By T. Austin-Sparks
An adaptation by Philip Powell from a Transcribed message given by T. Austin- Sparks in 1957. The spoken form has been retained by the owners of the website mentioned in “About The Author”, below.
A Vessel of the Testimony of Jesus
I will conclude by bringing you back to the point from where we started by asking you to again look at the first chapter of the book of the Revelation:
Who bore witness of the Word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ (verse 2) …. From Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, ruler of the kings of the earth (verse 5). … I, John, your brother and partaker with you in the tribulation, and kingdom and patience which are in Jesus, was in the island that is called Patmos for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus (verse 9).
Just retain those fragments in your mind and glance down at chapters two and three, and remind yourselves again of the sevenfold reiteration of one clause at the close of each message to the seven churches:
To him that overcomes – Revelation 2: 7, 11, 17, 26; 3: 5, 21
You will remember that we said that those who are called the people who overcome, or maybe more accurately those who are exalted to overcome, are all brought together, in answer to what is meant by “the testimony of Jesus.” The book opens with this threefold reference to the testimony of Jesus, which clearly indicates that this is the matter in view for the entire book. It is the preface to the book which is going to be about the testimony of Jesus. “The testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1: 2, 9; 12: 17) explains everything in the book. The Person of Jesus is immediately presented. Then the next step is to deal with the churches, or the church as a whole, in a representative way in relation to that testimony, “the testimony of Jesus.”
So we come back to this point that the Lord's quest, right to the end of the dispensation, is for such people who embody that testimony of Jesus in a full and unsullied way. No matter how near we may be to the end, the Lord still seeks to have a people who really do embody and express what is called “the testimony of Jesus”. I trust that your familiarity with the very terms, language and phraseology does not take from the importance and seriousness of the matter. It therefore becomes necessary for us to review what that testimony is.
The Testimony of Jesus
You can see from these seven messages to the churches how serious a matter this is with God; how far He is prepared to go in both directions in order to have it. On the one side in judgment of that which is contrary to the testimony; and on the other, how far He will go with those who will overcome. You cannot go beyond what is said here. We are told that the Lord will lead such people right up to the throne:
He that overcomes I will give to sit with Me in My throne – Revelation 3:21
You can't get beyond that, can you? Surely, that is the highest, the ultimate.
So how many more things are said here that God will do if He can get a people like this, if He can get a vessel for “the testimony of Jesus” according to His own mind?
On the other hand some of the most terrible things are said, not to the world, but to the churches or representatively to the church, where things do not correspond to “the testimony of Jesus.” I say this simply to indicate how important a matter this is with God and that however many good and commendable things there may be, comparative things are not acceptable to God in the ultimate. He will not settle this thing upon a comparative basis.
There are good and commendable things mentioned in each church, but He always comes back to this:
...nevertheless I have this against you (2: 4) …. [and] …. I will …. remove your lampstand out of its place unless you repent (2:5) …
You see, the comparative does not pass with God. He is for the absolute, the ultimate!
That is what faces us and so we have to look to see what is meant by “the testimony of Jesus.” Notice at the outset, that here He is given the simplest of all His designations: ‘the testimony of Jesus’. It is not of the 'Lord Jesus' or any of His other titles. It is simply 'the testimony of Jesus'. That is the title of His manhood here on this earth. It then first of all is the testimony of who and what Jesus was on this earth.
The Undeniable Deity Of Christ
We should have no quarrel on one matter: where this begins. It is almost commonplace with us, so wholly accepted, that you might wonder why it should be mentioned; the fundamental fact that Jesus is the Divine Son of God, “God manifest in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16). “God was in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2: 19), utterly! Jesus was God and Jesus is God. That is the very striking truth of the apostle Paul in his letter to Titus:
Looking for …. the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ – Titus 2:13.
You can't get beyond that can you? It is not a matter of contention among us and yet, it is something that we should take account of again. John was on the isle of Patmos on account of this truth. He was in exile for that; he was a prisoner for that; he was suffering for that... that testimony. That explains the suffering of the Church at the beginning.
You know that it was upon that very point that the Jews crucified Jesus. “He made Himself the Son of God,” (John 19:7) they said! That was the final thing with them and for that they put Him to death. And for that testimony the Church itself was thrown into the vortex of that terrible persecution. If you understand the persecutions from the Roman Empire and the Roman Emperors it was purely on that point.
The Caesars were deified, they were “gods”. They were often called by titles of deity—godhead—and were worshipped. Jesus as God was a challenge to that whole system, to the whole Roman authority, hence the persecution from the Roman world. As Christ had been put to death on that very score so the Church was following in His train and being put to death on the same thing: Jesus is God.
There is a strange fragment of Scripture which is not easy to understand until you see it in that background. The apostle says:
No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ but by the Holy Spirit – 1 Cor 12: 3.
That sounds strange in itself if you take it out of its historical context. Anybody can say 'Jesus is Lord' without the Holy Spirit. You need not be a Christian to say that. But here it is, “No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' but by the Holy Spirit”
You put yourself right into the Roman and Jewish world as it was at that time, and you stand up and say, 'Jesus is Lord', you'll need all the power and courage and boldness of the Holy Spirit to do it. You put your very life into jeopardy when you use those words about Jesus! All the forces of evil, spiritual and temporal, will make you a marked man or woman in that world. If you say, 'Jesus is Lord' the cross waits for you and you will need the Holy Spirit for that. No one, in that realm, could dare to say it but by the power and support of the Holy Spirit.
It was no easy thing to declare the Deity, Lordship, Godhead of Jesus Christ in those days; it is not so today in worlds of idolatry, in lands of heathenism where Satan has his seat. Some of you know that. The fact is this: that this is a matter which, when it is really, spiritually embodied in a people (not just a part of a Christian creed, something that you say over and over week by week as a form or formula) but when that thing is as it was at the beginning, embodied in the power of the Holy Spirit, all Hell is out to destroy that testimony. So you can have the language and the phraseology of the testimony without the reality. Have the reality, and you are a marked people, you are marked down by the enemy to be crucified, whatever that may mean. “The testimony of Jesus” begins there.
“The testimony of Jesus” begins in the spiritual world which is set against the utter, undivided, unquestioned Lordship of Jesus Christ in this universe. It is in that realm that the Church really proves its testimony, its value, its significance, its power. It is in the realm of spiritual intelligences that the final proof of the Church's reality is known and manifested; not what we claim to be on this earth. But it is what we signify in that whole kingdom of animosity to Jesus Christ. That's where our accountability is decided and measured.
The world tests the reality of “the testimony of Jesus” in that regard.
The Unquestioned Humanity Of Christ
But then it is not His deity alone. It is “the testimony of Jesus” the Man—what He was as the Man Jesus. You see, that other spiritual world of hatred—bitter, vicious hatred of God—which is set and bent upon spoiling and destroying everything that is of God and everything that God has made, has made man its mark, by whom it will vent its spite upon God. Man is God's chief creation. Man is the crown of God's creation. In man God saw His heritage, His inheritance. Man was made for God's glory. He was made to be the vessel and vehicle of the manifestation of God in goodness, in grace, in power, in glory in this universe. Man's destiny is a very great destiny in the mind of God; very great indeed. God has made this thing, this wonderful thing, this beautiful thing, the crown of His creation which, when He has it He says, 'it is very good, very good.' And this evil, sinister enemy of God says, 'I will spoil the whole thing. I will wreck and ruin that!' That lies behind what we find of the work of Satan in human history.
Here [in Jesus] is a Man who satisfies God utterly and absolutely and is the answer to the evil one and the evil powers, and is God's vindication. That is “the testimony of Jesus”, what He is; not only in His Godhead, but what He is in His humanity. We could stay long to dwell upon that, the Perfections, the Excellencies of that Man, that One on whom the eyes of the great Creator God could look and say, “I am well pleased” (Mat 3:17; 17:5; cf. 2 Pet 1: 17). No small thing for God with all His high standards to say of any man, “I am well pleased,” or, “in Him is My delight.” So the testimony of Jesus as to what He was, to the satisfaction of God and the answer to God for all His desires concerning man – “the testimony of Jesus” - no wonder Satan hated Him.
The Unequalled Work Of Christ
Then from His Person we pass to His work, for “the testimony of Jesus” extends to the great work that He did, because of what He was and who He was. The work that He did in the first place:
The Son of God was manifested to destroy the works of the devil - 1 Jn 3:8.
It began with the issue of sin. He took this whole sin matter, this work of evil in human life, He took it, with all the curse that had come because of it and grappling with that great, that terrible, that awful thing called sin destroyed the works of the devil.
I don't know what you feel about sin. The Lord is impressing upon us the greatness of holiness because its opposite is so terrible. He, Jesus took the whole sin question, root and branch and everything. “He bore our sin in His Body on the tree”(1 Peter 2:24)… “being made a curse for us” (Gal 3:13).
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him – 2 Cor 5:21.
He was made sin. All the sin of all time, in every realm and every man, was taken up by Him, and fully, finally dealt with. Thank God! That's the testimony of Jesus. But that is not all. While He dealt with the thing itself, He went to its source, that personal source, “the prince of this world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) ... “the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53; Col 1:13) ... “the spirit that works in the children of disobedience” (Eph 2:2 cf. 5:6 and Col 3:6) and all his mighty kingdom, and He dealt with that. He dealt with it all. He cast out the prince of this world:
Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out - Jn 12:31.
Yes, He went to the source of it all, to Satan himself, and destroyed him! You say, 'It doesn't look like it.' Well, it depends on how you look at it.
In contemplating this aspect I have been very much occupied with an incident in the Old Testament (Joshua 7) and its sequel in the New Testament (Acts 5). It is that terrible incident of Achan, when the people of God were moving more deeply into the land of covenant. We know how the great spiritual enemy, from the very beginning of the movement toward the land, had persistently sought to break in and arrest that movement in one way or another, seeking to frustrate by breaking in upon the people of God. And now here they are moving in to their inheritance, and the enemy comes in again and finds some ground in this man Achan—a ground of covetousness. You can see a parallel of sorts in the New Testament:
But Peter said, Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? - Acts 5:3.
In regard to Canaan and its inhabitants it was clearly understood that nothing in that whole realm and domain was exempt from the curse that God had pronounced upon it. The whole thing, man, woman, and everything in that realm lay under the curse for reasons which we have no time to explain, but it was all under a ban and under a curse. It had to be completely "devoted" which meant destroyed; utterly destroyed. But Achan, in the covetousness of his heart, took of the “devoted” thing: a wedge of gold and a Babylonian garment, and hid them in his tent. And the next movement forward was most disastrous. For all Israel it was disaster. Everything was brought to a standstill.
Joshua was distressed, disturbed, perplexed, bewildered. He wondered why the Lord had allowed this. In other words Joshua had a controversy with the Lord, but the Lord explained. Israel had sinned in the devoted thing. God insisted that the cause be tracked down to its very root and source. So, they gradually sifted down tribe by tribe and household by household, until, by divine guidance, they came upon Achan and his family. Joshua said,
My son, give God the glory and confess what you have done - Jos 7: 19.
Achan made his confession and Joshua, in the wrath and jealousy of God said,
Why have you troubled Israel? The Lord shall trouble you, my son – (Jos 7: 25). So all Israel stoned him with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones. (26) Then they raised over him a great heap of stones, still there to this day. So the LORD turned from the fierceness of His anger. Therefore the name of that place has been called the Valley of Achor to this day.
They took him, his family, his tent, and all his belongings and everything that had to do with him and stoned them and burnt them with fire in the valley of Achor so that there was nothing of Achan only ashes in the valley of Achor. That's the result of the work of the devil; that's what the devil can produce creating a necessity for God to judge like that, so utterly, because of a link with the devil's kingdom.
It looks as though Satan triumphs; it does not look as though Satan is a defeated foe, but pass over into Isaiah and into Hosea and what do we find?
And I will give … the valley of Achor as a door of hope – Hosea 2: 15.
Sharon shall be a fold of flocks, And the Valley of Achor a place for herds to lie down, For My people who have sought Me - Isa 65:10.
Judgment has passed and the very work of the devil becomes the ground of a new hope, the way of a new hope. Our God is the God of Hope. He can turn the worst works of the devil to His glory.
Well, that is only one way of the foreshadowing and picture of Christ crucified, being made a curse and suffering the wrath of God even to ashes. The devil has made that necessary by his interference and his breaking in to this race. In a sense that is the work of the devil. He has made it necessary for God to judge like that to final devastation, but that is never the end:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given us a new birth into a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ – 1 Pet 1:3.
That is the end of the story. It is not devastation and ashes, but a living hope! That's the sovereign grace, wisdom and power of God.
It may not look as though Satan is defeated, beaten, off the field, but there is another side to that story. He may be the blind instrument in the sovereign power of God to create a new prospect and a new possibility. We should believe that. “The testimony of Jesus” is that He came to save and has gone to the source of sin and to the end result of sin—through sin to death. “All sinned” (KJV) … and death passed upon all men... for all have sinned (Rom 5:12). Death, death! Jesus has gone there too. He has plumbed the depths of death. He has taken death at the source and has conquered death. Oh, what a mighty thing Jesus has done; a mighty thing: “the testimony of Jesus”.
The Unique Ministry Of Christ
But then, what about His ministry? We have been thinking about the Levites and especially about that fragment in the prophecy of Malachi:
My covenant was with him [Levi], of life and peace – Malachi 2: 5.
All of what I have been saying to you is gathered up into the history of the Levites. It comes to this—because of the stand that the Levites took against sin and the breaking in of the evil powers at Sinai, and the stand that they took with God for His testimony, to carry t h e a r k o f t h e t e s t imo n y—Hi s testimony—forward to its final, glorious destination, God made a covenant with Levi, “a covenant of life and peace.” In other words God's promise was they shall be the ministers of life and peace in this world. They shall be a vessel, the embodiment of this great twofold blessing: “Life and Peace.” The effect of their ministry was that—LIFE—they were countering death all the time by the altar. Their ministry related to the altar and to blood—countering death and countering sin, which meant preserving life and the way of life; countering the anger of God against sin and God's controversy with man because of sin, countering it by the altar... satisfying God in the propitiation for sin and therefore holding a ministry of peace with God and from God. They were only human Levites, a type of the Lord Jesus, Who is the great and all-inclusive Levite. His ministry... what is it? Because of that which we have spoken which He has done and that which He is, His ministry to us and to the world is “Life and Peace.”
We are all a testimony to “the testimony of Jesus”, I trust. “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1) and we have Life by Him, and in Him. That is “the testimony of Jesus.” All that remains for us to do is to bring again into view these people appealed to, “to him that overcomes.” That is, a people who will embody this testimony. I am quite sure that is what is meant here in these messages to the seven Churches. It is the counter to the sin which Satan himself has introduced amongst the Lord's people; it is the counter to spiritual death which is the result of corruption and pollution that we find there in the churches. It is a people who stand clear of that, stand clear of it all, and who will stand against it and who will, by the help of God, resist the inroads of Satan and his touch, his evil work to spoil what is of God.
That, in brief, is what is signified by this “he that overcomes.” They are not an elect body; they are not a spiritual aristocracy chosen for this purpose. Any true believer can be and should be one of those. Indeed, that is what the whole Church ought to be. As the Levites represented all Israel, they represented God's thought for all Israel. Although here in these seven churches we find that all the spiritual Israel is not like that, God moves in an inward way to have a Levite people in the midst of His people. He must have it.
These are they who overcome, the true Levites. They are to take up what is true of the Lord Jesus Himself, firstly in themselves as in Him: a holy people. And then, because they are a holy people, they have a ministry of Life and Peace.
The measure of our ministry of Life, ministering Life to those who need Life and even to the Lord's people, many of the Lord's people are not really in Life. And there are many, like Cornelius and his friends, very devout and sincere and, in a way, Godfearing, religious, but not in Life until the Holy Spirit comes to them. If there is going to be a ministry of Life to anyone who needs Life, who is without Life, it requires a people after this kind. This is a holy Life and this Life cannot be ministered through unholy channels: “Be clean, you that bear the vessels of the Lord” (Isa 52: 11) is an old Levitical command.
Well, we are called to a great ministry, a wonderful ministry, the ministry of His Life—Life and Peace. This is committed to us. What a wonderful thing to realize that it is possible for men and women in holy fellowship with the Lord to be the vehicles of His Life to others, ministering Life to them, taking the Life for them. It's a great ministry.
And Peace—ministering the reconciliation of God to souls. What a wonderful thing. Such ministry rests upon the condition: a holy people. The Lord make us like that, and have in us as a few, but maybe in multitudes more, a vessel of “the testimony of Jesus.”
About the Author
T. AUSTIN SPARKS (1888–1971) became a Christian at 17 while listening to young street-preachers in Glasgow. Soon he was giving his testimony with this band. Ordained a Baptist pastor at 24, he led three congregations in Greater London. During these years, he was also closely allied to Jessie Penn- Lewis and the "Overcomer Testimony". In 1926, Austin-Sparks broke with this organisation and resigned his Baptist ordination and established a conference and training centre at Honor Oak in southeast London. He was known to fellowship with Watchman Nee - Audio at: http://www.austinsparks.net/audio_alpha.html