Day 209: Matthew 24:9

Then you will be arrested and handed over to be punished and be put to death.  Everyone will hate you because of me.

[This is the one of 15 scriptures in which Jesus provides his disciples with some details about the Second Coming of Christ.  For more on the Second Coming see Day 150.  For more on the Messiah see Day 145.  For more on the End of the Age see Day 128.]

Clue #4: There will be martyrdom.  I decided to look up martyrdom in good old Wikipedia for a little background on the word, mainly to see how many of the disciples were actually martyred for their faith.  A couple of things caught my eye.  First, I liked their definition:

Common features of stereotypical martyrdoms

  • A hero  – A person of some renown who is devoted to a cause believed to be admirable.
  • Opposition –  People who oppose that cause.
  • Foreseeable risk – The hero foresees action by opponents to harm him or her, because of his or her commitment to the cause.
  • Courage and Commitment – The hero continues, despite knowing the risk, out of commitment to the cause.
  • Death – The opponents kill the hero because of his or her commitment to the cause.
  • Audience response – The hero’s death is commemorated. People may label the hero explicitly as a martyr. Other people may in turn be inspired to pursue the same cause.

And then I saw this:

The concept of Jesus as a martyr has recently received greater attention. Analyses of the Gospel passion narratives have led many scholars to conclude that they are martyrdom accounts in terms of genre and style. Several scholars have also concluded that Paul the Apostle understood Jesus’ death as a martyrdom. In light of such conclusions, some have argued that the Christians of the first few centuries would have interpreted the crucifixion of Jesus as a martyrdom.

After I read this I got confused.  I had always thought of Jesus as a martyr but according to this article this is a new or somehow controversial idea.  So, I asked my husband whether he thought Jesus was a martyr.  He has a divinity degree from Yale University, and he said he had never thought of Jesus as a martyr.

Jesus, not a martyr?  What’s that all about?  How could anyone say that he wasn’t a martyr? It seemed to me that he is the epitome of a martyr!  And yet, the article says that this is a new idea.  Is this because of some Christendom theology that dictates that his death was “necessary” or “predestined” so that he can’t be classified as a martyr because he wasn’t truly operating out of his own free will?  Or some other crazy notion that demeans his heroics?  So what ensued was yet another crazy discussion with my husband because I had absolutely no idea whatsoever about what he was talking about.  At the end of it all, after about a half an hour, here is what I learned.

In the Old Testament, there is no word for “martyr.”  In the Jewish culture there was no difference between a prophet who was persecuted for his beliefs and a prophet who was not.  In the New Testament, the word for “martyr” in Greek meant someone who states what he believes to be true.  It meant to testify or state what they have seen or heard (as in a court of law) so the word was essentially was the same as our modern English word for “witness.”

Over time, as more and more people were “martyred” for “witnessing,” about Jesus, the meaning of the word began to change.  The word changed to mean people who were killed for professing their faith in Christ.   Then, over time, the meaning of the word further evolved to its modern meaning – anyone who is persecuted for stating their beliefs or standing up for their principles, regardless of whether it’s a religious or secular principle.

So, my learned husband was taught that Steven was the first martyr, and the Christian usage of the word applies only to those who are killed for professing their faith in Christ.  He never really thought about the concept of Jesus as a martyr as it relates to the common, modern, English usage of the word.  I learned that most formally educated pastors would say that Jesus was not (in the jargon of the church) a martyr, nor was anyone who else who lived before him.  Martyrs are those like the ones in this picture who refused to worship Roman gods and were thrown to the lions.

It turns out that our disagreement was not a difference in theology, it was simply a matter of semantics.  If I had heard a pastor, like my husband, preach that Jesus was not a martyr, I would had thought he was wrong or weird.  However, because we live together we were able to engage in conversation about it, the source of the misunderstanding was unearthed.

How often do we misinterpret something we hear from the pulpit because of misunderstand and miscommunication?  I guess that’s the problem with preaching.  I prefer to be able to discuss these things, rather than being “taught”.  I think Sunday mornings should be a lot more interactive.  Kind of like the early morning discussions I have with my husband.  Because we usually end up agreeing in the end.  It usually ends up that we both agree with Jesus, and we both believe in the power of love.  And he agreed with me that according to the modern usage of the word “martyr” Jesus would indeed apply.

Back to the scripture.  Surely many were martyred for following Jesus.  I wondered about the rate of the disciples he was talking to when he made this statement.  Back to Wikipedia:

Deaths of the Twelve Apostles

Christian tradition has generally passed down that all but one were martyred, with John surviving into old age. Only the death of James, son of Zebedee is described in the New Testament (Acts 12:1-2), and the details of the other deaths are the subject of pious legends of varying authenticity. In some cases there is near unanimity in the tradition, and in other cases, there are widely varying and inconsistent accounts.

Judas Iscariot, originally one of the twelve, died after Jesus’ trial. Matthew 27:5 says that he hanged himself, and Acts 1:18 says that he fell, burst open, and his “bowels gushed out.” Matthias was elected to take his place as one of the twelve.

So legend has it that most of the disciples were martyred, but it isn’t in the Bible.  Only one was martyred.   Jesus’ prediction was not just that people would be killed.  The scripture also says that they will be punished and hated and I’m sure that was true.  Peter’s persecution is well documented.

One way or another, there was martyrdom, which was not the kind of thing that they probably wanted to hear.  I know it isn’t something I would want to hear.  I’m sure they were totally freaked out when Jesus said this.  They probably wondered what they had gotten themselves into.  Maybe this was when Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, decided he was not on board with this agenda.  Maybe he didn’t want to be killed and punished and hated.  Maybe he decided enough was enough and it was time to shut it down.

But in the end you can’t run away from the truth and you can’t shut it down.  You have to stand up for what’s right regardless of the results.  But if you are nice about it you are less likely to be killed and punished and hated.  No point in being a martyr if it isn’t necessary.  There is, after all, an important distinction between being martyred for your cause and getting put down for being a jerk about it.  A lot of people never figure that out.  Don’t say no one ever told you.

What does this scripture say to you?


One thought on “Day 209: Matthew 24:9

  1. Interesting post. I never thought of Jesus that way. He was not executed against His will, but He was human and asked God for a way out if there was one, but wanted God’s will to be done no matter what. I ‘feel’ like Jesus is in another category. lol



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