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Reflecting on Christian Martyrdom #5: The 21

As a response to the growing persecution globally of the Christian faith and followers of Christ, I have felt led to write a short series on Christian Martyrdom. Remember, I am not a theologian and this is not meant to be a piece of academic prose. I am merely a curious child of the Living God, eager to learn more about those that have gone before me and were led to death for being followers of Jesus Christ. To see my introduction to this series – visit ‘Reflecting on Christian Martyrdom #1′.

The previous martyrs I have written about so far have challenged me in my walk with God. Their death brings me to a point of deep reflection upon my relationship with the Lord and, somewhat cautiously in my mind, the following thought creeps in: ‘Would I stand firm for my faith in the Lord until the point of death?’ In their dying moments, the Living God sustained them and equipped them to face that moment. We are left with their memory, their example, their faith, their love for God and their full assurance that Christ has defeated all suffering and death. They could see what was to come – they could see eternity. For them, to live is Christ, but to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).

The 21

The above verse 21 is for the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians who were beheaded by the sea. The 21. Verse 21. To live is Christ. To die is gain. As they were forced to walk alongside the creatures dressed in black who were armed with intent and disdain for the ‘people of the cross’, these men in orange jumpsuits knew that they would be dressed in white robes at the appointed time. Clinging to their Saviour, they knew that these final steps were the beginning of eternity with their Lord in heaven. It is only by faith that they could kneel and pray; a prayer between their soul to God. Feeling frightened, but yet being filled by the Holy Spirit within them. They could endure. They could carry their cross. They could follow Jesus. Until the end.

Writing about the 21 makes me tremble. This was the martyrdom that I longed to write about from the start, but which terrifies me as I see the images of black and orange along a beach. Maybe it is because their death was orchestrated to scare. It was filmed and edited to stir fear and anxiety throughout the world, but it particularly targeted those who follow Jesus. This was a video made in blood for me. It was a warning. I could end up like my brothers on that beach.

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 1 Peter 4:14-16

Through the insults, the persecution and the execution, God is glorified. Why? Why should God be glorified when His people suffer? When I look at the words of Jesus when he raised Lazarus from the dead saying: “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it” (John 11:4), I can see that there is a greater purpose behind what he is saying. The lesser miracle of raising a man back from the dead points to the greater miracle of Christ raising from the dead. Death is not the end. Christ has made a way through his death and resurrection to save sinners, reconciling us all to God, freely giving us his grace, opening up the way to eternal life and this all gives God the glory. This is a great comfort to all who believe in what the Son of God has done for us all.

At The Appointed Time

The death of the 21 points to something much greater. In fact, in Chapter 6 of the book of Revelation, which is the last book in the bible, those who have been martyred for their faith in Christ are mentioned. This book was a revelation of things to come, revealed to the apostle John by God. It details things that have not happened yet, but that will take place before Christ comes back, when He returns and it reveals the New Heaven and New Earth, as well as the judgement of the world. Is there justice for those that were martyred for the name of Jesus Christ? Revelation 6:9-11 says:

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

As I have mentioned, I am not a theologian but I am curious! The souls of those who have been slain because of the Word of God and their witness to others about Christ cried out loudlyThey ask the Lord how long it will be before he will judge and avenge their blood shed. There is an appointed time for judgement. God is just. There will be a time for vengeance on those who are unrepentant and God is the Judge. He declares:

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. Romans 12:19

There will be retribution for those who commit such awful, sickening acts. There is justice and hope in God. Take comfort that there is a God who does not let anything go unnoticed and who will hold each act committed against His people into account. We will all have to give an account to the Lord, so let us live our lives holy and pleasing to Him (2 Corinthians 5:10; Job 34:11; Matthew 16:27; Acts 10:42).

The 21 could also be a part of the souls that John refers to in Revelation 20:4:

Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God…

These 21 followers of the cross who knelt in the sand would join the souls that have gone before them; souls that had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and the Word of God. Looking back at the previous verses from Revelation 6, we can see that those who had been martyred, who cried out to God asking when He would avenge them, were given white robes – robes that were made white by the blood of Jesus and His righteousness. God tells them to wait a little longer because more martyrs will follow in the same way that they did. The Lord knows who are His and that there is an appointed time for His return. There will be an appointed time for His judgement and vengeance. That is why we earnestly proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to all before this appointed time. We are given a choice to follow Christ or reject Him. The Lord is clear in 2 Peter 3:9:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

At the appointed time the Lord will return. He is not slow at keeping His promise to avenge, but He desires all people to come to a knowledge of the truth, not wanting anyone to perish but all to repent. We have a choice. Sadly, not everyone will choose Jesus.

Reflecting on the Martyrdom of the 21

It is painful to have visual aids and graphic images portrayed of martyrdom. I could use my imagination as I suffered silently alongside those martyrs who had gone before me in a pre-21st century world. Today, I am forced to witness the ‘witnesses’ or martyrs of Christ as they face death. It makes my heart ache. I pray for those who are committing these crimes against my brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus died for them too. However, they are choosing their own way; a way contrary to the forgiveness, hope and love found in the cross. What has happened to these men and women who have joined such brutal ideologies to make them so full of hatred and murder? Only the Lord truly knows their heart. However, all will be revealed at the appointed time.

My prayer is to have a life that is immersed in Jesus and his sacrifice for me and for the world. I pray that I can know God the Father, through Jesus Christ His Son, by the Holy Spirit living in me in a deeper, maturer way. The battlefield is not against terrorism. It is against the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12). We must remember that this is a spiritual battlefield. But we must be bold in knowing that Christ won the victory on the cross. And Satan and all of evil will be destroyed at the appointed time. So take heart, for Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33)!

Linking up with Rebekah and friends at Grace & Truth this week! 🙂

5 thoughts on “Reflecting on Christian Martyrdom #5: The 21”

  1. Sunday in service there was an incident that reminded me of the realities of the persecuted church and how blessed I am to be able to worship freely in the land I live. But will it always be so? Am I safe within the four walls of a church? I can only imagine the fear the 21 faced, but I know they were each welcomed with open arms to the Savior we serve and love.

  2. Ruth, this is an amazing piece. You did a masterful job of thinking through persecution as it relates to us today. I just finished reading a book entitled, “Hearts of Fire” from Voice of the Martyrs. It tells the stories of eight women in the underground church and how they stood strong in the face of persecution. It was a difficult read, but it challenged my faith tremendously. Stopped by from Grace & Truth. Blessed Resurrection Day, friend.

    1. Thank you Leah 🙂 I will have to check out that piece from Voice of the Martyrs. Is it available online? Wonderful that you were challenged and I pray it will encourage you deeply to hold firm to Him until the very end my friend! I hope you had a joyous Easter and my apologies for the very slow response this week!

  3. Ruth, I so appreciate the power of your words here. I love the way you took the number 21 and chose biblical ways to honor them and adorn their sacrifice with the gospel. As I consider the strong possibility that I will one day face persecution such as this, I find myself wondering how I will respond. How will my children respond? You’ve hit the nail on the head regarding our preparedness; the only way to be prepared to die for Him is to live a life immersed in Him. I’m so glad you linked up with us at Grace & Truth!

    1. Thank you for your encouragement Jennifer 🙂 It is a challenging prospect but the Lord will never leave us nor forsake us; he gives us grace for every moment. Blessings to you today in Jesus, my friend! 🙂

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