Question: What is the fourfold witness?
Answer: Since you did not cite any passages or give me any details, I’ll assume that you are asking about the four witnesses discussed in John 5:30-45, which is where people usually go for these discussions. So let’s begin by examining that passage.
By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is true. “You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light. “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. “I do not accept glory from human beings, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. (John 5:30–45, NIV)
The term “the fourfold witness” joins terms like “the Trinity” and “the Rapture” in describing biblically revealed concepts, the terms of which do not appear in the Bible. That being said, the term fourfold witness is apt, because this passage does indeed contain four distinct witnesses, namely, John the Baptist, the “works” that Jesus performed, God the Father and the Scripture itself. So let me talk about those four briefly, and I shall also discuss some of the overarching issues that make these witnesses important — like the passage’s ironic beginning: if the only voice we really need is that of Jesus Christ, and since this passage gives us his curriculum vitae, does this mean that God needs credentials?
Well… sort of. Remember, the gospel narratives are merely located in the New Testament, but until the cross, God’s people were still living in an Old Testament economy — both spiritually and culturally. Now, a significant change did indeed occur when Jesus came: the kingdom of God was at hand (Mk. 1:15). But — and miracles notwithstanding — this “at-handedness” did not affect the day-to-day lives of most people, so we must consider these people as still in the Old Testament culturally… and that’s a place where you do indeed need some credentials.
Do you remember when Moses (sort of) “carded” God — asking for his official ID? God did not balk at that request because some moments are just for that purpose. “I Am That I AM … say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you…” (Ex. 3). Well, this one was Jesus’ moment. He set up his audience by reminding them of the legal requirement that there should be multiple witnesses, and then he showed them how he fulfilled that requirement.
One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Deuteronomy 19:15, NIV)
Once Jesus cited this legal requirement he had to “produce,” of course, and the first witness he evoked was John the Baptist — the only witness with a “qualifier.” You see, Jesus didn’t need a human witness (v34)… but some would be saved because of that witness. After all, it was John who declared, “…Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29). Furthermore, John was a “luminary” of sorts (v35); he had a light that drew people in — a light they knew and reverenced (Mat. 3:5).
John was also tied strongly to the messianic prophecies, so even the religious establishment held him in awe… albeit at arm’s length (Mat.3:7). But most importantly, there was no question that Jesus and John the Baptist referenced each other according to their salvific, prophetic and messianic capacities. So, although Jesus did not “need” a human witness, John the Baptist helped establish Jesus’ pedigree — through the prophets, through David, and right back to Adam.
The Apostle John said of John the Baptist:
He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. (John 1:8–9, NIV)
John the Baptist said of himself concerning Jesus:
I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matthew 3:11, NIV)
I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One. (John 1:34, NIV)
Jesus said of John the Baptist:
As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: “ ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. (Matthew 11:7–14, NIV)
John’s status as a “mere man” might have made him the least of the witnesses… an unnecessary witness, actually… but Jesus still used him for a communicative edge. John’s role was critical in preparing the way of the Lord: he called people to the baptism of repentance; he introduced Jesus’ ministry to the world and he “fulfilled all righteousness” by baptizing Jesus (Mat. 3:15). What we have then is a man who administered many important transitions into the New Covenant, and as such, he was an effective witness — one who affirmed that Jesus was indeed “the Christ.”
But Jesus was not quite done with John yet. He used the Baptist’s humanity for both a comparison and a springboard to discuss the works which he was doing in the name of the Father by saying, “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me.” (v34).
The works that Jesus performed were the second witness, and these were a more potent witness to the Christ than were either the words or works of John the Baptist. We see this very powerfully in Jesus’ secret meeting with the Pharisee, Nicodemus. Nicodemus stated what was generally known about Jesus — even among his detractors… and even among the non-believers:
He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him. (John 3:2, NIV)
But not only did God speak through the works that Jesus did; he also spoke in his own voice — directly from heaven! This is the third witness — the Father himself.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16–17, NIV)
Jesus evoked the fourth witness himself.
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me (John. 5:39, NIV).
At this juncture one might ask, are today’s Christians at a disadvantage? I mean, we no longer have John the Baptist to testify about the Christ, nor is Jesus anymore with us in the flesh. Furthermore, God the Father has not testified vocally from the heavens since the time of the apostles… and we have this void. So, how do we know that our faith is true?
We have the Scriptures — and the Scriptures bear witness that Jesus is indeed the Christ. In fact, the declared purpose of John’s Gospel was just that — to testify that Jesus is the Messiah.
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30–31, NIV)
The Apostle Paul continually used the Scripture to persuade people about Jesus. In this we can see where the Scripture is both the tool of witness and the witness itself.
They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus. (Acts 28:23, NIV)
This completes my discussion of the fourfold witness to Jesus Christ found in John 5:30-45… but is something missing? Don’t we have any other witnesses? Sure… how about the Holy Spirit! The indwelling Spirit is a witness unlike any other.
During Jesus earthly ministry the Holy Spirit had not yet been sent… not as the Church-wide Comforter that we enjoy today (Jn. 16:7). So, we have a testimony which is better than that of John… and even better than that of Christ’s earthly works: we have the indwelling Spirit of God who ministers to us as the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9) — and that indwelling Spirit is the primary testimony of Jesus Christ.
The saying is almost trite… and except for its eternal import I might dismiss it… but it is indeed a truth: Jesus lives within our hearts.
Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:6, NIV)
This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (1 John 4:2–3, NIV)
In conclusion, today’s Christians have an even better testimony of Jesus Christ than did Jesus’ original audience. True, they had the Lord “in the flesh,” but relatively few people ever saw the physical Jesus… and nobody really “got him” until after the resurrection… not even his disciples! (Lk. 24:30-32). But today we have both the Scriptures and the indwelling Holy Spirit; these facilitate the clearest testimony of Jesus Christ to date. But more clarity is imminent: Jesus Christ will soon return — but this time in glory. Then we will know him more… and we will know him as he desires to be known (Jn. 17:3). Come soon Lord Jesus.