Martyrs: Why and how they died for their faith

By: Katherine Abraham

By: Katherine Abraham

Do you know any Christian martyrs in the bible? Have you ever asked why and how they died for their faith?

India is no exception. Many Christians have shed blood in the name of faith in this country. Persecution Relief commemorated Indian Christian Martyrdom Day (ICMD) on July 22. Through this, people are receiving information and awareness about Christian witnesses. The more we learn about this the more we repeat the question: why and how they died for their faith.

Not all martyrs die for their faith. Some fight for freedom, some for equality and some suffer for the advocacies that are close to their hearts. Soldiers who serve their country die for freedom. Martin Luther King Jr. died fighting for equality. Mother Teresa of Calcutta dedicated her entire life and service to the underprivileged  in India, the poorest of the poor.

Religious martyrs all have something in common. First, they have a firm faith or belief that spurs them on. Second, they are willing to suffer, even to death, rather than abandon their belief. They believe that death is not the end. They put their trust in someone more powerful than their persecutors. They have a hope that whatever happens, God will use their life and sacrifice for His glory.

Do you know that Christianity is the most persecuted religion? In spite of this, Christianity today has the largest number of adherents.

Indian Christian Martyrs

indian martyr

The list of Christian witnesses in India begins with Thomas the Apostle. After the disbursement of Christians from Jerusalem, he set foot in India to preach the gospel. He was killed by a spear in Mylapore, Madras, India in AD 72.

John de Britto

Dubbed as “John the Baptist of India” this Portuguese-Jesuit was a missionary. He converted Thadiyathevan, the polygamous Marava prince, who then dismissed all his wives. One wife happened to be the niece of the king of a neighboring kingdom. This led to a fierce quarrel that led to the persecution of all Christians, resulting in Britto’s execution in 1693.

Devasahayam Pillai (1712-1752)

Born to a Hindu family, his birth name was Neelalandan Pillai. He became a Christian and died a martyr in 1752.

Sadhu Sundar Singh (1889-1929)

This Sikh converted to Christianity and was ostracized by his family. His heart was set towards Tibet and Nepal. He longed to take the gospel message to these countries. Legend has it that he died a martyr’s death on his last journey to Tibet in 1929.

The Unnamed Catholic Martyrs

Catholic Martyrs

In the 1990s three newly-converted Catholics died in Assam for accepting a foreign religion.

In 1994 three priests were killed by persecutors when their church was bombed in the South Chotanagpur region.

Early in 1995, five Franciscan nuns were brutally killed near the border between Delhi and Ghaziabad.

Sister Rani Maria

In February 1996 Sister Rani Maria died a martyr’s death. Her mutilated body was found to have received more than forty knife wounds.

Graham Stuart Straines

In January 1999 Graham Stuart Straines, an Australian Christian missionary, died with his two sons, Philip and Timothy. They were burnt to death. He had lived and worked with some of the poorest Adivasi communities in Odisha for almost thirty-five years.

Father Arul Das

In November 1999 Father Arul Das, a Catholic Priest, was the victim of a hate campaign. He died at the hands of religious fundamentalists.

In 2016 many others were killed, including Bharat Ki Beti (Sister Esther), Pastor Yohan Maraiah, Pastor Chamu Purthy, Pastor Gurumurthy Madi, Pastor David Lugun and Pastor Abel Patadi. These faithful people all died for their faith.

Why Martyrs Die for their Faith

flowers for the dead

Let’s discuss the reasons why Christians adhere to their beliefs even to the point of death. From where does their strength come? What is it that they hold on to?

One of the keys to this is the Bible. To Christians, it is the Word of God. It is the main tool to learn about God’s will. They believe that God inspired all the books in the Bible. It is profitable for doctrine and reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness.

From the Bible, Christians learn about the great controversy between good and evil. It is a battle between God and Satan. It shows the love of God for humanity from the beginning of the world to its end. It tells how Satan hates God and all His followers. God’s enemy wants to destroy everything and blame God for all that is evil in the world.

Christian martyrs believe that they are God’s people whom Satan hates so much. They do not see their persecutors as enemies. Rather, they forgive their persecutors, believing they don’t understand what they are doing. Instead of feelings of hatred towards their perpetrators for the suffering and death they are causing, they ask God to forgive them. They even pray that they will come to know the truth, free from Satan’s deception.

Most of all, Christian saints hold on to the promise of eternal life when the great controversy is over. They look forward to the great prize awaiting them at the end of the journey. Although they die, God has promised to take them eventually to heaven to live with Him forever.

Stories of Martyrs in the Bible

he is risen


The second-born son of Adam and Eve. His brother killed him because they did not share the same belief. Cain wanted to worship God in a way that seemed right and proper in his own sight. Abel believed and followed God’s will and instructions for appropriate worship. God accepted Abel’s offering while rejecting Cain’s. He died at his brother’s hand for doing God’s will. This was the beginning of the persecution of all people who follow the will of God.


Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah or Christ. Jesus is the Son of God incarnate. He became a man to redeem the world. He is the antitype of the Lamb killed for the forgiveness of sin. His life on earth was a pattern, showing the way for all mankind to live according to God’s will. He suffered and died on the cross for the salvation of humanity. Because of this, some of His followers are even willing to suffer martyrdom. Christians believe that following Jesus’ death He was resurrected and is now in heaven. He left mankind the promise of eternal life and a perfect world at the end of the great controversy.

Thomas the Apostle

After the disbursement of the early Christian followers, Thomas sailed to India. His purpose was to spread the gospel to Asia. He landed in Muziris, modern-day Cranganore, on the Kerala coast in AD 52. Through him, Christianity reached across India, China and Indonesia.

King Misdeus became angry at him for converting the queen and other members of the royal family. He was killed by a spear in Mylapore, Madras, India in AD 72.


One of the deacons of the early church, Stephen’s teachings angered the Jewish leaders. He exposed their corrupt practices and distorted characters while preaching that Jesus is the Son of God. He was charged with blasphemy and during his trial sealed his fate by denouncing the Jewish authorities. He was publicly stoned and yet, while on the verge of death, he prayed for his enemies. He asked God to forgive them and not hold them accountable for their misdeeds.

Peter the Apostle

One of the pillars of Christianity,it is believed that Jesus entrusted Peter with the task of continuing His work. The Roman Catholics honor him as the first pope. Other Christians regard him as one of the most critical and influential martyrs.

During his ministry he escaped Herod’s dungeon and travelled to vast territories as a leader among the evangelists. He raised the dead to life—all through the power of God.

Finally, the Emperor Nero had him crucified upside down. Today, Peter continues to spread the gospel through his writings. You can read these in the First and Second Epistles of Peter in the Bible.

John the Revelator

John died of natural causes despite being persecuted. He was thrown into boiling oil but survived the ordeal. He lived long enough to author the Gospel of John, three letters and the book of Revelation. These Spirit-inspired writings continue to convert souls into the fold of Christ.

Notable Protestant Martyrs


Protestantism arose during the middle ages and many Christians died because their beliefs differed from the established church. This affected the world’s political landscape. The church and state declared the reformers to be heretics. Failure to recant their beliefs resulted in many Christian martyrs dying a brutal death, such as burning at the stake.

Meet some influential martyrs:

John Wycliffe

Wycliffe was dubbed the Morning Star of the English reformation. His most outstanding achievement was translating the Vulgate Bible from the Latin into the English vernacular of the day. This once-revered theology professor at Oxford University began to question the authority of the Church, comparing the luxurious lifestyle of the clergy to the vow of poverty they undertook.

Wycliffe exposed many unbiblical practices of the Catholic Church, citing the corruption of its leaders and the departure from the Bible of their beliefs. Based on his in-depth study of the Bible he formulated several doctrines and these actions were the precursor to the massive protestant reformation.

In the years following his death from a stroke in 1384, his works were burned and his followers denounced and persecuted.  He was declared a heretic at the Council of Constance in 1415. This was later confirmed by Pope Martin V in 1428, on whose orders Wycliffe’s remains were exhumed from the consecrated burial ground, burned and the ashes scattered in the river. 

William Tyndale

Tyndale was the first to translate the Bible directly from the Hebrew and Greek into the English language. He wanted people to be able to read and understand the Bible for themselves. This led many hearts to be opened to the truth of God’s Word, causing a severe blow to the influence of the Catholic Church.

Tyndale was declared a heretic and sentenced to death by strangulation and his body burned in 1536.

John Huss

Huss was a Czech priest who disputed the validity of the doctrines of ecclesiology and the eucharist as practiced by the Church at that time. He was charged with heresy for his continuous defiance and sentenced to be burned alive.

On the execution platform he was given a final chance to recant his teachings, but he remained faithful to his beliefs and perished at the stake in July 1415.

Jerome of Prague

Jerome, a Czech philosopher, theologian and follower of Huss, was one of the first leaders of the reformation in central Europe. In 1412, he engaged with Huss in a widely reported public debate against papal commands, especially the sale of indulgences, believing them to be in conflict with the laws of Christ.

He was imprisoned on a number of occasions and at one point recanted his beliefs.  The following day he retracted and was sentenced to death. He was burned at the stake in 1416 and is rumoured to have sung hymns of praise to God as the flames began to rise.

Modern Martyrdom: How Faithful Are We?

Modern martyr

Religious persecution still thrives in some parts of the world today. Where there are differences in beliefs, persecution may occur.

In some parts of India, for example, religious extremists are known to burn down Christian churches. There are communist countries that threaten Christian missionaries who try to cross their borders.

Persecution is a form of discrimination against those with differing religious beliefs. Intimidation and abuse occurs within the community, workplace or school.

Could you remain faithful to your beliefs under persecution like some of the characters we have read about? Have you found fulfilment and happiness in your life today? Or would you consider becoming a Christian witness? Do you want to experience the same level of hope that these Christian martyrs cherished? You can have it today too!

Let us know how you feel about this. Send us your message and we will help you find answers to all your questions.

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