Why Did Jesus Emphasize Witnesses?
Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. Luke 24:46-48
When Jesus says, "You are witnesses of these things," he is telling his disciples that they have personally seen and experienced these events, and they are to testify to what they have witnessed. They are to share their experiences and the understanding they have gained about Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, and how these events fulfill the prophecies.
The disciples are called to be witnesses not only to the fulfillment of the prophecies and the transformative power of Jesus' teachings and the promise of salvation through faith in him, but also of the validity of his physical resurrection from the dead. By bearing witness to these things, the disciples are to help spread the message of the Gospel, inviting people from all nations to experience repentance, forgiveness, and a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
This commission to be witnesses would later be echoed in Acts 1:8, where Jesus tells his disciples, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." This charge marks the beginning of the disciples' mission to share the Gospel and establish the early Christian church.
The charge Jesus gives to his witnesses, differs quite sharply, for example, from the supposed revelations in Islam and Mormonism in terms of the number of initial witnesses and the manner in which the revelations were received.
In Christianity, there are accounts of Jesus appearing to multiple witnesses after his resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 records that Jesus appeared to Cephas (Peter), the twelve disciples, a group of over 500 people (many of them who were still alive at the time of Paul's writing), James, and then to Paul himself. These witnesses were charged with spreading the Gospel message to others.
In contrast, the revelations in Islam and Mormonism were primarily given to single individuals:
Islam: The central figure in Islam is the Prophet Muhammad, who received revelations from God through the angel Gabriel. These revelations began in 610 CE when Muhammad was in a cave on Mount Hira near Mecca. Over the course of 23 years, these revelations were delivered to Muhammad, who then shared them with his followers. These revelations were later compiled into the Quran, Islam's holy book. Although the revelations were given to Muhammad alone, Islam emphasizes the importance of a community of believers (the Ummah) and the role of previous prophets, such as Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, in the larger narrative of divine guidance.
Mormonism: Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormon Church), claimed to have been visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ in 1820 during what is known as the First Vision. Later, in 1823, Joseph Smith said that the angel Moroni appeared to him and revealed the location of the golden plates, which contained the record of ancient American prophets. Smith translated these plates into the Book of Mormon, which is considered another volume of scripture alongside the Bible for LDS. Like Islam, the initial revelation was given to a single individual, Joseph Smith, who then shared the message with others, leading to the establishment of the Mormon Church.
While Christianity records multiple witnesses to the resurrected Jesus and his charge to share the Gospel, Islam and Mormonism primarily involve revelations given to single individuals—Muhammad and Joseph Smith, respectively. Both Islam and Mormonism emphasize the importance of communities of believers and share some aspects of the larger Abrahamic tradition, but their revelations were received and initially shared in a different manner than the accounts of Jesus' appearances in Christianity
Jesus emphasized the role of "witnesses" for several reasons. Here are some key factors:
- To Establish credibility: Having multiple witnesses to Jesus' life, teachings, crucifixion, and resurrection helps establish the credibility of the Christian message. The more witnesses there are, the more difficult it becomes to dismiss these events as fabrications or mere rumors. The concept of witnesses is deeply rooted in the Jewish legal system, where the testimony of two or three witnesses was required to establish a matter as true (Deuteronomy 19:15).
- Personal experience: Witnesses who have experienced Jesus' teachings and actions firsthand can share their personal experiences with others. This personal connection makes their testimony more powerful and convincing than if they were simply sharing secondhand information.
- Spread the message: By commissioning his followers as witnesses, Jesus ensured that the message of the Gospel would spread beyond his immediate circle of disciples. The more people who were involved in witnessing and sharing the message, the more likely it was to reach a wider audience, ultimately expanding the reach of the early Christian church.
- Establish a foundation: The early Christian church was built on the testimony of those who witnessed Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. Their witness provided the foundation for the teachings, beliefs, and practices of the church, which has continued to grow and evolve over the centuries.
In summary, Jesus emphasized the role of witnesses to establish credibility, encourage faith, spread the message of the Gospel, and provide a foundation for the early Christian church. The concept of witnesses is deeply rooted in both the Jewish legal system and the prophetic tradition, and it played a crucial role in the development and growth of Christianity.