Beheaded for the Witness of Jesus

“I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God, and which had not worshiped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” —Revelation 20:4

THE precision with which our text describes the characteristics of those found worthy to live and reign with Christ furnishes food for serious thought. On the one hand is the fact that they had remained aloof from all association with the beasts and the image of the beast. They had not served the cause of these counterfeit systems of Christianity, hence had not been set apart or marked as their servants. Instead, and like the great Apostle Paul who is one of them, they had borne the marks of the Lord Jesus, had been his bond slaves. So completely had this been true that the text states of them that they were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God. And these are they, and no others, who live and reign with Christ a thousand years.

The beheading referred to is of course symbolic. Every follower of the Master is called upon to lay down his life, to be planted together in the likeness of his death, but very few in the entire age have been literally beheaded. So far as we know the Apostle Paul finished his course in this manner, and doubtless there were others, but the majority of those who have died violent deaths because of their faithfulness have been crucified, thrown to the lions, or burned at the stake. Nevertheless, all who have actually followed in the footsteps of Jesus have been symbolically beheaded.

This beheading simply means the giving up of our own wills and the acceptance of Christ as our Head, and allowing his will to dictate in all the affairs of life. If we are truly beheaded we will look to him for guidance in all that we think and say and do. Unlike others, it will no longer be our privilege to make plans which suit our natural desires, for his will must be given first consideration; and oftentimes we will find that the will of our new Head runs counter to our best interests according to the flesh. Beheading, then, is a most heart-searching symbol of full consecration to the Lord.

What does consecration to the Lord mean to us individually? Do we think of it merely as a desire to live uprightly, to love the Lord and his Word, and to appreciate the friendship of his people? All this is of course good. It is far better to be thus on the side of the Lord and of his people, than to be in open rebellion against him and his purposes. But this is not real consecration. Such a turning to righteousness does not indicate the surrender of our wills to do his will. It does not mean that we have been beheaded.

Just as in a physical body, all its members function only as directed by the head, so it is in the body of Christ into which we are baptized by one spirit of full devotion to the Head. If we are truly beheaded, we will act only as our new head indicates his will for us. As members of his body we have no rights of our own and should make no independent plans of our own. Full consecration means that we are to be ever, only, all for him and for the doing of his will. It is more, much more, than going through life pursuing our own preferences and attempting to surround our own ways with a halo of sanctity with the claim that all we do is being done in his name. In other words, consecration is not the doing of our own wills and asking God to bless us in it. It is the seeking and doing of his will irrespective of how favorably or adversely we may be affected by such a course of obedience to our new Head. Are we thus beheaded?

What the LORD Does for Us

It is important to see the difference between the blessings which the Lord bestows upon us as his consecrated people and the course of obedience which he expects of us. As children in the divine family and members of the body of Christ we enjoy many privileges, and these should be highly esteemed. He has given us of his Holy Spirit. By it, through the Word of truth, we are begotten to a new hope of life. He has sealed us by the “Holy Spirit of promise” and thereby given us an “earnest” of our future inheritance.—Eph. 1:13,14

By his Holy Spirit the Lord also bears witness with our spirits that we are his children. With this assurance of being his children and having the privilege of calling him our Father, we can go boldly to the throne of grace to obtain mercy and strength in our every time of need. Jesus gives us the assurance that our Heavenly Father is more willing to give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him than is an earthly parent to give good gifts to his children. Truly the blessings of the Lord toward us are rich and abundant!

And it is his will that under the hallowed influence of these blessings we should grow more and more into maturity as new creatures in Christ Jesus, reflecting more and more the image of his dear Son. Day by day as the Spirit of God fills our hearts and lives in ever increasing measure we should have more faith; more of the true knowledge of God; more patience; more brotherly kindness; more love. And besides all this, the Lord expects that daily our appreciation of the commission he has given us will increase, and that our obedience to that commission will impel us to make ever greater sacrifices as we lay down our lives in his service.

What is the Divine Commission?

The divine commission for service, that which inspires and empowers a Christian to be a co-worker with God, is spoken of in the Scriptures as the anointing of the Spirit. A very comprehensive statement of this anointing is found in Isaiah 61:1-3, which reads, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.”

In a synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus read a part of this commission and applied it to himself, and it also applies to each member of his body. What does this anointing mean in terms of everyday Christian living? What does it mean to us, for example, that is different from the begetting of the Spirit, or the witness of the Spirit? Briefly, the difference is in that which God does for us and what we do for him. He begets us by his Spirit and we become his sons. His Spirit witnesses with our spirits to assure us that we are his children. In these operations of the Holy Spirit we are the receivers of divine grace.

True, it is also a marvelous display of God’s favor that we should have the privilege of serving God, as we are authorized to do by the anointing of the Spirit. Nevertheless, the particular significance of the anointing of the Spirit is that God thereby authorizes, and lays upon us the responsibility of doing something for him, of laboring together with him in the carrying out of his plan. Paul explains the matter in slightly different language, saying that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, and, as ambassadors for Christ, has made us ministers of reconciliation.—II Cor. 5:18-20

We can best understand what the anointing of the Spirit should mean to us by noting how it affected Jesus’ life. It made of him a full-time servant of his Heavenly Father. It is basic to an understanding of our responsibilities as Christians to realize this. One of the fundamental differences between the very popular conception of the Christian life and the viewpoint set forth in the Scriptures centers around this point. The common viewpoint is that becoming a Christian is merely a matter of being saved. It is supposed to reform the life morally, and the more devotionally inclined make the sacrifice of attending prayer meeting during the week in addition to going to church on Sunday. And of course there are dues to be paid. The clergy are about the only ones who think of themselves particularly as servants of God, and with them it is a profession for which they usually get paid.

But this is not the viewpoint set forth in the Scriptures concerning the true followers of the Master. In the true church of Christ there is no division of clergy and laity, for all are ministers—servants—and the degree of service each one renders is limited only by the circumstances over which the individual has no control, or at least can not change. Besides, every member of the true church—that is, every fully consecrated follower of the Master—is a full-time servant, even as Jesus was. There is no other way to follow in his footsteps, no other way to be beheaded for the witness of Jesus and for the Word of God.

In addition to the pattern of Jesus’ life which we have to guide us in this and other matters, we have many other examples set before us in the experiences of the Early Church. When Jesus said to Andrew and Peter, “Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men,” they gave up their fishing business and put their whole time and energy into the new work which he assigned to them. (Mark 1:17) This was what he expected them to do. With the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the waiting disciples at Pentecost, every indication is that the anointing power of the Spirit energized them to the point which caused them to think of little else but telling the good news of Christ and the kingdom. They all began with one accord to speak, to proclaim the message, to be witnesses for Jesus and the Word of God.

At Jesus’ last visit with his disciples, just before his ascension he told them that when the Holy Spirit came it would empower them to be his witnesses unto the uttermost parts of the earth beginning with Jerusalem, and this was one of the purposes for which the Holy Spirit was given. (Acts l :8) It is true of every consecrated follower of Jesus even as it was true of him, that the Spirit of the Lord God is upon him, anointing him to preach the glad tidings.

This is the work of the church, and in saying this we wish to emphasize the difference between the work of the church and the result of that work. The result of the work of the church is the making ready of the bride. The result of the work of each individual member of the church is his character preparation to be a part of the bride class. But the work by which this is accomplished is that which results from an enthusiastic response to the anointing, the quickening influence of the Holy Spirit. There is no better way to become Christ-like than to lay down our lives as he laid down his life, and that was in the service of God, that service which was involved in reconciling a lost world to God.

True, there is much involved in the Christian life besides witnessing for Jesus and for the Word of God. We must study the Word of God, for example, in order that we might be properly qualified as God’s workmen. It is also essential to bring our lives into conformity with God’s righteous standards, else our service for him would be unacceptable. The life-giving promises of his Word must fill our minds and hearts more and more so that, as new creatures, we may grow up into Christ and daily become stronger in the Lord and in the power of his might. We are to be instant in prayer. We are to be strong in faith. We are to be patient and loving and kind. We are to put on the whole armor of God. But all of these essential things are not the work of the Christian, but result from faithfulness in his service.

The work of the Christian is that of being an ambassador for Christ. It is this for which he is anointed. It is a spiritual work, and the most spiritual among the Lord’s people are those in whom the anointing influence of the Holy Spirit is most manifest by zeal in witnessing for Jesus and for the Word of God.

Bearing witness to the truth is one of the means by which the body members are built up into Christ and prepared for glory with him. It includes not only the testimony which we give generally—that is to the world—but also our service for one another. When we testify to the truths of God’s Word, whether to those who have never heard, or among the brethren, and that testimony is the overflowing of a heart filled with the love of God, the very telling of the message increases its power in our own lives in addition to edifying those who hear.

When we keep the truth to ourselves, it not only loses its power to transform our own lives into the image of Christ, but we fail to be beheaded for the witness of Jesus and for the Word of God, and those who fail to use their opportunities in this will not be among those who live and reign with Christ a thousand years. It is this fact that is made so clear, so definite, so unanswerable, in our text.

Mortgages on the Christian’s Time

We have emphasized, and scripturally so, that being a footstep follower of Jesus is a full-time occupation. This means that when we present ourselves in consecration to the Lord we give him all our time, all our strength, all our talents, and all our means. It is a complete surrender of all that we have, but it does not mean a sacrifice of that which belongs to others. Prior to consecration many of those who are called by God into his service have contracted obligations of one sort or another, usually in the form of family ties and home responsibilities. The Lord knows about these and accepts all that we have subject to these mortgages, which he wants us to respect and honor.

And the very wonderful thing about this is that the Lord accepts the necessary service we render in the discharge of our earthly obligations, as though it were directly for him, hence we are to reckon that everything we do is unto him, and for his glory. This is a marvelous provision of divine grace, but a provision nevertheless which should not be presumed upon by the attitude that it is not important that we do anything directly in the service of God. Nor should we reason that because God accepts the service we render in discharging our earthly obligations as though it were directly for him that we can increase those obligations and he will accept them just the same. The sincerity of our consecration may sometimes be tested along this very line.

If consecration meant merely a resolution to live a righteous life it would be different, but when we realize that consecration means a covenant to do God’s will and that the will of God for his people is that they should lay down their lives in his service, all who make such a consecration should consider every plan they make with the view of determining whether that plan is prompted by self-interest or by a desire to fulfill their covenant to give all in the service of God. True consecration is indeed a serious matter.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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