The Associated Press reports that 21 Coptic Christians were beheaded in Libya. They were faithful unto death. Their murderers were Islamic State (IS) members, in affiliation with the main body of IS, which is in Syria and in Iraq.
The video shows 21 captives in orange jumpsuits with each captive being led by an IS member at the Libyan shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The Christians are forced to get down on their knees and are then beheaded. All of the captors had their faces covered to hide their identities.
I suppose you could say this was IS’s version of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, although we don’t know when the executions actually took place.
In the video, the leader of the Islamic militants says to the camera, “All crusaders: safety for you will be only wishes, especially if you are fighting us all together. Therefore, we will fight you all together.”
He also says, “The sea you have hidden Sheikh Osama bin Laden’s body in, we swear to Allah we will mix it with your blood.”
And he adds, looking across toward Italy only 500 miles away or so, “We will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission.”
Amazingly, the Obama White House will only claim that the victims were Egyptians (not naming them as Christians) nor will it identify the murderers as Muslims, but rather it says that the Islamic State “is unconstrained by faith, sect or ethnicity.”
Coptic Christian Roots
Coptic Christians are from Egypt, and they trace their movement back to when St. Mark, writer of the second Gospel, came there and proclaimed the gospel and was martyred there.
The word Coptic is derived from the word Egypt, and it was the dominant religion until the forces of Islam conquered Egypt in the 7th century.
It’s fascinating to me that in Revelation, the final book of the Bible, there is a depiction of the saints of God who are waiting to be avenged since they have been unjustly killed.
“How long, O Lord?” is their cry. When will He vindicate them? The fascinating aspect of all this is that many of them are beheaded, which is not necessarily the most common historical form of martyrdom. But it is certainly used by the radical Muslims on many occasions.
Of course, there was anti-Christian persecution and martyrdom centuries before the followers of Mohammed (died 632) unleashed more persecution on the Church.
Jesus told His disciples that they were to be His witnesses for Him unto all the world. The Greek word we translate as “witness” is the word from which the word “martyr” is derived. So many of those early Christians, including almost all of the apostles, were witnesses for Christ unto death that the word came to mean, “one who testifies unto death.”
After having seen and even touched Jesus following His resurrection from the dead, the disciples were willing to be put to death for their message rather than deny what they had witnessed.
My long-time pastor, the late Dr. D. James Kennedy spoke about how one of the heroes of the faith that really touched him was Polycarp, who lived in the first and second centuries. He was a direct disciple of John, who wrote the fourth Gospel.
Dr. Kennedy said of this man, “Polycarp was brought to trial when he was eighty-six years old. He said that as a child and through all of his life he had followed Christ, and Christ had never failed him. He had ever been faithful. How could he deny Him now? And Polycarp was martyred for his faith and received that crown of life.”
Martyrdom has been a common occurrence for many Christians through the centuries. In his classic book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christian martyr of the Nazis, said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” That is to die unto himself. Martyrdom would be the ultimate example of that.
I pray in reference to the persecutors of the Christians (e.g., the radical Muslims) that God would redeem them or remove them.
Meanwhile, Christ calls His followers to be faithful, even unto death, as were those 21 brave Coptic Christians last weekend.
Jerry Newcombe is cohost and senior TV producer of Kennedy Classics. He has written or co-written 25 books. Follow him at tiam.org and @newcombejerry.