This from Richard Bauckham’s The Theology of the Book of Revelation (Cambridge):
To the inhabitants of the earth (13:8) it is obvious that the beast has defeated the martyrs. The political and military might of the beast, which seems to carry all before it and wins the admiration and the worship of the world, here seems triumphant even over the witnesses of Jesus.…But John’s message is that from the heavenly perspective things look quite different. The martyrs are the real victors. To be faithful in witness to the true God even to the point of death is not to become a victim of the beast, but to take the field against him and win. (90-91)
I am not one to go out and call for Christians to die on purpose, but I must say, this quotation caused me to think about the power of martyrdom. Too often, I think, we assume that the Gospel will be vindicated through ardent persuasion. There is a large place for this in Christianity, but I wonder if we haven’t lost sight of the power of martyrdom, and if we have fallen prey to thinking that martyrdom weakens our gospel witness. Have western comforts and the desire for safety caused us to think that life is gain, and dying is loss? Perhaps we need a reformation of thought–not necessarily so that we pursue martyrdom, but so that we are ready for it if it should come.