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Victor M. Eskew
A. Matthew 10:39
He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
1. In this verse, Jesus expresses an interesting truth, the Lord’s followers may lose their lives for His sake.
2. When this is contemplated with seriousness, it is a sobering thought. Jesus said we may have to die on His behalf.
a. Some believe that the possibility is so small that is can be easily dismissed.
b. Some vehemently deny that it could ever happen to us.
c. Some tremble at the thought, wondering what they would do at such a time.
d. Some boldly believe that they could endure and become a martyr for the gospel of Christ.
B. Martyrdom is not a subject about which we speak very often.
1. Verses like Matthew 10:39 are used to encourage faithfulness, not to discuss martyrdom.
2. But, martyrdom was a significant reality in the first century and several that followed.
C. As we look at the subject of martyrdom, keep in mind this rally cry of the early enemies of the Lord’s church: “Let there be no Christians!”
I. THE DEFINITION OF A MARTYR
A. In the Greek language, the term “martyr” is “martos” or a form thereof.
1. It is found 139 times in the New Testament.
2. In the KJV, it is translated with six different words.
a. Witness or witnesses (Matt. 23:31)
Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.
b. Testify (John 3:11)
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye received not our witness.
c. Bear record (John 8:13)
The Pharisees therefore said unto him, Thou barest record of thyself, thy record is not true.
d. Good (honest) report (Acts 6:3)
Wherefore, brethren, look ye out from among you seven of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.
e. Charge (I Thess. 2:11)
As ye know when we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children.
f. Martyr (Acts 22:20; Rev. 2:13; Rev. 17:6)
…as when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him.
1. A martyr can be referred to as a witness because he attests his belief in the gospel by dying for the cause of Christ.
2. Origen of Alexandria explains the development of the importance of the word “martyr.” He writes: “Not everyone who bears witness to the truth, whether he support it by words or deeds, or in whatever way, may properly be called a witness (martyr). But it has become the custom of the brotherhood, since they are struck with admiration of those who have contended to the death for truth and valor, to keep the name of martry more properly for those who have borne witness to the mystery of godliness by shedding their blood for it” (http://catholicexchange.com/the-crown-of-martyrdom).
3. “…someone who suffers persecution and death for advocating, renouncing, refusing to renounce, or refusing to advocate a belief or cause as demanded by an external party” (www.wikipedia.com, “Martyr”).
II. EXAMPLES OF MARTYRS FROM THE BIBLE
A. Jesus mentions the blood of martrys that was shed beginning at Abel, the son of Adam and Eve (Matt. 23:35).
That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.
a. We are all familiar with the story of Cain and Abel.
b. Out of wickedness and envy, and anger, Cain slew this man of God for doing what God commanded.
c. This makes Abel the first martyr of the Bible.
2. Jezebel had numerous prophets of God slain (I Kings 18:4).
3. Zechariah (II Chron. 24:20-21, esp. v. 21)
And they conspired against him, and stoned him with stones at the commandment of the king in the court of the house of the Lord.
B. John the Baptist (Matt. 14:3-12)
1. Herod shut him up in prison (Matt. 14:3).
2. He did this because of John’s preaching (Matt. 14:4; See also Luke 3:19).
3. He wanted to put John to death (Matt. 14:5).
4. After Herodias’ daughter danced before Herod, she asked for John’s head and Herod fulfilled her request (Matt. 14:6-11)
And he sent, and beheaded John in prison.
5. His disciples came, and took the body, and buried it (Matt. 14:12).
C. Jesus died as a martyr.
1. Both the Jews and the Gentiles were responsible for His death (Acts 4:27-28).
2. He was crucified outside the gates of the city of Jerusalem (Matt. 27:35).
3. Twice in the Revelation, Jesus is referred to as a faithful witness (Rev. 1:5; 3:14).
And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.
D. There are three named martyrs after the day of Pentecost.
1. Stephen (Acts 7:59-60)
And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell sleep.
2. James (Acts 12:2)
Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.
3. Antipas (Rev. 2:13)
…even in those days when Antipas as my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.
1. James and John were told they would suffer like Jesus did (Matt. 20:33).
And he said unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with…
2. All the disciples were warned by Jesus about being killed (Matt. 24:9).
Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you, and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.
3. Peter (John 21:18b-19a)
…but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee wither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God.
4. The early church.
a. Stephen was stoned outside the city walls of Jerusalem (Acts 7:59-60).
b. A great persecution erupted against the church (Acts 8:1-4).
c. Saul was heading the effort (Acts 9:1).
And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter (murder) against the disciples of the Lord…
5. Paul indicated that he was about to be offered up unto death (II Tim. 4:6).
For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.
6. In the Revelation, John saw under the altar “the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held” (Rev. 6:9).
F. Tradition tells us that all of the apostles, except John, died a martyrs’ death.
1. James (Acts 12:2) NOTE: The only death that stated in Scripture.
2. Matthew: killed by a sword wound in Ethiopia
3. Peter: crucified upside down on an x-shaped cross
4. Andrew: crucified in Patras of Achaia
5. Thomas: stabbed with a spear in India
6. Matthias: stoned in Jerusalem, then beheaded
7. Philip: crucified
8. Paul: tortured and beheaded in Rome
9. Bartholomew: flayed alive, then beheaded in Armenia
10. James the son of Alpheus: stoned in Jerusalem
11. Thaddeus: beaten to death in Persia
12. Simon the Canaanite: crucified
A. Jesus had predicted that martyrdom would come to His followers.
B. The New Testament clearly reveals that His words came to pass.
C. We do not think that we will ever have to die such a death.
1. It could happen, however.
2. Persecution came quickly upon the early church.
a. The church was established in 33 A.D.
b. Stephen was slain within two or three years of this. And, great persecution came on the
c. James’ death happened about 44 A.D.
D. My friends, we do not know what the next 10 to 20 years might bring for us.
1. Question: Would you be willing to die for the cause of Christ.
2. When we honestly contemplate this question, Revelation 2:10 becomes much more serious.
…be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.