Missions Lesson 9

Missions Lesson Nine
Instructor: J. VandenHurk

Missions Quote of the Week:

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

– Jim Elliot (modern missionary martyr in Ecuador)

Lessons from Missionary Martyrs

A MARTYR is a person who is made to suffer greatly and who is put to death because of his faith.

There any Old Testament believers who were murdered because of their faith in the only true God (see Matthew 23:31-35 and Hebrews 11:35-37)

Even on the pages of the New Testament we learn about some of the early Christian martyrs. As you consider the following passages, ask yourself these questions: How was this person put to death? Why was this person put to death? What crime had this person committed? Did this person die bravely? Was this person afraid to die?

New Testament Apostles

1) Stephen,

  • The first Christian martyr (Acts 7:51-60).
  • He was a man “of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom.” (Acts 6:3)
  • He became a deacon of the early church in Jerusalem (Acts 6:5).
  • Was an excellent preacher, and was bold enough to preach right in the “synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians”
    (Acts 6:9) and before the Sanhedrin (Acts 7).
  • He was stoned to death outside the city walls (Acts 7:51-60).

2) James,

  • The first of the 12 Apostles to be a martyr.
  • A man who left family and business to follow Christ (Matt. 4:21-22;
    Mark 1:19-20).
  • Fisherman (Mark 3:17; 9:38; Luke 9:54).
  • The brother of John and son of Zebedee and Salome.
  • Christ called him and John Boanerges, or “sons of thunder”.
  • Historical tradition says after the persecutions in Jerusalem, that he tried to bring the Gospel to Spain, but was arrested.
  • The Bible tells us he was beheaded by Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:1-2).

3) Peter

  • The first leader among the disciples, Simon was named Peter by Christ, meaning “little rock”.
  • Fisherman from Bethsaida (Mark 3:15; John 1:42) and continued as the first leader of the church.
  • Christ prophesied that he would give his life for Him (John 21:18-19).
  • Penman of two NT epistles, in which he appears to be ready to die as a martyr (2 Peter 1:13-14).
  • Historical tradition tells us that Peter was executed in Rome under the reign of Nero. He was crucified upside down, apparently at his own request because he did not consider himself worthy to be crucified in the same manner that the Lord was.

4) Paul

  • Saul (Paul in Latin) was a devout Benjamite Jew from Tarsus and son of a Roman citizen. He was a Pharisee (Phil. 3:5) and the son of a Pharisee (Acts 23:6) and a student in the famed rabbi Gamaliel’s school in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3).
  • He took an active part in the stoning of Stephen and persecuted the early church “beyond measure” and unto the death (Acts 7:58-60; 8:1-3; 22:20; Gal. 1:13-14; Phil. 3:6).
  • He was on his way to Damascus to arrest and kill more Christians when he visited on the road by the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ and converted to Him (Acts 9:1-22).
  • After his sight was restored, he immediately began preaching in the synagogue to everyone’s amazement (Acts 9:20-22) and had to be snuck out of the city in a basket.
  • Christ told Ananias to tell him that he would suffer many things, which he did (Acts 9:15-16; 2 Cor 11:21-33).
  • He was the human penman of at least 14 of the 27 NT books.
  • He founded many churches in Asia Minor and Europe. Paul took advantage of his status as both a Jew and a Roman citizen to minister to both Jewish and Roman audiences.
  • He was ready and willing to give his life as a martyr for the Lord Jesus (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
  • Historical tradition tells us that Paul was beheaded with the sword by the Romans about the same time that Peter was killed by command of Emperor Nero in Rome.

The Ten Other Apostles:

  • Andrew, a disciple of John the Baptist and then Jesus (John 1:40-41). Peter’s brother, who brought him to Christ; both sons of Jonas (or “John”). Historical tradition tells us that he went on to preach in Scythia, Greece, and Asia Minor, and was eventually crucified as a martyr on a diagonal cross (St. Andrew’s cross).
  • Philip was found by Jesus (John 1:43) and was from Bethsaida, the same town as Andrew and Peter (John 1:44), and may have been a brother of Nathaniel (Bartholomew), whom he brought to Christ (John 1:45). He was a practical worker, who was concerned with feeding the 5,000
    (John 6:5) and bringing certain Greeks to Christ. He had a Greek name and was a was a link to Greek missions (John 12:20-22). Historical tradition tells us that he preached in Phrygia and died as a martyr in Heirapolis, where he was tortured and crucified.
  • Bartholomew (same as Nathaniel) was an early believer, either the friend or brother of Philip, from Cana of Galilee (John 21:2). Historical tradition says that he evangelised India and then Armenia, where he was flayed to death.
  • Thomas, the “doubter,” was a twin (called Didymus, which is Greek for “a twin”). Jesus took a special interest in revealing Himself to Thomas (John 11:16; 14:5; 20:24-29). Historical tradition says he laboured in Parthia and Persia and evangelised the coastal area of India. He was martyred at Madras with four spears.
  • Matthew was a man who left it all to follow Christ, as a former publican (tax collector) for Herod Antipas (Mark 3:13-17; Matt. 9:9). He was the human penman of the Gospel record of Matthew 20 years after the events, written mainly to the audience of the Jewish people. Historical tradition says he preached in Israel for 15 years, then became a missionary to the Persians and was slain with a “halberd” (type of axe) in Ethiopia in 60 A.D.
  • James the son of Alphaeus, also called James the less, perhaps referring to his stature (Mark 15:40), was the son of Mary who was present at the crucifixion. Historical tradition tells us that he preached in Palestine and Egypt and that he was martyred in Jerusalem. It is said that he was thrown from the pinnacle of the Temple and beaten with a fuller’s club until dead.
  • Judas (“not Iscariot”), the brother of James, was also called Thaddeus and nicknamed Lebbaeus or “courageous” (Mt. 10:3). He was the one who asked Jesus, why not manifest yourself to the whole world
    (John 14:21-22). Historical tradition says he founded a church in the Greek city of Edessa in Mesopotamia, and was preaching in the midst of pagan priests, who beat him to death with sticks.
  • Simon Zelotes was from the Zealots, a fierce party of Jews who acknowledged no king save God and thought any deed of violence was permissible for the establishment of national freedom. Historical tradition says that he instead turned to a life of preaching, often traveling with Jude, in Egypt, Cyrene, Africa, Mauritania, Libya, Persia, and perhaps Britannia. he finally came to Lebanon, Syria, where he was crucified by a Roman governor.
  • Matthias was chosen as an apostle to replace Judas Iscariot in
    Acts 1:24-25. He had obviously been a follower of Jesus since John’s baptism and a witness of the resurrection (Acts 1:22). Historical tradition says he preached the Gospel in Judaea and Cappadocia, all along the coasts of the Caspian Sea, and then went to Aethiopia (“city of the cannibals” in modern-day Georgia) and was there stoned to death.
  • John was an intimate disciple of Jesus, who provided for Christ’s mother until her death (John 19:25-27). He was the human penman of the Gospel record of John and three epistles. Historical tradition tells us that he pastored the church in Ephesus. After trying unsuccessfully to boil him in oil, Emperor Domitian exiled him to the Isle of Patmos, where he penned the book of Revelation. He died naturally either in Patmos or back in Ephesus and was the only of the apostles to have died naturally.

The first 300 years of the church is known as the HEROIC AGE OF THE CHURCH. This is the time when the Church went through the great fires of persecution.

At first it was the Jewish people who were the great persecutors. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was put to death at the hand of the Jews. A group of Jews almost put Paul to death as we read in Acts 14:19-20.

In later years it was the Romans who became the great persecutors. Beginning with Emperor Nero in 54 A.D. and ending with Emperor Diocletian in 323 A.D. there were 10 Roman Emperors who greatly persecuted the Christians. The early Christians refused to bow their knee to Caesar [the name for the Roman Emperor] as the greatest Lord of all. Every Christian knew that the supreme Lord was not Caesar but the Lord Jesus Christ! (Rom. 10:9)

  1. The first Emperor to persecute the Christians was Nero in AD 67.“In the year 64 A.D. during the reign of Nero, fire broke out in Rome. For six days and nights the fire burned. The greater part of the city was laid in ashes. The rumour got around that Nero himself had caused the city to be set on fire. This aroused great hatred in the people of Rome against the emperor. To turn this hatred away from himself, Nero accused the Christians of having set fire to Rome. The accusation certainly was not true, but large numbers of Christians were arrested and a terrible persecution followed. Many Christians were even crucified. Some were sewn up in the skins of wild beasts; then big dogs were let loose upon them, and they were torn to pieces. Women were tied to mad bulls and dragged to death. After nightfall Christians were burned at the stake in Nero’s garden (human lampstands!). The Roman people who hated the Christians were free to come into the garden, and Nero drove around in his chariot wickedly enjoying the horrible scene” (The Church in History, by B.K. Kuiper, p.8).
  2. The Second Persecution under Domitian in AD 81.
  3. The Third Persecution under Trajan, AD 108.
  4. The Fourth Persecution under Emperor Marcus Aurelius, AD 162. Many believers were thrown to wild beasts in the amphitheater as thousands of people watched.
  5. The Fifth Persecution under Severus, AD 192.
  6. The Sixth Persecution, Under Maximus, A.D. 235
  7. The Seventh Persecution, Under Decius, A.D. 249
  8. The Eighth Persecution, Under Valerian, A.D. 257
  9. The Ninth Persecution Under Aurelian, A.D. 274
  10. The Tenth Persecution, Under Diocletian, A.D. 303

How did the Christians deal with this persecution?

  • Did they band together to form an army so that they could fight against the Romans?
  • Did they turn away from the Christian faith because it cost too much to be a believer? No, the early Christians met cruelty with courage and hatred with heroism and fierceness with faith.

One example of such courage and bravery is seen in the life and death of Polycarp, a disciple of John who lived in the second century A.D. He was arrested and brought into the great amphitheater in Smyrna (in Asia Minor). Thousands of people were there to watch what would take place. The ruler reminded Polycarp of his great age and he urged him to deny his Christian faith:

“Revile Christ, and I will release you.” But Polycarp answered, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He has never done me wrong; How can I blaspheme Him, my King, who has saved me? I am a Christian.” The ruler then cried out to the crowd, “Polycarp has confessed himself to be a Christian.” When the people threatened to burn Polycarp at the stake unless he would deny Christ, one of his enemies said, “I will have you consumed with fire unless you change your mind.” Polycarp replied, “You threaten fire which burns for an hour and is soon quenched; for you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment reserved for the wicked” (see Matthew 25:41-46). The crowds yelled, “Let him be burned!” Wood was collected and made into a pile. Polycarp asked not to be fastened to the stake. “Leave me thus,” he said, “He who strengthens me to endure the flames will also enable me to stand firm at the stake without being fastened with nails.” As the woodpile was lighted Polycarp bravely lifted up a final prayer to his God and finally the flames consumed him. He died in 156 A.D.

Another man who died in these early years of the church was named JUSTIN. He was scourged (whipped) and beheaded in Rome about 165 A.D. His last words were these: “we desire nothing more than to suffer for our Lord Jesus Christ.” Because he was so willing to die the death of a Christian martyr he has been known as JUSTIN MARTYR ever since.

In Later Years

After the first 300 years of Church History a change took place. “Christianity” became the official religion of the Roman empire. Christianity became the “popular” religion and Christians were no longer persecuted. It was also during this “easy” time that the Church became more and more worldly and corrupt.

In later centuries true Christians were again persecuted and put to death in different countries and at different times. Often it was “religious” people who became the greatest persecutors of Christians. For many years the Roman Catholic church would put to death hundreds of true believers whom they considered “heretics.” The “heretic” was often tortured and burned at the stake.

At other times “heathen” people would be the great persecutors. The true Christians met many enemies wherever they went.

John Foxe wrote a book called Foxe’s Book of Martyrs in 1563, which gives the historical accounts of many of the believers who gave their lives for Christ. This book shows the tragedy and brutality of persecution as well as the amazing courage of men and women of God who were forced to face torture and martyrdom.

What about today? Certainly believers are not being put to death today, are they? Are there persecutions against Christians going on today? Because believers are not presently being put to death in our country, we tend to forget the very real fact that even today Christians are still being persecuted and even murdered in different parts of the world.

What did the Lord Jesus say to those who are persecuted?
(Matthew 5:10-12)

Did the early Christians have this kind of “rejoicing” attitude?
(Acts 5:40-41)

The Survival of the Church

How could the Church survive under such intense persecution? The amazing fact is that the Church not only survived, but it actually prospered and grew! The Church actually came forth purer and stronger from every persecution. It was only when the persecutions stopped (after the first 300 years of Church history) that the Church fast became weak and corrupt.

It is an interesting fact of history that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

Tertullian (a man who lived during the days of early persecution) said it this way:

“Go on (he said to his enemies), rack, torture, grind us to powder: our numbers increase in proportion as ye mow us down. The blood of Christians is their harvest seed.”

History has proved this statement to be true. There have been many enemies of the church who have been converted to Christianity simply by watching and witnessing the bravery of true believers as they faced death, just as it was Saul who watched and witnessed the courageous death of Stephen (Acts 7:58 and 22:20). A seed was likely planted in the heart of Saul of Tarsus on that day!

The enemies of Christianity thought that they could wipe out Christianity by means of persecution. But as the fires of persecution grew hotter the church continued to grow and develop and prosper! The Four Groups

How did the early Christians handle the persecution? Many handled it well and were faithful even unto death (Revelation 2:10). There were some who did not stand up well under the test of persecution. In the days of the early church the believers were sometimes grouped as follows:

  1. CONFESSORS–these are those Christians who cheerfully confessed Christ as their Lord, but were not executed. They held true even though in many cases they were severely persecuted and in some cases tortured. (Matthew 10:32; Romans 1:16)
  2. LAPSED–these were people who fell away from the faith and were not willing to suffer or die for the Lord. When the pressure became great they denied the Lord (Matthew 10:33). They feared death more than God. Although the early church is known for its heroes and brave believers, there were some who did lapse and deny the Lord. [Consider the time when Peter denied his Lord, even though later he boldly confessed Christ and even lay down his life for Christ’s sake]
  3. MARTYRS–a martyr was a person who sealed his testimony (WITNESS) with his own blood. The word “MARTYR” is the Greek word which means “WITNESS.” Those who were willing to DIE for their faith were called MARTYRS or BLOOD-WITNESSES. (Acts 22:20; Revelation 17:6 where this word “martyr” is used.)
  4. There was another group who actually carried the idea of martyrdom too far. These people actually wanted to be martyred! They would even deliver themselves to the heathen officers, hoping that they might be put to death. There was once a group of Christians in Ephesus who begged martyrdom from the heathen governor, but after a few had been executed, the rest were sent away by him with these words: “Miserable creatures, if you really wish to die, you have precipices and halters enough.” We need to remember that a person can give up his life for a cause and God might not be pleased by this at all
    (see 1 Corinthians 13:3). Paul was willing to die, but he knew that staying on the earth was more needful (Philippians 1:21-23)! It is wonderful that believers are willing to die for the Lord Jesus Christ, but it is also wonderful when believers are


It is not God’s plan for everyone to be a MARTYR! For example, God had one plan for Peter which involved martyrdom but God had another plan for John which did not involve being killed for his faith (John 21:18-23). Peter died as a MARTYR. John lived to be an old man and was not martyred. God is the One who must decide when and how a person should die, not us !

What should our attitude be towards death? It is not something to fear if we are really saved (Philippians 1:21-23; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Revelation 21:3-4)

Lessons We Can Learn From the Martyrs

We learn what it means to be COMMITTED to the Lord!

It is easy to be a Christian if it does not cost anything, but what if your very life were on the line? Would we still gladly own Him as King? If attending church might cost you your life, would you still attend? The Lord Jesus Christ was willing to suffer and die for us, and down through the centuries there have been thousands of believers who have been willing to suffer and die for their Saviour!

These persecutions prove the truthfulness of the Bible. Again and again Jesus told His disciples that the world would persecute them (John 15:18-21; John 16:1-3; 16:33; 17:14; 1 John 3:13). The Lord’s words were absolutely true. The world hated Christ and crucified Him. In the same way the world has hated Christ’s true followers.

The great persecutions against the church show us the awful picture of human depravity (how wicked and sinful men really are).

The cruelty and brutality and wickedness of men is not seen any more clearly than in the persecution against Christians. Men have dreamed up the most cruel and unusual forms of torture and punishment possible and used them against believers.

The persecutions demonstrated that God is faithful in giving His believers all that they need in the moment of need. Many believers have perished in the hot flames with a hymn on their lips, singing praise to God. How could they do this? How could they have such courage? How could they suffer such pain so bravely? The answer is found in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. God’s grace is sufficient! God’s grace is all that a believer needs! God’s strength is enough! God can supply the amount of “dying grace” that the believer needs.

The persecutions teach us that prosperity produces spiritual decline. When the persecutions stopped the church became corrupt and weak. When things were tough the church was strong. When things got easy the church declined rapidly!

The persecutions proved the indestructible nature of the church. How could the Church ever survive and even prosper during such persecutions? The answer is found in Matthew 16:18. God is building His church and even the most fierce fires of persecution cannot bring to a halt God’s building program!

The accounts of the Christian martyrs is a great encouragement to believers living today. By learning of their example we find ourselves strengthened in the trials that we face. It also helps us to search our own hearts: How would I do if some Christ-hating people were to overtake our nation and say to me, “If you deny the Christian faith you will live but if you confess that Jesus Christ is your Lord and that you are a Christian, then you will die!”? By God’s grace may each of us hold fast to Christ unto the end
(Hebrews 3:6,14).