Below are the notes to a message I preached on the 56th anniversary of the martyrdom of Jim Elliot and his comrades in Ecuador in 1956. Audio will be added when it becomes available.
I. THE CALL TO MARTYRDOM AS FOUNDATIONAL TO APOSTOLIC CHRISTIANITY
The New Testament and the witness of Church history, exalt the call to martyrdom is foundational and indispensable to authentic apostolic Christianity. It is at the core of the call to Christ-exalting faith and obedience. When and where this calling is faithfully expounded, appropriately emphasized, and rightly demonstrated, the Church will mature and fulfill the high calling for which she was conceived. When and where it is avoided, omitted, and dismissed, the Church will exist beneath the intentions of God, in a state of general irrelevance before the peoples of the earth and the powers of the air.
As I aim to show, the call to martyrdom is not reserved for nations and peoples undergoing persecution. It is for every believer. When Jesus called us, He called us all to “come and die.”
Though not every believer is called to give a martyr-witness, every believer is called to embrace a martyr-mentality, every church a martyr-mandate, and every minister a martyr-theology. Whether we live or die is ultimately in the hands of our Master. And if we have not entrusted Him with that decision, we may be deluding ourselves into assuming we are His bondservants when in fact we are not.
As long as we live under the influence of the assumption that we are not called to such a standard we will, by default, live without “a proper and appropriate antagonism to the world in attempts to preclude the possibility that we might die the death of Christ. We [will then secure] our own fates as nonmartyrs.” Such self-preservation however, does not befit those who worship a crucified King and a slain Lamb.
II. THE CALL TO MARTYRDOM AS A HISTORICAL CONTINUUM
Martyrdom at The Beginning
In one concentrated timeframe, John the Baptist, Jesus, and Stephen were slain. The bloody executions of these three men set a precedent for first century believers: in order to follow Christ, one must be willing to die.
The prominent place of martyrdom in the early Church is made evident by the stunning fact that in the wake of Stephen’s death (which was overseen by Saul or Tarsus, another future martyr), nearly all of the original disciples were violently killed. Church history suggests that of the 12, it is possible that only John the Beloved died a natural death. All the others stained the far corners of the Roman Empire with their blood.
James, the son of Zebedee, was the first to know death as gain when Herod Agrippa executed him with the sword in Jerusalem around AD 44. Phillip was killed in Phrygia in AD 54 after his head was fastened to a pillar and rocks were hurled at his defenseless body. In AD 63 James, the brother of Jesus, was cast down from the Temple, stoned, and then beaten to death with a club. In AD 64 Barnabbas was dragged out of the city Salamina on Cyprus and then burned. That same year Mark was dragged to the stake through the streets of Alexandria resulting in “his whole body [being] torn open, so that there was not a single spot on it, which did not bleed.” He was dead before he reached the stake. Tradition suggests Peter was crucified upside down in Rome around AD 67-68. Andrew was crucified in Greece. Jude was killed in what is now Iran. And Thomas spilled his blood on the distant soil of India. The death of those young men and the subsequent beheading of the apostle Paul marked the beginning of a historical continuum of martyrdom that persists to this very day.
Martyrdom at Present
Statistically speaking, the subject of martyrdom is more relevant now than it has ever been in light of the fact that it is now more prolific than it has ever been.
In 2002 David Barrett estimated that “approximately 164,000 Christians [would] die as martyrs [that year] and that the average number of Christian martyrs each year will grow to 210,000 by the year 2025.” According to Barrett’s research, there were approximately 45,400,000 martyrs in the twentieth century. This means that the previous century saw more martyrs than every century before it combined. In his book, The New Persecuted (I Nuovi Perseguitati), Italian journalist Antonio Socci argues that 65% of all Christian martyrs were slain in the twentieth century.
In nations like Nigeria, Indonesia, Philippines, Bangladesh, Iran, Columbia, and North Korea, the issue of martyrdom is a cold hard reality. To dismiss this subject is to dishonor those who at this very moment are faced with the threat of violence for their faith in Christ.
While we in the West may believe the subject of martyrdom to be fringe and irrelevant, the testimony of the slain around the world in our generation urges us to reconsider. In view of the mounting violence against Christians in the nations, it is likely that those who dismiss the issue of martyrdom are the ones who are fringe and irrelevant, for it is they who are the minority.
Martyrdom Until the End
The prophetic Scriptures are abundantly clear that the greatest expression of martyrdom will occur in the generation of the Lord’s return after “the whole world” receives a “witness” concerning “the Gospel of the Kingdom.” The penetration of the Gospel into every nation, tribe, and tongue will result in a bloody backlash. This is not to say that the end-time missions thrust will be unfruitful. On the contrary. Men, woman, and children from every nation will vow their allegiance to Jesus. The final push towards global evangelism will be met with vehement rage. Jesus said that as the Gospel of the Kingdom is being heralded across the earth during the tumultuous time of tribulation, “all nations will hate” believers and “put [them] to death.” The impact of this unprecedented wave of persecution will claim the lives of Christ-followers in “every nation, people, tribe, and tongue.” This is a staggering prophetic reality. Every nation will be painted red with the blood of the faithful. These end-time martyrs will “come up out of the great tribulation” to be counted among the “full number” of martyrs that, according to Jesus, has already been ordained in God’s sovereignty.
The prophetic texts speak of an age-ending scourge in which a Satanic tyrant will be granted authority “to make war on the saints and to conquer them.” Christians will be “given into his hands” and will be “worn out” as he “makes war with them” and “prevails over them.” During that final time of “tribulation,” that tyrannical “man of sin” will “destroy mighty men and the saints” as he “goes out with great fury to destroy and devote many to destruction.” Many in that day will “stumble by sword and flame, captivity and plunder.”
Martyrdom will be so prolific in that final hour that Jesus declared it to be one of the premier signs of the times indicating the nearness of His return and the end of the age. If we ignore or dismiss this issue now, we seal our fate as those who will be unprepared to “stand” and “endure” in the midst of the coming storm.
III. THE CALL TO MARTYRDOM AS FUEL FOR MISSIONS
Nowhere in Scripture is this more evident than in Philippians and II Timothy. From prison Paul wrote to a congregation and to a young man. To the congregation he said “to live is Christ and to die is gain” and that he “counted all things as loss for the sake of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.” And to the young man he said “suffer by he power of God” “like a good soldier.”
After hearing Hudson Taylor speak in 1887 about the mandate concerning frontier missions, young Amy Wilson Carmichael became convinced that the Lord was calling her to the nations and a life of ministry. Before long, she left Ireland by ship as a single woman in her 20’s bound for a distant and hostile land. She never returned. After spending over 55 years in Asia without furlough she met her Maker face to face through a natural death at the age of 83. She was buried in the Indian soil beneath a birdbath after requesting that no stone be set upon her grave. Looking back over her life she penned the following.
“The night I sailed for China, March 3, 1893, my life, on the human side, was broken, and it never was mended again. But He has been enough.”
The call to martyrdom should be revered as fuel for the end-time missions movement. Without a martyr-consecration we will not respond to the challenges associated with the final frontier of world missions: Islam.
Globally there are over 6,000 unreached people groups with a population of over 2 billion people. The largest religious block on the map of the unreached and unengaged is Islam. The Joshua Project reports these sobering statistics.
- The population of the Islamic world is 1,537,185,000.
- Within that population of 1.5+ billion people are 2,840 different unreached people groups.
- 87.4 % of those 1.5+ billion people have yet to hear the Gospel.
- Or, to say it another way, 1,343,613,000 Muslims have yet to hear the name of Jesus.
While every religious block constitutes a substantial challenge to the global Church clearly Islam is the most daunting. It is the largest and the most hostile. Consequently, the amount of missionaries on the field is tragically small. Joshua Lingel explains the level of activity within this block by saying that
Only one percent of all Christian missionaries go to do direct ministry amongst Muslims (1,800 missionaries total). That’s one missionary for every 550,000 Muslims! For every Mormon you have ever met, there are 130 Muslims in the world. That’s equivalent to having about five churches and 150 pastors for all of North America. Said differently, it would be like having the option to go to church in Texas (if you’re fortunate to be that close) or say Boston perhaps, and three other locations in the U.S. on any given Sunday morning.
Christian martyrdom is motivated by the believer’s Spirit-wrought desire to spend eternity with his enemy that he loves enough to serve through suffering—even unto death. Until the Church displays this desire to the nations, especially Islamic nations, her witness will fall on deaf ears, if it even falls at all.
Our proclamation of “the Gospel of the Kingdom to the whole world” will be undermined to the degree that our desire to preserve our lives rivals our desire to “finish [our] course and the ministry that [we] received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” Or, to say it positively, our contribution to the task of global missions will be as great as our conviction that the fame of Christ’s name among those who are perishing is worth the investment of our mortal lives. Without that conviction we simply will not go.
 By “apostolic Christianity” I mean “the sort of Christianity that the apostles embraced, taught, and demonstrated.” In Jude 3 we are commanded to “contend earnestly for the faith that was delivered to the saints” at the start to and through the apostles.
 Luke 14:27
 Craig Hovey. To Share in the Body: A Theology of Martyrdom for Today’s Church (p. 18). Kindle Edition.
 Acts 12:2
 The details of the executions can be found in first chapter of The Martyrs Mirror, Herald Press (VA); 2 Reprint edition (December 1938).
 Barrett, “Annual Statistical Table on Global Mission: 2002,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 26, no. 1 (January 2002): 23.
 Barrett, George T. Kurian, and Todd M. Johnson, World Christian Encyclopedia: A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions—AD 30 to 2200, vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 11.
 EWTN, 10 May 2002, Online article http://www.ewtn.com/vnews/getstory.asp?number=26402
 Matthew 24:14
 Matthew 24:9-14
 Revelation 7:9-14
 Revelation 6:9-11
 Revelation 13:7
 Daniel 7:21-25
 “Man of sin” is the title Paul gave this man commonly referred to as “the antichrist” or “the beast.”
 Daniel 8:24
 Daniel 11:44
 Daniel 11:33-34
 Matthew 24:3-14
 A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael by Elisabeth Elliott; Fleming H. Revell, 23rd printing, June 2003, p. 64
 From the article Consider Again Your Vocation; accessed online November 2011 (http://www.i2ministries.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=13:consider-again-your-vocation&catid=27:articles-category&Itemid=72)
 Matthew 24:9-14
 Acts 20:24