“They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”
Many of us have never been ridiculed for our faith. Some of us have been called holy-rollers or have been looked at as old-fashioned or have experienced the rolling of eyes by a co-worker. This is a far cry from being abused and persecuted for the cause of Christ. Many people enjoy the freedom of personal prayer in open places and enjoy public gatherings for the purpose of worship, but this is not the case in numerous places in the world. In fact, an average of 171,000 Christians worldwide are martyred for their faith each year.1 For countless Christ-followers, taking up their cross means being disowned by family members, being discriminated for employment, and/or suffering violence.
From the beginning, the followers of Christ have suffered. Around 34 A.D., one year after the crucifixion of Jesus, a young disciple named Stephen was stoned to death. Martyrdom for Christ was prevalent in Jerusalem during this period. Over the next several decades, all but one of the twelve Apostles were martyred for their faith.
Here is what history records:
James the brother of John was killed with a sword during a persecution initiated by King Herod. (44 AD)
Andrew was hanged on the branch of an olive tree. (circa 70 AD)
Doubting Thomas was thrust through with pine spears, tortured with red-hot plates, and burned alive. (Circa 70 AD)
Philip went to Phrygia where he was tortured and crucified. (54 AD)
Matthew was beheaded. (Sometime after 60 AD)
Bartholomew was flayed (skin stripped from his body) for refusing to deny Jesus. When that did not kill him, he was crucified. (70 AD)
James the lesser was taken to the top of the Temple, and refusing to deny Jesus, he was thrown from the roof. He survived the fall, so a mob beat him with clubs until he died. (63 AD)
Simon the Zealot was crucified by orders of the governor of Syria. (74 AD)
Judas Thaddeus ministered in Mesopotamia where he was beaten to death with sticks. (72 AD)
Matthias, who replaced Judas Iscariot, went to Ethiopia and was stoned to death while hanging on a cross. (70 AD)
Peter (according to Eusebius, a third-century historian) thought himself unworthy to die in the manner in which Jesus was crucified, so he requested that he be crucified upside-down. (Circa 67 AD)
John the beloved is the only disciple who died a natural death, but that does not mean he was exempt from persecution. According to historian, Tertullian, John was plunged into boiling oil in a Roman coliseum, yet suffered no effects from it. He was then banished to the Isle of Patmos, where he wrote the Book of the Revelation, and died an old man. (Circa 100 AD)
Persecution did not slow the growth of the Church during the first few centuries after Christ died. As its early leaders suffered horrible deaths, Christianity flourished throughout the Roman Empire. It is estimated that 70 million people have been martyred because of their faith in Jesus Christ.
Prayer: Spend time throughout the day praying for our brothers and sisters around the globe who are suffering as a result of their faith in Jesus Christ.
The following are a few things to pray for them:
To have physical protection and deliverance
To speak the right words to fearlessly make Christ known
To know God’s grace as sufficient and God’s power is perfected in their weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
To love Christ’s appearing
To rejoice in sharing the sufferings of Jesus
To faithfully endure by more completely trusting in God
To choose ill-treatment and the reproach for Christ’s sake, rather than the pleasures of sin
To overcome sin
To love Christ far more than life itself
To love their enemies
To not enter into temptation, even under the stress of persecution
To rejoice that they are considered worthy to suffer for His Name
To demonstrate the joy of the Lord before their persecutors
To focus on their future glory
To rejoice that they bear in their bodies the “brand marks of Christ.”
Action: To learn more about the persecution of Christians around the globe visit: www.persecution.com, www.persecution.net, and www.idop.org.
1 Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (2006).