The word martyr literally translated means witness. So, the earliest Christian martyrs were believers who witnessed the kingdom message of Jesus by laying down their lives. Thus, being a witness of and dying for the Gospel message have become interlinked. What does this mean for our everyday lives here in 2008?
Christians in the early church were martyred because they said that Jesus not Caesar was Lord, and only Jesus was worthy of worship. They were killed because they believed that through Jesus hope was brought to the world, not the government. And because they did not support their government, they were killed. As they proclaimed hope in Jesus, they rejected the lie that hope comes from Caesar.
I think that today we have moved away from this way of thinking.
I hear Christians worry that the world will fall apart if certain politicians get into the Presidents office. I hear Christians worry about the end coming if a certain country obtains nuclear weapons. I often ask myself how I will survive if the government fails to control the economy. And we are constantly worried about a myriad of issues that we feel can only be solved if the proper elected official makes the right move. We have allowed a faith in a false god to creep into our lives.
For the early church to deny that Caesar is Lord might mean you would be killed, but it definitely would mean you would be removed from society. Romans believed that the world was being made right and peace was on earth because of Caesar’s presence; anybody who thought otherwise was ostracized. This is where the mark of the beast talked about in Revelation comes from. You would literally be not allowed to buy or sell in the marketplace if you did not proclaim that Caesar was Lord.
So, what does it mean to be a martyr today in 2008? Well first, I think it means that we understand the world completely different from those around us. The world is made better only through Christians living out the death and resurrection of Jesus – not any form of government. Second, this message is worth giving up our lives (whether literally or metaphorically). Finally, to be a Christian means that we must understand that suffering is a part of being a Christian.