CAMPBELLTON, New Brunswick, May 7, 2023 – I’ve been reading the Bible now for nearly 24 years, since the day I was reborn. For the first three years, I read only the New Testament; after that, I read the Old Testament as well. I’ve worn through three Bibles so far, having to retire them when the pages started falling out. I guess they don’t make Bibles like they used to.
God’s gotten on my case a few times about making the Bible an idol. He tells me it’s an instruction manual and a history of my people, not something to be held aloft and worshiped. (There are no Bibles in Heaven.) Even so, I don’t eat or drink when I’m reading the Bible, like I do when I read magazines or newspapers. I take the Bible to bed with me every night. I pack it carefully into my luggage when I travel. I kiss it on occasion, like I’d kiss God if I could.
And I read it every day. I cannot not read the Bible. It feeds me and brings me new revelations. God himself reads it to me, through his Spirit, highlighting what I need to learn.
Today, he highlighted this verse in one of Paul’s letters:
“All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”
Note that Paul wrote “all that will live godly”, not “some that will live godly”. That means all of us who genuinely follow Jesus will be persecuted, no exceptions. That was Paul’s lived experience 2000 years ago, and nothing has changed since then. Born-again believers who remain true to God and Jesus can expect to be persecuted.
So I asked God if he could flesh out a bit what Paul meant by persecution.
The Christian martyrs list.
Jesus was crucified. Stephen was stoned. John the Baptist was beheaded. Paul was beheaded. Peter was crucified upside down. James (Jesus’ brother) was stoned. And that’s just the start of the list. Millions of others since then have been martyred for no other reason than they’d repented and believed the Gospel. Living godly in Christ Jesus put them on the wrong side of the worldly powers-that-be.
The persecution, torture, and martyrdom of Jesus’ followers has been ongoing for 2000 years, but by far the worst of it was in the 20th century. In the various revolutions and regime changes, such as in Armenia, Russia, Spain, Germany, and China, somewhere between 20 million to 65 million Christians were slaughtered. This is on top of the untold numbers of believers, starting with John the Baptist, who were tortured and killed, including during the 800 years of the Inquisition that mostly targeted Bible-believing Christians. The aim in torturing these poor souls was to break them so that they’d finally agree to serve the papacy. In 2022, the same office of the Vatican that has administered the Inquisition throughout the centuries was renamed the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. In other words, the persecution, torture and martyrdom of Bible-believing Christians is unapologetically ongoing.
Jesus himself warned us about our sure prospect of persecution, including martyrdom, telling us that those who killed us would believe they were doing God’s will.
Which brings us to the likely prospect of our own martyrdom. When Paul wrote “persecution”, he meant a broad range of ill treatment, from taunting to beating to bankrupting to exiling, but he also meant martyrdom. He meant we’d likely be killed for our beliefs. We wouldn’t be killed for murder, mind you. Nor for rape. Nor for plotting against the powers-that-be – no, we’d be killed solely for what we believe, for what we read about and write about every day: God’s Truth. We’d be killed for believing and teaching God’s Word.
Are you ready to die like Jesus or Paul or Stephen or Peter, or like all the other believers who were tortured to death by agents of the worldly powers-that-be? If you’re not ready to be martyred, you’d better start getting ready, because your martyrdom could come any day, and who knows what form it will take. I hope this knowledge gives you pause. As born-again believers, we live and move in God’s Kingdom, but the Kingdom is smack dab in the middle of Satan’s realm, and Satan hates us and wants us dead and gone. As long as we’re here and witnessing the Good News, we’re a thorn in his eye and a spanner in his works, not to mention a living breathing reminder of everything he lost.
Scripture says that God’s people will suffer all manner of persecution, ending, for some, with martyrdom. If you count yourself among God’s people, you have to accept that you’ll be persecuted, which might also include being martyred.
The Bible, as God reminds me every now and then, is an instruction manual as well as a history of our people. We need to read it because we need to learn how to deal successfully with the rest of our time on Earth. Today, God taught me about persecution in the form of martyrdom. I’d read about martyrdom before, but I’d never really taken it to heart as applying to me. I guess it potentially does apply to me – it potentially applies to everyone who, as Paul puts it, lives godly in Christ Jesus. I’m not going to be scared away from being a born-again follower of Jesus, even if it does put me on the Christian martyrs list. I’ll just draw closer to God and Jesus, keep reading the Bible, and get ready for whatever comes.