It was reported on the news on Feb. 15, 2015 that 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians were beheaded by terrorists in Libya. Coptic Christians are some of the oldest Christians since Egypt was one of the first countries to which Christianity spread in its earliest days. They have maintained their faith despite being in the minority for centuries.
The Egyptian president reacted swiftly to the news, stating that Egypt would choose the “necessary means and timing to avenge the criminal killings.” He also declared a seven-day period of mourning to honor the slain.
In the video that was released showing the executions the terrorists also spoke threateningly to the rest of Christianity. It is clear that they would like to see all Christians destroyed. Their thirst for blood seems insatiable.
The world reacts with horror at these acts of savagery and many then rededicate themselves to fighting terrorism. But we also need to keep in mind that videos depicting these acts of terror also serve as recruiting tools. As strange as it may seem to most people, there are some who see what the terrorists are doing and, instead of reacting with revulsion, actually want to join them.
While we struggle in the aftermath of this latest act of terror, the 21 who died have gone on to eternal life in heaven. Early on Christians had to come up with a word for those who die as a result of their faith. The word they came up with was martyr, a Greek word that means witness. Martyrs are Christians who choose to die rather than deny their faith. They give the ultimate witness to the belief that we need not fear death because for our salvation Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead.
Jesus says in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:15, “Jesus died for all, that those who live, should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
We’ll probably never know if there were more than 21 in the original group of Egyptians. Perhaps, as often happens, the group members were given a choice: renounce your Christian faith or be executed. Some may have chosen to save their lives by renouncing their faith while 21 of them chose to die rather than renounce the One who died on the cross for them. Yet, as Paul says, Jesus died for all, even those who don’t have the courage to give their lives for him.
The Te Deum, an ancient Christian hymn, confidently asserts that martyrs are alive and well in heaven by stating, “The noble army of martyrs praise thee, the holy church throughout the world does acknowledge thee.” May the souls of these 21 Christian martyrs rest in peace.