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A Heart For God: On the Subject of Martyrs

Monday, April 04, 2011

On the Subject of Martyrs

"And when He broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained." (Revelation 6:9)

A martyr is a witness. He is a person who chooses death rather than deny his faith. As the end of the world approaches, this murder of representatives of Christ will only intensify. (Matthew 10:21-22a) Jesus Himself spoke of the dynamic when He said, "'[B]ut an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.'" (John 16:2) It's how they treated Him. (Matthew 10:25) It's how the twelve apostles were treated.

According to tradition, Peter was crucified upside down. (John 21:18-19) James was killed with a sword (beheaded). (Acts 12:2) John was boiled in oil, but survived. Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross. Philip suffered crucifixion. Bartholomew (Nathanael) was flayed alive with knives. Matthew was killed with a sword in Ethiopia. Thomas was speared to death in India. James (the Less) had his brains smashed out in Syria. History is largely silent about Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Matthias (the replacement for Judas), but it's safe to assume they gave their lives for the cause of Christ, too.

Before the first apostle (James) was martyred, there came Stephen. (Acts 7:58-60) As Stephen was being stoned to death, a young man named Saul stood by applauding the event. (Acts 22:20) This same Saul would later convert and become Paul, who would write, "'For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.'" (Romans 8:36) He was quoting Psalm 44:22 to a church that was about to undergo tremendous suffering. The psalmist couldn't understand why Israel had been defeated despite her faithfulness to God. The truth is Israel was suffering because of her faithfulness to God.

And if we are found to be "as sheep for the slaughter" ourselves (face martyrdom), it is not because Jesus has withdrawn His love from us. (Romans 8:35-39) Quite to the contrary. It is because we are His! (Job 1:8)

(Above picture of Peter's crucifixion in the public domain: HERE.)

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