Testimony from Heaven
The Saviour had spent 40 days and 40 nights with His disciples after the resurrection. The time had now come for Him to leave them and to ascend to heaven. They were to go out, He told them, and bear witness for Him “both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
No one could be an apostle unless he had seen the risen Christ; he must be able to speak as an eyewitness. So Peter told the other disciples that the apostle to be appointed in place of Judas Iscariot must be one “of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us . . . a witness with us of His resurrection” (Acts 1:21,22). When the Apostles went out, at their Master’s command, to preach the gospel, they could say, “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you” (1 John 1:3). These first preachers of the Christian Church were proclaiming what they knew through personal experience. They had been with Jesus and, when they spoke about Him, their statements were first-hand testimony.
When the Apostles went out to speak on the day of Pentecost, they had been filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. As a result, all who heard them were amazed. What they said at first we are not told, but Peter’s response to those who mocked them as being “full of new wine” is recorded. He spoke as a witness of what he had seen of Jesus and had heard of His words over the previous three years and more, and particularly of what he had heard within a matter of weeks before then, after the Saviour’s resurrection. He told the assembled crowd – and everyone was able to hear him in their own language – of “Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by Him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23,24).
Yet, as these verses make plain, Peter did not merely report on the events surrounding Christ’s death; he was able to set them in the context of the eternal purposes of God. How wonderfully he and the other disciples had benefited from the time, especially after the resurrection, that they had spent with the great Prophet who had come from God! As Luke tells us, He had “said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning Me”. He had pointed the disciples to various passages throughout the Old Testament which formed part of the revelation concerning Himself.
And He did more, for Luke goes on to tell us: “Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day”. He then told them “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem”; He commissioned these disciples, in view of all that they had seen and heard, to go out in every direction to make known the spiritual blessings that He had come into the world to make possible.
Yet it was not merely as bearing witness to Jesus’ life and death that the disciples spoke on the day of Pentecost; they had further vital testimony to bring concerning Him: “Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that He should be holden of it” (Acts 2:24). Death was not the end for Christ. Though He had come into this world as the sin bearer, and had gone to Calvary – for “the wages of sin is death” – yet by His sufferings and death He had satisfied divine justice. Therefore death could no longer hold Him in the grave. So His resurrection was divine testimony that His sacrifice at Calvary had been fully accepted; clearly every sinner now believing in Jesus as the divinely appointed Saviour would be free from all the claims of divine justice. This was all part of the testimony that Peter and the other disciples could bring to sinners in Jerusalem, and also to every other part of the world where they went to preach the gospel.
But where does all this leave us? We live far too late in this world’s history to have any hope of hearing an apostle, or any other witness of Christ’s death and resurrection, bring us the good tidings of salvation. No doubt many feel that they have lost much because they can never expect to receive such eyewitness testimony. But that is not so. Listen to Peter as he reminds those who read his Second Epistle of what took place on the Mount of transfiguration: “We have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to Him from the excellent glory, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with Him in the holy mount. We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place” (2 Pet 1:16-19).
We are not merely to notice how Peter emphasises that he wrote as an eyewitness rather than someone whose account was no better than a craftily-devised fable. We are also to notice how the “word of prophecy” is surer than even Peter’s personal testimony to the voice from heaven, or the voice itself. “A transient voice”, explains Alexander Nisbet in his commentary, 1 & 2 Peter, “is more easily mistaken or forgotten than a standing authentic record; therefore the written Word is a more sure ground for sinners’ faith to rest upon than a voice from heaven could be.” Clearly then we are in the best possible position because, in Scripture, we possess the complete, inspired record of what God has been pleased to reveal for our instruction. We do not need to hear personal witnesses give us an account of, for instance, what Christ did and said. We have an absolutely-accurate revelation, to which – to repeat Peter’s words – we do well that we take heed.
Today’s preachers are not apostles; this was a temporary office not intended to survive beyond the first generation of the Christian Church. But when preachers go out with the infallible testimony of Scripture, we are to receive that testimony just as if it came directly to us from heaven. The full authority of God lies behind it. When they speak about sin, they no doubt bear testimony to what they have discovered in their own hearts and lives – yet individual human experience is in no way authoritative for anyone else. But preachers bring testimony from heaven about the human condition. It is because God has placed such testimony in Scripture that everyone is to receive it as perfect truth when they declare that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). And we are to respond by saying to ourselves, with total conviction: I have sinned in Adam, and I am continually coming short of the glory of God.
Likewise, when preachers come with the testimony of the gospel, they bring testimony which carries the imprimatur of heaven. When they proclaim the glorious fact that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”, they speak with all the authority of heaven. This is a message we have no right to reject; we are to receive it as if God Himself was speaking directly to us. From the pages of Scripture and through His ambassadors, the Saviour calls with full divine authority: “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). May we then come, for we have no right to stay away from Him whom the Father gave to be the Saviour of the world. Even if we live in the uttermost parts of the earth, we are under obligation to respond with immediate believing obedience to the whole body of testimony that comes to us in the Scriptures.
Taken with permission from the Free Presbyterian Magazine April 2006
In Defense of Patriarchy February 19, 2024
The following post was published on the Reformation21 Blog, and is reproduced here by their kind permission. Last week I noticed that Ryan Gosling was nominated for an Oscar for playing Ken alongside Margot Robbie’s Barbie in last summer’s hit by the same name. Robbie, incidentally, was not so nominated. I won’t watch the film, but I […]
Ecclesiastical Suicide January 26, 2024
The following article first appeared here on October 26, 2006. In the light of recent developments across many denominations, most notably the Church of England, it remains a most necessary and timely piece. ‘The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down.’ Proverbs 14:1 The mainline Protestant denominations […]