In the salutation to the seven churches, Jesus is identified as the “Faithful Witness” because of his self-sacrificial death – Revelation 1:5.
The vision of John begins with salutations to the churches of Asia, first from God, then from the “seven spirits,” and finally, from Jesus, the “faithful witness.” The Son of God bore “witness” in his death, which becomes the pattern that the “seven churches” are summoned to emulate as they give “testimony” even while enduring persecution “for the word of God.”
That “faithful witness” refers to his death is demonstrated by the declaration that Jesus “loved us and loosed us from our sins with his blood.”
- (Revelation 1:4-5) – “Grace and peace to you from Him who is, and who was, and who is coming, and from the Seven Spirits which are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the Faithful Witness, the Firstborn of the Dead, and the Ruler of the Kings of the Earth. Unto him, that loves us and loosed us out of our sins with his blood.”
He is also called the “firstborn of the dead” and the “ruler of the kings of the earth.” The former refers to his resurrection and the latter to his present reign over the earth. All three designations are derived from the eighty-ninth psalm:
- (Psalm 89:27, 37) – “I also will make him my firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth… His seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before me. It shall be established forever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven.”
That the passage refers to the victory that he achieved in his death and resurrection is confirmed by the declaration of the “one like a Son of Man” – “I am the Living One, and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades!” His possession of absolute authority is based on his past death and resurrection. And in his letter to the Laodiceans, he described himself as the “Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God”- (Revelation 1:18, 3:14).
“Witness” translates the Greek term martus, which means “witness.” From it is derived the English noun ‘martyr’. It refers to one who bears “witness,” who gives “testimony” before others, and very often, in legal proceedings.
John himself was exiled on the isle of Patmos for the “word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” Not coincidentally, in Pergamos, the very same label assigned to Jesus is applied to the man named ‘Antipas,’ “my faithful witness,” who was slain for his testimony. Likewise, when the “fifth seal” was opened, John saw the souls of those who had been slain “for the word of God and for their testimony” underneath the altar – (Revelation 2:13, 6:9).
Later, the “two witnesses” (martus) were slain by the “Beast from the Abyss” after they had completed “their testimony.” And “testimony” translates the related Greek term marturia. Likewise, after he was expelled from the courts of heaven, the enraged “Dragon” went off to “wage war on those who have the testimony of Jesus.” And after Satan was bound in the “Abyss,” John saw the souls of them “who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and the word of God… And they reigned with Christ a thousand years.” And just like Jesus, the present “ruler of the kings of the earth,” their participation in his “reign” was preceded by martyrdom – (Revelation 11:7, 12:17, 20:4).
But, in his death, Jesus did not just bear “witness,” he bore “faithful witness.” And like him, the martyr Antipas is called “my faithful witness.” Similarly, the Risen Christ summoned the church at Smyrna to become “faithful unto death” despite the “tribulation” they were about to endure. To that congregation, “faithfulness” meant martyrdom – (Revelation 2:10, 2:13).
Finally, faithful Christians “overcome” the Devil and stand victorious before the “Lamb” because of “the word of their testimony; and because they loved not their life even unto death.” Consistently in the book, bearing “faithful witness” is linked with martyrdom. This does not mean that every believer must suffer a martyr’s death, but it certainly means they must be willing to do so “for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”
Just as Jesus bore “faithful witness” before the High Priest of Israel, the Roman governor, and especially on the Cross, so his disciples are called to give faithful testimony before the world order that all too often persecuted them, and even when doing so means death. It is in this way that they “follow the Lamb wherever he goes.”