One example of such a powerful witness through suffering was the martyrdom of Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna who died in A. D. 155. His student Irenaeus said that Polycarp had been the student of the apostle John. We know he was very old when he died because, when the Proconsul commanded him to recant and curse Christ, he said, "Eighty and six years have I served him and he hath done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my king who saved me?"6
During one season of persecution a frenzied crowd in Smyrna cried out for a search to be made for Polycarp. He had moved to a town just outside the city, and three days before his death he had a dream from which he concluded, "I must needs be burned alive." So when the search was finally made, instead of fleeing he said, "The will of God be done." The ancient account of the martyrdom gives the following record:So, hearing of their arrival, he came down and talked with them, while all that were present marveled at his age and constancy, and that there was so much ado about the arrest of such an old man. Then he ordered that something should be served for them to eat and drink, at that late hour, as much as they wanted. And he besought them that they should grant him an hour that he might pray freely. They gave him leave, and he stood and prayed, being so filled with the grace of God that for two hours he could not hold his peace, while they that heard were amazed, and the men repented that they had come after so venerable an old man.7
When he was finally taken away and condemned to burning, they tried to nail his hands to the stake, but he pled against it and said, "Let me be as I am. He that granted me to endure the fire will grant me also to remain at the pyre unmoved without being secured with nails."8 When his body seemed not to be consumed by the fire, an executioner drove a dagger into his body. The ancient account concludes, "All the multitude marveled at the great difference between the unbelievers and the elect."9 This is what explains the triumph of Christianity in the early centuries. They triumphed by their suffering. It did not just accompany their witness, it was the capstone of their witness. "They overcame [Satan] because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death" (Revelation 12:11).
Monday, December 18, 2006
the martyrdom of Polycarp
From Desiring God pp.271-272, here is the story of the martyrdom of Polycarp