In ancient Rome, a tyrant named Phalaris commissioned a man named Perillos to build a hollow bronze bull in which they could place a criminal for execution. They would light a fire under the bull, which would roast the man inside. Perillos designed a series of tubes and stops in the bull’s head, which would transform the sounds of the screaming man inside to sound like the lowing of a bull. When the bull was finished, Phalaris punished Perillos by testing the bull on him.
Another torture device is called the “heretics fork.” This metal rod had a two-pronged fork at each end and was tied to the throat of a condemned man. One end of the fork would poke the soft area underneath of a man’s chin and the other end would poke the soft area between a man’s collar bones. This fork would make sleeping impossible as the drooping of the head would poke both the chin and the throat. The punishment was less about the pain and more about the delirium produced by the lack of sleep.
One last torture and execution was called “saw torture.” In this method, a criminal was hung upside down from a beam with their legs separated. This would cause the blood to rush to their heads and would prolong the torture. Then two executioners would get a two-man saw and would, starting between the legs, saw the person in half from between the legs, through their abdomen, and eventually all the way through. Many survived most of the cut.
Each of these methods is gruesome, disturbing and stomach-wrenching. Yet each of these is worth mentioning. These were the types of treatment the early Christians received. Christians were beaten, tortured, and executed. John the Baptist was beheaded. Jesus was crucified. Stephen was stoned. James was killed with sword. According to tradition, Peter was crucified upside-down, Andrew was also crucified, Thomas was pierced by a lance, and James Alpheus was stoned and then clubbed. We know other followers of God were also killed for their faith. Consider these verse:
“…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…” (Heb 11.35-37).
Christians have suffered innumerable difficulties in their discipleship—some have survived and others have died. It is clear that following Jesus is an “all-or-nothing” affair. We agree to give it all—life included—or we get nothing. We have to be willing to suffer for Jesus if we are going to live godly lives (cf. 2 Tim 3.12). We are no exception in modern-day America. Whether we will ever experience persecution to this level is debatable and remains to be seen, yet we must be willing. No matter what we suffer, He is worth it.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8.18).