For a while now I’ve wanted to start doing monthly posts regarding the persecuted Christian church around the world. So every first Wednesday of the month I’ll feature a country that is listed as a restricted nation as a result of their persecution of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
First, a little background on the beginnings of the persecution of the Christian church. (And please know that when I refer to the Christian church, I am not referring to any religious institution, but the body of Christ, which is composed not of brick and mortar, but of each follower in Jesus Christ.)
Subsequent to our first and greatest Martyr, Jesus Christ, Christians have been persecuted since very shortly after the His death and resurrection and the continued dawning of the Christian church as disciples were scattered among the nations. These martyred men, women and children stood by their faith in Jesus Christ through unimaginable threats. I pray we are humbled, motivated and energized to take our trust in the Lord to new levels and put feet to our faith.
Ironically enough, the next recorded martyrdom, which is chronicled in the Bible, took place as Saul, a then future apostle who would be re-named Paul, stood by approvingly, protecting the garments of those who stoned to death Stephen, a bold and courageous believer in Christ.
“Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him (Stephen) with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.” (Acts 7:57-8:3)
It is thought that most of the apostles were martyred for proclaiming the Name of Jesus Christ.
Peter was martyred in Rome in 64 a.d. by crucifixion, reportedly upside down, because he said that he was not worthy of dying in the same manner as his Lord.
Andrew, Peter’s brother, was crucified by order of the Roman Governor Aegeas in Greece on an X-shaped cross in 60 a.d.
James, the son of Zebedee, was killed by King Herod Agrippa with a sword.
John, James’ brother, was exiled to the island of Patmos. Though the attempt was made to kill him by throwing him into a vat of boiling oil, he didn’t die as a result of his torture, but of old age in 101 a.d.
Bartholomew, after converting the brother of the King of Armenia to Christianity, was ordered by the king to be beaten with rods, crucified and skinned alive. Because he was still alive after all the torture took place and still continued to exhort everyone to turn to and worship Christ, he was beheaded.
James, the son of Alphaeus, was martyred in 62 a.d. in Jerusalem by being thrown from the top of a temple, then stoned and beaten with clubs, while he reportedly prayed for his attackers.
Thaddaeus, or Judas, the son of James, was beaten to death with a club, then beheaded in Persia.
Philip was martyred in 51 a.d. in Phrygia. Some reports say he was whipped, thrown in prison and then crucified. Other historians say he was tied to a pillar and stoned to death.
Simon the Zealot, whose exact method of martyrdom is uncertain, though it was reportedly by either by crucifixion or by being sawn in half.
Thomas was reportedly martyred in 72 a.d. in India by four soldiers who pierced him with swords.
Matthew was martyred by order of the king of Etheopia. He was arrested while preaching in the church, dragged outside, nailed to the ground with short spears and beheaded.
Paul was beheaded with a sword in Rome in 64 a.d.
In 64 a.d., a fire broke out in Rome. Some believe the fire was set by the Emperor Nero, who then blamed it on the Christians, and then tortured them for it. Afterward Nero, who was quite insane, continued to torture and kill Christians by having them dipped in wax, impaling them on poles around his palace and lighting them on fire, racing his chariot past them and yelling, “Now you truly are the light of the world.” Christians were also killed for sport by being thrown into an arena to be eaten by dogs or lions.
But the persecution only fanned the flame of the Christian faith and the church grew exponentially.
And in 168 a.d., Polycarp, who was a bishop in Smyrna (now Izmar, Turkey) and the last living link to the apostles, was brought into an arena before the Roman proconsul who tried to get him to deny Christ and swear by Ceasar.
Polycarp proclaimed, “Eighty-six years I have served the Lord Jesus Christ, and He never once wronged me. How can I blaspheme my King Who has saved me?”
He was then threatened with beasts and with burning by fire. Polycarp basically said, “Bring it on.” A bonfire was made in the center of the arena and they were about to nail him to a stake. He told them they need not bother. “He who gives me strength to endure the fire will enable me to remain still within the fire.” So they simply tied his hands behind his back.
Polycarp prayed his final prayer: “O Father, I thank You, that You have called me to this day and hour and have counted me worthy to receive my place among the number of the holy martyrs. Amen.”
The fire was then lit, but Polycarp didn’t burn. But rather those who watched said that he “was not as burning flesh but as gold and silver refined in a furnace. And we smelled such a sweet aroma as of incense or some other precious spice.”
Because he wouldn’t burn, the executioner was ordered to stab him with his sword.
If you’d like to find more information on the persecuted church, a good place to start is The Voice of the Martyrs. Another good resource, and one where I gleaned much of the information in this post is the book Jesus Freaks by dc talk and The Voice of the Martyrs. You can find their website here. And please be praying for our repressed, tortured and imprisoned Christian brothers and sisters around the world.
Next month we will look at the persecuted church in Vietnam.