What Is A Martyr? Will You Be A Martyr?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Who is a martyr? Is it possible that you might become a martyr?

Persecution Guaranteed

When the Apostle Paul wrote Timothy for the second time, he reminded him that persecution is normal and it will surely come. Paul said that he himself suffered “persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me” (2 Tim 3:11), so the fact is that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). Notice that Paul says that “all who desire to live a godly life will suffer persecution.” Jesus promised the disciples that since He has been persecuted, they will certainly be persecuted (John 15:20). Those who don’t desire to live a godly life naturally won’t suffer persecution because they’re living in the same way as the world is. Why would they bother to persecute someone who’s just like them, but any old fish can float downstream. Only a fish brought to life that can swim against the current of the world, the Devil, and the flesh (Eph 2:1-10). It is a given that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22), and just think of what Paul went through. He and his missionary party was “persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor 4:9), but Paul makes it clear that they were “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Cor 4:10). Paul says “we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor 4:11), and eventually, Paul would be martyred for his faith. It didn’t matter because he knew his crown was awaiting him (2 Tim 4:8). He could truthfully say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7). Could I say that? What about you?

“all who desire to live a godly life will suffer persecution.”

Old Testament Martyrs

The Old Testament prophets had a tough job. In some cases, God told them that the people would not repent and in some cases, not even pray for them, but many of these prophets died in their service to God. Tradition holds that Isaiah was sawn in two, and may have been the one mentioned in the so-called “hall of faith” in Hebrews (11:37), but Jesus tells us that Zechariah (the prophet) was killed between the temple and the altar (Matthew 23:35; Luke 11:51), and there is a mention of a Zechariah from 2 Chronicles 24 who was stoned in the courtyard of the temple. Amos was said to have been tortured by the priest of Bethel and then killed. Micah was killed by Joram son of Ahab. Habakkuk was stoned by his own people, the Jews. In fact, the Jews have often stoned the prophets of the Old Testament. Lastly, John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He was the door which closed the Old Covenant and opened to the New, and He confirmed that Jesus is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Jesus referred to John the Baptist as being the Elijah that was to come, and has now come (Matt 11:14). Obviously, John the Baptist was martyred for his faith, preaching about sin and repentance.

New Testament Martyrs

Stephen, being stoned to death, “cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:60).

Stephen the Deacon is the first recorded martyr in the New Testament, and like the prophets of old, he was stoned to death for speaking the truth. When he was brought before the council, he rebuked them, saying, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you” (Acts 7:51), and in referring to their fathers in the Old Testament, he asks, “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered” (Acts 7:52). Ouch! You knew what was coming after he finished telling them, “you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it” (Acts 7:53). Not only did they martyr the prophets, the broke God’s laws, just “As [their] fathers did.” Being convicted by this, they “were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him” (Acts 7:54), and as a result, Stephen was stoned to death, “And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:60). In other words, Stephen died, knowing that to be absent from his body, meant to be present with Christ (2 Cor 5:8). In fact, Stephens saw “the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56), standing to welcome Stephen into His presence. I am certain of one thing; Stephen wouldn’t have changed a thing.

What is a Martyr?

What is a martyr? You are? If you are a witness for Christ, then you are a martyr. Not everyone who’s a martyr has to die. The word martyr comes from the Greek word “martur,” which simply means “witness,” so if you are a witness for Christ, you are a martyr. You can be a martyr and live…and live for Christ, while dying to self. We need to die to our shyness or embarrassment about sharing Christ and boldly share Christ with the lost. Jesus said we must be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. For us, it may be going to the end of the block, or to our co-workers, or our family members.


You don’t have to die to become a martyr (“martur,” witness). You do have to die to yourself, but being a martyr doesn’t always mean you will die a physical death. It does mean you will suffer persecution. If you’ve never encountered persecution, you might not be sharing your faith or you might be denying Christ by your silence. Be a martyr for Christ. You might not lose your life but you might lose your friends, some family, and even your job, but that’s not surprising because “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12), but just like the prophets of old, we will be “to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things (2 Cor 2:16)?

Here is some related reading for you: What Does the Bible Say About Martyrs?

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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