The Expository Files


Hostile Witnesses
"He saved others ... let Him save Himself"

In a court of law, attorneys will call upon witnesses that they think will help their own client's cause. There are sometimes occasions where an attorney will turn to the judge concerning his own witness and say, "I would like to treat this witness as a 'hostile witness." Usually, this would occur when the attorney has called upon a witness to give testimony, but had earlier been mislead by the witness into thinking that his/her testimony would bolster his case, but on the stand the witness perhaps changes his/her story and begins to give damaging testimony. Having such a witness declared a "hostile witness" gives more leeway in questioning.

But just because someone is a hostile witness does not necessarily mean that their testimony is useless. Sometimes, even a hostile witness can help get to the truth, even a lying hostile witness will sometimes unintentionally reveal pertinent facts to help arrive at the truth. For example, if they lie, and it can be proven, the nature of the lie might well help point to the truth.

In the New Testament, there are several witnesses who gave testimony regarding Christ. You and I each form our own private jury as we determine what the testimony means. All of us must consider the evidence and render a verdict in our own minds. Many ignore the testimony and just go with their prejudice and ignorance. Lots of foolish things are said and thought about Jesus today. But God holds us responsible for coming to an honest and accurate conclusion about the matter. With something so very important, it is foolish not to even consider the testimony of the witnesses. (John 3:16-21).

When it comes to "hostile witnesses" concerning Jesus, we have plenty. You might think their testimony is damaging to faith, but if you think that, you'd be wrong. In fact, it is because their motive was to destroy Jesus that their testimony becomes so valuable. We know that they are not intentionally saying things to cause us to believe in Jesus because they prefer that no one believe in Him! Consider the testimony from the hostile witnesses and see what we can learn about the truth.

Consider the Pharisees (Matthew 27:39-43)
"You honor, I would like the Pharisees to be treated as hostile witnesses" (I doubt there can be much objection to that!). The Pharisees were bitterly opposed to the Lord. Instead of accepting His authority, they said He cast out demons "by Beelzebub!" That's a pretty serious charge to make against the Man from Nazareth! There is no doubt that these witnesses are "hostile" because of their opposition to the Lord. Consider their mocking of Jesus even as He hung on the cross, without any pity or regret, they said, "He saved others, let Him save Himself." (Matthew 27:42).

Actually, this is powerful testimony because it is not coming from disciples of Jesus, but from His sworn enemies. They are referring to His good works in healing and even raising people from the dead! Even in their mocking, they admit that Jesus did save others! (See also John 11:43-48).

Rather than accepting what those miracles implied, they chose to rebel against Him. The Pharisees could not (or would not) put two and two together. Prejudice did that!

However, not all of them were so blinded. There was Nicodemus, for example (see John 3:1-2). He said that at least some of the Pharisees knew that the signs Jesus did were significant evidence that God was with Him. And consider the words of the blind man who was given sight. (John 9:28-33). The Pharisees, determined to reject Jesus at all costs, settled on the notion that Jesus' power to do good came from evil. But truly, the miracles of Jesus show that He was approved of God (Acts 2:22). The miracles are part of the evidence on which our faith stands (John 20:30-31). And even the "hostile witnesses" who were present affirm that the miracles really took place!

Consider Judas Iscariot (Matthew 27:1-5)
"Your honor, in light of the betrayal, I would like for Mr. Iscariot to be treated as a hostile witness". Since Judas betrayed Jesus to the chief priests and elders, we would think that he would have some negative things to say about Jesus. We saw his unwillingness to follow Jesus start to grow as he became disenchanted, and that disenchantment was fueled by his growing greed. (John 12:4-6; Luke 22:3-6).

But Judas offered no defense for his despicable actions. He did not seek to justify his treachery. Instead, he said, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." Though he played the part of an enemy or traitor, Judas' testimony rings down through the ages as strong evidence of what he truly thought of Jesus.

The blood of Christ is, indeed, innocent blood. (1 Peter 1:18-19). Jesus was the only truly innocent man who ever lived, and only His blood will freely and completely remove sin (Hebrews. 9:14). By the shed blood of Christ, it is possible for man to live again. None can approach God except through and by virtue of the redeeming blood of Christ. (Ephesians. 1:7; 2:13-18). Judas admits that he did not give Jesus up because Jesus was guilty, but because He was innocent.

Consider Pilate (Luke 23:13-25)
"Your honor, I would like Pilate to be treated as a hostile witness in that while he was governor, he gave the order which allowed Jesus to be put to death." Pilate was the governor of Judea, having been appointed by Caesar. Pilate knew Jesus was innocent, and did make some short-lived effort to defend Him. No doubt, what scared Pilate the most was the threat of his incompetence being reported to Caesar (John 19:12).

In order to appease the Jewish leaders, he had Jesus scourged. (John 19:1-6). He perhaps thought that when Jesus' enemies saw Jesus in the weakened, deplorable condition after the scourging, they would be appeased. Pilate underestimated the intense hatred the evil Priests and Pharisees had toward Jesus. Pilate will always be known as a weak, cowardly politician who allowed, and even ordered, the Son of God to be put to death.

Pilate's testimony, as the other hostile witness, rings down through the ages. He said three times to Jesus' enemies, "I find no fault in Him at all." If anyone wanted to find fault with Jesus to excuse his part in the crucifixion, it would be Pilate. Bu he found none. Thus, again, Jesus is indeed that sacrificial Lamb without blemish and without spot (Isaiah 53:7-8).

Thus, all of our hostile witnesses bear strong, favorable testimony regarding Jesus the Christ. So, even without considering what the friendly witnesses have to say about Jesus, what is your verdict regarding the Christ as you hear these hostile witnesses?

By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 16.6; June 2009