Terrorism is something that worries us all. Even if we are in a location where we do not feel threatened by terrorism, just the knowledge of what has recently happened bothers us, and it should. Disturbing the world seems to be the route that the Islamic terrorist organization, ISIS, has found as their newest niche. By murdering someone, filming the event, and using the internet to spread the video gives this evil religious group worldwide recognition, which is what any terrorist act begs for.
Seemingly anyone who is not part of ISIS is fair game of their terrorism. Their latest famous videos have included murdering news reporters, travelers, and more. The most recent however was the beheading of 21 Egyptians who claimed Christianity. The video of this gruesome act was posted on Twitter titled “A Message Signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross”, clearly the targets of this murder and video were Christians. Despite our nation’s president avoiding the term “Christians” that he dare not portray as innocent, we still managed to receive the message from ISIS, and it certainly is disturbing to say the least.
There is something that ISIS is ignorant of however, something that totally backfires on them the harder they try. While their videos do disturb us, while many of us do feel the intended brush of fear that they may one day capture ourselves some way, they are forgetting that we Christians have been persecuted and killed before. We have been persecuted every since the murder of the one we follow, Christ, and it only makes us more faithful.
Persecution is something we are promised as Christians, II Tim 3:12 tells us “And Indeed, all who desire to live Godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (NASB). What is remarkable is the number of examples we have of those killed for their faith in Christ, yet just as Christ promised, the kingdom of God, the church has not been defeated (Matt 16:18). Jesus before His own death at the hands of terrorist of His day, told the Pharisees bluntly they were guilty of the blood of the prophets and righteous ones murdered leading up to Him. He said they were guilty, “…from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar” (Matt 23:35). Abel from the beginning of the Bible, who was murdered from jealousy for his acceptable worship, to Zechariah, a man we know little of, there was a long list of previous blood that was spilled just to prepare the way for Christ, yet He still came.
The book of Hebrews also describes these martyrs of the Old Testament, “They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword … men of whom the world was unworthy, wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground” (Heb 11:37-38). Speaking of men who hang around in the desert, John the baptizer was no exception to murder. The prophet John was beheaded (just like the 21 Egyptians), for telling Herod it was against God’s word to have a wife who was not scripturally his (Mark 6). After Christ was crucified on the cross, God’s people now called Christian’s were not treated any better. Reliable history tells us that all of the Apostles with the exception of John, were killed for their Christianity. Some were stoned, some crucified, some were beheaded or stabbed, just about any terrible way to die was applied, yet they are our example, and Christianity grew.
The book of Revelation is mostly written to those first century Christians who were about to undergo a great persecution (Rev 1:1, 9). As the destruction of Jerusalem and Rome took place, the Christians were truly put to the test, and their lives were often taken. The latter portion of Revelation 2 verse 10, “…you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death and I will give you a crown of life” , these words of Christ are an absolute warning that a Christian must be always faithful to Him, and even at the point of death for the faith, there is no option to back down. While I don’t know the life of these 21 individuals who died, their death of beheading however does compare with Revelation Chapter 20, which I am not the first to make the application. John writes, “…And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast … and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Rev 20:4). Again the early saints were no stranger to death of a sword, yet we see Christianity growing at that difficult time as much as ever.
So much more could be said about those who died for the faith, church history of the next centuries is full of stories of martyrs. Several Bible passages such as Stephen’s and James’ death could be included, but the point is the same, Christianity is no stranger to unjust bloody death. The very man we follow, Christ, part of the God head died as our example and for our past sins. Yes, there are those who will not be able to stand firm to the end, and because of that they will be eternally lost. Yes, we will also still fear a painful death, just as Christ prayed for another way if possible in the garden. However, throughout all this history of Christian death, all this blood that was spilled, Christianity was never made weaker. These deaths are what remind us of the word, these deaths are what remind us of the necessity of faithfulness. As the scripture says of Christ our savior, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” John 15:13. This is our example, this is our teacher, this is our God. Spilling Christian blood doesn’t make us weaker, it only makes us stronger!