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The History of Christian Martyrs

QUESTION: What is the history of Christian martyrs?


The history of Christian martyrs, according to the Bible, begins in Acts with the stoning of the apostle Stephen. Later in the book of Acts, the apostle Paul calls Stephen Jesus' martyr. It says in Acts 22:20, "And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him."

However, the history of Christian martyrs does not end with Stephen's death. During the first century after Jesus' death nearly all of his disciples suffered martyrdom for His sake. James the son of Zebedee was beheaded in approximately 44 A.D. Philip was crucified in 54 A.D. Matthew was killed with a halberd, an ax-like weapon, in 60 A.D. James, who is thought to be the brother of Jesus, was beaten to death, Matthias was beheaded, Andrew was crucified, Mark was torn to pieces, and Peter was crucified upside down. Jude, Bartholomew, and Thomas were also martyred. Paul suffered martyrdom in Rome where he was beheaded. Other early apostles Luke, Barnabas, Timothy, and Simon were also killed for the sake of Christ.

The history of Christian martyrs does not end with the death of the disciples. Thousands willingly gave their lives under Roman persecution by the emperors Nero, Domitian, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, Maximus, Decius, Valerian, Aurelian, and Diocletian. The Roman persecution lasted well into the fourth century A.D. and did not end until Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of his empire. During the same time period, in Persia, where the Gospel had quickly spread, many others were also martyred for their faith.

Unfortunately, the history of Christian martyrs does not end with Constantine. Throughout the following centuries and up until present time, Christians have, and continue to, suffer martyrdom. This persecution has come by means of other Christians, other faiths, and political powers. This martyrdom gives testimony to the verse in John 15: 20-21 where Jesus tells His disciples, "Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me."

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