HISTORY OF CHRISTIAN MARTYDOM
(Rev 17:6) I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus . . .
Would you die for your faith? If someone put a gun to your head and said either deny Jesus or I’ll shoot, what would you do? I have thought about this and have answered myself that if it was God’s will for me to lay down my life for Christ then He would give me the strength and courage to do so. But how do you really know until you’re in that position and you’re sweating bullets before the bullets even come?
The history of Christian martyrdom begins with Jesus Himself. Jesus laid down His life and died on the cross for the redemption of mankind. He warned His followers that they too would suffer persecution: (John 15:20) "Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you . . . Then in the book of Acts we see the martyrdom of Stephen in Jerusalem (Acts 7:57-60) and later the mention of the faithful martyr Antipas in Pergamos (Rev 2:13).
But this was just the beginning. Church history states that during the first century after Jesus' death nearly all of His disciples suffered martyrdom for His sake. James the son of Zebedee was beheaded in approximately 44 A.D. Philip was crucified in 54 A.D. Matthew was killed with a halberd, an ax-like weapon, in 60 A.D. James was beaten to death, Matthias was beheaded, Andrew was crucified, Mark was torn to pieces, and Peter was crucified upside down. Jude, Bartholomew, and Thomas were also martyred. Paul suffered martyrdom in Rome where he was beheaded. Other early apostles Luke, Barnabas, Timothy, and Simon were also killed for the sake of Christ.
The history of Christian martyrs does not end with the death of the disciples. Thousands willingly gave their lives under Roman persecution by the emperors Nero, Domitian, Diocletian and others. The Roman persecution lasted well into the fourth century A.D. and did not end until Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of his empire. But Christians have been martyred all through church history. Consider these famous martyrs: Polycarp, Justin Martyr, John Hus, William Tyndale, Thomas Cranmer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jim Elliot, to name a few.
Are Christians being martyred today? Yes, in many countries there is fierce opposition to Christianity and the gospel message. We must pray for our brothers and sisters and not forget their plight: (Heb 13:3) Remember the prisoners as if chained with them; those who are mistreated; since you yourselves are in the body also.
Doesn’t this make you feel like a wimp? I mean we tend to get so upset when we are teased for being a Christian or called a “Jesus freak.” Then we feel guilty when we hear these stories of martyrdom and consider ourselves so weak in the faith. Would we give our life for Christ? Maybe . . . if we give our life to Christ now while we are living! And then if we do that perhaps we would give our bodies when called to die for Him. That’s what you call a “living sacrifice”: (Rom 12:1) I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
Paul said he died daily (1 Cor 15:31). That is real Christian martyrdom. Dying to your old life and desires and living for Jesus. Maybe persecution will get worse in America. And who knows if some will even be called to lay down their lives? But why not die right now so if a gun ever came to your head you would say why not? I’ve given myself as a living sacrifice . . . why not give myself as a dying one?