John Barnett

Jesus jealously longs for us to love Him supremely - like His faithful saints did in the early church! From the depths of the catacombs, by dim and flickering light, the upturned sea of faces sang praises to the Lamb that was slain. Above ground, just thirty feet over their heads, a chariot clattered along the Roman road heading to the Coliseum. Inside that magnificent structure, nearly 80,000 spectators already strained to get a good view. The preliminary activities of fighting beasts drew only partial approval from the crowd. Soon blood would be seen, and that was what they came to see. Human blood from helpless Christians herded into the red-stained sand always drew rapt attention. As gladiators jabbed the unarmed participants, rounded up from various raids on the fledgling church, hunger-crazed predators circled in their cages awaiting a meal of those being pushed into the pit. Then the trumpet sounded! The crowd roared as defenseless men, women, and children faced the attacking wave of claws, fangs, and roars. Soon it was over. Blood and some bones were all that remained. As the mesmerized crowds departed, they were eagerly anticipating yet another exhibition on the morrow.

The next attraction for the day was in the torch-lit gardens of the Forum. At dusk the emperor would raise tied-and-pitch-covered human torches on wooden poles - Christians being martyred. They suffered greatly as they were burned alive to light the path of the citizens of the persecuting empire!

As night mercifully fell, the worshipers who lived in the catacombs crept up the city storm sewers to risk their lives in search of bones from the arena’s blood-soaked sands and body parts from the smoldering stakes. They reverently carried them down into the catacombs and buried them with tear-filled songs of praise to the God of hope and comfort who alone could give them courage to go on. This was life for the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ during the latter part of the first century in the Roman Empire.

What was it that made them behave so bravely in such trying times? They were godly saints who followed the narrow path, the cross of Jesus - “the Way” (John 14:6; Acts 24:14-15). In Acts 19:11-20, Luke described many extraordinary and miraculous events with amazing conversions and life transformations. These saints believed the truth about God. Because they believed rightly, they behaved rightly.

Taken from "The First-Century Church" by Discover the Book Ministries.