Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Jesus as the "faithful witness"

Rev 1.5 refers to Jesus as "the faithful witness." The Scriptures often speak of other people being witnesses; not so often do they refer to Jesus being a witness.

To be sure, Jesus speaks of his "testimony" several time in John's Gospel. Some of this is expressly in the context of the Mosaic laws requirements that two or three witnesses confirm a fact (Jn 5.31-32, 8.17-18, Dt 19.15).

While this is fine, it makes little of the adjective, "faithful." After all, there was nothing particularly threatening in the situations in John that would induce Jesus, or any person, to be a faithless witness.

But Jesus is explicitly a witness before the Sanhedrin. There the high priest puts him under oath, thereby placing an explicit, divinely sanctioned legal requirement to be a . . . faithful witness (Mt 26.63). The point of the sworn testimony, after all, is to insure that the testimony is faithful, i.e., is true.

Indeed, Jesus' sworn testimony before the Sanhedrin contrasts sharply with the faithless witnesses who testified against Jesus (Mt 26.60). Moreover, the trial context is far more coercive than the incidents in John's Gospel. If there were any incentive not to be a faithful witness, it would be at the trial.

So the designation of Jesus as the "faithful witness" would seem to conduce to my working hypothesis that the Revelation isn't simply a revelation about Jesus -- although it is that. But more pointedly, the Revelation is about the testimony of Jesus before the Sanhedrin that he would be revealed to them as Israel's messiah (Mt 26.63-43). That Jesus is the "faithful witness" in Rev 1.5 connects directly with Rev 1.7, the revelation of Jesus Christ to those who pierced him at the right hand of God.

From the resurrection to the ascension, Jesus revealed himself to his household, the church (1 Co 15.5-8). The Revelation reveals Jesus as the ascended messiah, seated at God's right hand, to official Israel and to the world. All of this circles around, then, and underscores that Jesus is the faithful witness -- he told the truth about himself, under oath, before the Sanhedrin. He is Israel's messiah, and they would see that.


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