The Blessed and Holy Martyrs. Or, On ISIS and Those Christians Whom They Behead.

I’ve been thinking and praying a lot this summer about my Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria that are being attacked, raped, and beheaded by ISIS for their faith in Christ. My thinking and praying has become more concentrated this week as I have been studying Revelation 12:7-12 in preparation for preaching on Sunday. In particular, I’ve been meditating a good deal on what John means when he writes that Christians “have conquered [the devil] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death,” (12:11). The word there translated “testimony” is the Greek word from which we get “martyr.” That is, martyrs testify/bear witness to Christ, and in this way martyrdom, though it appears to be a defeat, is in fact a victory. It is a participation in the once-for-all-decisive victory of the Lamb who was slain.

And so I think of my brothers and sisters in northern Iraq, and while it looks like a staggering defeat be not fooled, theirs is a victory: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” (Tertullian). This evening I read this vision of John’s which rings eerily close to present earthly realities: “Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years…This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years,” (Revelation 20:4-6).

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