Christian Martyrs of the Past and Present

The 1st of November (or the next Sunday after that) is celebrated as the All Saints’ Day in the Western Christianity. Originally the day was to commemorate the believers who had died because of their faith as martyrs. Later on the All Saints’ Day has gotten more broad meanings by becoming the memorial day of all dead saints, believers, or even all the dead friends and relatives. The dictionary definition of ‘martyr’ is ‘a person who willingly suffers death rather than renounce his or her religion’. Historically martyr meant specifically a Christian who died because of his faith. But today martyr can also mean many other things and a ‘martyr’ is not necessary a Christian anymore. Someone who suffers a lot because of his or her beliefs or principles may be called a martyr. Or someone whose life is hard because of the other people and they just put up with that may be called a martyr. And then in Islam there is a whole different concept of martyrdom.

When we Western Christians think of martyrs we usually think of the Christians who lived and died because of their faith in Jesus in the first centuries AD. The pagan Romans persecuted the Christians and fed them to the lions. Luckily that all is long past history now. Of course also we face the persecution because of our faith like when a co-worker ridicules of faith or when there is a ‘funny’ joke about ‘stupid believers’ in a talk show. But luckily that is all. Luckily today no one has to really suffer or die because of Jesus. Or is it really so?

Today the Christians are the most persecuted group of people in the world. Although the numbers vary between 1000 and 10 000 martyrs per year there is no doubt that every day someone dies because of his or her faith in Jesus. Every day more than one of our brothers and our sisters pays the ultimate price of following Jesus. Apart from them tens of thousands of Christians suffer daily because of their faith. They are thrown into prisons or prison camps, they are been beaten, starved, tortured… Their houses and churches are being burned, some have their children taken away, some end up in slavery. No, this is not happening somewhere in the ‘dark history’ and ancient past. This is happening today – yes, today – in countries like North Korea, Nigeria, Iraq, Syria, India, China… This is happening to our brothers and sisters. And because we are one in Christ it is happening to us.

Majority of the Christian martyrs lived and died in the areas dominated by the radical Islam. In Islam there is also a concept of martyr, shahid. But while a Christian martyr dies ‘passively’ because of his faith, a Muslim martyr is actively contributing to his death by taking part of jihad against the enemies of Islam. Christian martyrs by definition don’t seek death. They just rather die than deny their faith. The shahid is seeking to die for Islam because that is the way to ensure his place in the Paradise. Christian martyrs leave their lives in to the hands of God. They rather give up their live here on Earth to gain an everlasting live with God.

When I think of the All Saints’ Day I don’t think so much of the martyrs of the first Christian centuries. I think of the martyrs of today. I think of my brothers and sisters who have given up their earthly life as a witness. And I pray for all my other brothers and sisters who are being persecuted and who may have to face the same question: Will you deny your Lord and continue your life or will you keep your faith and go to be with your Lord? And I pray that if I ever had to face that question I would have the courage to answer: I believe in Him who has conquered the death.

This article originally appeared on Caspari Center, October 20, 2016, and reposted with permission.

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The Caspari Center for Biblical and Jewish Studies is an evangelical resource and education center for training, discipleship, and academic research and study. Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians work together to strengthen and support the movement of Jewish believers in Jesus in Israel. The Caspari Center is committed to engaging members of the global body of Messiah in reaching the Jewish people with the gospel. In addition, we want to help churches gain a deeper understanding of their faith in Jesus by learning about the land of the Bible, the Jewish setting of Jesus and the early church, and the Jewish character of the Scriptures.