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OceanSide church of Christ

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Victor M. Eskew




A.    Acts 12:1-2


Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hand to vex certain of the church.  And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.


B.      In the first through fourth centuries, the church lived in very difficult times.

1.      The church was first persecuted by the Jews.

2.      Eventually, the Roman government brought death to many Christians.


C.     Martyrdom was not just and interesting topic of discussion.  It was a sobering reality.


D.    In a previous lesson, we began a study of martyrdom.

1.      We looked at the definition of a martyr, one who attests to his faith by giving his life for the cause of Christ.

2.      We also looked at several martyrs found in the pages of God’s Word from Abel in the first book of the Bible to Antipas in the last book of the Bible.


E.      In this lesson, we will look at “The Common Factors of Martyrdom.”


I.                   TRUTH


A.    Truth is God’s divine regulations revealed to mankind in the Bible that are designed to govern man.

1.      Truth involves what is believed.

2.      Truth involves what is taught.

3.      Truth involves what is to be lived.


B.      This body of truth is called truth because it springs from a God whose nature is truth (Deut. 32:4).


He is the rock, his work is perfect:  for all his ways are judgment:  a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.


C.     Truth is part of martyrdom because it is light that shines in a very dark world. 

1.      Darkness, falsehood, and evil have no tolerance for light, truth, and holiness (John 3:20).


For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deed be reproved.


2.      Jesus told His disciples that they would be hated of all men for his name’s sake (Mark 13:13a).


And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake…


D.    What we need to keep in mind.

1.      Truth still exists today.

2.      The church possesses the truth (I Tim. 3:15).

3.      Truth is still hated and opposed by darkness.


II.                OPPOSITION


A.    The opposition to truth came from many sources in the past.

1.      Politicians and government leaders (i.e., Herod, Acts 12:1).

a.      Herod was a “client king” under the authority of Rome.

b.      The region of Judea was part of his territory.

c.       Why he persecuted the church is not known.

1)      He was interested in his Jewish roots.

2)      He was favorable to the Pharisees.

3)      He was somewhat favorable to Jewish nationalism.

2.      Those who desired power

3.      Those who misunderstood the message of the gospel

4.      Those who were fearful of Christianity and saw it as a threat

5.      Those of false religions

6.      Evil, immoral individuals


B.      A list of the persecutions brought upon the church by the Romans government.

1.      Persecution under Nero (c. 64-68)

2.      Persecution under Domitian (r. 81-96)

3.      Persecution under Trajan (112-117)

4.      Persecution under Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180)

5.      Persecution under Septimus Severus (202-210)

6.      Persecution under Decius (250-251).

7.      Persecution under Valerian (257-259)

8.      Persecution under Maximinus the Thracian (235-238)

9.      Persecution under Aurelian (r. 270-275)

10.  Severe persecution under Diocletian and Galerius (303-324)


C.     Brutality and Death

1.      Poor living conditions while imprisoned

a.      Nakedness

b.      Lack of food and water

c.       Darkness

d.      Exposure to heat and cold

e.       Overcrowding

f.        Poor sanitary conditions

g.      Infection

h.      Disease

2.      Brutality and torture

a.      Stretched on stretching machines

b.      Torn with metal rakes

c.       Whipped

d.      Broken bones

e.       Wrapped in heavy chains

f.        Placed in stocks with legs spread wide

g.      Placed on wagon wheels and beaten

h.      Hard labor

i.        Forced to walk across broken pottery, bones, and stones

j.        Body parts torn off

k.      Family brutalized or killed before the individual

3.      Death

a.      Beheaded

b.      Burned at the stake

c.       Crucified

d.      Flogged

e.       Fed to the wild beasts

f.        Flayed:  skinned alive

g.      Sawn asunder

h.      Drug upon the ground

i.        Stabbed multiple times

j.        Stoned

k.      Cast into deep water with weights on


III.             REACTION


A.    The enemy rejoiced (Acts 12:3).


And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also.


B.      Some of the persecutors came to admire the faith of those who were persecuted and died for their faith.

1.      Epictetus:  a Greek philosopher (55 AD – 135 AD)

a.      He witnessed many Christians put to death.

b.      One of his famous statements is:  “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”  Did this statement reflect what he had seen in the deaths of many Christians?

2.      Galen the Physician, physician of Marcus Aurelius

a.      Marcus Aurelius tortured Christians as much as any Roman Emperor.

b.      “For this we may infer that the people called Christians derive their faith from signs and miracles.  Also, sometimes, they show such behavior as adapted by philosophers; for fearlessness of death and the hereafter is something we witness every day.


C.     Some were converted because of the tribulation brought on the church (Phil. 1:12-13).


But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the thing which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; so that my bonds are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places.


D.    Some Christians were weakened and made fearful (II Tim. 4:10).


For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica…


E.      Some Christians grew stronger and the church multiplied.

1.      Acts 8:1b, 4


…And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem, and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles…Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.




2.      Philippians 1:14


And many brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.




A.    Truth still exists.


B.      There are still those on earth who oppose the truth.


C.     If the opposition becomes strong and martyrdom is required, how would YOU react?