Facing Martyrdom

Martyrdom – how should we as believers view it?

We need to understand that exiting life in this manner is not something we get to choose to do or not. It is entirely God’s choice on whether He destines us to honor Him in this way. The strongest passage to enhance this reality is one we have mentioned multiple times on this ministry: Revelation 13:10, which demonstrates that whatever God wills and predestines cannot be undone. Whatever He has decreed for the believer’s life (He knows it will occur through foreknowledge beforehand) is something He will bring to completion.

Revelation 13:5-10 (ESV)

5 And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6 It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. 9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear: 10 If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes, if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.

We should never view martyrdom as some unfortunate doom the Lord has allowed to come our way. On the contrary, it is an honor to leave this life in such a manner because it is one of the greatest tests a believer will ever have to undergo. One could say it is a compliment for the spiritual maturity one has attained in this life. But how this departure can occur is what makes facing it so challenging. There is no question that it is not for the faint of heart or those of weaker faith. But no believer should ever assume it won’t happen to them as if they are somehow exempt! As we already know, our future in this present world is not something we can predict. The Lord knows the strength of our faith better than we do so that whatever He puts us through is something we can handle whether we believe that or not. Better to trust in Him knowing that He has every idea of what He is doing. We must never overestimate our commitment (as Peter did Matthew 26:35), nor should we ever make it our business to downplay our capabilities and strengths. The safest option is to leave the evaluation process up to God and ensure we are growing as He wants us to.

Yes, the manner in which the beast’s followers may execute the most faithful may be unbelievably gruesome and beyond comprehension. The world at that time will very likely employ some of the cruelest torture and execution methods to get as many believers to renounce their faith (something not uncommon during past periods of church history). The Bible does not shy away from giving us examples.

Hebrews 11:35-38 (NASB)

35 Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; 36 and others experienced mocking and flogging, and further, chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented 38 (people of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts, on mountains, and sheltering in caves and holes in the ground.

But the manner of death is never something we should ever worry over. Instead, like Steven (Acts 7:55-60), who suffered stoning, we should set our eyes on the life that will be ours the moment we breathe our last. And by doing this, we (most importantly) focus our attention on the One who waits to receive us on the other side. As we exit this life physically, we enter into a new one spiritually as our Savior brings us into the eternal reality He made possible by His death on the cross. So if we find ourselves imprisoned or undergoing torture (no matter how gruesome), let’s remember that there is a higher power than that which holds us captive. He understands our pain and suffering and sympathizes with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15) because He, too, endured much pain, suffering, and torture at the hands of sinners. No amount of human suffering can and will ever be able to compare to all the combined difficulties that our Savior had to put up with during His stay on earth. We often limit Jesus’s suffering to the moments before and during His death on the cross (even if that part of His life was the most difficult time He had ever faced). However, they extend much further back when we remember that our Lord had to live a perfect sin-free life for all the years of His time on earth. That meant that He had to resist all the temptations that came His way, however often they arose.

We compare our Lord’s perfection to our inability to make it through one day without sinning. That tells us a lot. And although there have been people throughout history who have endured more gruesome physical deaths than Jesus, none of them had to shoulder the spiritual pain of bearing all the sins of all time. Our Lord’s sacrificial suffering was unique and will always be without equal. So if there is someone who understands us like no other, it is most certainly our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He suffered and died for us so that He expects us to do the same if and when He calls us to lay our lives down for Him. The more you love a person, the more you want to please them in all that you do.

Matthew 10:28 (NIV)

28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

The Lord will bestow great honor to the one who bears up under the ultimate test of faith when they demonstrate the greatest act of love before Him. So the one who faces torture and death needs to realize the reality of the situation that confronts them at the moment. Their act of giving up their lives for Jesus Christ is of such quality because it is the greatest demonstration of their love for Jesus Christ and their fellow brothers and sisters. Then, when it is all said and done, they can confidently say that they took up their cross and followed their Master faithfully to the end. Despite all the obstacles, nothing should get in the way of our love for the One who loved us beyond comprehension. And it is these types of moments that empower us to resonate with David’s words like never before; that God is our rock and fortress, a shelter in the time of need. Our salvation is in His hands, and no man can ever take that away from us as long as we cling to it until the very end, something God will empower us to do if we genuinely wish to do so.

Psalm 18:1b-2 (NIV)

1 I love you, Lord, my strength. 2 The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Romans 8:31-39 (NLT)

31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. 35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. 38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.