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Bible verses about Martyrdom
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Ezekiel 5:1-4  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The hair represents the people of the nations of Israel. Most of the church is in the nations of Israel, primarily the United States and Canada. The church is represented in the "small number"—represented by the hair that he puts into his pocket—taken from the third group, which goes into captivity and is thrown to the "four winds," showing a measure of protection. However, he then takes a part from that group and throws it into the fire. Now hair is the most flammable part of the body, and surely, the fire must indicate death.

This can be connected with the fifth seal of Revelation 6: the martyrdom of the saints. One can also connect it with Revelation 3:10 and the "Philadelphians" who are kept from the hour of trial that comes upon the whole earth. The group that he took out of his pocket and threw into the fire (and are therefore consumed in the fires of tribulation) represents the Laodicean church. It surely seems to indicate that very few, if any, of them will survive through the Tribulation. Five separations are indicated here in Ezekiel 5, but only one very small amount is protected in the fold of his skirt.

John W. Ritenbaugh
A Place of Safety? (Part 1)


 

Luke 21:12-13  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Jesus Christ's prophecy parallels the fifth seal in Revelation 6:9-11:

When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" And a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.

In recent years, the church of God has not been troubled by restrictions of its religious freedom, but that does not guarantee it will not happen, even in the near future. As American society becomes more perverse and intolerant, the church should stand out in stark contrast. While most of the church groups are small and relatively ineffective in witnessing to the world, we are safe and at peace, but if that should change, the church will clash with the powers that be.

As time speeds toward the return of Christ, we can expect religious persecution and even martyrdom to intensify. Society is already humanistic, and human nature "is enmity against God" (Romans 8:7). It is no great leap from the current atmosphere of hostile tolerance to outright violence. An objective observer of those debating abortion, homosexuality, animal rights, or environmentalism can discern that the veneer of civility is quite thin. A misstep at any time could plunge America over the edge of tolerance into the abyss of religious persecution.

However, it is encouraging to notice Christ's instructions to us when this time comes:

But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony. Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist. . . . In your patience possess your souls. (Luke 21:13-15, 19)

His advice: We should not be overly concerned if this should happen to us because He will be with us to comfort us and inspire us in our answers. The truth we will speak will be so wise and right that our persecutors will have no retort. This may incite them to more violence, even to killing us, but if we patiently endure it, we will surely save our eternal life. Our entrance into God's Kingdom is what really matters. If we are martyred for it, our reward will reflect our unflinching faithfulness to God and His way of life.

The apostle Peter shows the proper godly attitude toward persecution:

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try [test] you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. . . . Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator. (I Peter 4:12-14, 19)

We need not fear the coming days when our religious freedom will be stolen. They will be dreadful and dark, and some will lose their lives. But, if we commit ourselves to living righteously, we have the assurance of our faithful Creator that we will receive salvation and great reward in His Kingdom!

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Eroding Religious Freedom


 

2 Thessalonians 2:7  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Paul affirms that the "mystery of iniquity" was already working then. Look how long it has taken to come to its fullness! We are 1900 and some years later, and it is only now coming to a head. God gave us this affirmation as evidence so we could understand how He thinks in terms of time. It is not the same as with us. We want things done bang! bang! bang!—immediately. But that is not the mind of God; He will do it in His time.

We are living at the time, from everything we can see, that the "mystery of iniquity" will finally reach its height. Let us not do what the first-century Christians did in II Thessalonians 3. We must not let down just because we can see a few things that seem to fit into prophecy, as if the end were already here.

II Thessalonians was written just a few months after I Thessalonians, about AD 52. Meanwhile, the pressure is mounting. Jewish civilization is in turmoil, and it will end in less than two decades with the destruction of Jerusalem. In addition, the church is already experiencing internal turmoil, though it is less than two decades old. Nero is alive, and in about ten years after the writing of II Thessalonians, he will be severely persecuting Christians—tarring them, burning them alive, and throwing them to lions for the public's pleasure at the games. By that time, Christians are being martyred, and still no return of Jesus Christ. Thus, conditions are ripe for people to lose hope.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Trumpets Is a Day of Hope


 

Revelation 2:9-11  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Apparently, a certain number of people today fit the Smyrnan category: They have no major flaws worth mentioning. They are not self-righteous, for that would be pointed out as a major flaw, as said of Laodicea. The Laodicean church is wealthy in physical goods and assumes spiritual wealth, but this is a false self-assessment. Smyrna is apparently of little material wealth, but rich spiritually, as Christ attests (Revelation 2:9).

However, Christ commands those of Smyrna to overcome just like the others if they will be in the Kingdom of God. No one is without sin (Romans 3:23), so Smyrna must grow in faith, love, and obedience like the rest. Some in Smyrna will be tried in tribulation and persecution—jailed and tried to the point of death. Some of them may even die as martyrs! As Christ says, He will prune even a good branch that it might bear more fruit (John 15:2).

Staff
The Seven Churches: Smyrna


 

Revelation 6:9  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

After Christ opens the fifth seal, the apostle John sees "under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held" (verse 9). No galloping horses or deadly riders appear in this seal, and their absence immediately sets this one apart from the previous four. There is no inviting, "Come and see," or expectant, "And I looked, and behold," but just a plain narrative describing his vision. In fact, the tone is so matter-of-fact as to be somber, befitting its subject.

The first striking detail is "the altar" with the definite article. That it is not further defined suggests that it has already been mentioned or that the reader is expected to know what it is. However, this verse contains the first mention of an altar in the book of Revelation. An altar is mentioned an additional seven times in the book, and in six of them, it refers to the golden incense altar that stands before the throne of God in heaven (see Revelation 8:3-5; 9:13; 14:18; 16:7). The only exception to this appears in Revelation 11:1, in which John is told to "measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there," seeming to refer to evaluating the church, its ministers, and its worship in preparation for the work of the Two Witnesses. The "altar" of Revelation 6:9, with the prayerful souls of martyrs under it, conforms to the rule, not the exception.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Seal (Part One)


 

Revelation 6:9  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The apostle John tells why these saints suffered martyrdom: "for the word of God and for the testimony which they held." For John, these two are important elements, and they occur several times in Revelation. In opening the book, the apostle contends that he himself "bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ" in Revelation 1:2, and in verse 9 he says he "was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ." Later, when observing a vision of God's people contending with Satan, he writes, "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death" (Revelation 12:11). A statement similar to Revelation 6:9 appears in Revelation 20:4: "And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God."

The first element, the word of God, is straightforward: It is the truth, the inspired revelation of God, that we find today in the Bible. For John and many in the first century, it was the Old Testament combined with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Only later was this supplemented by the epistles of the apostles, Acts, and Revelation. (No one can be certain when the authoritative canon was compiled, but all the components were likely in place by the time John died. Using Isaiah 8:16, some believe that he authorized the present canon before his death, c. AD 100.) Unlike many today, these martyrs of the fifth seal do not take God's Word for granted, believing that its message is personally vital, current, and authoritative, and they are willing to die rather than compromise with its instruction.

The second element, the testimony which they held, can seem to some to be more complex. The key word, testimony, is the Greek word marturían, which means either "the act or office of testifying" or "what one testifies." In modern terms, it is either the giving of evidence, as before a judge in a courtroom, or the evidence itself. The word witness is similarly used, as, for instance, the Two Witnesses of Revelation 11 are called mártusín ("witnesses" or "martyrs"), a related word. Their "testimony," then, is evidence they give or a witness they provide.

We should not forget the final phrase, "which they held," as it adds definition and emphasis to their testimony. The evidence they give means something special to them! It is not as if they witnessed an auto accident and, as unbiased bystanders, simply testified about how it happened. Their testimony is something so precious that they hold it fast, bear it, maintain it, keep it in trust, possess it, consider it, believe it, and adhere to it.

How do they give their testimony? It could be different for each one, but notice Jesus' interpretation of this seal in Luke 21:12-19:

But before all these things [the heavenly signs of the sixth seal], they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and rulers for My name's sake. But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony. Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will send some of you to your death. And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But not a hair of your head shall be lost. In your patience possess your souls.

He specifically mentions testifying before religious authorities, in prisons, and before secular leaders. These are the "classic" occasions for witnessing of the truth, all of which are reported as happening to the apostles in the book of Acts. He also hints at other ways of testifying, more personal ones that involve relatives and "friends" seeing a Christian practicing his beliefs or hearing him propounding the truth, and betraying him to the authorities.

Hebrews 11 gives multiple examples of the heroes of faith making a witness of the true God and His way. Abel, for example, bore witness by making an acceptable sacrifice (verse 4). Enoch's translation was witness that He pleased God (verse 5). Noah's obedience in constructing the ark bore witness of his faith (verse 7). Abraham testified of his allegiance in many ways: leaving Ur (verse 8), dwelling in tents in Canaan (verse 9), and sacrificing Isaac (verse 17). Sarah, too, testified by conceiving and bearing the promised son, Isaac (verse 11). Later, Moses showed his faith by refusing royal rank (verse 24), forsaking Egypt (verse 27), and keeping the Passover (verse 28).

Likewise, we give testimony of our devotion to God and our beliefs in simple, everyday acts, many of which we probably never consider to be witnessing. We make a witness to other members of our families with our every word, act, and decision. We witness of our adherence to law in our public activities, from driving our cars to paying our taxes. Our diligence and thoroughness on the job testify of our godly character or lack thereof. One could go so far as to say that everything we say and do that is witnessed by others shouts out the testimony that we hold.

Are we, like these martyred saints, willing to lay down our lives for God's Word and our beliefs? It may never come to that for any of us personally, but do we have the sacrificial attitude applauded by Revelation 6:11 and many other New Testament verses? Do we value God's revelation of His way of life highly enough to defend it despite the cost? Do we, as Jesus warns in Luke 14:26, "hate" our lives enough to be His disciples?

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Seal (Part One)


 

Revelation 6:10  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

This plaintive cry, "How long . . .?" is a New Testament echo of the Old Testament prophets, many of whom were persecuted and slain for their testimony. The psalmists use it most frequently: from David in Psalm 13:1 ("How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever?") to Asaph in Psalm 74:10 ("O God, how long will the adversary reproach?") to Moses in Psalm 90:13 ("Return, O LORD! How long? And have compassion on Your servants"). Even Ethan the Ezrahite gets in on the act: "How long, LORD? Will You hide Yourself forever? Will Your wrath burn like fire?" (Psalm 89:46; see also Psalm 6:3; 35:17; 79:5; 80:4; 94:3).

This question continues in both the major and minor prophets. Isaiah writes, "Then I said, 'Lord, how long?' And He answered: 'Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant, the houses are without a man, the land is utterly desolate. . .'" (Isaiah 6:11). Later, Habakkuk asks, "O LORD, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? Even cry out to You, 'Violence!' and You will not save" (Habakkuk 1:2; see also Daniel 12:6; Zechariah 1:12). "How long?" has been a constant prayer to God through the ages, especially during times of great distress, particularly when God's servants are under intense persecution, when the surrounding culture has reached its nadir and the nation is ripe for judgment, or as it often works out, when both are happening simultaneously.

The intent of the request in Revelation 6:10 is for an indication from God of how long the saints have to endure the worst that Satan-inspired humanity can throw at them before He acts on their behalf as He has promised. As early as Deuteronomy 32:43, the conclusion of the Song of Moses, it is promised, "Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people; for He will avenge the blood of His servants, and render vengeance to His adversaries." Jesus Himself promises, "And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily" (Luke 18:7-8). Paul later expands this considerably:

. . . it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed. (II Thessalonians 1:6-10)

There is never a doubt about God's eventual intervention to avenge the deaths of His saints. God's promises are sure (Isaiah 46:11; 55:11; Matthew 24:35; John 10:35). Obviously, "How long, O Lord . . .?" is a query about the duration of events until God intervenes, and the souls under the altar ask it, not in impatience or exasperation, but in anticipation of the end of the saints' tribulations and of the receipt of their reward.

In reading this, however, we must not forget that these martyred saints are dead, resting in their graves, as Revelation 6:11 confirms. Thus, the answer to their question is not for them—they know nothing (Ecclesiastes 9:5), their testimony having finished in death (Acts 20:24; II Timothy 4:7; Revelation 11:7)—but for living saints, who will undergo persecution and eventual martyrdom.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Seal (Part Two)


 

Revelation 6:11  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Before God answers their question ("How long . . .?"), they are each given a white robe. Much has been made of the fact that this robe is a stolé, a long, stately, often status-indicating garment, while the overcomer in Sardis receives a white himation, an ordinary outer garment like a cape or cloak (Revelation 3:5). This distinction should not be taken too far, as Christ Himself returns in a himation dipped in blood (Revelation 19:13), not a stolé. The important element is that the robe is white, the color of purity and righteousness, as well as joy, victory, and perfection. The giving of a white robe, formal or common, is a symbol of salvation for these martyred Christians.

Finally, God responds to their question: ". . . it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed." The immediate answer, "a little while longer" (literally, "yet a little time"), is ambiguously short-range. At this point in the prophetic timeline as we have learned it—the Great Tribulation has just commenced—this uncertain period is probably at most three and a half years long.

Yet, because Revelation was written to the church late in the first century—more than nineteen hundred years ago—this comforting and expectant phrase implies a longer duration for Christians through the ages since then. II Peter 3:8 reminds us "that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." There is even biblical backing to regard the day of the Lord as the whole period since Christ's first advent nearly two millennia ago! Written around the same time as Revelation, I John 2:18 goes even further: "[W]e know it is the last hour"! Certainly, God marks time differently than we do. Nevertheless, the phraseology assures us that, though it is still future, God's vengeance will fall justly on the guilty, and His saints will be free of suffering and receive their promised reward.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Seal (Part Two)


 

Revelation 6:11  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The explanatory material that fills out the remainder of the verse provokes varied interpretation. The reason for this is that two similar but variant readings of "was completed" have come down to us in the manuscripts: plerothosin and plerososin. The former is aorist passive, meaning, as in the New King James Version, that "the number of their fellow servants . . . was completed," while the latter is plain aorist, changing the sense to either "their fellow servants . . . should be complete" (less likely, according to the experts) or they "should complete [their course]" or "should fulfill [their calling]."

Yet, this may all be just a semantic argument. By using italics, most Bibles make it clear that the number of is not in the Greek text but has been supplied by the translators. This was done to conform to their misunderstanding of the passive form, plerothosin. Since mainstream Christians, including translators, do not believe in the biblical doctrine of sanctification as a lifelong process—in cooperation with God—of spiritual growth toward perfection, translations of this verse contain a built-in bias toward a certain number being saved by grace alone through faith rather than those whom God calls being transformed into the image of Christ through grace and works. Thus, they insert the italicized phrase unnecessarily to preclude the idea of Christian works—despite the fact that the entire passage exalts the particular works of witnessing and martyrdom!

Nevertheless, the verb—whichever is chosen as the better of the two—appears in the plural form, as it refers to its plural subjects, "servants and . . . brethren." "Number" is singular. This provides additional proof that Revelation 6:11 is not referring to a specific number of martyrs but simply that others either will be completed or will complete their calling through martyrdom. The latter half of the verse, then, is better rendered, ". . . until their fellow servants and their brethren, who are to be killed as they were, should also be complete [or, should also complete (their course)]." In other words, whether passively or actively, more sons and daughters will come to perfection through suffering and death, just as God's Firstborn Son did as our Forerunner (Hebrews 2:9-11).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Seal (Part Two)


 

Revelation 17:6  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

When people read this verse, their thoughts immediately turn to the Roman Universal Church of the Dark Ages. Indeed, that organization's record is a sorry one, but Israel's record against the people of God is not any better.

Jesus cries in Luke 13:34, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!" The Bible is replete with examples of the persecutions of God's people.

It is easy to read the histories of modern Israel over the last two hundred years or so and conclude that today's Israelites would never do such a thing. Since they are nominally Christian, one would like to think that they would never stoop to that. However, human nature never changes. All it takes is the right set of circumstances, and persecution will happen again in Israel, even as the book of Acts witnesses threats and murders occurring among Israelites in the first century!

One may perhaps think that persecution occurred then, but it stopped with the end of the first century. Not so! Many are familiar with Foxe's Book of Martyrs, which focuses on numerous persecutions, including martyrdom, that raged against Evangelical groups. Another book, Martyrs Mirror, as large as Strong's Concordance, contains a comprehensive history of 1,600 years of the persecutions, including martyrdom, perpetrated against Anabaptist groups.

"Anabaptist" is a name attached by the world at large to any professing Christian group that opposes infant- and child-baptism because the biblical requirements for baptism are repentance and faith, which no infant or child can meet. One must be an adult of considerable living experience to consider baptism seriously. The most prominent Anabaptist groups in the Western world are the Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites. Many of these and other, smaller groups were quite active even up to the beginning of the twentieth century.

The terms "Evangelical" and "Anabaptist" can and did include the Baptists and, most importantly for us, the church of God. Martyrs Mirror begins with the martyrdoms of the apostles because they were, by definition, Anabaptists. Religious persecutions periodically raged in Holland, France, and England, all Israelitish countries, during the Middle Ages. It waned only after the Protestant Reformation had been underway for a century or two, and the Catholic Counter-Reformation joined it.

Anybody who has read American history should know that many of the original settlers to this country came to escape religious persecution in northwest Europe. The Puritans and Pilgrims are prime examples. They fled England for Holland and then left Holland for America.

To think that the Israelitish people are somehow above perpetrating religious persecution is not historically accurate. The Bible clearly shows it happened before and will happen again. Just eleven years ago, the entire nation witnessed the Branch Davidian massacre in Waco, Texas. This is remarkable to us because the Branch Davidians kept the Sabbath.

Jeremiah 30:7 warns us that a horrific time of trouble lies just around the corner: "Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it." This period of trouble is greater than any before it. Persecutions of true Christians will happen again. Revelation 13:15?in this end-time book?confirms that persecutions are just beyond the horizon: "He [the Beast from the earth] was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed." This persecution is instigated by a religious figure, the False Prophet, who will arise and promote his competing religion so vigorously as to kill those who do not submit to his idolatrous, pagan brand.

Revelation 6:9-11 verifies that this persecution will be aimed directly at the true church:

When he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" And a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.

The blood of the saints is already staining Israel's histories, and more will be added afresh to her descendants' despicable and hypocritical anti-God record.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Eight): God, Israel, and the Bible


 

Find more Bible verses about Martyrdom:
Martyrdom {Nave's}
Martyrdom {Torrey's}
 




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