The recent news of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) beheading 21 Coptic Christian men renews the profound discussion of martyrdom and witnessing. The Greek word martus implies a witness. The term first appeared in Christian literature in reference to the apostles as the first “witnesses” to the life, works, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8; 1 Peter 5:1). The early church was “not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation” (Rom 1:16). Believers “turned the world upside down” as the Good News of Christ spread far and near. In one generation the first disciples had reached the entire known world.
As time passed, however, the meaning of the word martus evolved from witness to martyrdom. Yes, the very word martyrdom comes from the same Greek word as witness. Christians were sealing their witness with their own blood. From the first centuries down through the Dark Ages, the message of Christ was oftentimes carried by the blood of those chosen to “share in the sufferings of Christ” (Phil 3:10).
These last days will be no exception to persecution and martyrdom. Revelation 12 and 13 sound the warning that those who “keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” will face persecution. Concerning these times, Ellen G. White wrote:
All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. 2 Timothy 3:12.
As Christ was hated without cause, so will His people be hated because they are obedient to the commandments of God. If He who was pure, holy, and undefiled, who did good and only good in our world, was treated as a base criminal and condemned to death, His disciples must expect but similar treatment, however faultless may be their life and blameless their character.
Human enactments, laws manufactured by satanic agencies under a plea of goodness and restriction of evil, will be exalted, while God’s holy commandments are despised and trampled underfoot. And all who prove their loyalty by obedience to the law of Jehovah must be prepared to be arrested, to be brought before councils that have not for their standard the high and holy law of God.
Those who live during the last days of this earth’s history will know what it means to be persecuted for the truth’s sake. In the courts injustice will prevail. The judges will refuse to listen to the reasons of those who are loyal to the commandments of God, because they know that arguments in favor of the fourth commandment are unanswerable. They will say, “We have a law, and by our law he ought to die.” God’s law is nothing to them. “Our law” with them is supreme. Those who respect this human law will be favored, but those who will not bow to the idol sabbath will have no favors shown them.
In summer there is no noticeable difference between evergreens and other trees; but when the blasts of winter come, the evergreens remain unchanged, while other trees are stripped of their foliage. So the falsehearted professor may not now be distinguished from the real Christian, but the time is just upon us when the difference will be apparent. Let opposition arise, let bigotry and intolerance again bear sway, let persecution be kindled, and the halfhearted and hypocritical will waver and yield the faith; but the true Christian will stand firm as a rock, his faith stronger, his hope brighter, than in days of prosperity (Maranatha, 195).
May God help us all to stand and be faithful witnesses to the world at such a time as this. Maranatha.
(Photo from Wikipedia: Coptic Cross from the 4th-5th century Coptic Codex Glazier.)