Bearing Witness to the Truth

“To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.” —John 18:37

OUR TEXT CONTAINS the words of Jesus as he stood before Pilate, the Roman governor, in the judgment hall. Jesus had been arrested by the officers of the Jewish priests, and had been brought before the High Priest, scribes, and elders in the High Priest’s palace. At first the charge against Jesus was blasphemy, which could be tried only in Jewish courts.

But the ecclesiastical court did not want to try him because conviction would carry a light sentence. So they had to ‘trump up’ another accusation which would bring the death sentence. This was their objective, as John explains when speaking of Caiaphas who was the High Priest: “Caiaphas was he, that gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.” (John 18:12-14) They then accused Jesus of high treason, and forced the Roman court to take charge.

Thus it was that Jesus was brought before Pilate, who did not believe that there was much substance to the charge. Jesus’ plea of ‘not guilty’ is recorded by the Apostle John in his Gospel. As Pilate interrogated Jesus he asked: “Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?”—John 18:33-35

Jesus was being accused of setting up a kingdom in opposition to the Roman government, and in his defense he said, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” When Pilate asked if Jesus was really a king, it led to the words of our text, preceded by the words, “Thou sayest that I am a King. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.”—John 18:36,37

When Jesus answered Pilate as he did, was he saying that he really came simply to bear witness to the truth? Everything that Jesus said and did was bearing witness to the truth. But someone might say that Jesus came into the world to give his life as the ransom price. There is no lack of harmony in that statement and the answer Jesus gave Pilate as to why he came into the world. Both are correct.

When Jesus walked the dusty roads of Judea and Galilee and preached to the people, when he suffered and finally died, everything he said and did bore witness to the truth. When he was put to death on the cross as a malefactor, that event was the most powerful witness to the truth that had ever been given. It witnessed to the fall of man and his depravity and as a consequence the necessity of a ransom to recover from his fall into sin. It witnessed to God’s unalterable justice and of God’s great mercy and love in providing such a ransom for all mankind.

When Jesus rose from the dead, there was another great witness given of God’s power, wisdom, and love. When we review why Jesus came into this world, this can be summarized in the words of Jesus to Pilate in which he bore witness to the great plan of God.

Since this was so with Jesus, so also it should be with his followers, and they, too, should bear witness to the truth. Some think this means using every available means of public witnessing—going out with printed literature, giving public talks, or using the radio and television to tell about God’s plan. That is only a part of giving witness to God’s truth. Jesus did a great deal of preaching throughout the three-and-one-half years of his ministry. He was constantly engaged in telling the message of the coming kingdom. Some of this witness was in ‘parables and dark sayings’, but the message kept pointing to the fact that there would be a kingdom established on this earth some day which would bring blessings to all people.

However, it was not merely in the words Jesus uttered that he bore witness to the truth, but also by the things he did. It is also true in our lives that our acts must bear witness to the truth. These are as necessary a part of our message as proclaiming the truth by the printed page or other means. We are to be living epistles, “known and read of all men.”—II Cor. 3:2

There can be a tendency to go to extremes. Some may have the thought that bearing witness to the truth means only preaching orally, or in other ways. Others may think that bearing witness consists of living a good moral life only. To think so exclusively would be wrong. We cannot fulfill the mission of being footstep followers of Christ unless we do what Jesus did, namely, to be willing to suffer and die with him (II Tim. 2:11-13), bearing witness to the truth by preaching and by living the Word.

If we are to be “holy brethren” (I Thess. 5:27) we must do everything the Lord tells us to do. For example, he tells us through the Apostle Paul to “study to shew thyself approved unto God.” (II Tim. 2:15) But if we stop there we will not fulfill God’s instructions which lead to holiness. We are not only to study, but to watch—watch ourselves, watch divine providence, watch the fulfillment of Biblical prophecies—or, in the words of Jesus, to “watch and pray.” (Matt. 26:41)

Along with watching, we must pray, even as Jesus did. Furthermore, we are to live righteously; many scriptures emphasize the importance of our daily conduct. One is II Peter 3:11, Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott: “All these things, therefore, being dissolved, what persons ought we to be in Holy Conduct and Piety?” We must do all these things together, and not neglect any. We are to “preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season.” (II Tim. 4:2) We are to let our light “so shine before men, that they may see your [our] good works, and glorify your [our] Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16) All of these are a part of the Divine program for God’s people. We cannot expect to be ‘holy brethren’ if we omit any of these. Jesus has set us an example, and we must follow in his steps.

When Jesus told Pilate that he had come into the world to bear witness to the truth, Pilate asked, “What is truth?” There is no record of an answer by Jesus, but Pilate was convinced that Jesus was an innocent man. So “he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.” (John 18:38) Pilate even suggested that, in accordance with Jewish custom, he release Jesus because it was the Passover, but the people chose Barabbas, a thief, instead.

Everything that Pilate did—humiliating Jesus before them through scourging, and the mockery of the soldiers—was of no avail to satisfy the people. He reasoned with them and with their leaders when they cried out to crucify Jesus, but, as he sought to release Jesus, they said, “If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.” (John 19:12) Then Pilate tried one last time to free Jesus, but the clamor of the people to crucify him was so great that he could not prevail. He said, “Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:15) Therefore, to appease the populace and to avoid an insurrection, Pilate finally gave Jesus over to be crucified.

The witness for the truth did not end with Jesus’ death. It was not his intention that it should stop there. Before his death Jesus told his disciples what the Divine will would be for them. He had said to them, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12) He had also said to his disciples, “Ye are the light of the world.”—Matt. 5:14

Jesus promised greater works for them, saying, “He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do.” (John 14:12) After his resurrection Jesus told his followers to “teach all nations” (Matt. 28:19), and that they would be his witnesses both “in all Judea and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”—Acts 1:8

Jesus expected them to preach the Word as well as to live it. Many have done more than simply to lead good, moral lives. How glad we are that the activity of the Lord’s people in our day has included the putting forth of this wonderful Gospel. If this had not been so, we may not have heard this message. It is because others who preceded us have let their light shine, and have told us of the tidings of great joy that have made possible our receiving the message of truth.

All of us have the same privilege and obligation today. Telling someone about God’s plan is a start, but it involves more. If we do not live according to this message, others will not have much confidence in what we say. But if they see that we really believe the message with our whole heart, and are endeavoring to live by its principles, this will be convincing.

Some believe that bearing witness for Jehovah God is something new. All of the Lord’s people, from the time of Jesus’ First Advent until now, have been doing this if they have been faithful. Again, Jesus is our example. He was quick to begin his ministry as soon as he became of age. We read in Luke 3:21-23, “Jesus also being baptized and praying, the heaven was opened … and Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age.” He did not delay one moment, but began preaching and gathering disciples. After his baptism and temptation in the wilderness, he met two disciples of John the Baptist who had been directed by John to Jesus. One was Andrew and the other is presumed to have been John. Andrew took Jesus to his brother, Simon Peter, and it is thought that John brought his brother, James, to Jesus. All then went back to Galilee, leaving the area around Jordan where John continued to baptize the repentant.

In Galilee Jesus went to Bethsaida and found Philip. He said to him, “Follow me.” (John 1:43) Bethsaida was also the home of Andrew and Peter (vs. 44), and believed to be that of John and James as well. Philip went to Nathaniel and told him about Jesus. (vss. 45-51) So it was that six apostles came from the town of Bethsaida. Four of these were fishermen, and they left their fishing business to follow Jesus.

When Jesus met Nathaniel, he said of him: “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile.” (vs. 47) What a marvelous statement to make about someone! Nathaniel had never heard the truth; he knew nothing about God’s plan; yet when Jesus looked upon Nathaniel he could find no fault with him. Thus, when Nathaniel asked Philip, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (vs. 46), there was no guile in his question. He, too, was a Galilean, and the prophecies did not indicate that the Messiah was to be born in Galilee. But Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the City of David, which Nathaniel learned in his later associations with him as his apostle.

Later Jesus upbraided Bethsaida saying, “Woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” (Matt. 11:21) The residents of Bethsaida were unaware that their little city had provided six out of twelve apostles, or one-half the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem! They had witnessed miracles performed by Jesus, but few had responded. It would definitely be harder for them in the Day of Judgment, than for those of Tyre and Sidon, because they had rejected a witness of the truth.

The next apostle chosen was Matthew. Matthew was not in good repute with the Jews because he was a politician. He had taken a position under the Roman government as a tax collector. Any Jew who worked in a public office under the Roman government was called a publican, and publicans were considered the lowest of the Jews. When Matthew served a farewell dinner for his associates, and invited Jesus and his disciples to join them, the Pharisees saw them and asked the disciples, “Why eateth your master with publicans and sinners?” (Matt. 9:11) This was not the thing to do! But this, too, was witnessing to the truth, and Jesus said: “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.”—Matt. 9:12

Although the Bible does not give much information about the circumstances or order in which the other apostles were chosen to follow Jesus, we note that Simon the Zealot, was one called to be an apostle. His designation, zealot, could signify that he was of the sect of the Zealots, who were conspicuous for their fierce advocacy of Mosaic rituals. Thus we see that a publican and a Zealot became followers of the Lamb, recruited to give witness to the truth.

In order to effectively bear witness to the truth, we must first ascertain how much of the truth is in us. If the truth is in us, and we love the truth, we will not have to be concerned about how much activity we are to put forth in witnessing to the truth. We will automatically respond, as Jesus did, and in the words of Jeremiah, the truth will be like “a burning fire shut up in my bones” (Jer. 20:9), and we will not be able to withhold the message from going forth. The love of the truth must be the motivation for our witness to the truth.

For years, many brethren have anticipated that the work of the selection of the church is close to completion. In this period of time, many different views have arisen, among which is one which holds that the harvest is ended, and the door to the High Calling is closed. Yet the evidence is strong that the harvest goes grandly on and cannot end until the last of the antitypical wheat is brought into the heavenly garner, as presented in the parable of the wheat and the tares. (Matt. 13:24-30,36-43) We must continue our witness to the truth until the harvest closes this Gospel Age. Our brethren who preceded us did not slacken in doing so at any time, and neither did Jesus. Even to the end he kept on witnessing. When upon the cross, only moments away from the end of his life upon earth, he witnessed to the two thieves being crucified with him. If the truth is in us, we will do likewise.

What does it mean to love the truth? It means loving the Lord who gave us the truth! It is, of course, possible for someone to love the gift they receive, and not love the giver. This could happen to us. The truth is so wonderful and may lift burdens of heart and mind from us, but we should always remember our Heavenly Father as the author of that plan, and give him the honor and glory due to him. If we are thoroughly consecrated to him, we will seize every opportunity to bear witness to the truth, even as Jesus did. May we ever do so.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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