Around 111 AD, in the days of Pliny the Younger (62-113 AD) and Emperor Trajan, early Christians were subjected to the ultimate test of fidelity to the Lord Jesus Christ—worship the emperor’s statue and the images of the pagan gods or be led away to execution. As governor of Northern Asia Minor, Pliny the Younger wrote Trajan:
Meanwhile I have taken this course with those who were accused before me as Christians: I have asked them whether they were Christians. Those who confessed I asked a second and a third time, threatening punishment. Those who persisted I ordered led away to execution. For I did not doubt that, whatever it was they admitted, obstinacy and unbending perversity certainly deserve to be punished …. Others who were named by an informer said that they were Christians, and soon afterward denied it, saying, indeed, that they had been, but had ceased to be Christians, some three years ago, some many years, and one even twenty years ago. All these also not only worshipped your statue and the images of the gods, but also cursed Christ.
One can only wonder what it would have been like to stand in the shoes of those Christians who were before Pliny the Younger, knowing that the ultimate test had arrived. Though we can never know that particular test, Christians may one day face a similar situation if we are the generation that is alive when the Antichrist has power over the entire earth (Rev. 13:7). All people at that time, including Christians, will be forced to worship the image of the Antichrist and receive his mark to buy and sell. To refuse this will mean execution or to be led away into captivity (Rev. 13:15; 13:9,10; 20:4).
To renounce one’s faith under persecution is to be placed under the category of the fearful (Rev. 21:8, KJV), according to A. T. Robertson:
There are eight epithets here used which apply to various sections of this direful list of the doomed and the damned, all in the dative (case of personal interest). For the fearful (tois deilois). Old word (from deidō, to fear) for the cowardly, who recanted under persecution, in N.T. only here, Matt. 8:26; Mark 4:40 (italics his).
To worship the image of the Antichrist and to receive the mark of the beast will mean loss of salvation for the Christian (Rev. 14:9-12). If we are that generation, the following Scriptures will especially be important safeguards for us:
They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death (Rev. 12:11, NIV).
And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Mt. 10:28, KJV).
Source: The Believer’s Conditional Security, Copyright Dan Corner.