We all tell lies at certain times and this often leads to telling more lies to cover up for previous ones. We can be stubborn and persist with the fabrication to avoid being found out and having to admit wrongdoing – but would you be willing to die for a lie? Would you willingly put your life in danger for something that you know is completely untrue?
The word martyr originally meant “witness” as people used to give their testimonies without fear of persecution. But martyr is now synonymous with dying for one’s beliefs primarily because the first Christian witnesses were persecuted and often killed for speaking about their beliefs. But why would these people be willing to go through such sacrifices and ultimately give up their lives for the word of God, and testimony of Christ?
At times, we all believe things that are not actually true, we may have heard an incomplete account or mis-understood something that we took to be true without really looking into any evidence. It may even be possible to be so unknowingly convinced with a lie that we would be willing to die for it. But you would not be mistaken if you were at the actual event itself – if you witnessed what happened first hand, especially if there was more than one person there to witness the same events you saw.
If we look at Jesus’ life, He performed many miracles that would be hard for anyone who did not see it first-hand to believe. He healed the blind, brought people back to life, walked on water, and many more but the greatest of all was that Jesus Himself was raised from the dead! These are the types of tricks we would expect from magicians or illusionists. If anyone came and told you about someone who did any of these things, our immediate reaction would be disbelief as it betrays our natural instincts and what we see in the observable world around us. One thing that may help us believe would be eye witnesses and preferably we would want many eye witnesses to verify such events!
Lets look at some of the twelve apostles and others who lived at the time of Jesus:
Peter (also known as Simon) was one of the original twelve apostles. He was one of the three main apostles along with James and John. Peter witnessed many things including Jesus’ transfiguration and Jesus’ walking on water. It is believed that Peter later travelled to Rome where he was martyred by crucifixion in 64 AD. The commonly accepted tradition holds that he requested to be crucified upside down, because he saw himself unworthy of dying in the same way as Jesus Christ. This was in fulfilment of Jesus’ prophecy:
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. (John 21:18)
James son of Zebedee
James was one of the twelve original apostles and the older brother of John the Apostle. He was one of the first apostles to be called by Jesus. Along with John and Peter a close confidant of Jesus and were witnesses at many spectacular events; resurrection of the daughter of Jairus, Jesus’ transfiguration, and when Jesus was betrayed by Judas and arrested in Gethsemane.
The book of Acts records James being killed King Herod Agrippa:
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. (Acts 12:1-2)
Philip came from Bethsaida in Galilee and was one of the twelve Apostles. He was crucified, according to Foxes’ Book of Martyrs: “He labored diligently in Upper Asia, and suffered martyrdom at Heliopolis, in Phrygia. He was scourged, thrown into prison, and afterwards crucified, A.D. 54”.
Bartholomew, one of the twelve apostles, was also known as Nathanael. It is believed that Bartholomew/Nathanael was a missionary with Philip and Thomas. He is said to have preached the gospel in India, Lycaonia, Mesopotamia, Persia and Phrygia. He was martyred in Armenia, beaten to death with a whip.
James son of Alphaeus
James was the primary leader for the Christian movement in Jerusalem after Jesus’ death and was one of the twelve apostles. According to Foxes’ Book of Martyrs he was beaten, stoned and clubbed to death thought to be in AD 62.
Thomas was one of the twelve original apostles. In the evening of the day of the resurrection Thomas questioned this, declining to believe that Jesus appeared to the other disciples (John 20:24). For this he was given the name Doubting Thomas. But eight days later when Jesus appeared, Thomas was there and confessed his faith that Jesus is God (John 20:28). Thomas was killed with a spear in India in AD 72 during one of his missionary trips.
Generally known as Thaddeus was one of the twelve apostles. According to Foxes’ Book of Martyrs he was crucified: “The brother of James, was commonly called Thaddeus. He was crucified at Edessa, A.D. 72”.
Matthew the tax collector
Matthew was a tax collector before being called by Jesus to be one of the twelve Apostles. He wrote the first book of the New Testament and witnessed both the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. He was martyred in Ethiopia in AD 60 where he was killed by a sword.
Simon the Zealot
Simon was one of the twelve Apostles and was crucified, according to Foxes’ Book of Martyrs: “Surnamed Zelotes, preached the Gospel in Mauritania, Africa, and even in Britain, in which latter country he was crucified, A.D. 74”.
Stephen was a Jew who believed in Jesus and was chosen by the disciples to look after poor people in Jerusalem (Acts 6:1-5). He performed miracles but people disagreed with his testimony and ended up being arrested for blasphemy (Acts 6:8-15). The trial ended with him being dragged out of the city and stoned to death. He was the one of the first Christian witnesses to be killed for his testimony as recorded in Acts:
Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. 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 asleep. (Acts 7:57-60)
James was the brother of Jesus but throughout Jesus’ life James did not believe in Him, but he was one of the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7). Following that he lead a church in Jerusalem and wrote the epistle of James. He was killed by being thrown of the temple and then beaten with a club for refusing to deny his belief in Jesus Christ.
Before Paul became a Christian he was known as Saul and was very active in the opposition to the Christian movement. Acts 7:58 records him being present at the stoning of Stephen but converted to Christianity after his experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:4-6) where he was suddenly stopped by a binding light from Heaven. Paul became one of the most influential missionaries spreading the Christian faith on many journeys despite many risks to himself. He never stopped preaching in spite of being imprisoned, stoned and beaten. In AD 67 it is believed Paul was beheaded in Rome during the reign of Nero.
The Bible does not record the deaths of many of the apostles and most of these are traditions, but the important aspect is not how they were killed but that they were willing to die for what they believed in. All of the twelve apostles (apart from John, who was exiled) were killed because of the work they were doing in witnessing about the life of Jesus Christ. These men had the same struggles and failings as us today, there were times during Jesus ministry when they even struggled to come to terms with and accept who Jesus actually was. But even through these struggles they saw an abundance of clear first-hand evidence to convince them of who Jesus identity. If Jesus was not resurrected the apostles would have known that the idea of Jesus resurrection was fabricated and therefore a lie. For them to be willing to endure persecution and ultimately execution for their testimony of Jesus is overwhelming evidence for reliability of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christianity would not exist today if Jesus had not been resurrected and the apostles testimony is very powerful evidence particularly when you what they suffered for their witness.
Even early Christians were willing to die for their faith, these were people who were born shortly after the time of Jesus and personally knew the apostles or other eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. People like Polycarp, Cyprian and others accepted martyrdom rather than renounce their faith in Jesus Christ.
Just like the apostles, it should not be a surprise for Christians to suffer persecution, we are told to expect it:
Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. (2 Timothy 3:12)
If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. (John 15:18-19)
But we are not to fear any suffering:
Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. (1 John 3:13)
Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. (Revelation 2:10)
Do not fear those who can only kill our body, but the One who can kill the soul and body:
And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
Instead we are told to rejoice!
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. (1 Peter 4:12-13)
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (James 1:2-4)
God is supernatural, existing outside of our space and time dimensions, and if Jesus is who He said He was (the son of God) then His miracles are no effort at all and they authenticate His claims. The witnesses to these events had all the evidence they needed to put their complete trust in Jesus no matter what they endured as a result.
Is it really easier to believe a lie than a truth? We suppose it is when we have a predisposed worldview – it can be very difficult to accept anything that challenges this worldview. Would it not make sense to fully investigate the claims of Christ instead of believing His existence or resurrection is a myth? Or accept that being a “good person” is enough to be welcomed into heaven? Would you be happy to risk your eternal destination because you believed the lie that Jesus is NOT the only way to heaven? Look to the people who were with Jesus and witnessed His miracles, they did not ignore these challenges to their views but ended up changing their whole lives because of it. Change your life today and secure your salvation – How To Be Saved.
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)