And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:32-40, ESV)
Faith in God’s promises has led some to great exploits, even the restoring of some to life, but it has also led some on a path of persecution and even death. The world, Jesus said, would hate us because it hated him. The stories of the martyrs are many. It may be said of them particularly that they did not see the promise fulfilled in their lifetimes, their lives being cut short on this earth. But neither did those with victorious consequences see the promise fulfilled in their lifetimes.
The Hebrews were so pulled to escape back to Judaism where they believed the persecution would then cease. But that is not the way of faith and they needed to be reminded of that. Our author could go on and on but he feels they have gotten the picture. God has something better for us than this life and the only reason He has not brought the kingdom yet is that He wants to bring more people into it. Those before us will not be made perfect without us.
We do not long to be martyrs but if circumstances lead that way we must not shrink back. We will become part of the “cloud of witnesses” that others will look to for direction and courage.
“Germanicus, a young man, but a true christian, being delivered to the wild beasts on account of his faith, behaved with such astonishing courage, that several pagans became converts to a faith which inspired such fortitude.” ― John Foxe, Fox’s Book of Martyrs Or A History of the Lives, Sufferings, and Triumphant Deaths of the Primitive Protestant Martyrs