During the third persecution, Pliny the Younger, a magistrate, wrote to emperor Trajan, pleading that Christians did not deserve the atrocities committed against them. He explained that thousands of Christians were daily killed despite having never broken any Roman law. “The whole account they gave of their crime or error (whichever it is to be called) amounted only to this… that they were accustomed on a stated day to meet before daylight, and to repeat together a set form of prayer to Christ as a God, and to bind themselves by an obligation–not indeed to commit wickedness; but, on the contrary–never to commit theft, robbery, or adultery, never to falsify their word, never to defraud any man: after which it was their custom to separate, and reassemble to partake in common of a harmless meal.”
The words of Pliny brings these words of Christ to memory: “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (Joh.3:19).
Now despite all the cruel persecutions Christians suffered, their courage was most astonishing. The testimony of Ignatius, successor of apostle Peter’s work to oversee churches in Antioch, is most warming to the heart. In his letter to believers in Rome, he admonished: “Now I begin to be a disciple. I care for nothing, of visible or invisible things, so that I may but win Christ. Let fire and the cross, let the companies of wild beasts, let breaking of bones and tearing of limbs, let the grinding of the whole body, and all the malice of the devil, come upon me; be it so, only may I win Christ Jesus!” When he was thrown to the lions and he heard their roar, he proclaimed: “I am the wheat of Christ: I am going to be ground with the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found pure bread.”
The faith and bravery of these martyrs in death was so great that it converted some pagans. It so happened one day that a pagan was so touched beholding the death of martyrs that he exclaimed, “Great is the God of the Christians!” For this he was apprehended and killed.
Trajan was succeeded by Adrian who continued the persecutions. Adrian died in 138 AD and was succeeded by Antoninus Pius. This new emperor did not persecute Christians. His reign was peaceful.