Category: Christian martyrdom – what does the Bible say?


A Christian martyr is someone who died for his or her faith, rather than renounce Christ. Ever since Stephen was stoned to death outside Jerusalem (Acts 7), Christians around the world have suffered and died for the sake of Christ. There are many lessons we can learn from the testimony of the martyrs. Each person who is bold enough to give up his life for Christ has a unique lesson to teach us. This article will discuss a few lessons we can glean from Christian martyrs as a whole.

Christian martyrs teach us that we can stand for God no matter the circumstances. Millions of people throughout history have willingly died for their faith. If they can do it, so can we. That does not mean we should seek out suffering or death for Christ, but it does mean that, if we are presented with the choice of “die or deny Christ,” we should be bold and cling to Christ. Our love for God should take us as far as God’s love for us took Him—to death. Jesus prepared His disciples for persecution: “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32–33). Martyrs show us what it looks like to stand firm in not denying Jesus.

Another lesson Christian martyrs teach us is that we will receive a reward for standing for our faith. Revelation 20:4–6 paints a picture of the reward awaiting the Christian martyrs who die during the future Tribulation: “I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. . . . This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection.”

Jesus attached a blessing to the suffering Christians face in this world: “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man” (Luke 6:22). As he died Stephen caught a glimpse of the glory awaiting him: “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Interestingly, the Greek word translated “crown” in the New Testament is stephanos (the source of Stephen’s name).

Christian martyrs are a model of grace under pressure. They teach us how to handle persecution of any kind. Stephen died with grace on his lips: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). He forgave his murderers, and his forgiveness echoed that of Christ Himself (Luke 23:34).

Those who persecute Christians often have a goal of humiliating them and making them believe the hatred toward them is justified. But Jesus told us ahead of time of their true motivation: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18–19). The numerous Christian martyrs throughout history were killed because they were chosen by Christ and do not belong to the world.

Christian martyrs also provide evidence that the Bible is true. The writers of the Bible, most of whom were martyred, held to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection to the very end. Some people might die for a lie they think is true, but no one dies for a lie he knows to be false. The Christian martyrs knew what they believed was true.

When we press into knowing God personally and truly begin living for God, we will become a target for those who hate God. The spiritual battle is real, and so are the rewards. We are serving a real God who really loves us, who was really willing to die for us, and who really rewards us for standing for Him.

For more on Christian persecution go to our search engine and type in Persecution.

Researching Christian martyrdom through the centuries is a worthwhile study. There are some great books available that tell the stories of those who gave everything for Jesus. John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments is one example, and D. C. Talk’s book Jesus Freaks is another.

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The dictionary defines a martyr as “a person who is killed because of his religious or other beliefs.” Interestingly enough, the English word martyr is really a word transliterated from the original Greek martur, which simply means “witness.” The reason why this word became synonymous with dying for one’s religious beliefs is that the early Christian witnesses were often persecuted and/or killed for their witness.

As evidence of this, consider the story of the first Christian martyr, Stephen, recorded in Acts 6:8–7:53. After being anointed as one of the first deacons in the church, Stephen immediately began doing mighty works among the people. As is usually the case when the Holy Spirit is mightily at work and the gospel is going forth, the forces of darkness arise to hinder the work of the kingdom. In this case, several men came to dispute what Stephen was saying, but Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, was able to refute their criticisms. Rather than accept what Stephen was teaching, these men brought false charges against him to the Jewish leaders (Acts 6:11-14). Most of Acts 7 consists of Stephen’s speech to the Jewish leaders in which he essentially summarized the history of Israel up to their rejection of their Messiah.

At the end of the speech, Stephen utters these words, which seal his fate: “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it” (Acts 7:51-53).

Now, there was nothing untrue in Stephen’s words. The Jewish leaders were indeed responsible for turning Jesus over to the Romans for execution. Despite Jesus’ miracles and authoritative teaching, the hardness of the Jewish leaders’ hearts kept them from seeing the truth about Jesus. The Jewish leaders, upon hearing Stephen’s words, were enraged and immediately arranged for Stephen’s execution by stoning (v. 58). Stephen was, therefore, the first Christian martyr recorded in Scripture.

The Bible places a premium on faithful believers who pay the ultimate price for their witness. Stephen was granted a glorious vision of heaven before he died, and in this vision, he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father (Acts 7:56) as though waiting for Stephen in an attitude of honor for Stephen’s faithful service. As further evidence that martyrs are considered precious in God’s sight, the apostle John saw in his vision of the millennium those martyred for their faith reigning with Christ for a thousand years (Revelation 20:4). The apostle Peter, who wrote the most about martyrdom and suffering for one’s faith, said, “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you… However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Peter 4:14, 16). There is also the word of our Lord who pronounced a blessing upon those who are persecuted for His name: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:11).

Clearly, the biblical evidence points to the fact that those who are persecuted and suffer for their witness to Christ (up to and including death) are pleasing in God’s sight. Given that, two additional questions arise. First, what if I’m not asked to make the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of Christ? God doesn’t call everyone to make the ultimate sacrifice, but the Bible calls all Christians to be prepared to give a defense of the hope within us (1 Peter 3:15). The key to this passage lies in preparedness. Consider this analogy: those enlisting in the armed services should do so with the understanding that they may be called into battle and may be called upon to die in the service of their country. This is (or should be) the mindset of everyone who joins the military. Clearly, not all enlisted men and women die in the service of their country, and not all are even called into battle. Despite this, they are trained daily to be prepared for battle. The same goes for the Christian. We are in a state of “warfare” (Ephesians 6:12-20), and our Lord may call upon any of us to witness and even be martyred for our faith. Thus, we must be prepared!

The second question that can be asked is, given martyrdom’s “special” status in God’s eyes, should we actually seek martyrdom? Biblically, we can’t make a case for seeking to be martyrs for the cause of Christ. Martyrdom is a great privilege if it is inevitable, but it is not to be sought. Jesus said, “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next” (Matthew 10:23). Furthermore, reading through the book of Acts, we see that the early church continually fled from intense persecution (Acts 8:1; 9:25, 30; 14:6; 17:10, 14). In each of these biblical examples, we see the early Christians fleeing persecution and taking all necessary precautions for survival. When Jesus says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39), He is not calling for people to make an attempt to lose their lives. Rather, He is calling us to be willing to lose our lives for His sake. Those who actively seek the path of martyrdom are not seeking it for the glory of God, but for their own glory. As the old saying goes, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. God’s purpose in martyrdom is the glorification of His name and the building up of His church.