Writing on the subject of martyrdom is a grand feat and it is a topic that I have felt compelled to examine. With frequent stories of ISIS persecuting and executing people because of their faith, it seems like an appropriate time to look back at those who were martyred for their faith in the bible and in more recent times. I will be examining those who were martyred for the sake of Christ which is what ISIS recently conveyed as the motive for the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians – a ‘Message to the Nation of the Cross’.
In the book of Ecclesiastes (1:9-11) there is something worth noting as we go through this period of persecution:
History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. Sometimes people say, “Here is something new!” But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new. We don’t remember what happened in the past, and in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now.
As we reflect on the Christian martyrs that have gone before us, we can see that ISIS are no different from the persecution of Christians under Nero or Domitian to name just two. I think we may be quick to forget that most of the apostles of Jesus suffered greatly for their faith in Him, often to the point of death. However, they knew who Jesus was and who He is, and because they knew Him they could place all of their faith, hope and trust in His Word. In the same way as the apostles and the martyrs before us, let us be bold in the face of this season of persecution.
I plan to reflect upon those who were martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ. Many of those who were persecuted and killed penned the books in the New Testament. Their words are God’s Word. How do I know? They knew Jesus. What does the bible say about the identity of Jesus?
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:17-18)
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. (Colossians 1:15-23)
When we know the identity of Jesus as the Son of the invisible God, we can trust that God has been made known to us. We have tangible, life-altering truths that can sustain us in our deepest affliction. Verse 23 in Colossians encapsulates my hope for this time of reflecting on Christian martyrdom: ‘if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.’ I believe that we need to be encouraged by the words and actions of those that have gone before us; we need to look to Christ’s identity and how this has shaped the Christian martyrs gone by. Then we can be uplifted and propelled to continue in the faith, to be established and firm in the truth of God’s Word and to have the courage not to move away from the hope held out to us through the good news of Jesus Christ.
For the Christian, death is not the end. Rather, it is the start of a glorious eternity with the One who created us, who died for us and who has made a way for all people to be a part of His Kingdom.
In Matthew 10:27-28 it says:
“What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
We should not fear those who threaten to kill us, for they are unable to kill our souls. Our new life in Christ is kept hidden with Him and will be revealed with Him on His return in glory. Let us boldly proclaim the good news of Jesus who is Lord and stand firm in faith. Let us speak out and proclaim upon the rooftops!
As I reflect on the life and words of the martyrs that have gone before, I do not seek to provide a ‘how to’ guide on Christian martyrdom. Rather, I seek to show how Jesus Christ, the Son of God, equipped them to hold fast to the truth until the very end of their life, and it is only through the death of Jesus and His resurrection that there is hope.
Linking up with Kelly Balarie and friends at Purposeful Faith for the #raralikup!