Christ came into the world as the divine, perfect, righteous Son of God. His life was a total contradiction to the lives of the men of this world; as a result they hated him and sought to kill Him. The followers of Christ, whose lives are also a contradiction to the lives of unregenerate men around them, are also the object of the same hatred. The church was born in the midst of this persecution and faced the same attempts on their lives that their Lord faced. “They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. (John 16:2-3).
There were ten distinct periods of intense persecution for the early church. This intense persecution began under Nero in 67 AD. It came to a climax in 303 AD under Diocletian. This period of martyrdom was demonically inspired and driven; those who hated Christians, intensely devised all kinds of cruel and vicious means of torture and death.
The list is large and sadistic; racks, scourges, swords, daggers, flames, impalings, crosses, lions, drownings, poisoning and famine, to name a few. The Old Testament list is added to in Hebrews 11:36-37, “And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented.”
Down the long church age persecution and martyrdom have persisted. In these last days we are seeing the slaughter of believers multiplying at a rate such as never seen before in history. One man estimated that in recent years more believers have been killed than in all the previous years of the church age.
The scripture indicates that this is but a prelude to the multiplied millions of tribulation saints who will be martyred in that dark time. The tribulation period will see the climax of the age long spiritual conflict between God and His adversary the devil.
It is not easy to determine the number of believers who are being martyred for their faith today. The estimates range from 100,000 to 170,000 each year. We do know that the numbers are on the rise.
The battle of the ages is an ongoing warfare. Satan seeks to destroy God’s people, but God works in the midst of the conflict and saves men and women. The Lord allows Satan to have his day, but martyrdom only takes place by the permissive will of God.
Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The Sovereign Lord of the universe always turns Satan’s vicious attacks on God and His people to His own glory. The scripture is a record of how God turns these attacks of Satan to His own glory.
Iran is an example of how persecution causes the church to grow. The following quotes are from a news report concerning Iran.
“A major spike in the harassment and arrest of Iranian Christians in recent months is revealing just how nervous the Islamic Republic is about the prodigious success of house churches, say Iranian Christian leaders.”
Apparently in the midst of difficult circumstances people are coming to Christ in Iran in large numbers.
The report goes on, "Iran has been substantially more public in its oppression of Christianity," said Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs, "Announcing it on the news, having the mullahs talk about it in their Friday sermons—it's just become a lot more out in the open." "Persecution has escalated to an unprecedented level," said Abe Ghaffari, executive director of Iranian Christians International. “While Iran's historic Armenian and Assyrian congregations usually enjoy freedom of worship, Farsi-speaking house churches hosting converts from Islam work under significant threat.”
The report goes on, “The government is concerned, observers say, because more and more Iranian Muslims are converting to Christianity. The house church movement is booming, with converts estimated in the hundreds of thousands. Evangelists are distributing large numbers of New Testaments, and satellite television continually beams Christian programs into the country.”
“Now analysts say Islam is losing credibility after 30 years of theocracy. Resentment against the reigning regime is spreading and deepening—especially since the disputed 2009 national elections.”
"Before the 1979 revolution, the clerics were promising that once Iran becomes an Islamic state, it would be utopia, it would be brotherhood, and everything would be fine," Dibaj said. But since then, Iranians "have seen nothing but war and fighting and international isolation and hatred, and they are thirsting for change."
“If anything, government persecution has made Christianity much more attractive,” said Yegh-nazar. He went on to say, “When government officials are on television; telling people not to read the Scriptures; that generates more interest in the Scriptures."
I suspect that in the tribulation period there will be a great number of Muslim people saved, even as God brings great judgment on the Muslim enemies of Israel. The tribulation period will result in the salvation and martyrdom of more saints than in all of history. “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands,” (Revelation 7:9).
Their identity is given in verses 13-14, “And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? And whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Though at times Satan seems to have the upper hand, God will triumph over Satan’s attempt to annihilate God’s people.