The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

1. One who chooses to suffer death rather than renounce religious principles.

2. One who makes great sacrifices or suffers much in order to further a belief, cause, or principle.

[Middle English, from Old English, from Late Latin, from Late Greek martur, from Greek martus, martur-, witness.]


Jesus was the first Christian Martyr. Many others followed after him.

*   (Acts 22:20 NIV)  And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.'

*   (Acts 7:52-60 NIV)  Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him-- {53} you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it." {54} When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. {55} But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. {56} "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." {57} At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, {58} dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. {59} While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." {60} Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 8:1-4 NIV)  And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. {2} Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. {3} But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. {4} Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.


Martyrdom did not end with the apostles.

*   (Rev 6:9 NIV)  When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.

*   (Rev 16:5-6 NIV)  Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say: "You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged; {6} for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve."

*   (Rev 17:6 RSV)  And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her I marveled greatly.


Jesus is our example of what we can expect.

*   (Rev 2:8-11 NIV)  "To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. {9} I know your afflictions and your poverty--yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. {10} Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. {11} He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.

*   (John 15:19-21 NIV)  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. {20} Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. {21} They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.


Let me read from Fox’s Book of Martyrs. First I will read some background on the man, John Fox, and then what he wrote about the deaths of the apostles. I highly recommend you read this book for yourself.