Christian Persecution: Dramatic Evidence Supporting the Early Church
Christian persecution started with Jesus himself. He was asked directly at trial, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus left no room for ambiguity – His first two words were “I am.” The religious elite in Jerusalem knew what Jesus was saying – It was very clear to them that He was claiming to be God. As such, Jesus was put to death on a Roman cross for the crime of blasphemy, thus becoming the first martyr for what would become the Christian Church.
Christian Persecution: Many of the Early Disciples Died for their Faith
Christian persecution was a dramatic part of early church history. For anyone who holds that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was a man-made hoax conspired by a group of disciples should check out the legacy of martyrdom. Eleven of the 12 apostles, and many of the other early disciples, died for their adherence to this story. This is dramatic, since they all witnessed the alleged events of Jesus and still went to their deaths defending their faith. Why is this dramatic, when many throughout history have died martyred deaths for a religious belief? Because people don’t die for a lie. Look at human nature throughout history. No conspiracy can be maintained when life or liberty is at stake. Dying for a belief is one thing, but numerous eye-witnesses dying for a known lie is quite another.
Christian Persecution: A list of Early Martyrs Who Were Witnesses to the Life of Jesus
Here is an account of early Christian persecution, as compiled from numerous sources outside the Bible, the most-famous of which is Foxes’ Christian Martyrs of the World:
Around 34 A.D., one year after the crucifixion of Jesus, Stephen was thrown out of Jerusalem and stoned to death. Approximately 2,000 Christians suffered martyrdom in Jerusalem during this period. About 10 years later, James, the son of Zebedee and the elder brother of John, was killed when Herod Agrippa arrived as governor of Judea. Agrippa detested the Christian sect of Jews, and many early disciples were martyred under his rule, including Timon and Parmenas. Around 54 A.D., Philip, a disciple from Bethsaida, in Galilee, suffered martyrdom at Heliopolis, in Phrygia. He was scourged, thrown into prison, and afterwards crucified. About six years later, Matthew, the tax-collector from Nazareth who wrote his gospel in Hebrew, was preaching in Ethiopia when he suffered martyrdom by the sword. James, the brother of Jesus, administered the early church in Jerusalem and was the author of an Epistle by his name. At age 94, he was beat and stoned, and finally had his brains bashed out with a fuller's club. Matthias was the apostle who filled the vacant place of Judas. He was stoned at Jerusalem and then beheaded. Andrew was the brother of Peter who preached the gospel throughout Asia. On his arrival at Edessa, he was arrested and crucified on a cross, the two ends of which were fixed transversely in the ground (this is where we get the term, St. Andrew's Cross). Mark was converted to Christianity by Peter, and then transcribed Peter’s account of Jesus in his Gospel. Mark was dragged to pieces by the people of Alexandria in front of Serapis, their pagan idol. It appears Peter was condemned to death and crucified at Rome. Jerome holds that Peter was crucified upside down, at his own request, because he said he was unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord. Paul suffered in the first persecution under Nero. Paul’s faith was so dramatic in the face of martyrdom, that the authorities removed him to a private place for execution by the sword.
In about 72 A.D., Jude, the brother of James who was commonly called Thaddeus, was crucified at Edessa. Bartholomew preached in several countries and translated the Gospel of Matthew into the language of India. He was cruelly beaten and then crucified by idolaters there. Thomas, called Didymus, preached the Gospel in Parthia and India, where exciting the rage of the pagan priests, he was martyred by being thrust through with a spear. Luke was the author of the Gospel under his name. He traveled with Paul through various countries and is supposed to have been hanged on an olive tree by idolatrous priests in Greece. Barnabas, of Cyprus, was killed without many known facts in about 73 A.D. Simon, surnamed Zelotes, preached the Gospel in Mauritania, Africa, and even in Britain, where he was crucified in about 74 A.D. John, the "beloved disciple," was the brother of James. From Ephesus he was ordered to Rome, where it is affirmed he was cast into a cauldron of boiling oil. He escaped by miracle, without injury. Domitian afterwards banished him to the Isle of Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation. He was the only apostle who escaped a violent death.
Christian Persecution: The Church Grew Dramatically Despite the Horrible Deaths
Christian persecution didn’t slow the growth of the Christian faith during the first few centuries after Christ. Even as its early leaders died horrible deaths, Christianity flourished throughout the Roman Empire. How can this historical record of martyrdom be viewed as anything but dramatic evidence for the absolute truth of the Christian faith – a faith, unlike any other, founded on historical events and eye-witness testimony.