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The First Christian Martyrs

The First Christian Martyrs

Most of us know that Christianity appeared about the time Christ was born in the first century after His birth. What we have heard from Christian sermons, books and other similar materials, is that a great number of the first Christians were martyrs for Christ, like, for example deacon Stephen, who was stoned to death because of his believe in Christ (Acts 7:59). He is one among many, perhaps thousands or tens of thousands. The way they died was shameful, just like the death Christ, suffered some years before.

First Christian Martyrs: Saint Stephen
St. Stephen

The history of the Christian church starts with them. The Roman emperor Nero (37-68 AD) was the first in history who started persecuting the Christians. He even organized the so-called “games” in the arenas in Rome, where the first Christians found their death in front of the Roman people’s eyes. Lions attacked and ate everything put in front of them. Polish author Henryk Sienkiewicz wrote the book Quo Vadis, where these events were established. He describes the horror the first Christians had to go through because of their faith in Christ. In Sienkiewicz’s words, the lions were left without food for a very long time, after that they were let to enter the arena, where the Christians were situated in front of the audience. People were very pleased to see others die, they were even happy. That was a typical characteristic of the Roman empire at that time.

Another way the first Christians were killed was through public burning and crucifixion (the way Christ was executed in 30 A.D.). Historical sources claim that they were persecuted because they represented a kind of threat for the emperor. This refers, to some extent, to Jesus’ birth and the consequent persecution and killing of all the little male children, aged one to three years old. Having heard that a new King to Israel was born, Herod started killing all the infants in Judea, feeling, as mentioned earlier, threatened for his ruling.

First Christian Martyrs: Saint James the Greater
St. James

On the whole, all of the first Christians belonged to secret societies, because of the threat they represented in the emperor’s eyes. Before mentioned deacon Stephen had a close relationship with Jesus Christ, which the Jewish religious leaders considered blasphemous. That was namely the reason for Stephen’s being stoned to death, which turned him into one of the first martyrs of the Christian faith.

James, the son of Zebedee, is another prominent apostle among Jesus’ disciples, who was considered a martyr in catholic, orthodox and protestant sources. In some of them he is considered the first martyr of Christianity.


First Christian Martyr: Saint Peter
St. Peter by Rubbens

In this way he is similar to Peter, another one among Jesus’ disciples, whose temper is also described as a hot one. Peter had a great faith and boldness, he walked on water, but he also denied Jesus in the night of His betrayal. After the day of Pentecost Peter became one of the most powerful leaders of the early church. He performed many miracles and healing’s and he was violently persecuted by the Jewish authorities. Finally, he was captured and thrown to prison and sentenced to death. On the day of his execution he declared that he was not worthy to die the same way his Lord died, so he asked to be crucified upside down, the upper part of the cross turned downwards.

This was how life was for the first Christians. Let’s take a look at Hebrews 11 and see how the author describes them:

Through faith they conquered kingdoms, brought about justice, realized promises, shut the mouths of lions, put out raging fires, escaped from the edge of the sword, found strength in weakness, were mighty in war, and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured and refused to be released so they could gain a better resurrection. But others experienced public shame by being taunted and whipped; they were even put in chains and in prison. They were stoned to death, they were cut in two, and they died by being murdered with swords. They went around wearing the skins of sheep and goats, needy, oppressed, and mistreated. The world didn’t deserve them. They wandered around in deserts, mountains, caves, and holes in the ground.

Are we ready to live in the same way?

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