The word martyr originally meant “witness”—someone who testifies to truths they have personally seen, heard, and experienced. Even in the first generation of believers, though, the word came to signify someone who testified to truth under threat of death. That’s what we mean today— a martyr is someone who chooses to die rather than to deny the gospel of Christ.
The Thessalonians were being severely persecuted and menaced with martyrdom. Why? Because they refused to bow before local gods, including the emperor. Such worship was regarded as a civil duty. To fail to do so was unpatriotic, even treasonous. It was easy for the Jews to stir up trouble for the Thessalonian Christians (1 Thess. 2:14–16).
Nonetheless, they were standing firm and even growing in their faith, a fact for which Paul was thankful (vv. 3–4). He’d similarly praised them in his first letter, highlighting “your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 1:3).
“All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right” (1 Thess. 1:5)—the Thessalonians were true believers genuinely called and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The final outcome was assured. Suffering is part of every believer’s sanctification. When all is said and done, the Thessalonians would endure and be “counted worthy” or “made worthy.” All this is also evidence that “God is just” (vv. 6–7a). In the end, persecutors will be punished and suffering believers will be comforted. With God on our side, victory is certain. A biblical theology of suffering teaches us that perseverance is evidence of salvation and of God’s righteousness. Faith in God gives us the hope, strength, and grace to endure.
>> What would it look like to stand for Jesus, even in the face of forceful opposition? Have you ever encountered conflict because of your faith in Christ? Ask God today for the strength you need to be faithful.
Some of us face more persecution than others, but all Christians endure suffering. Lord, strengthen us to persevere through trials and embolden us to face opposition to the gospel - even to the point of death.