“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Tertullian’s Apologeticus, defends Christianity and demands that Christianity be treated as all the other sects of the Roman Empire. He penned these words in 197 A.D.. He had witnessed his share of opposition to the Christian faith throughout his lifetime (155 – 240 A.D.)
He would have resonated with what Paul wrote to the Thessalonian believers, a young group of Christians who “became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of SEVERE SUFFERING, you welcomed the message…” (1 Thess. 1:6) In chapter 2 Paul seeks to continue his encouragement of these suffering saints by tracing with them his own experience, that of the prophets and even the Lord Jesus Christ, whose suffering accomplished so much in God’s providential plan.
“For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.” (1 Thess. 2:14-16)
- Suffering is normal. It may not be normal for many of us, who think we’re living in a tolerant, pluralistic society. But head over to Voice of The Martyrs website and you’ll be jarred into the reality of the persecuted church.
- Suffering saints benefit from the examples of others. The book of First Thessalonians is filled with ‘imitation.’ Here the believers imitate other groups of God’s people who live in a hostile environment. (On a side note, I wonder how edifying our Facebook posts and blogs are to those who live in open hostility to the gospel.)
- Suffering was experienced and predicted by Jesus Christ. Reread the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) where kingdom citizens are reminded, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Jesus, most assuredly, is not predicting health, wealth and prosperity for his followers. He suffered at the hands of wicked men and many followers have drawn persevering strength from His example.
- Suffering producers will be judged by God. Paul, in this paragraph to the Thessalonians, asserts that God’s wrath (present tense) has come upon them at last.
It must have stirred Paul to write these words. When we first encounter him, as Saul of Tarsus, in Acts 9, has “still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’ disciples.” What does God’s grace do? It removes God’s wrath and ushers those who believe into a realm of blessing. Paul had been a persecutor, how he was persecuted. Paul had displeased God and expressed his hostility to followers of the Way. BUT GOD….. God, who is rich in mercy, extended grace to this rebel and welcomed him into the family of God–those he had been on a mission to destroy!
Saul had witnessed the suffering of Stephen as the witnesses, who stoned this first martyr, laid their clothes at his feet (Acts 7:58). Yes, Tertullian, you’re right-“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”