PDF version for downloading: Are we believers or eyewitnesses 1
We need such questions as this is, especially, in this age when many are constantly laying claim to seeing the risen Lord and having other spectacular experiences like going to heaven and descending into hell and then coming back with a revelation or special message to the world. Most a times, the testimonies given by these men are contrary to the teachings of the Holy Writ. It even gets more disturbing when these that claim to have seen the Lord deny the essential or cardinal doctrines of the Christian Faith.
The first thing to be brought to our understanding is that we are first and foremost “believers” because we believe in the written account of the gospel given us by another class of people who have preceded us, who the Scriptures designates as “eyewitnesses” of the gospel. You and I are believers, not eyewitnesses; while Peter, James, John, Paul and the rest of the Apostles are called eyewitnesses, but never were they referred to as believers. I will ask the reader to exercise patience as we delve deep into God’s word to see that this is true.
Shortly after my conversion from the Pentecostal/Charismatic religion, I began teaching the truth of the gospel I had learnt from the books sent me from Calvinstic preachers in the USA, namely, William Nichols and Jonathan Crosby. Most of the things I began to teach were completely and totally contradictory to the previous things I had been teaching in my church. As a result of this, I had to first refute the previous errors I had taught so that my few members left would easily be grounded in the new truth I was teaching. I love the truth, and if I cannot teach what I believe to be the truth then I am a hypocrite and an enemy of the truth. It is not only the truth we know that will set us free, but the truth we know and teach and practise. Head knowledge is no sign of love for the truth. The devils believe there is but One true God and they do well, yet they perish notwithstanding! When I began teaching the gospel of grace, I later discovered that most of the prominent men in the pulpits who had the opportunity of going to a bible school were acquainted with the gospel of grace, yet they had rejected it and wouldn’t even preach it because it makes no one popular. The loved the praises of men rather than the glory of God.
One of such teachings I had to refute was the issue of seeing Jesus which is very popular in the Charismatics. I had earlier made that claim and now it was time to refute them plainly on the ground of “thus saith the Scriptures” but I didn’t know where to start. How would I begin? How do I preach it? What would be the topic? What passages of the bible would I use? These and many other thoughts came flying into my mind as fast as machine gun bullets until the zeal to carry out what I had intended almost waned away. I couldn’t muster up the courage any more to do what I had intended. I thought of leaving it till whenever I would be stirred up to it again.
At that time there was a popular lady named Lynda who had recently claimed that Jesus took her to heaven and hell and brought her back with a special message to the world. Her lie was fast sweeping into the churches and I decided I was going to warn my members not to believe her “visions”, and that by so doing I would also tell them that I have renounced my false claim of seeing Jesus. There was no way I could refute Lynda’s testimony without having to renounce mine.
As I sat and thought to myself how and with what passages of the scriptures I was going to use for my next preaching, the thought came like a small still voice deep inside my heart and I heard this clear inside my heart “Tell them that they are believers and not eyewitnesses of Christ.” I picked my notebook and began to write the various passages of the bible that was dropped in my heart at that time. What you will be reading next in this article are excerpts from that sermons that helped my few members to see the truth, and I pray that it will be a blessing to your souls as well.
After that Jesus rose from the dead, he showed himself to his disciples, but Thomas called the Didymus was not with them at that time. When he was told that the Lord had risen from the dead he doubted it, and we have this account in the gospel of John 20:24-29
“But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:24-29)
What Jesus said of Thomas was true of all the Apostles, they believed because they saw with their eyes. But there is another class of people in the passage above to whom the Lord gave a greater blessing: those who believed without seeing, and to them the Lord said they are blessed. The first class mentioned were eyewitnesses, and the second class mentioned are the believers. None of us today falls into the class of eyewitnesses, but we all are believers; and anyone that does not fall into this class (the believing class) is obviously lost as the next two verses following our text confirms,
“And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” (John 20:30-31)
Mark well the last clause of the 31st verse: “but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God!” Why was the scriptures written? That we might believe! That we might not seek any further proof or evidence!
The second clause is also worth taking note of as it is very important: “and that believing ye might have life through his name.” Unless we believe what the eyewitnesses of the gospel has written we are void of eternal life. It is only by believing that we have life through his name.
Let us also note that the Lord did not commend Thomas for his seeking evidence before he could believe. The scriptures declare that the Lord rebuked him saying, “And be not faithless but believing!” It was not only Thomas that was rebuked for this folly, the 11 Apostles were all rebuked: “Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen” (Mark 16:14).
If the Lord upbraided these his disciples for not believing all that the Moses in the law and the Prophets wrote, how much more will he rebuke all these ignorant Pentecostals who make claim of what they do not know the resulting consequences to be!
The Lord handpicked the Apostles and ordained them to be eyewitnesses of the gospel, the goodnews of our salvation, and the accounts these men have given are proven sufficient to cause us to believe the gospel and in the Lord Jesus Christ. The men also who has been handpicked by the Lord to write the Scriptures declared that they had a perfect understanding of all things that surrounded the life, death and resurrection of Christ.
For example, let us hear what Luke said of himself in the preface of his Gospel.
“It seemed good to me(Luke) also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,” (Luke 1:3)
Did Luke have a perfect understanding of all the things he recorded? Yes.
Would God give such perfect understanding to anyone today, either through visions or trances or deeper revelations? No.
Can we take what Luke wrote as a perfect account sufficient for our salvation and everything else relating to the Christian Faith? Yes.
Since Luke has given a perfect account sufficient for us, do we need further account or revelations from anyone today who is not one of the eyewitnesses of the gospel? No.
What would it prove if God gave anyone today further revelations concerning the things recorded by the eyewitnesses? It would prove that the account of the eyewitnesses are either imperfect or non-sufficient.
John the Beloved wrote that not all that Jesus did was recorded: “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.” (John 21:25).
The question then arises, “Why did not the Apostles write all that Jesus did?” Why did they write some and leave out some? The answer is not far fetched: they wrote the things that were sufficient for our salvation, and the things that we should not attempt to improve upon: “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” (John 20:30-31)
If more accounts were needed to perfect the things written for our salvation the Apostles would have done that. We would be stepping out of the bounds of the Scriptures if we believe anything from anyone today; even if their visions and revelations tallies with the Scriptures we are to reject them. God will never use the 21st century sophistry of the Charismatics to confirm what has stood the test of time for over 2000 years. When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Roman Catholic Church he didn’t need any further revelations than the things written in the bible. Those 95 theses were not the product of Jesus appearing in any way to him either by revelations or visions. They were truths drawn out from the written word of God. When he said those three words “here I stand”, he was standing on the truth he had drawn from the written word, not from some visions or revelations.
It will be very good for us to look at the passages of the bible where the word “witness” or “witnesses” occur. I will show you these verses and comment a bit on them, but what you will notice here is that whenever the word “witness” or “witnesses” occur, they always refer to the Apostles and to the men of that generation, but never to us.
John the Baptist was an eyewitness sent by God to bear witness of the Light,
“He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light” (John 1:8).
“John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me” (John 1:15).
Jesus said his immediate disciples would be his eyewitnesses because they have been with him from the beginning of his ministry: “And ye also shall bear [eye]witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:27).
When Judas’ position was to be given to another, the condition was that the person to take his place must have been an eyewitness starting from the period of John the Baptist’s ministry: “Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a [eye]witness with us of his resurrection” (Acts 1:22)
Paul was called not merely to preach in the same capacity as we, but to bear witness of the things he both saw and heard. He saw the risen Lord and heard his voice, and that qualified him as an Apostle or eyewitness: “For thou shalt be his [eye]witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard” (Acts 22:15).
Because an eyewitness needed to see the Lord personally, the Lord had to appear to Paul so he could be an eyewitness: “But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a [eye]witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee (Acts 26:16).
Paul must also bear witness at Rome, so the Lord appeared to him in the night and confirmed him: “And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear [eye]witness also at Rome” (Acts 23:11).
God confirmed the Apostles as eyewitnesses by the live signs and wonders that attended their ministries: God also bearing them(i.e. confirming them as) [eye]witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will? (Hebrews 2:4)
Peter, in order to emphasise the importance of the elders heeding his admonition, told them that he was an eyewitness of the sufferings of Christ: “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a [eye]witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed” (1 Peter 1:5).
Now it may astound the reader that we have constantly used the word “eyewitness” meanwhile what appears in the passages we have been quoting is not “eyewitness” but “witness”. We are not trying to wrest the Scriptures to prove our points as some might think. We have a good warrant to interpret the passages that read “witness” as “eyewitness” because 1) they convey the same sense, 2) that is exactly the word the Apostle Peter used in his epistle: “For 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” (2 Peter 1:16). In the 5th Chapter of his first epistle, Peter said he was a witness of the sufferings of Christ, but in his second epistle, he used the full word “eyewitness”! Luke used the same word “eyewitnesses” when speaking of the certainty of the things he was writing, that they were delivered to him by men who were eyewitnesses: “Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word” (Luke 1:2). We believe that by now the reader is fully convinced why we read “eyewitness” into the passages we have quoted above, for that is the very and exact sense the Scripture conveys in those passages. While we may witness for the Lord by way of preaching and teaching, we know we are not eyewitnesses in the sense that the Apostles were.
There are other various passages of the Scriptures which do not use the words “witness” or “eyewitness” but nevertheless, the carry the very same sense. We shall not exhaust ourselves quoting them all, but let’s suffice ourselves with these few: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life” (1 John1:1). What do these words prove but that John was an eyewitness of the Gospel he preached?
“That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John1:3).
The Apostles were the eyewitnesses of the gospel but we are believers of the gospel. The Lord is not giving any further revelations than what he has already given the eyewitnesses to record down for our believing. It sounds fantastic to say “Jesus appeared to me and showed me so many people burning in hell, and he has sent me to warn you guys that he is coming soon”, but what does that prove? Does that prove that there is such place as hell? No. Does that prove that Jesus is coming soon? No. Does that prove that I should repent? No. The only thing that proves that there is a burning hell is thus saith the Scriptures! The only thing that proves that Jesus is coming soon is showing me where it is written in the Holy Writ! The only thing that proves that I should repent is because it is written in Luke 13:3 “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish”! Dreams, visions and extra-biblical experiences prove nothing. They only serve to show that whoever propagates them has “departed from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with hot iron” and we are commanded, “From such turn away” (1 Timothy 4:1,2; 2 Timothy 3:5).
The Charismatics’ defence of their practices broken in pieces by the word of God.
How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart;
Which think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbour, as their fathers have forgotten my name for Baal.
The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the LORD.
Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces? (Jeremiah 23:26-29)
The Charismatics say their dreams and revelations and extra-biblical experiences do not add to God’s word, but that rather, they confirm them to be true. But how true is this?
First, the bible does not need any extra-biblical experiences to defend itself. It is the word of God, and as such, man’s devices can not and does not give it any defence. Secondly, we are never commanded to preach our dreams in any way to any degree in order to defend God’s word; all we are commanded is “Preach the word” in 2 Timothy 4:2. Thirdly, since dreams and extra-biblical revelations serve only to confirm the word (as they assert), then it is irrelevant. Think of it this way, that, if I tell you Jesus took me to heaven and then to hell to prove to the world that heaven and hell is real, it is still meaningless because many pastors have been preaching the reality of heaven and hell for years without having travelled to heaven and hell; and many souls have heeded their warnings and repented. Jonathan Edwards preached several sermons on heaven and hell, yet he never brought his dreams and supernatural experiences into those sermons(because he never had any such foolish experiences) and many were saved. God will never use our extra-biblical experiences to glorify himself nor save sinners. He will only use his world and his truth. Truth is always God’s means of saving sinners and glorifying himself: “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
When next you see anyone making such claims, take them through the bible and show them that they are not eyewitnesses; though I hardly believe they will listen to you because their revelations means more to them than thus saith the Scriptures.
“Jesus saith unto him… blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29).