From Witnesses To Martyrs
Crucifixion of St Peter upside-down at his request
Painting by Caravaggio
The Consequences Of The Great Commission
Before Jesus ascended back to heaven, he gave his followers instructions for carrying on his work of taking the Good News about the Kingdom of God to the rest of the world, beginning in Jerusalem and moving out from there (MATTHEW 28:19-20).
He told them: "You will be my witnesses - here in Jerusalem, in Judaea, in Samaria and to the ends of the earth." ACTS 1:8
The word translated witnesses is the Greek word martyres, from which we get the English word martyrs. Little did the apostles realise how soon Jesus' words would become true and that one of them would die for his witness to the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.
Stephen - The First Christian Martyr
In ACTS 6:8-8:3 Stephen, recently appointed one of the deacons to help the apostles with practical aspects of the fledgling church, was used by God to perform amazing miracles. His actions drew the unwelcome attention of a group of Jewish believers from Asia Minor (modern Turkey), who complained to the religious authorities about what he was doing.
Full of faith and the Holy Spirit, Stephen boldly testified to how the miracles had come about and launched into an amazing summary of Jewish history from the time of Abraham down to their day, showing how God had promised to send a Messiah, or Saviour, but how the religious leaders down the centuries had killed God's prophets - just as they had done recently with Jesus of Nazareth.
When Stephen said he saw a vision of the risen and exalted Christ standing in the place of honour at God's right hand, their fury knew no bounds. They hustled him out of the city and, ignoring the Law of Moses regarding the proper procedures to be followed, promptly stoned Stephen to death. One of those present was a zealous young Jewish rabbi named Saul from the city of Tarsus in Turkey.