Faith under Fire

12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. 13 I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. . .’

Revelation 2:12-14 (ESV)

Chrysostom, the early Church leader, was on trial for his life. When the emperor threatened to banish him, he replied, “You cannot banish me for this whole world is my father’s house.” The emperor threatened him with execution, but Chrysostom replied, “No you cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God.” “I will take away your treasures.” “No you cannot,” he said, “for my treasure is in heaven and my heart is there.” “But I will drive you away from man and you shall have no friend left,” said the emperor. “No you cannot, for I have a friend in heaven from whom you cannot separate me. I defy you; for there is nothing that you can do to hurt me.”[1] People with real faith are fearless.

The risen Christ knew that fearless faith was needed in Pergamum (v. 12; cf. 1:10-16). Each day Christian residents saw the temple to the Emperor Augustus and knew that Pergamum, center of Asia Minor’s imperial cult, was the “throne of Satan” (v. 13). Bullying believers to declare Kurios Kaisar (Caesar is Lord), the Roman rulers regarded refusal as treason. Many paid for their faith with their lives; legend has it that Antipas was roasted in a brazen bull (v. 13, martus, “witness” became “martyr”). Yet, the Church did not buckle. Remaining faithful, they proclaimed that Christ, not Caesar, was Lord.

The plight of Pergamum’s Christians extends to believers in many lands today, and like their first-century forebears, contemporary believers are standing firm, even to the point of death. A quick look at the Voice of the Martyrs’ prisoner list (www.persecution.com) will reveal abused and incarcerated Christian citizens in scores of places such as Egypt, Iran, Laos, China, Sudan, and Eritrea. And the mortal danger extends as well to missionaries.

In a Western Church increasingly devoted to positive thinking and happy talk as a means of church growth, the temptation to obscure the potential cost of discipleship is great. When “Jesus is Lord” is translated exclusively as “Jesus is Healer, Provider, and Enabler,” newcomers can miss the fine print about the crosses they are called to bear. What may be fine print in certain churches is bold print in the New Testament. The persecuted Church is the faithful Church.

Just as God inspired John to highlight the first century’s persecuted Church in Revelation 2, the pastor of today should honor martyrs now suffering for their allegiance to Christ. But more than this, ministers might lead their congregations in courses of study, seasons of prayer, and acts of public advocacy for the cause of persecuted Christians around the world. This cannot help but stir the believers’ hearts and deepen their understanding of what it is to be a follower of Christ.

[1] Based on a quote cited by R. Kent Hughes, Romans: Righteousness from Heaven (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), 171.