What Does the New Testament Say About Martyrs?


Martyrs are people who have given up their lives, usually in a violent episode, for the cause of their religious beliefs. In the context of the Bible, the martyrs we will look at today were those who gave up their lives for the cause of Jesus Christ.


Although this paper looks at martyrdom in the sense of a sudden and violent end of life in a sacrificial way, there is another sense, a sense in which all Christians becoming living martyrs. Paul wrote in Romans 12: 1, 2 that "I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, in order to prove by you what is that good and pleasing and perfect will of God. " (Modern King James Version) Jesus said that those who would be His followers must deny themselves and take up their crosses daily and follow Him (Matt. 16:24). This kind of living, ongoing martyrdom is not the focus here.


In the New Testament, John the Baptist, Stephen the deacon, and James the brother of John the apostle are mentioned as martyrs. There were others who were not named who were killed for their beliefs in Christ Jesus (Acts 22:4). The Revelation depicts a special place for Christian martyrs in Heaven: Rev 6: 9-11" And when He had 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 testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, Until when, Master, holy and true, do You not judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth? And white robes were given to each one of them. And it was said to them that they should rest yet for a little time, until both their fellow servants and their brothers (those about to be killed as they were) should have their number made complete." I will say nothing to detract from those believers the accomplishment which they made. They confessed Jesus before men and Jesus will confess them before His Father who is in Heaven (Matt. 10: 32, 33).


The martydom of John the Baptizer is related in Matthew 14: 1-12 and Mark 6: 14-29 in grisly detail. Herod did not like the preaching of John because it exposed his adultery with Herodias, his brother Philip's wife. John was confronted with a binary choice: Stop talking about Herod's sin, or die. He had no other choices. John chose death.


The martyrdom of Stephen, one of the first deacons, is related in Acts 6: 5through chapter 8: 3. He was also presented with a situation with a binary choice: renounce Jesus or die immediately. To Stephen's credit, he confessed Jesus. He died a horrible death by stoning.


The death of James, the brother of the Apostle John, is related in Acts chapter 12. James was arrested and then killed for preaching Jesus. If we someday are faced with such a clear choice, we should make the same sacrifice, knowing that there is a special place in Heaven awaiting us.


Where the choice is not binary, the example of New Testament figures is that of using the gift of physical life upon this Earth while in God's service. Jesus used his alternatives at least four times to foil the Jews in their attempts to arrest Him before it was His time to be sacrificed (John 8: 20, 59; 10:39; 11:34). Paul used his alternatives at least eight times to avoid arrest or to manipulate the Roman justice system in order to forestall death and to have more opportunities to preach about Jesus Christ (Acts 9: 25, 16: 36, 37; 18: 14-16; 22: 25-29; 23:7; 23: 12-35; 25: 11; 25: 21) . Paul worked the system to not just stay alive but t have opportunities to tell others about Christ.


I propose that there is a message here for us today, in the time of the COVID19 pandemic. If we get sick and die, Heaven awaits us. But there is no point in taking unreasonable chances with our health. How do you know that you have led the last soul to Christ that He intended you to? How do you know that you have edified the last Christian that you were supposed to uplift?


If you are presented with one of those binary choices, make the right one and get ready to go Home shortly. You'll know that kind of choice when you see it, just as John the Baptist, Stephen, and James did. Short of that situation, make your life a living sacrifice to God. Be a good steward of the life He gave you. It is God who gives life; let Him be the one who recalls it.

John 21:18 - 23 "Truly, truly, I say to you, When you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you wished. But when you grow old, you shall stretch forth your hands and another shall gird you and carry you where you do not wish. He spoke this signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, Follow Me.
Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following (the one who also leaned on His breast at supper, and said, Lord, who is he who betrays You?) Seeing him, Peter said to Jesus, Lord, and what of this one? Jesus said to him, If I desire that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me. Then this saying went abroad among the brothers, that that disciple should not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him, He shall not die, but, If I desire that he remain until I come, what is that to you?"


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