Writing in the mid-1500s, John Foxe was living in the midst of intense religious persecution at the hands of the dominant Roman Catholic Church. In graphic detail, he offers accounts of Christians being martyred for their belief in Jesus Christ, describing how God gave them extraordinary courage and stamina to endure unthinkable torture.
From the same link, the book's purpose was fourfold:
- Showcase the courage of true believers who have willingly taken a stand for Jesus Christ throughout the ages, even if it meant death,
- Demonstrate the grace of God in the lives of those martyred for their faith,
- Expose the ruthlessness of religious and political leaders as they sought to suppress those with differing beliefs,
- Celebrate the courage of those who risked their lives to translate the Bible into the common language of the people.
The Apostle John, the brother of James, is credited with founding the seven churches of Revelation: Smyrna, Pergamos, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, Thyatira, and Ephesus. It was from Ephesus, it is said, that he was arrested and sent to Rome where he was cast into a large vessel filled with boiling oil that did not harm him. As a result, he was released and banished by the Emperor Domitian to the Isle of Patmos, where he wrote the book of Revelation. After being released from Patmos, he returned to Ephesus where he died about 98AD. He was the only apostle to escape a violent death.
Even with the continual persecutions and violent deaths, the Lord added to the church daily. The Church was now deeply rooted in the doctrine of the apostles and watered abundantly with the blood of the saints. She was prepared for the cruel persecutions to come.
I've often read that John was the only Apostle the Lord let live to a ripe old age, and the only one to escape martyrdom. Yet I often think that that in itself was a difficult end, also. John was one of the few who saw the Lord transfigured- standing atop the mountain in His glory. He was the only apostle to have seen the entire crucifixion, and was the first apostle to see the empty tomb. He saw, lived, breathed and tasted a small glimpse of glory .
Yet he lived so long...almost 70 more years after the crucifixion...he had seen his brother James die, the first apostle martyred (Acts 12:2). He had seen his family die. He had seen Mary the mother of Jesus whom he took care of, die. His friends died. He, alone, was left at the end. Having seen and tasted the glory that he knew was in front of him 70 long years prior, was made to wait the longest to come into it.
Thank you Lord for raising up such a patient and humble and long-serving servant- for your glory and our benefit. I'm so appreciative of the books he wrote: The Gospel of John, Revelation, and the epistles of John 1, 2, and 3. I know that in eternity the wait must not have seemed long, but while living so long and in such persecuting and difficult conditions, it must have felt like an eternity.