Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Cloud of Witnesses

Written by: on February 23, 2021

At Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s funeral service, Franz Hildebrandt recalled a conversation he had with Bonhoeffer: “Why should it always have to be the bad people who make the revolutions?”[1]

The word “revolution” carries with it many connotations. For Americans, we may think of the American Revolution and the spirit of nationalism it evokes as cries of “freedom” echoed throughout the land. For political leaders, it may evoke a spirit of fear as the people rise up to overthrow their regime. Revolutionaries are both scorned and celebrated for their work; venerated and demonized; considered both “good” and “bad.”

Bonhoeffer’s words came from the context of Nazi Germany and the steady decline of civilization as millions of Jews were murdered. It was a “revolution” driven by fear, hate, and the need for power. But in reflecting on Bonhoeffer’s words, one can see that there is a hope and desire to see see and revolution from another perspective – one that is built on love, humility, faith, and compassion.

Tom Holland’s Dominion traces the idea that Christ Himself brought a revolution to this world, one that influenced the very fabric of society since its inception.[2] In fact, the greatest revolution of history was not started by the “bad people”, but rather by the Son of God Himself. History attests to this, even if that story and revolution was hijacked by the “bad people” at times to further another agenda.

But the Revolution has carried with it a great cloud of witnesses. Men and women who went before us, who are among us now, and who will come long after we are gone. The author of Hebrews details many examples of great faith in chapter eleven, but my favorite part of this chapter comes toward the very end:

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground (Hebrews 11:32 – 38).

The Great Cloud of Witnesses that came before is so vast there there isn’t enough space to record every person. It is in the “nameless” members of this cloud that I find the greatest encouragement. The Revolution may have its figureheads, but each of us who are part of the body of Christ lend our stories to the greatest story ever told. Our struggles, our successes – the good, the bad, and the ugly – are testaments to the goodness and faithfulness of God.

As we look back on the lives of those who come before us, we are able to reflect on their journeys and find encouragement as we journey alongside them. At the beginning of this Bonhoeffer series, I shared how Bonhoeffer served as a spiritual guide to me through his story.

What does my story say? What does yours say? Who, when looking back, is going to resonate with our story?

How do we continue to the mantra of the Christian revolution?



[1] Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2010), 540.

[2] Tom Holland, Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind (London: Abacus, 2019).

About the Author

Dylan Branson

Small town Kentuckian living and learning in the big city of Hong Kong.

9 responses to “The Cloud of Witnesses”

  1. Darcy Hansen says:

    Such a hopeful end of your engagement with Bonhoffer. I once heard, “If your life story was written in a book, would anyone want to read it? What would those pages contain?” When I travel to Rwanda or do things that feel important, I think, this is book-worthy. But in the small faith/faithless steps I take every day, I feel like no one would want to read those mundane minutes of my life. Even in scripture, we often get the peaks and valleys of a persons life. Rarely do we get the minuscule, the everyday, the boring bits. But it is all those boring bits of faithfulness that add up to the peaks.

    What happens in the boring bits of your days and what do you hope it communicates to others who read your story? How does your story impact the greater Christian revolution in which we are a part?

    • Dylan Branson says:

      Good questions, Darcy. Honestly, I think the “boring bits” for me are the conversations I have every day with different people. The “boring bits” of taking long walks and listening, praying, and reflecting. The “boring bits” of simply being patient and waiting. We don’t know how our story is going to impact others; but there’s always someone who’s impacted one way or another.

  2. Greg Reich says:

    I once preached a sermon on the great cloud of witnesses by asking the congregation to envision themselves walking in a large stadium with a throng of people looking on. I asked them to imagine a bible character emerging from the crowd and walking along side them for a mile or two. They were asked if that individual was to give them one piece of advise what would that advise be. So, I ask if Bonhoeffer was to walk along side you for a mile or two what do you think his advise to you would be?

    • Dylan Branson says:

      I think his advice to me would be to keep journeying with the confidence that it’s Christ who walks alongside me. That the path of the cross is a hard one that’s marked with suffering and that there’s going to be a day when suffering is made manifest around me. When it happens, will I be faithful to who Jesus says He is and who He says I am?

  3. Jer Swigart says:

    I really appreciate the way you mete out the idea of the cloud of witnesses. It echoes the sentiments of our indigenous relatives who have such a keen awareness of the presence and impact of the ancestors. To them, they are not mere historical figures but guides who transcend time in influential ways. Like you, Bonhoeffer has increased in prominence for me within our cloud.

    • Dylan Branson says:

      I think it’s cool how the people who have come before us can show up at the right time. When I first read Bonhoeffer, I wasn’t looking for a guide – just a clarification on a random conversation piece. But he quickly became one of the most influential people in my own journey.

  4. Shawn Cramer says:

    What do you think the limits of using the term “revolution” are when talking about cultural, political, societal change from a Christian perspective?

  5. John McLarty says:

    If you and Bonhoeffer were hiking together, what’s one thing you’d be sure to ask him or talk with him about?

  6. Chris Pollock says:

    Thanks Dylan, I appreciate the encouragement onward in the revolution, this revolution love. One lifetime isn’t quite enough to ‘get’ there. However, perhaps it is enough to experience the fight for it just enough.

    Revolution, a yearning for ‘home’.

    There can be a desperation for arrival, to achieve what the revolution sets out to achieve. What is it with Jesus? What is it that we set out to achieve in this revolution that some commit to with their whole lives?

    Thank you for opening up the life of D. Bonhoeffer over these last weeks. Appreciate your heart and thoughts.

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