The word martyr originated from the Greek word pronounced mar-toos, which actually meant witness. Various Bible versions translate the same original word interchangeably as "martyr" or "witness." Eventually, for a very gory reason, martyr came to mean the fate of a great number of God's "witnesses" through history - they were killed, often in the most incredibly brutal and bizarre means imaginable, very often by other people who claimed to be Christians! In reading what was done to the Christian martyrs (not for the faint of heart or stomach), it's difficult to comprehend how anyone could treat another human in such a way. But then, it wasn't, and isn't, just a matter of "human nature" - Satan, who has a great deal to fear from the Truth (see What Satan Fears Most), was no doubt influencing the persecution and slaughter.
Stephen is often regarded as the first Christian martyr, although some place him as the second, or third - after John The Baptist and even Jesus Christ Himself.
"Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God."
"But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul."
"And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep." (Acts 7:54-60 RSV)
"And when the blood of Stephen Thy witness [martyr in KJV and NIV] was shed, I also was standing by and approving, and keeping the garments of those who killed him." (Acts 22:20 RSV)
In His letter to one of The Seven Churches of Revelation, The Messiah identified one of His witnesses specifically:
"And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: 'The words of Him who has the sharp two-edged sword. 'I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is; you hold fast My Name and you did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas My witness [martyr in KJV and NIV], My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells." (Revelation 2:12-13 RSV)
Many Have Suffered
God's people were persecuted all through Bible History:
"By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he looked to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king; for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover [see Passover In Egypt and The Ten Plagues] and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the first-born might not touch them."
"By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as if on dry land; but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned." [see Where Did They Cross The Sea? and Is This How The Red Sea Parted?]
"By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days." [see The Fall Of Jericho]
"By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given friendly welcome to the spies. 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, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions [see Daniel In The Lion's Den], quenched raging fire [see Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego], escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and scourging, 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, ill-treated - of whom the world was not worthy--wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth."
"And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect."
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame [see How Did Jesus Christ Die?], and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted." (Hebrews 11:24-40, 12:1-3 RSV)
The End Time
"Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls [see The Seven Seals] came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who is seated upon many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and with the wine of whose fornication the dwellers on earth have become drunk." [see The Great False Prophet]
"And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and bedecked with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication; and on her forehead was written a name of mystery: "Babylon the great, mother of harlots and of earth's abominations."
"And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints [see What Is A Saint?] and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her I marveled greatly."
"But the angel said to me, "Why marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is to ascend from the bottomless pit and go to perdition; and the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will marvel to behold the beast [see The Lawless One], because it was and is not and is to come."
"This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he comes he must remain only a little while. As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to perdition." [see The Two Beasts]
"And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast [see Daniel's Statue]. These are of one mind and give over their power and authority to the beast; they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful." [see The Return Of Jesus Christ]
"And he said to me, "The waters that you saw, where the harlot is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues. And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the harlot; they will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and giving over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled. And the woman that you saw is the great city which has dominion over the kings of the earth." (Revelation 17:1-18 RSV)
Fact Finder: Will God's end-time Two Witnesses be martyred?
See also Down Without A Fight?