The Martyrdom of Polycarp
disciple of the Apostle John, and Bishop of Smyrna,
“For to you it has been
granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for
His sake." Philippians
When I first heard about Polycarp many years ago, his joy and heavenly focus motivated me to give my life
God. Like this brave saint, I wanted to be ready to face even torture and death for
the sake of my wonderful Lord.
I don't recall the exact words I heard -- nor can I verify this account, but here is the story as I remember it:
Back in the
second century, Roman authorities told the Christian bishop Polycarp
to stop persuading people to turn from paganism and put their
trust in Jesus Christ. He refused.
"Then we'll take all your possessions," they told
"Go ahead," he said. "My God has promised to
supply all I need according to His riches in glory. He will take
care of me." (Philippians 4:17-19)
"If you don't stop preaching, we'll take your wife and
children and kill them," they threatened.
"You can't take them away from me," he answered,
"for they belong to God. I will spend all eternity in heaven
with them." And he continued teaching about the love of
They came back with a final warning: "Then we'll kill
"That would be best of all," answered Polycarp,
for I would go immediately into the presence of my Lord. Nothing
could be more wonderful."
To us who now look back into history, Polycarp's cruel
martyrdom magnifies the joy of His eternal perspective. His faith
lives on as a wonderful reminder that when we are joined to Christ
through the cross, we have an eternal treasure in heaven.
assurance doesn't diminish our present life; it makes it richer
and fuller. "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is
gain," said Paul. Living or dying, he enjoyed the privileges
of citizenship in heaven. Either way he would serve the God he
loved. Death would have been easier, for while he lived, he was
stoned, imprisoned, chained, tortured, starved, and beaten for
his faith. Yet, he radiated hope:
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is
perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For
our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for
us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we
do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which
are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but
the things which are not seen are eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
You can find a well-documented account
of Polycarp's persecution and death in this
translation of "The
Encyclical Epistle of the Church at Smyrnam Concerning the Martyrdom of the Holy
Polycarp at Wheaton University.