Christians must expect to be persecuted for their faith in Jesus (Matthew 5:10-12). While bearing their cross (Mark 10:21) they will suffer for Christ (Philippians 1:29), and yet they count it all joy (James 1:2-4). The Old Testament prophets were persecuted (Matthew 23:35; Luke 11:51) for their faith and obedience to God, and post-resurrection followers of Jesus were also persecuted (Acts 8:1).
Persecution can take many forms: prejudicial harassment, the purposeful infliction of troubles; the loss of income through being sacked; the destruction or confiscation of personal property (Hebrews 10:34); and, in extreme cases, being put to death for witnessing to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 11:37).
Death on account of being faithful to Jesus is Christian martyrdom. Such martyrs bear witness to the lordship of Christ in their lives. They hold fast to their confession of faith (Hebrews 10:23), even when being tortured in an attempt to make them recant. Many have been burnt at the stake, as was the case with two 16th century protestants who suffered death in this way not far from where I live in Essex.
Today they are remembered by having their names recorded on a *memorial at Rayleigh where they died. The names of two other martyrs who suffered death by burning at Smithfield, London, are also recorded on the memorial. This barbarism took place when Catholic Queen Mary (Bloody Mary) was on the throne, at which time protestants were forbidden to read or preach the bible. They were treated as heretics.
Notable examples of Christians who were martyred can be found in the New Testament, of which John the Baptist was the first (Mark 6:27). Stephen, a deacon of the Jerusalem church (Acts 6:5), was next:
‘And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him (Acts 22:20).’ These were the words of Saul [Paul], who was converted when he had a miraculous encounter with the Lord, whilst on the way to Damascus to persecute Christians (Acts 22:6-16).
Acts 7:58-60 sheds more light on the death of that faithful saint: ‘and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus receive my spirit. Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
Acts 12, verses 1 and 2 tell us about the martyrdom of James: ‘Now about the time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some of the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword.
Hebrews 11:37 describes some of the brutal and cruel acts that were perpetrated against the saints: ‘They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. ……’
From Revelation, Chapter 2, verse 13 we learn that Antipas, a member of the church at Pergamon, was martyred for his faithful witness:
‘“I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.”’
The Bible does not record the martyrdom of Peter and Paul, but tradition has it that Peter was crucified upside-down, and Paul was beheaded – both deaths occurring in Rome.
Christian martyrdom **continues today. Vast numbers of believers have been killed for their testimony of Jesus.
* Martyrs Memorial, Rayleigh, Essex
** Are there really 100,000 new Christian martyrs every year?