We all fib (or exaggerate) at times and, unfortunately, this usually leads to the need for more lies to cover up previous ones – a process which can quickly spiral out of control. However, would you be willing to die for a lie? Would you willingly put your life in serious danger for something that you know was completely untrue?
The term “martyr” originally meant a “witness” – this was because people used to give their testimonies without fear of persecution. But the word “martyr” is now synonymous with being killed for one’s beliefs and this is primarily because the first Christian witnesses were persecuted and often killed for speaking about their beliefs. Why on earth would these people be willing to go through such sacrifices and accept death on account of their testimony of Christ?
At times, we all believe things that are not actually true which may be the result of an incomplete account or because we haven’t really looked at the evidence. It may even be possible to be so unknowingly convinced with a lie that we would be willing to die for it. We live in a period dominated with “fake news” and it can be very difficult to the true versus the fake which is often because we rely on accounts we do not personally witness. But you would not be mistaken if you were at the actual event itself – if you witnessed what happened first-hand, especially if there was more than one person there to witness the same events you saw.
If we look at Jesus’ life, He performed many miracles that would be hard for anyone who did not witness to believe. He healed the blind, brought people back to life, walked on water, and many more but the greatest of all was the resurrection! These are the types of tricks we would expect from magicians or illusionists. If anyone came and told you about someone who did any of these things, our immediate reaction would be disbelief as it betrays our natural instincts and what we see in our experience of the observable world.
The gospel accounts go to great lengths to stress that they are not fairy-tales – they are well-researched and accurate accounts of actual events. Yes, there are differences and different witnesses write in different styles and focus on different events. However, this adds to the plausibility of the accounts – if the four gospels were identical, sceptics would allege they were contrived. Read the way Luke opens his gospel:
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4 NIV, emphasis added)
It sounds like a serious amount of honest research went into Luke’s gospel. Let’s look at some of the witnesses of the life of Jesus – did they die for a lie?
Peter (also known as Simon) was one of the original twelve apostles. He was one of the three main apostles along with James and John. Peter witnessed many things including Jesus’ transfiguration and Jesus’ walking on water. It is believed that Peter later travelled to Rome where he was martyred by crucifixion in 64 AD. The commonly accepted tradition holds that he requested to be crucified upside-down because he saw himself unworthy of dying in the same way as Jesus Christ. This was in fulfilment of Jesus’ prophecy:
Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18 NIV)
James son of Zebedee
James was one of the twelve original apostles and the older brother of John the Apostle. He was one of the first apostles to be called by Jesus. Along with John and Peter a close confidant of Jesus and were witnesses at many spectacular events; resurrection of the daughter of Jairus, Jesus’ transfiguration, and when Jesus was betrayed by Judas and arrested in Gethsemane.
The book of Acts records James being killed by King Herod Agrippa:
It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. (Acts 12:1-2 NIV)
Philip came from Bethsaida in Galilee and was one of the twelve Apostles. He was crucified, according to Foxes’ Book of Martyrs: “He laboured diligently in Upper Asia, and suffered martyrdom at Heliopolis, in Phrygia. He was scourged, thrown into prison, and afterwards crucified, A.D. 54”.
Bartholomew, one of the twelve apostles, was also known as Nathanael. It is believed that Bartholomew/Nathanael was a missionary with Philip and Thomas. He is said to have preached the gospel in India, Lycaonia, Mesopotamia, Persia and Phrygia. He was martyred in Armenia, beaten to death with a whip.
James son of Alphaeus
James was the primary leader for the Christian movement in Jerusalem after Jesus’ death and was one of the twelve apostles. According to Foxes’ Book of Martyrs he was beaten, stoned and clubbed to death thought to be in AD 62.
Thomas was one of the twelve original apostles. In the evening of the day of the resurrection Thomas questioned this, declining to believe that Jesus appeared to the other disciples (John 20:24). For this he was given the name Doubting Thomas. But eight days later when Jesus appeared, Thomas was there and confessed his faith that Jesus is God (John 20:28). Thomas was killed with a spear in India in AD 72 during one of his missionary trips.
Generally known as Thaddeus, Jude was one of the twelve apostles. According to Foxes’ Book of Martyrs, he was crucified: “The brother of James, was commonly called Thaddeus. He was crucified at Edessa, A.D. 72”.
Matthew the tax collector
Matthew was a tax collector before being called by Jesus to be one of the twelve Apostles. He wrote the first book of the New Testament and witnessed both the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. He was martyred in Ethiopia in AD 60 where he was killed with a sword.
Simon the Zealot
Simon was one of the twelve Apostles and was crucified, according to Foxes’ Book of Martyrs: “Surnamed Zelotes, preached the Gospel in Mauritania, Africa, and even in Britain, in which latter country he was crucified, A.D. 74”.
Stephen was a Jew who believed in Jesus and was chosen by the disciples to look after poor people in Jerusalem (Acts 6:1-5). Although he performed miracles, the people objected to his testimony and ended up being arrested for blasphemy (Acts 6:8-15). The trial ended with him being dragged out of the city and stoned to death. He was the one of the first Christian witnesses to be killed for his testimony as recorded in Acts:
When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:54-60 NIV)
James was the brother of Jesus but throughout Jesus’ life, James did not believe in Him – however, he was one of the first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7). Following this, he led a church in Jerusalem and wrote the epistle of James. He was killed by being thrown of the temple and then beaten with a club for refusing to deny his belief in Jesus Christ.
Before Paul became a Christian he was known as Saul and was very active in the opposition to the Christian movement. Acts 7:58 records him being present at the stoning of Stephen but converting to Christianity after his experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:4-6) where he was suddenly stopped by a blinding light from Heaven. Paul became one of the most influential missionaries in history, spreading the Christian faith on many journeys despite huge obstacles and hardship. He continued preaching in spite of being imprisoned, stoned and beaten. In AD 67, it is believed Paul was beheaded in Rome during the reign of Nero.
The Bible does not record the deaths of many of the apostles and most of these are traditions, but the important point is that they were willing to die for what they believed in. All of the twelve apostles (apart from John, who was exiled) were killed because of their witness about the life of Jesus Christ. These men had the same struggles as us today and there were times during Jesus ministry when they were unable to come to terms with who Jesus actually was. However, through these struggles, they saw an abundance of clear first-hand evidence to convince them of Jesus identity. If Jesus was not resurrected the apostles would have known that the idea of Jesus resurrection was fabricated and therefore a complete lie. For them to be willing to endure persecution and execution for their testimony of Jesus is overwhelming evidence for the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christianity would not exist today if Jesus had not been resurrected and the apostle’s testimony is very powerful evidence which is made even more powerful given the personal cost.
Some will point out that people often die for their beliefs and this is true. However, what makes this unique is that the eye-witnesses of Jesus did not remain together – they travelled in the opposite direction to spread the gospel and despite the geographical distance and new culture they were witnessing to, they still did not recant the historicity of the resurrection.
This quote from Charles Colson puts this into a modern perspective:
The same is true of early Christians who were willing to die for their faith – these were people who were born shortly after the time of Jesus and personally knew the apostles or other eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. People like Polycarp, Cyprian and others accepted martyrdom rather than renounce their faith in Jesus Christ. The same has been true ever since.
This is one of the strongest proofs of the resurrection and persecution for the Christian should not be a surprise for Christians – we are told expect it and its purpose is to reinforce the authenticity of the message:
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, (2 Timothy 3:12 NIV)
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. (John 15:18-19 NIV)
But we are not to fear suffering – there are amazing promises for those who suffer on for their testimony of Christ:
Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. (Revelation 2:10 NIV)
Do not fear those who can only kill our body, but the One who can kill the soul and body:
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28 NIV)
Instead, we are told to rejoice!
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13 NIV)
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4 NIV)
Is it really easier to believe a lie than a truth? When we have a particular worldview, it can be very difficult to accept anything that challenges our perception of this life. Would it not make sense to fully investigate the claims of Christ instead of believing his existence or resurrection was a myth? How would you fair when measured up to God’s standards if it turned out that there was a coming judgment resulting in heaven or hell, as Jesus taught? Surely, it makes no sense to gamble your eternal destiny because you believed the lie that Jesus is NOT the only way to heaven? Look at the lives of those who witnessed Jesus’ life – they were prepared to die for the truth and truth applies today as much as it did then. Change your life today and secure your salvation – How To Be Saved.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25 NIV)