We've all heard the stories and have seen Hollywood's rendition of Christians being fed to lions and who were tortured and killed by bloodthirsty Roman dictators. The Romans certainly had their go at Christian persecution, but they pale in comparison to what other world powers have done and are now doing in order to remove the “scourge” of Christianity from earth.
The following can be checked out by Googling any number of legitimate sites on the Internet. Here are just a few tidbits:
Edward Gibbons wrote the following in his monumental work, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:1
Two circumstances...insinuate that the general treatment of the Christians, who had been apprehended by the officers of justice, was not as bad as it is usually imagined to have been.
1. Christians who were condemned to work in the mines were permitted, by the humanity or negligence of their keepers, to build chapels and freely profess their religion in the midst of those dreary habitations. — Euseb. de Martyr. Palestin. c. 13.
2. The bishops were obliged to check and to censure the forward zeal of the Christians, who voluntarily threw themselves into the hands of the magistrates.2
After the church had triumphed over all her enemies, the interest as well as vanity of the captives prompted them to magnify the merit of their respective sufferings. A convenient distance of time or place gave an ample scope to the progress of fiction. The frequent instances which might be alleged of holy martyrs whose wounds had been instantly healed, whose strength had been renewed, and whose lost members had miraculously been restored, were extremely convenient for the purpose of removing every difficulty and of silencing every objection. The most extravagant legends, as they led to the honor of the church, were applauded by the credulous multitude, countenanced by the power of the clergy, and attested by the suspicious evidence of ecclesiastical history.
In other words (and if you read the complete account), it was the Christian “thing to do” to try and get yourself martyred for your faith, since that carries an extraordinary blessing from God. Citing various 1st & 2nd Century historians, Gibbons describes Christian believers joyfully committing themselves to the flames.
I'm sure someone will point to John Foxe's Book of Martyrs to discount some of this. Yet Foxe does not contradict the historical evidence, nor does he focus on numbers. One need go no further than current events to show that Christian persecution is rampant and getting worse.
Indeed, it has crept into our society, by rules of law and by various policies driven by political correctness. Indeed, the chilling words of Revelation's thirteenth chapter echo Western sentiment toward Christianity:
[The beast] causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless they have the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. (Rev 13:16, 17)3
1Vol. 1, chapter 16
2Gibbons goes into great detail concerning the desire of many early Christians to be martyred. In some cases, they did not delay their demise, running toward the fires of death screaming with joy. The church leadership had to counsel restraint for those who were desirous of martyrdom.
3Governments or kingdoms are considered “beasts” in scripture. (Dan 2:36ff) Thus, Revelation is referring to a human-made form of government whose policies are detrimental to God's people.