs.” And a more literal translation might be: “And the Amen says these things, the Amen who is the faithful and true witness, the chief (or the head or the source) of creation,” the beginning of creation in the sense of source.
Why would Jesus be called the faithful witness? The faithful martyr, the true martyr: that’s a title for Jesus. He is the faithful and true martys. By the way, this is where the sect, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, get their name. They get their name as the witnesses of the Lord and followers of Jesus who is the faithful and the true witness. And the Jehovah’s Witnesses, of course, are… In fact, they’re the only Arians still around. There aren’t any other Arian Christians. They believe that Jesus is the first and the greatest of God’s creatures and that he is the faithful witness of God. They do not believe in the Holy Trinity. They would say, “Jesus is divine, but he is not divine with exactly the same divinity as God, but he is the witness to God in all that God is and does and says and teaches and commands” and so on. So the number one witness—the first of all the creatures, they would interpret that text just like the Arians did, they would say, “Jesus [is] a creature, but the first of the creatures”—he is the witness to God. And so then the Jehovah’s Witnesses follow Jesus, and they witness to God as Jesus witnesses to God.
It’s interesting that Revelation is considered part of the Johannine literature. It’s the writings that belong to John. In fact, traditionally, the author of the Book of Revelation, the Apocalypse of John, is the same one who wrote the fourth Gospel and who wrote the three letters in the canonical New Testament that are attributed to John. The Gospel according to St. John and the three letters of John and the Apocalypse are considered to be by the same author, or according to the same author, within the whole—how can you say?—literary style, realm, content, teaching, of this one author. And this is very, very important because of how that term “witness” and “bear witness” and “bear testimony” is used in the Gospel according to St. John, where it very clear that Jesus is not a creature. It is very clear that he is divine with the same divinity as God the Father, at least clear to the Orthodox Christians. Of course, when you say “clear and evident,” the question is: to whom?
But I think that it’s possible to say that, among other things, but it is very possible to say that the Gospel according to St. John is almost a legalistic-type document. It’s a document of argumentation, bearing testimony, bringing witnesses, in order to come to a knowledge of a truth. And the truth that St. John’s Gospel [wants] to reveal is that Jesus Christ really is the Logos, Word of God in human flesh; that he was in the beginning with God; that all things were made through him and by him and for him; that he became flesh as God’s only-begotten Son, born of a woman on the earth, the Theotokos, Virgin Mary—her name is not in John’s Gospel, but it says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”
And then all through John’s Gospel it’s like an argumentation about who this Jesus is, and throughout the entire Gospel, witnesses are brought forth; testimonies are brought forth. It’s almost as if the Gospel is some kind of a legal battle. It’s like a battle between, of rabbinic law, so to speak, Jewish law: how you’re going to prove who Jesus is. And it might even be the case that it is a battle between two sets of Jews: the Jews who really believe that Jesus was God’s Son literally, was the “I am” from the “I am,” with God, that he spoke with God from before the foundation of the world, that he came into the world from God, he leaves the world and goes back to God, that he was before all things, and that even at the end of the Gospel, you can have the Apostle Thomas falling down before the risen Christ with the marks of the nails in his hands and [of] the spear in his side and say to him, “My Lord and my God!—ho Kyrios kai ho Theos mou—the Lord and the God of me,” that Jesus really is divine.
And therefore, according to St. John’s Gospel, you have a Eucharist. You can participate in his Flesh; you can drink his Blood, because he’s… It’s not cannibalism. It’s not just the man. It’s God giving his own life and his own Blood, his own teaching, his own truth, his own light, his own glory, the living water, the Holy Spirit. All this divine reality is given through this man Jesus who is divine. And if anything [is] in St. John Gospel, it is the divinity of Christ where you have that affirmation. You have it in other ways in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but not [as] explicitly as in John. You have it in the Letter to the Hebrews, his preexistence as divine and “made [for] a little while lower than the angels” and so on.
And it would certainly be an Orthodox Christian dogma from the earliest time that Jesus Christ is divine with exactly the same divinity of God, his Father, and the Holy Spirit, too, and that he is human with exactly the same humanity that you and I both share, we all share. He is a real man, and he’s really God. And this is a Christian dogma, and it was beaten out through the centuries with theological controversies and argumentation and demonstration, but finally, the [Councils] of Nicaea, Constantinople, the Ephesian Council where it says that Mary is really Theotokos because the one she bears is God himself in human flesh, and then the Council of Chalcedon which will say that Jesus is of the very same divinity of God the Father and the very same humanity that we share. He is of one nature with God and one nature with us; that’s why he’s said to have two natures, to be from and in two natures.
In the Gospel according to St. John, this noun, “martys, martyr,” or “witness” or “testifier, testator,” maybe you might say, doesn’t exist. The word “witness” is not found anywhere in St. John’s Gospel. By the way, the word “Gospel” is not found anywhere in St. John’s Gospel. Also, by the way, a very important “by the way” here, the term “pistēs, faith,” is found nowhere in St. John’s Gospel. And if you read St. John’s Gospel, you can actually come up with the reason for this, or “a reason”—let’s be more modest—a possibility of why this is so, and that is: it is certainly the case because St. John’s Gospel writes in verbs, not in nouns. St. John’s Gospel is a Gospel of action, of activity, of testimony and witness that is done through speech and acts and signs and showing-forths and powerful acts, so it is not kind of an abstraction in the sense of noun. It’s not a kind of noun-writing; it’s a verb kind of writing.
And having said this, having said that the term “martyr, martys,” exists nowhere in St. John’s Gospel—it’s not used even once—the noun “testimony” or “witness” as the act of what is given—the evidence, the proof, the demonstration—and the verb “martyreō, to bear witness” or “to testify” or “to affirm, to confirm, to demonstrate, to prove, to bring evidence,” those words are used 44 times. I counted them: 44 times in St. John’s Gospel, which has 21 chapters, and it’s never used in the speech of Jesus from 13 to 17, and not too much in the Passion. But in the first chapters of St. John’s Gospel, up until about chapter 12, that’s where you have this verb “to testify” or “to bear witness.” 44 times.
And by the way, in the same Gospel, you don’t have the term “knowledge” used practically at all, but you have the term “know” or “see” over 100 times. You don’t have the word “faith” at all, but you have the verb “to believe” over 90 times. So “bearing witness”: 44 times. “Believing”: over 90 times. “Knowing” and “seeing”: over 100 times. This is what you have in the Gospel according to St. John.
I would like to read to you how, in different ways, that term, “witness,” not as the one who bears witness, but “witness” as the witness that is made, the testimony, and the verb “to bear witness” or “to testify” or “to make testimony,” how often that is used in St. John’s Gospel, and I’d like to [give you] examples of it, because it’s there right from the very beginning. And we’ll see what the testimonies are, and then we’ll see why Jesus can be called the faithful Witness, because, as a matter of fact, he witnesses to himself. He bears witness to himself. He testifies about himself.
But first let’s just see the other testimony, how it begins. The first big, huge testimony in St. John’s Gospel comes from John the Baptist. And in St. John’s Gospel it’s got to be made very clear: John is not the Christ; John is not the Prophet; John is not Elias. Who is John, he’s asked specifically, and he says that he is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, the angel, a messenger sent by God to prepare his way. Let’s just take a look at how much it says about John bearing witness to Jesus as the one who was to come, as God’s own Son, and as the very Lamb of God, and the one upon whom the Spirit descends and abides.
First of all, you have the prologue of St. John’s Gospel, the first chapter (John 1:1-5):
In the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God; the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; without him was not anything made that was made (or nothing came to be that came to be except through him). In him was life; the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness.
Then you have, like an interruption, like a parenthesis, where it says (John 1:6-8):
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
Then it says:
He came for testimony—for martyria, to martyreō, to bear witness—to the Light, that we all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to bear witness to the Light.
So three times you have right there in verses six and eight, he bears testimony, he bears witness, he came to bear witness. And then it says through his witness, people came to believe in Jesus. It says (John 1:15):
John bore witness to him and cried, “This is he of whom I said: He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me, and of his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.
And then it says:
This was the witness of John. This was the testimony of John.
And then it continues in that very same first chapter where John the Baptist sees Jesus and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God [who] takes away the sin of the world. This is he [of] whom I said: After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.” Then he says, “I myself did not know him, but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And then it says:
And John bore witness. John testified: “I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him.”
Then it says:
“He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, he it is who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. And I have seen and I have testified. I have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
This is the testimony of John.
As the Gospel proceeds, you get to the third chapter where Jesus has this long conversation with Nicodemus, having to do with baptism and with John and what Jesus is going to do, and then you have that language again being brought, of testimony and witness. Nicodemus is asking Jesus questions; Jesus is trying to answer again. Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Unless one is begotten from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And by the way, that’s the more accurate translation, not “born again,” but “begotten from above.” That particular verb in Greek, by the way, is interesting because, when it’s applied to a father, it’s “to beget”; when it’s applied to a mother, it’s “to bear.” So you cannot say Jesus was born of God before the ages; he was begotten of the Father before the ages, but he’s born as a man by the Virgin Mary.
And “anō” means “from above,” not only “again” but “from above.” And here you could actually say Nicodemus doesn’t understand when he says, “How can a person be born again?” Jesus isn’t saying “born again”; he’s saying “begotten from above.” “You’ve been begotten according to flesh and blood. Now you’ve got to be begotten by the Spirit from above.” Well, we can’t read all this, but I would recommend that you do.
But I want to get to the point where you have my words again coming in: witness, testimony, bear witness, believe. This is what Jesus says to Nicodemus when [they’re] at the end of the conversation, so to speak:
Are you a teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand? Truly, truly, I say to you: We speak of what we know, and we bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our witness, our martyria, our testimony.
And then he says:
If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?
So Jesus is saying that he and John the Baptist are testifying to what they know. They’re bearing witness [to] what they themselves know, what they themselves have seen. And he’s questioning Nicodemus about what he is not accepting this argumentation, why is he not accepting this testimony, which is based on eye-witness experience. And here again, in a court of law, a witness is a person who claims to have seen, to have been there. You saw the accident. You saw the murder. You saw the theft. Whatever it is you’re testifying for, you claim that you have seen it, that you know it, and you’re testifying. The other person can believe it or not. They could think you’re hallucinating, dreaming, lying, or whatever, but you’re there saying, “No, I’m bearing witness. This is the truth, what I’m saying, and I’m saying it because I’ve seen it,” you see?
So John is saying this, and now Jesus is saying “we.” Not just John, but “we,” together, you see. Then St. John’s Gospel continues, and you have again a disciple between John the Baptist and John’s disciples and the Jews, over the whole issue of baptism. And here I think that St. John’s Gospel is—I’ve said this before on the radio—it’s probably a post-baptismal catechesis within the early Jewish-Christian community, and then, of course, it gets extended and perhaps even edited as it goes out more into the Church, over who Jesus really is and what it means to be baptized in his name and what it means to eat and drink at his table and what the signs were that he accomplished and how they show forth his divinity. That’s what the Gospel seems to be all about.
But here again, we want to get back to the term “witness.” When John’s disciples are discussing with the Jews, they come to John himself, and they say, “Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan and [about] whom you bore witness,” so again it says, “Tell us about the one about whom you bore witness, about [whom] you testified. And what can you say about him?” And then John the Baptist says, “You yourself bear witness that I said to you.” So now he’s turning the tables. He said, “I testified to you, now I want you to testify what you heard from me. What did you hear me say?” He says to his disciples, “You yourselves testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom, and I am the friend of the bridegroom. He must increase; I must decrease.’ ”
Then it says that when he comes, when this one who is before John the Baptist comes, the one to whom, about whom, he is testifying and to whom he is bearing witness, he says he’s now going to start to bear witness. Christ himself is going to start to bear witness. And this is what he says about Jesus. He said, “He who comes from above is above all, and he who is of the earth belongs to the earth and of the earth he speaks, but he who comes from heaven is above all.” So John is saying, “I’m from the earth; Jesus is from heaven.” Then he says:
He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his martyria, his testimony, his witness. He who receives his testimony sets his seal to this: that God is true. And he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for it is not by measure that he gives the Spirit. God the Father loves the Son and has given all things unto him. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him.
So it says Jesus is now bearing witness that he’s saying the things that he learned from God when he was with God before the world was made. And we’re going to see later how there’s going to be this clash about Jesus and Moses, because the leaders of the Jews, the Pharisaic parties, the rabbis are going to say to Jesus and to the people who follow Jesus, “We know who Moses is. We know he heard from God. How do we know who this fellow is?” They call him “this fellow”; it’s a kind of derogatory expression about Jesus. You know: “Where did he learn? Where did he see?” And then the testimony’s going to be made that Jesus is speaking about what he heard and saw from God and received from God, the very words from God, from before the very foundation of the world, unlike Moses who, as a man, spoke with God, even face-to-face, very important, in the Holy Scriptures, but still, not in this intimate community with God before the world was even made. And then, of course, Jesus is going to be claimed even to be the Word itself.
There are many, many passages that I could read, because there’s so many times that this language of testimony, bearing testimony, making testimony are there. It’s in the conversation with the Samaritan woman. She testifies. Jesus testifies. They [say] that the prophet is without honor in his own country and so on. But I want to get, now, to what Jesus testifies about himself in St. John’s Gospel, so that the Book of Revelation can truly say he is ho martys ho pistos, the faithful martyr or the faithful witness; or where Revelation can say of itself that he is the “Amen.” The “Amen” means “This is true, what I’m saying”: “Truly, truly, I say to you. Amen, amen, I say to you. This is the truth.” And therefore he could be called the faithful and true witness, the martys that is pistos and alēthenos.
But let’s see here what St. John says about his testimony to himself. This is what he says. He says, and now I’m reading from the fifth chapter. Jesus says (John 5:30-37):
I can do nothing on my own authority. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will, but the will of him who sent me.
Then he says:
If I testify to myself, if I bear witness to myself, my witness is not true. There is another who bears witness to me, and I know that the witness which he bears to me is true. You sent to John (the Baptist), and he has borne witness to the truth, not that the witness (or the testimony) which I receive is from man, but I say this that you may be saved. John was a burning and shining lamp and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light, but the testimony which I have…
This is Jesus speaking.
...the witness that I make, that I will bear, is greater than that of John. For the works which the Father has granted me to accomplish, these very works which I am doing bear witness that the Father has sent me. And so, the Father who sent me has himself testified, has himself borne witness to me.
So what Jesus says is this: “John the Baptist bore witness. He made his testimony. You didn’t believe him. Why didn’t you believe him? He was a burning and shining lamp; you were willing to rejoice. Yet the testimony that I am bringing is far greater than his.” And it’s going to say in the Gospel, even in the synoptics, something greater than Solomon is here, greater than Jonah. Isaiah saw the day and rejoiced. Moses wrote about him. So this testimony, this witness that Jesus makes, and he makes it about himself, is greater than the testimony of John.
And then he says, “How?” He says, “Because [of] my acts, my erga, my works are going to be the testimony. What I do is going to be the testimony. I’m going to be the martys.” That word is not used, because there’s no noun there, but he’s going to be the martys because his words and his deeds, his acts, are going to be his testimony. He’s going to bear witness. And then he says, “And because of these very works, they’re going to bear witness that God who is my Father has sent me.” And we should never forget that in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus is actually put to death and killed because he called God his “Abba, Father,” which no one ever did, and it was blasphemy to do such a thing.
So he says, “When I bear witness myself to myself by my acts, these are actually the witnesses of God the Father who sent me bearing witness in and through me.” So then he says, “The Father who sent me has himself therefore borne witness.” So he says, “God is my witness,” and it’s very interesting that if you read the New Testament Scriptures, how many times you have that expression, “God is my witness.” St. Paul says, “God is my witness.” In the Acts of the Apostles, the apostles say, “God is my witness.” In the Book of Revelation, it says, “God is my witness.” So those who are speaking and bearing witness to the Gospel of Christ and to Christ and to God and to all that he says and does, they claim that God is even their witness. This is what you have in the fifth chapter.
I want to quickly jump over to the eighth chapter, because in this eighth chapter, you have probably the most specific sentences where it’s very, very clear that Jesus is claiming divinity and bearing witness to himself. I’ll start reading here at the twelfth verse (John 8:12-18):
Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world.”
So he’s his words, you see. He’s testifying to himself, who he is.
“I am the light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
The Pharisees then say to him, “You are bearing witness to yourself! Your testimony is not true.”
The reason why even Jesus said before that “If I bear witness to myself, you may say my testimony is not true,” and right here the Pharisees actually do say, “You bear witness to yourself; your testimony is not true”: You’re not a faithful witness. Why? Because in the courts of law of the rabbinic disputation, and this was according to the law of Moses himself in the Torah, witness had to be borne by another. A person couldn’t testify about himself as such; he had to have other witnesses, and there had to be at least two or three. Otherwise, the testimony was thrown out of court.
Now, you have that in the Acts of the Apostles and in the letters of Paul and in the New Testament writings generally. You accept a charge only on the basis of two or three witnesses, according to God’s law and the law of Moses. So they’re saying, “You are bearing witness to yourself. Your testimony, your witness is not true.” Then Jesus answers:
Even if I do bear witness to myself, my testimony is true. For I know whence I have come and whither I am going…
“I know where I came from and I know where I’m going back to.” And what he meant was: from God. “I’ve come from God and I’m returning to God.”
...but you do not know whence I come or whither I am going. You judge according to the flesh. I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true. For...
And then, here’s Jesus’ punchline:
...it is not I alone that judge, but I, together with him who sent me.
So he said, “I and my Father together are judging.” And then he will say later, “I and my Father are one. The Father is in me and I am in him. So when you hear me you hear the Father. When you see me you see the Father. When the Father speaks, he speaks through me, and we are joined together, and you cannot separate the Father and the Son.” And that will be what is said in the first letters of John, also: He who has the Son has the Father. The doctrine of the Son is the doctrine of God. The doctrine of God is the teaching of Jesus. This is the New Testamental St. John teaching about Jesus.
He says, “Make judgment because I and he, the one who sent me”—some texts say “the Father who sent me” actually—“we’re together in this.” So then Jesus quotes to them their own law:
In your law it is written that the testimony of two men is true.
So you need two or three witnesses, okay. We’ve got two or three.
I bear witness to myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness to me.
So he says—Jesus is really amazing—he’s saying, “I’m bringing God himself as my witness.” I mean, that’s not bad. If you’re in a court of law, and the witness testifying on your behalf is God himself. But then he says, “I’m testifying myself, but it isn’t me: it’s God in me.” And later on, Jesus is going to say that the Holy Spirit is going to come and also bear witness to him. So John the Baptist is going to bear witness to him; God the Father’s going to bear witness to him; he’s going to bear witness to himself; and the Holy Spirit is going to bear witness. And he’s also going to say, and we can read it here, that “the Scriptures are going to bear witness to me; the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets are going to bear witness to me. Moses is going to bear witness to me.” Then he says, “The words that I speak, if you don’t like them, then follow the works that I do. My works, my deeds, are going to bear witness to me.”
So you have all these various witnesses in St. John’s Gospel. That’s why the word is used so much. And I really do think that those scholars tell us, that this is actually presented in the form of a legal disputation in a law court. This is how the Jews would argue with each other to make their point. And here, I’ll just slip this in here before continuing about the martys: you have that other legal term in St. John’s Gospel, the paraklētos, the paraclete. And I already reflected on Jesus as the Paraclete and the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete. And the Paraclete is an advocatus. It’s a legal counsellor. It’s a lawyer. It’s the one who stands alongside: “paraklētos” means “the one who stands alongside.” Stands alongside that one at a trial. And he counsels and he comforts and he bears testimony and he makes the argument. So the point would be that Jesus is the paraklētos of God, and then the paraklētos for Jesus is the Holy Spirit.
You might say in St. John’s Gospel: as the Spirit is to Jesus, so Jesus is to [the Father], and that’s how the relationships work. You have the Father revealing and showing himself through the Son, bearing witness to the Son, the Son bearing witness to the Father, the Holy Spirit acting in the Son and bearing witness to the Son and thereby bearing witness to the Father. And then the Spirit bears witness to us, in us and with us, as Jesus himself does. So you have here in this eighth chapter Jesus simply saying, “I bear witness to myself. My words bear witness to me. God the Father [bear] witness, witnesses to me. You have these witnesses that have come and have revealed themselves, who have made their case, so to speak, who have build their case about who I am, where I am from, what I am about, and what the truth is.”
It’s interesting, by the way, in the speech, the last sermon, the theological discourse that Jesus makes to the disciples at the Supper where he brings in the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth, and that the Spirit is going to bear witness to him. You see? There’s an interesting remark there, that is not very easy to interpret, because he says, “As I take what belongs to God the Father and give it to you, so the Spirit takes what belongs to me and gives it to you, and therefore he is the Spirit of truth and does not speak on his own authority, but what I tell him to speak and to show, that’s what he does. Just like I don’t speak on my authority,” Christ says, Jesus, “but I speak on the authority of the Father.”
But then when he says in the 16th chapter, that “if I do not go away, this advocatus, this paraklētos, the counselor, who is going to argue my case and bring forth the witnesses, namely, the Holy Spirit, he will not come to you unless I go. But if I go, I will send him to you.” And then, this is the text I wanted to comment on:
When he (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will convince the world…
And “convince” or “convict,” because his testimony, his witness, will be so convincing.
...concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.
And then the Lord says to his disciples:
He will convict the world of sin, concerning sin, because they do not believe in me.
So what Jesus is saying is this: “You’re judging me, and you’re saying that I’m false, but when the Holy Spirit’s going to come, he’s going to show you’re the one who’s false and I’m the one who’s true. His testimony, his martyria, as the advocatus, as the paraklētos, is going to show that you think you’re judging me, but in fact, I’m judging you. You think you’re the true one, I’m the false one; I’m the true one, you’re the false one.” So:
When the Spirit comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. Concerning sin, because they do not believe in me.
Because they should believe in me.
Concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father.
Well, what does that mean? It means that the Holy Spirit’s going to prove that Jesus is the righteous one and that he is right and true and that as the faithful witness, bearing witness to himself, he is not lying. Why? Because he goes to the Father; because he is raised and glorified, and returns to where he was before. So if Jesus is raised and glorified and is lifted up and is enthroned with God the Father, then he convicts the world, he convinces the world of what is really right. And then it says, “Because I go to the Father and you will see me no more.”
Then it says that he convicts the world of judgment “because the ruler of this world is judged.” And the ruler of the world is the liar is who is from the beginning, the devil, which in the eighth chapter he said is really the father of the Pharisees. The Pharisees claim to have Moses, but if they would have Moses, they would have Jesus. If they would have Jesus, they would have God. And therefore, their father, he says, “You say you have Abraham as your father.” He says, “I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father,” and then he says, “Your father is the evil one. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, has nothing to do with truth, because there is no truth in him,” he said. “So you are not Abraham’s children.”
And then he says, “Before Abraham, I was, I am,” and they say, “How can you tell us that before Abraham, you were, when you’re not even yet 30 years old? Who are you, anyway?” And Jesus says, “When you have lifted up the Son of man, you will know that I am he. And you will know that you are the ones who are false, I am the one who’s true. You are the ones who are missing the mark and are sinning; I am the righteous one. My testimony is true, and that the prince of this world is judged, not me. The devil is judged, not me.”
So in St. John’s Gospel, you have this continuous teaching about Jesus as bearing witness, testifying, of himself, and claiming that he testifies of the true God, and claiming that God testifies and bears witness about him. Then he claims that the Spirit of truth, the paraklētos, the second paraklētos—he’s the first one—will come and also bear witness to him, and he’ll take what it is his and give it. He says the whole thing begins with John the Baptist bearing witness, and they did not listen to him. Then he says, “I speak to you the words and you don’t listen to me. Well, if you don’t accept the words, at least accept the deeds. My deeds bear witness to me.”
Then he says, “You search the Scripture, thinking there’s truth in them, but the Scripture bears witness to me. You say Abraham is your father. I say before Abraham was, I am. You say Moses is your teacher, and you do what he says. I say that I heard from God and Moses wrote about me, so his testimony is about me.” So the whole Gospel there is about testimony, about martyria, about who is the martys.
One more thing, and that is this: in the tradition of Christianity, from the beginning, the Christians were those who bore witness to Christ. Their whole life had to be a testimony to Christ, and so every Christian was called to be a martys, a martyr, and to make the good martyria when they’re put to trial, to make the good homologia, the good confession, the good testimony. So throughout the New Testament, you see that the apostles and the first Christians are bearing witness.
But then we have to know that this term, “witness,” was first a general term, simply for all the saints, all the holy ones, all those who were Christians, all those who were baptized, who believed, who had the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth. They all bore witness to Christ and to God and to the Spirit and to the Gospel. And it was a general term applied to all holy people.
But then what happened was it took on a technical meaning in Christian history. It was the one who testified to Jesus even unto death, and that’s why, in modern language, certainly in modern English, the term “martyr” is always connected with a person who has died for what they believe the truth is, who have died for a cause. So you could be a martyr for Christ, but you could be a martyr for Communism or a martyr for, I don’t know, Spanish liberation or something else. We use that term, “martyr,” as the one who suffers and dies.
In technical Church [terms], if you’ve suffered for the Lord, but were not actually put to death, you’re called a confessor, a homologos. If you testify to the Lord and were actually put to death and actually shed your blood, then you were called a martys. And then it was claimed that the Church is built on the blood of the martyrs, that the martyrs’ blood goes together with the blood of Jesus, and that’s why the early Christians preached the Gospel and met together and celebrated the Holy Eucharist over the tombs of the martyrs.
There was the tomb in the Jerusalem that was empty, where the Lord was raised and vindicated, but we had on earth those places where the bones of the martyrs were lying in the earth, having given their life to Christ and having had their life being taken up by Christ where they are seated at the right hand of God while their relics still remain on earth as a testimony, a martyria, to their testimony to Jesus.
So the word “martys” became a technical term for the person who died for Christ. And “martyrdom” became a technical term for those who died with him. And then, of course, the martyrs were kind of the quintessential Christian saints afterwards. You had bishops, you had monastics, and the monastics were the new martyrs. And then the Christian jargon began to develop, kind of teaching about “red martyrdom,” “white martyrdom,” “green martyrdom.” “Red martyrdom” in the actual blood, and then there was the martyrdom in the actual service and asceticism, there was martyrdom in the suffering… It became a kind of general term.
But the teaching that Christians had to die to themselves in order to be raised with God and to be baptized and to die with him and to rise with Christ, that connected being a Christian to dying with Jesus, and it connected sanctity to dying. And therefore the quintessential holy person, the quintessential saint, was the martyr, the one who had died, because Jesus was the Martyr, and therefore those who by faith and grace died with him became co-martyrs. They co-suffered with him; they co-testified with him; they co-died with him; they co-suffered with him; they were co-buried with him; they were co-raised with him; they were co-enthroned with him, co-glorified with him, but they were the ones who had to also be a martys. They had to be martyres. They had to be martyrs.
So you have the term used generally, for all Christians, and then you had it used very specifically for those who had died. And here I think there’s an interesting thing that I noticed with a friend of mine this year, is that the Sunday after Pentecost is the Sunday of all the saints. It commemorates all the saints. If you go to church, every possible kind of saint that the Church could have, any kind of holiness that could exist was celebrated on the Festival of All Saints, which in the Eastern Orthodox Church, the ancient tradition is to it on the Sunday after Pentecost Sunday. In the West it’s done on November 1; I’m not sure of the reason. But the All Saints’ Day in the East is the Sunday after Pentecost because the risen and glorified Lord sends the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, to his disciples so that they could be martyrs and bear witness together with him to God, and that God could bear witness through them of the truth of Christ to the world, to bear witness to the world.
So it’s all the saints, and if you use liturgical language, it would be the patriarchs, the prophets, the preachers, confessors, martyrs, ascetics, teachers, every possible category. And in the Orthodox Church, from the ancient times, you had various categories of saints: prophets, apostles, holy fathers, bishops, abbots, monks, nuns, monastics, ascetics, stylites. You have all different kinds of monastics: you have hermits; you have communal people. And then you have presbyters, and you have deacons, and then, of course, you have those who actually died, the martyrs.
And, by the way, very interesting: the first male martyr is Stephen, because he’s called the witness in the New Testament: “Stephanos ho martys,” it says in the Book of Acts. That’s where you get the word “martyr” connected with dying for Christ. And then “stephanos” means “a crown,” so then it developed that those who die receive a crown with Christ; they are crowned. No cross, no crown, you know, as the saying goes. So we have those lines in Scripture about those who persevere with him and die with him, they are raised with him and the receive the crown, the stephanos, the crown.
But Thekla, the first woman martyr, she never actually was put to death. They tried to kill her, kill her, kill her, kill her, in all the legends about her, but she never actually did get to die, and she dies a natural death. Nevertheless, she’s still considered as the first martys because her whole life together with St. Paul in his legend—it’s definitely a legend; it’s certainly apocryphal; it’s not in canonical Scripture—but it shows her as the martyr. But what I wanted to mention is that my friend, who’s actually my son-in-law, and I noticed that in the service for All Saints, the term “martyr” or “martys” was used for the saints generally, not just for those who died. It was used in its generic form, not in its specific form, and therefore the English translations may be misleading.
I’ll read here now the troparion and the kontakion of the Feast of All Saints. The troparion says:
As with fine porphyry and royal purple, the Church has been adorned with the martyrs’ blood, shed throughout all the world. She cries to thee, O Christ God: send down your bounty on your people; grant peace to your habitation and great mercy to our souls.
Then the kontakion:
The universe offers to you the God-bearing martyrs as the firstfruits of creation, O Lord and Creator, through the Theotokos, and their prayers establish your Church in peace.
Now we know in the Scripture, the firstfruit of creation and the firstborn of creation is Christ himself. That’s one of his titles. We did the title of Jesus as Firstfruit, Jesus as Firstborn. But here it says, “The universe, the whole creation, offers to you the God-bearing martyres as the firstfruits of creation,” and I think probably it would have been better in that particular song to translate it “witnesses,” because if people think that if it’s only about those who died, it’s not right. It’s speaking about all the saints together, not just those who were put to death.
So I think it is okay, it’s proper to translate the Greek term “martys” as “martyr” into English, but sometimes it simply needs to be translated as “witness, the one who bears witness,” not necessarily dies bearing witness, but simply as the one who bears witness. Now Christ, the faithful and true Martyr, the one who is pistos and alēthenos, who is the true and faithful Witness, the Witness of God, who witnesses to himself, who sends the Spirit who bears witness to him, he did die. And many, many, many of the saints died physically. And all of the saints died spiritually. You cannot be with Christ and not die with him. If that’s the case, you’re not baptized.
If we do not die with him, we do not live with him, but we may not die physically, but we still have to die spiritually. We have to die to [ourselves], die to this world. And that’s our testimony, that we are dead to this world and alive to God in Christ Jesus. That’s what a holy person is.
So with this term, “martyr,” Jesus as the Martyr, faithful Witness, the faithful and true Witness—that’s in the Book of Revelation; that’s his title—we could say that he is the faithful and true Martyr, in both senses of the [term]. He is the one who testifies, and he is the one who dies for his testimony, gives his life for his testimony. So in that sense, without any doubt, it belongs, it’s fitting and proper and meet and right to confess Jesus himself, Jesus Christ, as the Witness, faithful and true: the true and faithful Martys, the true and faithful Martyr-Witness.