Preparing for Persecution

The Martyrdom of Polycarp

--Polycarp, disciple of the Apostle John, and Bishop of Smyrna, A.D. 156.


“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 1:29

When I first heard about Polycarp many years ago, his joy and heavenly focus motivated me to give my life totally to 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 him.

"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 God.

They came back with a final warning: "Then we'll kill you."

"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. 

This 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.

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