The Word of God and the testimony of Jesus

Keys to understanding the Apocalypse: Final of a three-part series

Hans K. LaRondelle, Th.D., is professor emeritus of systematic theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.

The Apocalypse builds on the truth that God sent His Son to testify of I His true character. John underscores the vital importance of the testimony that Jesus gave before the court tribunals of both Jews John 5:31- 37; 8:13-18) and Gentiles John 18:37). He describes Jesus as "the faithful and true witness" (Rev. 1:5; 3:14; cf. 19:11) who, because He remained faithful to His confession of truth, even to the point of death, thus conquered the world (Rev. 3:21; 5:5; John 16:33).

In its historic setting of persecution under Emperor Domitian (Rev. 1:9), John gives the whole concept of Christian "testimony" a prominent forensic thrust. Allison Trites explains: "Christians [to whom John is writing] are about to face a time of severe testing and persecution, and John as a faithful pastor seeks to prepare them for it."1 George Caird adds: "In the Revelation the courtroom set ting is even more realistic; for Jesus had borne his testimony before Pilate's tribunal, and the martyrs must [now] face a Roman judge."2

John's twofold key phrase

John introduces a key phrase that sums up God's revelation to Israel and His revelation through Jesus Christ in one indivisible unit: "the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ" (1:2, NIV). John uses this twofold phrase, with minor variations, six times in Revelation. The phrase links all his visions together for one pastoral purpose: to remind the church of the ages of her sacred calling to be faithful to her Lord till the end.

For John "the testimony of Jesus Christ" was the authoritative extension of the word of God (1:1, 2), because Jesus' testimony is also inspired by the Spirit of Prophecy (Rev. 19:10). John testifies that he suffered on Patmos because of "the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Rev. 1:9, NRSV). Here he evidently refers to the earthly testimony of Jesus, as found in the Gospels, because he had preached the gospel "as a testimony" (see Matt. 24:14, NIV) long before he was condemned by a Roman court.

John's twofold phrase serves both a theological and a moral purpose in the Apocalypse: It determines the faithful believers in Jesus Christ during the turbulent church age, and serves as the ultimate norm to test all prophets who claim to have visions from God, such as "Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet" (Rev. 2:20; cf.!6:13, 14; 19:20).3

Ellen White notes that her book The Great Controversy was not written "to present new truths" beyond Scripture, but to illumine "the pathway of those who, like the reformers of past ages, will be called, even at the peril of all earthly good, to witness 'for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.'"4 She also notes that the Albigenses, the Huguenots, and the Waldenses were witnesses of the "Church of the Desert," who "laid down their lives 'for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.'" 5 Thus Ellen White clearly understood John's key phrase "the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" as a reference to the Bible in its twofold witness of the Old and the New Testaments.6

John's "two-witnesses theology" in the Fourth Gospel

Kenneth Strand, Adventist scholar in apocalyptic studies, recognized that John's twofold phrase in the Revelation expresses the same theological theme as John's Gospel: a "two-witnesses theology." 7 The theme of two divine witnesses is prominent in John's Gospel because this Gospel emphasizes the essential harmony and unity of Jesus' testimony and that of His Father: "I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf" (John 8:18, NRSV); "The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak" (John 12:48, 49, NRSV); "I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf" (John 8:18, NRSV).

Jesus called attention to the law of witness in Deuteronomy 19:15 (see John 8:17) to indicate that His witness was not alone. John connects his two witnesses theology directly with the Holy Spirit's role in communicating Christ's words to His disciples (John 14:26). Jesus thus predicted that the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father "will testify on my behalf" (15:26, NRSV), and "will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you" (16:14, NRSV).

John's Gospel thus teaches that what Jesus spoke, the Holy Spirit spoke, and therefore God Himself spoke. The Fourth Gospel states explicitly that the earthly testimony of Jesus was inspired by the Spirit of God: "For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit" (John 3:34, NIV).

Indeed, Jesus was anointed with the Spirit of prophecy at His baptism, when the Spirit descended on Him in the form of a dove (Matt. 3:16; Acts 10:38). Jesus was inspired by the Spirit of God and therefore spoke His testimony with divine authority to Israel. The New Testament testimony that Jesus Himself is the revelation of God (John 1:14, 18) is the foundational truth of the Christian faith.8

The "two-witnesses theology"

In Revelation John strongly emphasizes his two-witnesses theology. The letters of the resurrected Jesus state seven times that Jesus' testimony to the churches was: "what the Spirit says to the churches" (Rev. 2:7,11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22, NIV). This repeated reference to the Spirit of God stresses the divine authority of Jesus' seven testimonies.

At the end of the book, the angel informs John that both angels and Christian prophets "hold the testimony of Jesus," and therefore are "comrades" in proclaiming the testimony of Jesus and in worshiping God (19:10; 22:8, 9, NRSV). The angel then adds this clarification: "For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (19:10, NRSV). This information corresponds with the statements of the seven letters that the testimonies of Jesus are "what the Spirit is saying." This correspondence is one of the many parallels in the broad chiastic structure of the Apocalypse.9

This means that part and counter part clarify each other. Both passages affirm that the testimony of Jesus is inspired by "the Spirit of prophecy," or the Spirit of God, not as a replacement for "the testimony of Jesus" but as a clarification of its divine origin. The angel does not teach that the "gift" of prophecy is a substitute for the testimony of Jesus, but states that Jesus' testimony is inspired by the Spirit of prophecy and thus has divine authority.

Beale comments: "This episode [19:10] is recorded to underscore the divine source of John's visions and to put in proper perspective the nature and function of angelic intermediaries. The warning ["Worship God!"] stands as a warning to Christians, not merely against worship of angels in particular, but against idolatry of any form in general, which was a problem in John's readership (e.g. 2:14, 15, 20, 21; 9:20)."10

Robert Mounce affirms: "The message attested by Jesus is the essence of prophetic proclamation."11 Caird explains: "To hold the testimony of Jesus is to stand by the principle which governed his incarnate life, to confirm and publish the testimony of his crucifixion with the testimony of martyrdom. . . . The testimony of Jesus is the spirit that inspires the prophets. It is the word spoken by God and attested by Jesus that the Spirit takes and puts into the mouth of the Christian prophet."12

Beasley-Murray points to the established fact that the expression "Spirit of prophecy" was well-known among the Jews, for "their favorite name for the Spirit of God was precisely 'the Spirit of prophecy.'" He concludes: "We should, therefore, interpret verse 10 [of Revelation 19] as meaning that the testimony borne by Jesus is the concern or burden of the Spirit who inspires prophecy. Such is the chief thrust of the teaching on the Paraclete in John 14-16."13 According to the New Testament, the prophet of God was moved by the Holy Spirit (Luke 2:25; 2 Peter 1:21).

Among Seventh-day Adventists, Roy Naden's comment is notable: "John's equating of 'the testimony of Jesus' with 'the spirit of prophecy' highlights the Testimony's divine origin and authorship. . . . Thus He [GOD] is the originator of this testimony to Christ just as He was the originator of the Word of God. ... In Revelation 19:10 John asserts that the testimony of Jesus is divine prophecy that shines its reassuring light equally on the past, the present, and the future."14

Beatrice Neall likewise concluded in her dissertation: "The word of God and the testimony of Jesus must be understood as the gospel of Jesus' death and resurrection (Rev. 1:18), His power to save from sin (1:5; 12:10-11) and transform men into His likeness (14:1) through the blood of the Lamb (7:14; 12:11)." 15

The testimony of Jesus as "the faith of Jesus"

Revelation 12-14 consists of a self-contained unit of Scripture, in which each chapter progressively develops the previous visions with an increasing focus on the end-time generation. 16 This means that the remnant people of God in 12:17 are more fully described in 14:12.

"Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus" (Rev. 12:17, NRSV). "Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus" (Rev. 14:12, NRSV).

God's people keep not only His commandments but also "hold fast to the faith of Jesus" (14:12). This "faith of Jesus" is more than their subjective faith in Jesus—it is their faith, or testimony, of Jesus Himself.

William Johnsson's comment on Revelation 14:12 is worth noting: "They keep the faith of Jesus.... Jude may provide a parallel: 'the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.' When God's loyal followers keep the faith of Jesus they remain true to basic Christianity—they 'keep the faith.'" 17

In other words, the expression "the faith of Jesus" in Revelation 14:12 serves as a clarifying equivalent to "the testimony of Jesus" (12:17) and not necessarily as a third characteristic of the remnant church. To keep "the faith of Jesus" implies to faithfully witness to Jesus' testimony. Because they bear the "testimony of Jesus," the end-time saints are prepared to witness against the antichrist until death, as John predicts: "who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God" (Rev. 20:4, NASB).

Desmond Ford stated aptly: "When men die for the testimony of Jesus, as 12:11 and 6:9 imply, we should recognize here the everlasting gospel." 18 The priceless value of the Christian martyrs lies in their faithfully holding fast to the gospel testimony that Jesus gave in His earthly ministry.

John's millennial vision reassures the divine vindication of their faithfulness to the Word of God as attested by Jesus, in the courts of heaven. Such martyrs will share with Christ the exercise of regal and judicial power in His millennial kingdom (Rev. 20:4).

The "two witnesses" in Revelation 11

Revelation 11 portrays God's two united witnesses who are authorized "to prophesy for one thousand two hundred sixty days, wearing sack cloth" (11:3, NRSV). These two symbolic witnesses of God are also identified as "the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth" (11:4). If "the seven lampstands are the seven churches" (1:20, NRSV), then two "lampstands" must also represent the church, this time the church in her vocation to "prophesy" or proclaim her legal "testimony" (11:7) to all nations (see Deut. 17:6; 19:15; Matt. 18:16; John 8:17).

This understanding is confirmed by the parallel symbols of the persecuted "woman" (in 12:6) and of the "holy city" trodden underfoot (in 11:2). All three symbolic figures suffer for their "testimony" during the same length of time (11:2, 3; 12:6, 11). These portrayals indicate that the true saints not only hold fast to the "testimony of Jesus" but also faithfully witness to Jesus, willing to "lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel" (Mark 8:35, NRSV).

The portrayal of "two witnesses" in Revelation 11 dramatizes Jesus' call and promise to the church in Smyrna: "Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Rev. 2:10, NRSV). In this respect they are called to identify completely with Jesus in His witness and death, and will also share in His vindication (11:9-12). More important, the power of their prophetic ministry will result in the repentance and salvation of many in the world (11:13).

This prophetic ministry is the calling of the entire church. All believers in Jesus Christ are called to "hold to the testimony of Jesus" (Rev. 12:17, NASB), while only some of them are chosen to receive the particular "gift of prophecy" to build up the church, to speak to the saints "for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation" (see 1 Cor. 14:3, NRSV).19

We need to realize that the church of Christ is validated in her apostolic succession solely by her faithful proclamation of the gospel of God as attested by Jesus (Matt. 24:14, NASB; Rev. 12:17; 14:12). To illustrate the unbreakable connection between the church and her gospel testimony, John is asked to take and "to eat" a heavenly scroll (10:9, NASB) so that he can "prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations" (10:11, NASB), just as God had asked the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah to "eat" a heavenly scroll with His divine words and then to proclaim His message publicly (Ezek. 3:1-3; Jer. 15:16).20

Consequently, the two witnesses of Revelation 11 do not represent the church in isolation from the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. As has been explained by earlier expositors, these two indivisible witnesses of God symbolize "the church preaching and prophesying through the two Testaments of Scripture."21

Kenneth Strand's meticulous study of John's "two-witnesses theology,"22 as found in the entire book of Revelation, comes to this significant conclusion: "In the book of Revelation, faithfulness to the 'word of God' and to the 'testimony of Jesus Christ' separates the faithful from the faithless, and it brings about persecution that includes John's own exile and the martyrdom of other believers (see again Rev. 1:9; 6:9; 12:17; 20:4; etc.). These two witnesses are, namely, 'the word of God' and 'the testimony of Jesus Christ,' or what we today call the Old Testament prophetic message and the New Testament apostolic witness."23

The supreme test of faithfulness to God

Christian believers in every age have lived and died, and will in the future die for the gospel testimony of Jesus (Rev. 1:9; 6:9; 12:11; 20:4). Their "testimony of Jesus" is not just the testimony of their personal conversion to Jesus, but their witness to the apostolic gospel; that is, to "the testimony of God" (1 Cor. 2:1, NKJV), or "the testimony of Christ" (1 Cor. 1:6, NKJV), regarding His life, death, and resurrection (Mark 8:35; Acts 1:8, 22; 4:33; 1 Cor. 15:1-4, 15).

Paul declared that the ministry he had received from the Lord Jesus was "to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24, NASB). He warned that those who "distort the gospel of Christ" will fall under a divine curse (Gal. 1:1-9, NASB). John predicts that the church will have to go through times of severe persecution and suffering (see Rev. 12:11, 17).

Paul counseled that Christian believers should "not go beyond what is written" (1 Cor. 4:6, NIV), and advised that all prophets in the church be tested by this canon of Scripture (1 Thess. 5:19-21; 1 Cor. 14:29, 32).

Ellen White likewise called for the same focus: "I recommend to you, dear reader, the Word of God as the rule of your faith and practice. By that Word we are to be judged."24

"What leisure time we have should be spent in searching the Bible, which is to judge us in the last day... Let the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ be in your minds continually and let them crowd out worldly thoughts and cares."25 "God calls for a revival and a reformation. The words of the Bible, and the Bible only, should be heard from the pulpit."26

These stirring words call for faithfulness to the biblical standard, which is summarized so impressively by the angel in Revelation 14:12. This programmatic key text became the founding platform for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1861. This text combines the law of God and the saving gospel of Jesus Christ "as of equal importance, the law and the gospel going hand in hand."27

When in 1888 Adventists discovered that "the faith of Jesus" (Rev. 14:12, NKJV) implied faith in Jesus, the full theological implications of the three angels' messages were understood and the denomination had its "loud cry" message.

Many revivals began to take place, and in 1892 Ellen White claimed that "the loud cry of the third angel has already begun in the revelation of the righteousness of Christ, the sin-pardoning Redeemer. This is the beginning of the light of the angel whose glory shall fill the whole earth."28

It may all be summed up in this challenging exhortation: "Of all professing Christians, Seventh-day Adventists should be foremost in uplifting Christ before the world."29

1 Allison A. Trites, The New Testament Concept of Witness (Cambridge Cambridge University Press, 1977), 155.

2 George B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine. Harper's New Testament Commentary (New York: Harper k Row, 1966), 18

3 For a more extended treatment, see my Light for the Last Days (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press® Pub Assn, 1999), "Appendix C."

4 Ellen G White, The Great Controversy (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press® Pub. Assn., 1939), xii.

5 Ibid, 271.

6 See also her comment on 1 Peter 1:10, 11, "It is the voice of Christ that speaks to us through the Old Testament. The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.'" Patriarchs and
Prophets (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press® Pub. Assn., 1958), 367.

7 Kenneth A Strand, "The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11:3-12," in Andrews University Seminary Studies 19 (1981): 127-135.

8 See Richard Bauckham, GOD Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1999).

9 See Strand, "Foundations! PrmcipJes of Interpretation," m Symposium on Revelation Hook I. F. B. Holbrook, ed (Hagerstown, Md. Review and Herald Pub. Assn , 1992), chapter 1.

10 Beale, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 946.

11 Robert H Mounce, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, Mich.' Eerdmans, 1977), 342

12 Caird, 238.

13 George R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation: New Century Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 276. The historical evidences in Judaism can be found in Strack-BilIerbecK, Kommenlar zum New Testament, 2:127-129.

14 Roy C Naden, The Lamb Among the Beasts (Hagerstown, Md.. Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1996), 266. See also his Excursus on Rev. 19:10, pp 270-1; also LaRondelle, How to Understand the End-Time Prophecies of the Bible (Sarasota, Fl.: First Impressions, 1997), 287-290.

15 Beatrice S. Neall, The Concept of Character in the Apocalypse with Implications foi Character Education (Washington, DC: Univ of America, 1983), 158

16 For an in-depth treatment of the structure of Rev. 12-14, see my How to Understand the End-Time Prophecies, 263-271, and the article "The End-Time Message in Historical Perspective," Ministry, Dec 1996, 10-13.

17 William G. Johnsson, in Symposium on Revelation (Hagerstown Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1992) 2.38, 39.

18 Desmond Ford, CIIST,' (Newcastle, Calif.: D. l-ord Pub , 1982), II. 696.

19 See Naden, "Contemporary Manifestations of the Prophetic Gift," Ministry, June 1999, 9-14.

20 See my End-Time Prophecies, 204-208.

21 R.L Petersen, Preaching in the Last Days: The Theme of 'Two Witnesses' in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 17; and LaRondelle, End-Time Prophecies', 221-227.

22 See Note 7

23 Strand, 134.

24 White, Early Writings (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1945), 78.

25 Ibid., 58

26 White, Prophets and Kings (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press® Pub. Assn, 1943), 626.

27 White, Manuscript 24, 1888; quoted in George R. Knight, A Search for Identity (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2000), 108.

28 White in Review ami Herald, Nov. 22, 1892

29 White, gospel Workers (Washington, D C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn. 1948), 156.

 

 


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Hans K. LaRondelle, Th.D., is professor emeritus of systematic theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.

May 2003

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