The blood of Christian martyrs is said to be the seed of the Church. History has born witness to this strange and amazing truth. God in His sovereignty has often allowed persecution before prosperity, rage before revival, and martyrdom before glory. John the Baptist was declared by Jesus to be the greatest man ever born of woman up to that point in history (Mt. 11:11), but God allowed John to first be imprisoned and then to have his head chopped off (Mt. 14:6-12). Jesus the sinless Son of God was persecuted throughout His ministry, and eventually betrayed, falsely accused, tried, tortured, and crucified (Mt. 20:18-19; Acts 4:27-28). Stephen was stoned to death after preaching the gospel (Acts 7:54-60), the apostles were all martyred one by one except for John (Acts 12:1-2), yet the Church flourished and continued to grow throughout the world! Jesus’ prophecy to Peter and the rest of the disciples continues to be fulfilled. The gates of hell will not prevail against Christ’s Church (Mt. 16:18).
Roman persecution in the first several hundred years of the Church was relentless, but the church not only survived constant persecution, but continued to grow! Roman persecution slowly trickled away as Christianity continued to spread and eventually became the official religion of Constantine's empire (350 AD). During the Dark Ages (5th – 15th centuries), the increasingly corrupt and apostate Roman Catholic Church labored to keep the truth hidden from those who needed it most. Ritual and superstition reigned and it seemed as if Jesus’ word had failed and hell triumphed over His Church. But though the true Church faltered, it did not die, just as Jesus promised. In fact, the superstitious false religion of the Roman Catholic Church seemed to tantalize and whet the appetites of multitudes all over Europe. By the tail end of the Dark Ages the vacuum of spiritual hunger in Europe was exceedingly great. The printing press had recently been invented, and God began to raise up reformers to bring the gospel to light. John Huss, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, and others were raised up during times when the false Roman Catholic Church sought, and in some cases succeeded, in putting them to death. Thousands of born again believers were imprisoned, tortured, and executed. The crimes of these precious saints included reading and studying the Bible, or denying the doctrine of transubstantiation. Nevertheless, the church continued to grow at an unparalleled rate. The gates of hell did not prevail against it!
Recently even the secular media showed some shock when a dozen Christian men were lined up, forced to kneel, and beheaded by Muslim extremists. Proud of their execution of Christ’s sheep, the Muslim extremists videoed the execution, and posted it on the internet for the world to see. From our perspective the martyrdom of these dear saints may seem to be a tragedy. They loved Jesus. They were willing to die for Jesus. They did die for Jesus! Yet to Christ, the Head of the Church, the Great Shepherd of the Sheep, the martyrdom of those who are His is a victory. Jesus loses none (Jn. 6:37-40). Remember, everyone dies. It is appointed unto all men to die once, and face judgment (Heb. 9:27). All who die in Christ are still alive and with their Savior right now (II Cor. 5:6-10)! Jesus said to Martha right before raising her brother Lazarus from the dead, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” (Jn 11:25–27) Jesus speaking to his disciples who were fearing persecution from the leaders of the Jews said, ““I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (Lk 12:4–5) Jesus was speaking of Himself. He is the judge of the living and the dead.
Reader, dying for the Lord Jesus Christ is the greatest expression of love to Christ, an encouragement to fellow Christians, and the greatest testimony to our persecutors and the world. You can give no greater witness to the life transforming power of the gospel than to humbly and in love seal your own testimony with your very own blood. If you have never read Harold Chadwick’s updated edition of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by Bridge Logos Publishers, I would strongly encourage you to do so. The original version is in Elizabethan English, but Chadwick’s newer version is easy to read and includes many stories of martyrs not included in John Foxe’s older work. Foxe’s record of the martyrs of the Christian faith is both grim and encouraging. As you read you will learn about faithful men, women, and children who loved the Lord Jesus unto death.
Jesus promised His followers that they would be treated as He was treated (Mt. 10:24-39). Jesus sent His disciples out as “sheep in the midst of wolves” prophesying that Christians would be persecuted until His Second Coming (Mt. 10:16-23). Picture in your mind a flock of sheep being let loose in the midst of a pack of hungry, ravenous wolves. This is what Jesus promised for some of His sheep until He returns. The Apostle Paul promised, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Are you Jesus' disciple? Do you desire to be godly? You will be persecuted to one degree or another.
Though most Christians in America long for peace and prosperity, God promises them persecution and enmity with the world. The unrepentant sinner is hostile to God (Rom. 8:5-8) and dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-3). But by God's grace, if he repents of his sin and places his faith in Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected from the dead, he will instantly be born again, changed into a new creature in Christ and his allegiances will change (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 10:17; I Cor. 15:1-4). He will be reconciled to God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ (Col. 1:20), will have peace with God (Rom. 5:1), but at the same time will become an enemy of Satan (I Pet. 5:8). The world will view him as a traitor (I Jn. 3:13). The world hates Christians for they are a reflection of Jesus Christ (Jn. 15:18-19). Worldlings despise believers because they have defected from darkness to light (Col. 1:13-14). The Christian lives all of his mortal days in enemy territory as a witness, an ambassador, an alien, and stranger in this world. Are you a Christian? If so, this is what you are and where you live.
If you haven't been paying attention to the increasing wickedness in the world, it might be good to wake up and consider what is happening; our world is changing fast and not for the better. Wrong is the new right and evil the new good. In America, the children of Satan have labored to exclude God from government, schools, and society. The consequences are catastrophic. We are undergoing a moral revolution at warp speed, experiencing exactly what Jesus said would happen, that the latter days would be just as the days of Noah, when the thoughts and intentions of men's hearts were only evil continuously (Gen. 6:5), and like the days of Sodom and Gomorrah with great evil and gross immorality (Gen. 18:20; Jude 7).
The Apostle Paul explains in Rom. 1:18-32 that when a society rejects God, they go through three stages of increasing judgment from God, judgments that involve being given over to their own depravity. The first stage of judgment comes upon them when they suppress the truth in unrighteousness and worship the creation instead of the Creator (Rom. 1:18-24). Paul says in vs. 24, “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.” The first stage of judgment is being given over to sexual immorality, fornication, adultery, pornography, and sensuality. In our country we saw this beginning to pick up speed in the 1950s with the rise of feminism and then it came into full swing in the 1960s in what has been called the “sexual revolution.” Think about it, a century ago adultery used to be a crime punishable by imprisonment. People were shocked when someone was divorced, but now it is as common as it was right before the judgment of God fell upon Jerusalem in 70 AD. It used to take people’s breath away to hear of a man and a woman living together without being married—it was scandalous! Today fornication is so commonplace that it doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. In fact, biblical morality is what takes people’s breath away. Divorce is on the decline, but only because an increasing number of people are choosing to live in sin and never get married. It’s safe to say the first stage of God’s judgment is complete having been thoroughly realized by the end of the 1990s.
The second stage of God’s judgment comes even quicker as wickedness gains momentum in a God rejecting society. The sins of homosexuality and lesbianism are the evidence of a society’s complete rejection of God. The Apostle Paul describes it with these words:
For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. (Rom. 1:26–27)
A hundred years ago Americans couldn’t have imagined what we are seeing today and hailing as “progress.” Almost every television show, including cartoons, explicitly or implicitly promotes and reinforces homosexuality and lesbianism as an alternate, expected, and healthy lifestyle. A few years back only a few daring television shows ventured to portray homosexuals and lesbians as standard fare in society. Soon, it became the rare exception to not have a homosexual theme in a television series. The cutting edge liberal shows today are promoting same sex marriage as normal and common. Main characters are married or living with someone of the same gender and it is all portrayed as a normal, morally acceptable, and a healthy lifestyle. We have become like Sodom and Gomorrah. Our wickedness as a nation is exceedingly great. We are ripe for the judgment of God. Yet it gets worse!
The third stage of God’s judgment upon a society that rejects Him is “being filled with all wickedness.” The apostle Paul writes:
And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. (Rom. 1:28–32)
Sound familiar? That’s because this is what we are experiencing today. We are a society that is filled to the brim and overflowing with wickedness. Colleges and schools are promoting and giving ready consent to those who want to disregard their God-given gender of their birth. Mainline colleges and universities for some time now have had co-ed dorms. Young ladies fresh out of high school are put in a small dorm room with a young man or men, where they must live, change clothes, and sleep next to, and in some places, even shower in the same bathrooms. But that is old hat, now children, teenagers, and college students are being told by the public education institutions that they can declare what gender they want to be moment by moment. A young man can decide to be a girl one moment, walk into a girl’s locker room and express his femininity! The next moment he can change his mind and enter into a men’s bathroom! But wait, it gets worse still!
Gender oriented locker rooms are offensive to some so we are now being told by the cutting-edge elite that we need to have mandatory co-ed showers, co-ed sports, and co-ed bathrooms in all public schools, at every grade, and for every age! In fact, they say we need to get rid of “sexist” and degrading terms like Mister and Miss, husband and wife, and refuse to use masculine or feminine pronouns, referring to people androgynously until they declare their gender of choice—for the moment. And we must learn to always ask someone what their gender is when we first talk to them as it may change day-to-day, hour-by-hour, and moment-by-moment. Reader, are you aware of these things? If not, I would recommend Albert Mohler’s website www.albertmohler.com and his podcast called “The Briefing.” Albert Mohler is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He is a phenomenal reader, writer, cultural analyst, but most importantly a Bible believing Christian. He condenses issues in the news that are culturally relevant to Christians and posts them five or six days a week. It is a great way to keep up on the news without having to read through a mountain of material.
Our world is being increasingly “filled with all unrighteousness.” And history has born out that moral decay and the judgment of God upon a God-rejecting society picks up speed as God’s judgment progresses. Listen to how Paul summarizes the last days’ depravity and see if you can spot anything that is common in our country and world today:
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. (2 Tim. 3:1–8)
See anything familiar in that description of the last days? Reader, it is certain that if something world changing doesn’t happen soon, we can expect persecution to increase and more Christians in our country and around the world to suffer and die for their faith. We can expect the destabilization of our society, riots, looting, corruption, murder, and anarchy. Those who follow Christ and speak the truth will bring conviction upon the wicked who will hate them for it and seek to silence them by whatever means possible. Paul promised Timothy, “But evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (II Tim. 3:13).
But what happens next? After God gives a society over to immorality, homosexuality, and being filled with all unrighteousness, what can we expect to happen next? The Scriptures present two possible outcomes. I will mention the most hopeful, but least likely to occur first. It is possible that a massive worldwide revival occur that will turn back the tide of evil, break the back of many false religions, hold back the waves of wickedness, reverse the hell-bent course of evil in the world, and stay the hand of God’s judgment. If this occurs we may see peace again for a time, maybe a generation or two, possibly even a millennium.
Nineveh was a very large and wicked city. Its wickedness was great, just as our wickedness as a country is great. The Ninevites were ripe for God’s judgment, just as we are ripe for God’s judgment, yet before destroying them God sent one reluctant, angry, bitter, preacher to cry against that great city. You can read about it in the book of Jonah. You can learn from the book of Jonah about the compassion of God for sinners. Though only one man, Jonah, was used by God to bring about the single greatest revival and mass conversion ever recorded in the history of the world. Jonah’s message was short but direct, “In forty days Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Holy Spirit then moved in the hearts of the Ninevites to bring them to repentance, and God extended mercy and grace to them instead of judgment. However, two generations later, they again turned their back on God and were utterly destroyed (Nahum 1:1-8).
I hope and pray that we would experience a worldwide revival today, though I don’t think it is likely. The reason is that unlike Nineveh, the world today has ready access to the truth of God, the Bible, and great Bible teachers and preachers, but they don’t want to hear them. The people of Nineveh had no revelation, no Bible, no gospel, no Bible preachers or teachers. We, on the other hand, have more Bible preaching and teaching available to us than any other time in the history of the world. The world, and even many self-proclaimed Bible believing churches today don’t even want the truth preached. It is increasingly difficult to find a church where the gospel of Jesus Christ is being proclaimed with all authority. Bible preaching churches are becoming a rarity, a treasure hidden in the field of many false churches.
What remains then? If worldwide revival doesn’t occur, what can we expect? Judgment from God. I will let Jesus tell you in His own words what will happen before the great tribulation and His second coming in glory. Jesus says:
For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. “But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Mt. 24:5–14)
Are you seeing any of what Jesus predicted in the world today? We have been and are experiencing all that Jesus predicted would occur before the great tribulation. I don’t have time to go into the details of Daniel’s seventieth week (Dan. 9:24-27) also referred to as the seven-year tribulation period that the Scriptures speak of in three and a half year increments (Dan. 7:25; 12:6; Rev. 11:2-3; 13:5). Let me give you a quick overview of prophetic events to come based on a literal reading of the relevant biblical texts.
It appears the birth pains of the great tribulation will bring upon the world hard economic times that will make the nations willing to follow one man (Mt. 24:3-14; II Thess. 2:1-7; I Tim. 4:1-3; II Tim. 3:1-13), but that man will be the Antichrist. He will lead the world into peace and temporary economic prosperity (Dan. 7:8; 8:23; 9:26-27; Mt. 24:15-21; I Jn. 2:18). Wickedness, however, will continue to increase. The Jews will find they are increasingly oppressed. The Antichrist will appear to come to their aid, make a seven treaty with Israel, professing to protect them and be a great friend (Dan. 9:27). The temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem on the Temple Mount (Dan. 9:25). Three and a half years into the Antichrist's seven-year treaty with Israel, the Antichrist, the man of sin, the man of lawlessness, or beast in the book of Revelation, will break the treaty and seek to destroy all the Jews (Dan. 9:27; 11:21; Rev. 13:1; 14:9; 15:2; 16:2; 17:3, 13; 19:20; 20:10). He will enter into and defile the newly rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, and declare himself to be god (Dan. 11:36), committing what is called the abomination of desolation (Dan. 9:27; Mt. 24:25). Meanwhile, God will begin to judge the world with natural and supernatural disasters, bringing many Jews and Gentiles to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ (Rev. 6-19). Yet the judgments of God will harden the hearts of others and by the time the seven-year tribulation period is finished, some two thirds of the earth’s population will die (Mk. 13:19-20; Rev. 6:8, 11; 8:9; 9:5, 15, 18; 11:18; 13:10, 15).
Then comes the day of reckoning from the Lord. Many who reject Jesus Christ mock Him saying, “If there is a God, why doesn’t He do something about all the wickedness in the world?” Their self-condemning wish comes true when Christ suddenly appears in great glory. They don’t realize that they themselves are part of the wickedness in this world and those who reject Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior will be swept away in judgment. Yes, believers will be persecuted in the tribulation, but Zechariah the prophet describes for us what will happen at the end of the age:
Behold, a day is coming for the Lord when the spoil taken from you will be divided among you. For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city will be captured, the houses plundered, the women ravished and half of the city exiled, but the rest of the people will not be cut off from the city. Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle. In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south. You will flee by the valley of My mountains, for the valley of the mountains will reach to Azel; yes, you will flee just as you fled before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord, my God, will come, and all the holy ones with Him! In that day there will be no light; the luminaries will dwindle. For it will be a unique day which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but it will come about that at evening time there will be light. And in that day living waters will flow out of Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and the other half toward the western sea; it will be in summer as well as in winter. And the Lord will be king over all the earth; in that day the Lord will be the only one, and His name the only one. (Zech. 14:1–9)
Jesus describes the end of the age with these words:
But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. (Mt. 24:29–31)
The Apostle Paul summarizes the end of the age with these words:
For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed. (2 Thess. 1:6–10)
The Apostle John describes the end with these words:
And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Rev. 19:11–16)
Yes, many will be martyred for Christ in these last days, but none will be lost. And in the end all evil will be overthrown, judged, and the Prince of Peace will reign in righteousness over all the earth! Jesus wins and those who repent of their sins and place their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation win. Then glory for evermore—Amen!