23: Polycarp

And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.

Revelation 2:8-10

Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, was the last of the Second Century leaders, who had served under the apostles, to die. Born before the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD, Polycarp was deeply influenced by the aged John, before becoming a Presbyter of Smyrna. There is evidence pointing to his ordination by the Apostle John himself.

Along with a Ignatius of Antioch and Clement of Rome Polycarp ranks as one of three leading Apostolic Fathers of the Second Century Church. His only surviving work is an Epistle to the Philippians, where he quotes from the Epistles of John, producing the fruit of his early teaching and demonstrating that the early Church were using Apostolic writings as inspired Scripture.

Antonius Pious (Emperor 137-161 AD), is remembered as one of the more tolerant Roman Emperors who protected Christians from the cruel persecutions of earlier years. Nevertheless, it was under his reign that Statius Quaderus, pro counsel of Asia Minor) instigated a purging of Christianity in Smyrna, as St John himself had prophesied in the Apocalypse.

Some reports claim that the aged Polycarp was betrayed after he went into hiding. When he was eventually arrested and asked to offer a sacrifice to Caesar he refused. The procounsel threatened Polycarp with wild beasts and flames to which the Servant of God replied:

Eighty and six years I have served Christ and he has done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my King who has saved me? You threaten the fire that burns for an hour and then is quenched; but you know not of the fire of the judgement to come, and the fire of eternal punishment. Bring what you will…Lord God, I thank thee that I have been deemed worthy to receive the crown of martyrdom, and that I may die for thee and for thy cause.

Sketches from Church History, SM Houghton, Banner of Truth Trust

Those who watched Polycarp’s body burning, were touched by the strength of his faith recognising that Christians clearly possessed something more precious than the unbelieving world. With such a testimony faithful Polycarp entered the presence of his Saviour.

Though their lot was hard and lowly,
Though they perish'd at the stake,
Now they live with Christ in glory,
Since they suffer'd for his sake.

Hannah Moore

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