Scripture: Luke 21:5-19
5 And as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, 6 “As for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” 7 And they asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign when this is about to take place?” 8 And he said, “Take heed that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name, saying, `I am he!’ and, `The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. 9 And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified; for this must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.
12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 This will be a time for you to bear testimony. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; 17 you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish.19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.
How would you respond if someone prophesied that your church or place of worship would be destroyed? Jesus foretold many signs that would point to God’s action in the world to purify and renew his people. To the great consternation of the Jews, Jesus prophesied the destruction of their temple at Jerusalem. The Jewish people took great pride in their temple, a marvel of the ancient world. The foretelling of this destruction was a dire warning of spiritual judgment in itself. They asked Jesus for a sign that would indicate when this disastrous event would occur. Jesus admonished them to not look for signs that would indicate the exact timing of impending destruction, but rather to seek and pray for God’s intervention of grace and mercy. Jesus said there would be many signs of impending conflicts and disasters – such as wars, famines, diseases, tidal waves, and earthquakes – which would precede the struggles of the last days when God’s anointed King would return to usher in the full reign of God over the earth. In that day when the Lord returns there will be a final judgement of the living and the dead when the secrets of every heart will be brough to light (Luke 12:2-3; Romans 2:16).
Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem was a two-edged sword, because it pointed not only to God’s judgment, but also to his saving action and mercy. Jesus foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and the dire consequences for all who would reject him and his saving message. While the destruction of Jerusalem’s temple was determined (it was razed by the Romans in 70 A.D.), there remained for its inhabitants a narrow open door leading to deliverance. Jesus said: “I am the door; whoever enters by me will be saved” (John 10:9). Jesus willingly set his face toward Jerusalem, knowing that he would meet betrayal, rejection, and death on a cross. His death on the cross, however, brought about true freedom, peace, and victory over the powers of sin, evil, and death – not only for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but for all – both Jew and Gentile alike – who would accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Do you know the peace and security of a life submitted to the lordship of Jesus Christ?
Jesus warns his followers that they will be confronted with persecution, wickedness, false teaching, and temptation. The real enemy of the gospel is Satan whom Jesus calls a “murderer” and “father of lies” (John 8:44). Satan uses fear and hatred to provoke hostility in others towards those who follow Jesus Christ. And what is Jesus’ response to this hostility and opposition? Love, truth, and forgiveness. Only love can defeat prejudice, intollerance, hatred, and envy. God’s love purifies our hearts and minds of all that would divide and tear people apart. The truth is also essential for overcoming evil and tribulation in the world. Satan deceives and sin blinds the heart and mind. Only God’s truth can free us from error and spiritual blindness. The gospel is God’s word of truth and salvation. That is why Jesus tells his disciples to proclaim the gospel throughout the whole world (Mark 16:15), even in the midst of opposition and persecution.
Jesus tells his disciples that if they endure to the end they will gain their lives – they will see God’s salvation and inherit eternal life and happiness with God. Endurance is more than human effort and perseverance. It is a supernational gift of the Holy Spirit which enables us to bear up under any trial, temptation, and form of persecution. Endurance is strengthened with hope – the supernatural assurance that we will see God face to face and inherit all the promises he has made. Jesus is our supreme model and hero who endured the cross for our sake (Hebrews 12:2). “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus willingly shed his blood for our sake and for our salvation and he calls us to lay down our lives for one another and to take up our cross in like manner (John 15:12-13; 1 John 3:16).
The word “martyr” in the New Testament Greek means “witness”. The Book of Revelations says that “Jesus was the faithful witness …who freed us from our sins by his blood” (Revelations 1:5). Tertullian, a second century lawyer who converted when he saw Christians singing as they went out to die by the hands of their persecutors, exclaimed: “The blood of the martyrs is seed.” Their blood is the seed of new Christians, the seed of the church. The third century bishop, Cyprian said: “When persecution comes, God’s soldiers are put to the test, and heaven is open to martyrs. We have not enlisted in an army to think of peace and to decline battle, for we see that the Lord has taken first place in the conflict.” True martyrs live and die as witnesses of the gospel. They overcome their enemies through persevering hope and courage, undying love and forebearance, kindness, goodness, and compassion.
St. Augustine of Hippo wrote, “The martyrs were bound, jailed, scourged, racked, burned, rent, butchered – and they multiplied!” Why is this the case? The Christian martyrs witnessed to the truth, joy, and freedom of the gospel, by their lives, their testimony, and by the shedding of their own blood for the name of Christ. Today we unfortunately witness many extremists and misguided individuals who will sacrifice their lives, and kill others in the process, out of hatred, revenge, prejudice, and envy. From a Christian point of view, they are not true martyrs because their sacrifice is not motivated by God’s merciful love and forgiveness, truth and righteousness.
True martyrs pray for their persecutors and love their enemies. In their suffering and in their death they witness the truth of the gospel – that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus gave his life for all who would accept him as their savior – whether Jew or Greek, Christian or Muslim, agnostic or atheist. Satan seeks to destroy our faith through the fear of death and he incites others to persecute Christians for their faith in Christ. Martyrs who shed their blood for Jesus Christ win great victory, not only for themselves, but for the whole people of God. The martyrs overcome Satan by enduring suffering and death through their faith in Christ who died and rose for us. And through their witness many others recognize the victory which Christ won on the cross. The martyrs witness to the truth – the truth of Jesus Christ and his power to overcome sin, fear, hatred, violence, and prejudice, and even death itself. What gives courage and confidence to the martyrs is the firm hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise of eternal life and and unending happiness with God.
God may call some of us to be martyrs for our faith. But for most of us, our call is to be ‘dry’ martyrs who bear testimony to the joy and power of the gospel in the midst of daily challenges, contradictions, temptations and adversities which come our way as we follow the Lord Jesus. What will attract others to the truth and power of the gospel? When they see Christians loving their enemies, being joyful in suffering, patient in adversity, pardoning injuries, and showing comfort and compassion to the hopeless and the helpless. Jesus tells us that we do not need to fear our adversaries. God will give us sufficient grace, strength, and wisdom to face any trial and to answer any challenge to our faith. Are you ready to lay down your life for Christ and to bear witness to the joy and freedom of the gospel?
“Lord Jesus Christ, by your atoning death on the cross you have redeemed the world. Fill me with joyful hope, courage, and boldness to witness the truth of your love for sinners and your victory over the powers of sin, Satan, and death.”