Look around at the winners! (v. 1a) The “great... cloud [assembly, mass] of witnesses” was introduced to us in Hebrews 11. They are the heroes of the faith. It is not suggested here that these men and women now in heaven are watching us as we run the race, like people seated in a stadium. The word “witnesses” does not mean “spectators.” Our English word “martyr” comes directly from the Greek word translated “witness.” These people are not witnessing what we are doing; rather, they are bearing witness to us that God can see us through. God bore witness to them (Heb. 11:2, 4–5, 39) and they are bearing witness now to us.
The English martyr Hugh Latimer said, “Whenever you see persecution, there is more than a probability that truth is on the persecuted side
We often use the words joy and happiness interchangeably, but a distinction should be made. Happiness often depends on happenings. If circumstances are encouraging and people are kind, we are happy. But joy is independent of both circumstances and people. The most joyful epistle Paul wrote was Philippians, and he wrote it from jail as he faced the possibility of being martyred for his faith.
Only God’s Spirit working within us can give us joy in the midst of problem circumstances and problem people. “The fruit of the Spirit is... joy” (Gal. 5:22). Joy is not something that we ourselves “work up”; it is something the Spirit Himself “works in”—“joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17, niv)
“Witness” is a key word in the Book of Acts and is used twenty-nine times as either a verb or a noun. A witness is somebody who tells what he has seen and heard (Acts 4:19–20). When you are on the witness stand in court, the judge is not interested in your ideas or opinions; he only wants to hear what you know. Our English word martyr comes from the Greek word translated “witness,” and many of God’s people have sealed their witness by laying down their lives
The Greek word martus, which gives us our English word martyr, simply means “a witness” (see Rev. 2:13; 17:6). These saints were slain by the enemy because of their witness to the truth of God and the message of Jesus Christ. The forces of Antichrist do not accept the truth, because Satan wants them to be deceived and accept his lies (see Rev. 19:20; 20:10; also 2 Thes. 2:9–12).
Yet Paul knew that if he were martyred, Christ would be glorified through the promotion of the gospel which would result from his testimony in death. And Paul himself would benefit, for death would result in his being with Christ
It was not the superiority of the Church’s preaching which finally disarmed the Roman imperial power, but the faithfulness of its martyrs…