When you hear the word witness, you might think of someone who sees something shocking or important and then shares their testimony with others. The word witness is used like this in the Bible too. But here’s what’s really fascinating. This word actually helps us understand the entire storyline of Scripture.
In the Bible, a witness is basically someone who sees something important or amazing. In Hebrew, this person is an eid and in Greek a mártus. And if this person begins to share what they’ve seen, we call this “bearing witness,” in Hebrew, uwd, and in Greek, marturéo.
Witness in the Bible [00:37-01:02]
So in the story of Ruth, when Boaz buys land from Naomi’s family, he calls together witnesses to see the transaction. So that if there’s a later dispute about the land, they can bear witness about what they saw1.
So that’s the basic meaning of the word witness. Now, if we follow this idea throughout the Bible, we learn that God wants a group of witnesses—people who see and experience him—to uwd, or represent, him to the world.
The Israelites Bear Witness [01:03-01:56]
So beginning with the story of the Exodus, the people of Israel witness Yahweh as the powerful King of the nations when he rescues them from slavery2. Then he appoints this one nation to bear witness, or uwd, to the rest of the nations about what they experienced3. He calls them a kingdom of priests, or people who connect all other nations to Yahweh, the true God and King.
But there’s a big problem. The Israelites aren’t good witnesses. In fact, they start worshiping other gods4. So God raises up a chief witness, Moses, to uwd, or bear witness, to the people who are supposed to be the real witnesses.
When Moses meets with Yahweh on Mount Sinai, he sees and experiences God face to face. When he comes down, he uwds—he bears witness—to the people about his experience. He even writes a song as a witness, so that they would never forget how God has cared for and rescued them5.
The Prophets as Witnesses [01:57-02:36]
But as the story goes on, Israel does forget. They fail to truly see God, so they fail as his witnesses. So God raises up prophets, who are like Moses, to uwd—to open their eyes to who their God really is. Like Isaiah, he has a vision of God as the cosmic King6. And he’s sent to uwd—to bear witness—to the Israel of his day because they’re blind, they’re corrupt, and they don’t recognize God as their King7.
So Isaiah says that one day God will raise up the ultimate chief witness—a figure called the Servant. He will open the eyes of the blind so that they can truly see Yahweh and bear witness to the nations that their God is the King who will rescue the world8.
Jesus and his Companions [02:27-3:42]
And now, when we turn to the story of Jesus, we find him claiming to be that Servant and witness spoken of by Isaiah9. He is the ultimate witness, or in Greek, the mártus. Crowds of people witness him saying that he’s bringing God’s Kingdom—that it’s here, right now, through him. They see Jesus healing people, even restoring sight to the blind10.
Many recognize who he is and respond to his message. But many others still refuse to truly see. Even the nation’s leaders won’t listen to him. Rather, they kill Jesus for bearing witness to God’s Kingdom, that is, for being a mártus. In fact, this is where the word martyr comes from.
But then, after Jesus’ death, something amazing happens! Jesus’ friends see him alive from the dead, and they recognize that he is the divine King—Yahweh himself—who has come to rescue the world11. After that, Jesus sends them out to marturéo, that is, to bear witness to the nations—to open their eyes to this risen King who has conquered death and who offers freedom and rescue and the hope of a new creation12.
And it’s this story about Jesus that’s been spread all around the world by faithful witnesses. And to this day, when someone hears the story of Jesus and experiences the love of God for all humanity, the most natural thing to do is to simply bear witness.