By: Scott Adkins, Sling ‘n Stone Ministry
Carter County Times
Last time, we looked at just how much the Lord Jesus said about persecution – and He said a quite lot. Church history and tradition speak volumes about countless martyrs down through the centuries. So, we thought we should say a little more about persecution and martyrdom. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, for example, presents the Protestant history and martyrology. First published in 1563, Foxe’s memoralizes many whose blood sealed their Christian testimony; it’s still published today.
First and second century Christians suffered periodic, but horrific persecution from various Roman emperors, Judaism, and pagan religions. The martyrdom of Polycarp in 155 A.D. presents one of the most moving accounts of early church martyrs. Who was Polycarp? Polycarp led the church at Smyrna in the mid-second century – remember, the Lord spoke specifically to Smyrna in Revelation 2:8-11, saying “be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life.”
Church tradition says John the Apostle, the one to whom Christ gave the Book of Revelation while John suffered imprisonment on the Isle of Patmos (Rev. 1:9) for the Gospel’s sake, personally discipled Polycarp when Polycarp was young. Polycarp was likely in his 20s when Christ gave John the Book of Revelation, and quite possibly a scribe for John who might well have transcribed the Book of Revelation for John. Regardless, Polycarp surely stood intimately familiar with the Lord’s promising the crown of life to those who remained “faithful unto death.” (Rev. 2:10).
Ancient Romans worshipped their emperor as a god, along with many other false gods. Romans called early Christians “atheists” because our forefathers worshipped just one God and refused to worship Rome’s emperors, which led to grievous persecution. The Roman governor at Smyrna launched a persecution in the mid-second century for that very reason. His first target? Polycarp, the 85 year-old leader at Smyrna. Roman soldiers came to arrest Polycarp. His response? He cooked them dinner and asked for time to pray.
Hearing Polycarp pray, the soldiers did not want to deliver him to the governor, but they did their duty. Standing before the governor in Symrna’s overflowing arena, Polycarp refused to renounce Christ and refused to burn incense to Rome’s emperor. The governor told him, “Polycarp, you’re an old man, and I don’t want to execute you, but if you don’t relent and renounce Christ, I’m going to burn you at the stake.” Polycarp’s response? He declared Christ’s unwavering faithfulness to him and refused to renounce or dishonor the Lord.
In today’s language, Polycarp then dared Symrna’s Roman governor to “light the match;” and climbed atop the burn pile. The Romans promptly obliged and burned Polycarp at the stake. But persecution did not end with the early century church. Persecution and martyrdom continues today across the globe – and, believe it or not, persecution and martyrdom has come to America.
Next week, we will remember recent American Christians here in the United States, who were “faithful unto death.”