How Important Was the Doctrine of Hell to The Martyrs?
Hell was (and is still) a big part of the belief system of Christianity. Heaven is the portion of the afterlife that is set apart for the righteous children of God; those who have followed Him and devoted their earthly life to serving Him. Hell is another not so pleasant portion of the afterlife. This place is reserved for the sinners of the world who have rejected Jesus and His teachings, and instead have pursued their own sinful lusts and desires.
The martyrs for Christ gave the ultimate sacrifice. They died for their beliefs, placing all of their faith and hope on the promise of eternal life with Jesus Christ. Of course, heaven was a big inspiration for them. It gave them something to look forward to. They knew, that no matter what happened to them in this life; they would go to a much better place afterwards.
What about hell? How was that important to the martyrs? Unlike heaven, hell was not something to look forward to. I believe that the doctrine of hell was used as a tool to strengthen their resolve to stand firm in the faith. If they crumbled under the pressure to give in and deny their Lord, then heaven would elude them; and the promise of eternal damnation would linger over their heads. The thought of losing an entrance to heaven, and ending up in hell gave them an even stronger courage to withstand the pressures of the government.
I recently read the story of Perpetua and Felicity. They were Christian martyrs of the 3rd century. In Perpetua’s written account of her experience she became worried about her younger brother who had died around the age of 7. She prayed for him, that he would not suffer the eternal fires of hell, and afterwards she felt at peace about her brother’s future.
The martyrs for Christ were not worried about whether they would end up in heaven or in hell. If they had any doubts about their faith, then they would have surely not been able to go through with persecution without breaking down and giving in.
The martyr Polycarp threatened the emperor with eternal damnation saying; “you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly.” The martyrs of Christ were not worried about whether they would go to heaven or hell, because they were sure that what they were doing was right. However, hell was used as a powerful tool of persuasion for the ungodly. Often, the condemned Christians used the threat of hell to try to encourage their persecutors to believe in the Gospel.
The doctrine of hell was very important to the martyrs of Christ. It was not only used as a persuasive argument for the ungodly, but it also served to strengthen their resolve to stand firm in their faith. Ultimately, the martyrs were very strong people who would not give in to the pressures and tortures of the government; but instead stood unwavering in their faith and belief until the very end.