“For the Purpose of a Witness”
IT WAS in the spring of 33 C.E. that Jesus Christ, while on the Mount of Olives, told his disciples: “As for you, look out for yourselves; people will deliver you up to local courts, and you will be beaten in synagogues and be put on the stand before governors and kings for my sake, for the purpose of a witness to them.”—Mark 13:9, New World Translation, 1950 edition.
The experiences of Christ’s followers since that time prove this to be true. More than fifty days after Jesus uttered these words the apostles Peter and John had to defend their faith before the highest Jewish court, the Sanhedrin. Though unlettered and ordinary, they gave a powerful and fearless witness to that august body composed of rulers, scribes and older men of influence. (Acts 4:5-19) Not long thereafter all the apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin. Boldly they addressed the members of that court: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men. The God of our forefathers raised up Jesus, whom you slew, hanging him upon a stake. God exalted this one as Chief Agent and Savior to his right hand, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these matters, and so is the holy spirit, which God has given to those obeying him as ruler.”—Acts 5:27-32.
Years later the apostle Paul made his defense before Governor Felix and his wife Drusilla, Governor Festus, King Agrippa and his wife Bernice, and finally before Caesar himself. (Acts 24:24; 25:8-12, 23; 26:32) So convincing was Paul’s defense that King Agrippa exclaimed: “In a short time you would persuade me to become a Christian.”—Acts 26:28.
By being haled before kings and governors, first-century Christians were able to give a witness about their faith to persons who might otherwise not have been reached. This was in harmony with Jehovah’s purpose. It being his will that “all sorts of men should be saved and come to an accurate knowledge of truth,” men in high governmental station, by having Christians brought before them, were given an opportunity to learn the truth.—1 Tim. 2:4.
IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
Also in this twentieth century there have been Christians who have recognized that their being brought before governmental officials was for the “purpose of a witness.” Therefore they have not been afraid to defend their faith. Whereas questions have often been asked in an insulting manner, these Christians have presented their reasons with calmness and gentleness. They have not responded in an irritated or resentful way. Though not cowed by the fear of men, they have manifested a deep respect or wholesome fear, as if in the presence of Jehovah God, whose ‘eyes are upon the righteous ones.’ (1 Pet. 3:12) In so doing, they have heeded the counsel at 1 Peter 3:15: “Sanctify the Christ as Lord in your hearts, always ready to make a defense before everyone that demands of you a reason for the hope in you, but doing so together with a mild temper and deep respect.”
About five years ago, in Lebanon, one of Jehovah’s witnesses and the young man accompanying him in the door-to-door ministry for the first time were taken to the police station for questioning. Told by the police that they would be released if they promised to stop preaching, the Witness asked what was wrong about preaching the Bible, as that is what the people really need. He also mentioned that it would be good for them to read and study the Bible, and presented some Bible literature to them. Had you been in the position of this Witness and his companion, would you have spoken out courageously in behalf of your faith?
The fine stand taken by this Witness and his companion did not result in their being detained longer. Instead, one of the policemen said to the other one: ‘I think we had better let them go and not ask them any more questions or they will be changing our minds and way of thinking.’ Truly, the reaction of these policemen to the witness given was similar to that of King Agrippa after hearing Paul’s defense in the first century C.E.
However, not only adults, but also persons of school age have been able to defend their faith. Not long ago two girls used their school vacation to tell the inhabitants of a village in East Germany about the Bible. At noontime, however, the two girls were arrested and taken to the police headquarters. While there, they preached the truth to the policemen whom they met. Each girl was interrogated separately for three and a half hours. Finally, when the officials decided to expel them from the county, the chief said that he had never experienced such a thing. One of the girls replied that he too needed to hear the good news in order to make a decision about his own future, and both girls expressed appreciation for having been able to preach God’s message to the officials. Yes, these girls recognized that they were at the police headquarters for the purpose of a witness and made the best of that opportunity.
While those listening to the defense often do not make any changes in their lives, they nevertheless have received a witness. At times, though, those who have courageously taken advantage of the occasion to make a defense of their Christian hope have had the additional blessing of seeing their words fall on responsive ears. This was the experience of one Witness in Portugal a number of years ago. He received a notice to appear at the local police station for questioning. On his arrival, he was taken into a room with several officers, including the one who had brought the notice to his door. Questions were asked about his religion, and a good opportunity was given to witness about his faith. Most of the men belittled what he had to say, but the Witness observed that the officer who had knocked at his door listened attentively. During the hours that the Witness was kept at the police station, he had occasion to speak directly to this officer. Later, arrangements were made to study the Bible with this receptive man. Eventually he retired from the police force and himself became one of Jehovah’s witnesses. Interestingly, this former police officer was baptized by the Witness on whom he had served notice to appear at the police station. Was this not a blessed reward for taking advantage of the opportunity to give a witness?
Surely the experiences of Christians, past and present, illustrate that their being brought before officials has been for the purpose of a witness. Knowing this, the Christian should be ever alert to seize the opportunity to give a fearless witness concerning his faith, doing so respectfully and with mildness. Genuine love and concern for others, coupled with the ardent hope that they might be helped to see the truth, will move the Christian to take advantage of every opportunity to speak about his faith to all persons. He can also rest assured of the help of God’s spirit in this respect, for Jesus told his followers: “You are not the ones speaking, but the holy spirit is.”—Mark 13:11.