However, by refusing to participate in Emperor worship and declare "Caesar is lord" Christians came under suspicion and violent persecution. They were not persecuted because they worshipped Christ, but because they refused to revere Caesar.
It is extraordinary to read these testimonies in Foxes Book of Martyrs of dynamic believers responding to persecution with joy.
Ignatius of Antioch
Ignatius of Antioch, when sentenced to death by the Emperor Trajan responded: "I thank Thee O Lord, that they has vouchsafed thus to honour me. I am God's grain, to be ground between the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become a holy loaf for the Lord."
Polycarp of Smyrna
When Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna, was arrested he declared: "God's will be done!" He provided food for his captors before they escorted him before the Roman consul. The consul was struck by how old Polycarp was: "Pity your grey hairs, old man, just burn some incense before the Emperor and you can go free."
Polycarp responded: "If you think for a moment that I would do that, then you pretend not to know who I am. Hear it plainly, I am a Christian!"
"Then do this, old man, just curse Christ and I will set you free."
Polycarp responded: "86 years I have served my Christ and He has never done me any wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who has saved me."
"I have wild beasts" threatened the pro-consul.
"Bring them" Polycarp said. "I would change my mind if it meant from going from the worse to the better, but not from the right to the wrong."
"If you despise the wild beasts, I will have you burned, warned the consul."
"You threaten me with a fire that burns for but an hour and then is extinguished. But you know nothing of the fire of Eternal Judgment which will never be extinguished. Bring what you will."
As Polycarp was led into the arena he was heard to pray: "Lord God, Father of our blessed Saviour, I thank Thee that I have been deemed worthy to receive the crown of martyrdom and that I may die for Thee and Thy cause."
Cyprian of Carthage
Cyprian of Carthage, when sentenced to be beheaded, exclaimed: "Thanks be to God!"
Perpetua - Forever Faithful
Perpetua was a Christian noblewoman living in Carthage (North Africa). In A.D. 202 when Perpetua was a 22-year old mother, she was one of the first to be arrested in a new wave of persecution. When her pagan father visited and pleaded with her to deny that she was a Christian, Perpetua responded that it was impossible that she be "called anything other than what I am, a Christian."
When the governor ordered Perpetua to worship the emperor her response was decisive: "I will not."
"Are you a Christian then?" asked the governor.
"Yes I am!" Perpetua’s determined response brought immediate condemnation. The governor condemned her and her friends to be thrown to the wild beasts and to die in the arena.
When Perpetua and her friends entered the stadium they were singing Psalms in such a joyful demeanour that the crowd demanded that the Christians be scourged first. This was done.
As the mob screamed abuse, Perpetua was heard to say: "You have condemned us, but God will condemn you."
Perpetua encouraged the other Christians: "You must all stand fast in the Faith and not be weakened by what we have gone through."
Witnesses in the stands described Perpetua in the arena as "young and beautiful, a pure and modest Christian lady, with shining countenance and calm step, as the beloved of God, as a bride of Christ, putting down everyone stare by her own intense gaze."
Her bold testimony: "I am a Christian and cannot deny Christ" was repeated throughout the Empire. Her example of Christian resolve and Christian courage, choosing to suffer and die with a clear conscience, rather than deny her Saviour, inspired generations of Roman Christians to stand firm in the face of relentless persecution.
"Be faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life." Revelation 2:10
The Blood of the Martyrs
As Tertullian famously declared: "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." For every Christian killed in the arena multitudes were converted in the stands.
Converting the Persecutors
In time the slaves of the Roman Empire were converted, the nobles of the Roman Empire were converted, the barbarian invaders were brought to Christ and even the bloodthirsty Viking invaders were won to Christ.
The Waldensians of Southern France, Northern Italy and Switzerland endured much persecution between the 12th and the 17th Century, courageously standing firm and enduring as the oldest community of Protestants in the world today.
Wycliffe and the Lollards
Professor John Wycliffe of Oxford University and his itinerant evangelists (the Lollards), despite severe persecution, continued to translate the Scriptures into English and to proclaim and sing the Gospel in English in the market places. They were the field workers of the Reformation, sowing the good seed of the Word of God and laying solid foundations for the mighty move of God’s Spirit in the Reformation.
Jan Hus of Prague
Professor Jan Hus of Prague courageously worked for Biblical Reformation and was burned alive in 1415. His final prayer was: "Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit. I am willing, patiently and publicly to endure this dreadful, shameful and cruel death for the sake of Thy Gospel and the preaching of Thy Word." He died signing praises to God.
The Reformer William Tyndale of England was burned alive at the stake for the crime of translating the Bible into the English language. His last words, his dying prayer: "Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!" was wondrously answered as the very King, Henry VIII, who had condemned Tyndale for his work of Bible translation, within two years of Tyndale’s death, had authorised that same Bible in English to be placed in every parish in the land, accessible to the common people, in the common tongue.
Patrick Hamilton and George Whishart of Scotland were burned at the stake for preaching Biblical Reformation. George Whishart prayed an Imprecatory Prayer against the cardinal who had condemned them. Within three months that cardinal had met a violent death.
Reformer John Knox of Scotland was imprisoned and chained as a slave in a galley for nineteen months. At one point he refused to kiss an idol of Mary. Throwing it overboard, he declared: "She is light enough, let her learn to swim!"
The St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre
The Huguenots of France endured vicious persecution and massacres, particularly the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of 24 August 1572.
Condemning a Nation
At one point in the 16th Century the Spanish Inquisition condemned the entire nation of Holland (3 million men, women and children) to death as heretics! By God's grace and through the courage of Prince William the Silent and his followers, the Dutch succeeded in throwing back the Spanish invaders and winning freedom for Protestant Holland.
The Greatest Century of Persecution
You may be surprised to know that more Christians died for Christ in the 20th Century than in all previous 19 centuries combined. At least 42 million Christians were martyred in the 20th Century, mostly by atheists in secular communist governments.
Over 400 million Christians live under 67 governments which restrict religious freedom and persecute believers. Every year an average of 200,000 Christians are killed for their Faith.
"Remember the prisoners as if chained with them - those who are mistreated - since you yourselves are in the Body also." Hebrews 13:3
Sunday, 12 November is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Please mobilise your church, school, prayer fellowship, family and friends to focus on the Persecuted Church.
Click here for a 3 minute video: Remember the Persecuted, which you can share and show your friends, family, school and church, this week.
You can also join the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted event on the Frontline Fellowship Facebook page. Please like, link and share it with your family and friends.
Visit the IDOP Africa website for news, articles and resources to educate and inform your congregation, school, colleagues, friends and family to pray for the persecuted.
Dr. Peter Hammond has served the persecuted Church for over 35 years. He is the author of Faith Under Fire in Sudan; Holocaust in Rwanda; In the Killing Fields of Mozambique and Slavery, Terrorism and Islam - The Historical Roots and Contemporary Threat.
P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa
Invitation to Join the Prayer Movement for the Persecuted
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Learning from the Persecuted
Serving the Persecuted
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