12-15-2016, The Second Century Church, part 10
It appears from the early records that the most outstanding and influencial Christian of the second century was Polycarp, who was trained by the Apostle John. Those who knew Polycarp described him as a prophet and an evangelist and a pastor. One of the most precious documents to have come down to us from the second century is titled The Martyrdom of Polycarp, which was written by eye-witnesses right after Polycarp's death. For the last two articles of this year, I will quote from that document. It appears with footnotes in my book Polycarp and the Second Century Church on pages 75-81.
Around A. D. 155, many Jews and devoted pagan worshippers in Smyrna agreed: “the father of the Christians in Asia must die!” The ordeal begins when several members of Polycarp’s church at Smyrna suffer painful deaths rather than deny the Lord. But the pagans notice that this does not destroy the church nor curb the growth of Christianity in their city. Rather, the Christians are so courageous, God-loving and God-fearing that as they undergo torture and death, some of the spectators watching see their shining example and are persuaded to become Christians also. So the authorities of the city decide to arrest Polycarp, the leader of the Christians.
Polycarp’s friends beg him, “You must leave town!”
“I have no fear of the heathen coming for me,” Polycarp replies.
Still his friends press him to flee. After all, the Lord commanded, “But when they persecute you in this city, flee to another” (Matthew 10:23a). So Polycarp agrees to go out to a country house not far from the city. There he stays with some companions and spends his days and nights in prayer. He prays for the churches throughout the world, as is his constant habit. When he finally lies down to sleep, a vision unfolds before him. He sees the pillow under his head being consumed by fire. As he comes out of the vision, he turns and declares to his friends, “It is necessary that I be burnt alive.” Now it is three days before his arrest.
Before long, word reaches Polycarp that police are pursuing him and are not far away. His friends take him to another home. When the police arrive at the first home where Polycarp had been, they interrogate those at that house. At first no one offers information, but when the police start torturing two young people, the youths tell them the new location where Polycarp is.
At evening the police come on horseback to the little house where Polycarp is staying. They come and search until they find him lying down in an upper room of the house. Polycarp could have escaped in time, but refused to flee any more. He told his friends, “The will of God be done.”
Polycarp arises and speaks to his capturers in a friendly way. They are amazed at his age and his composure and lack of fear. One of them asks, “Why was so much effort spent on capturing one old man?”
Polycarp invites them to sit down for a meal and he asks them to give him an hour so that he might pray undisturbed. They are all tired and hungry. An hour break; why not? The commander agrees. As they sit down and eat and relax, Polycarp goes into the next room and stands and prays. His prayer is so full of grace and anointing that he prays fervently for two hours. The Christians and the police are amazed as they hear him pray. Some of the policemen think to themselves, “I wish we had not been sent to arrest such a godly old man.”
After Polycarp finishing praying for person after person and for the Church throughout the world, he leaves with his capturers. They put him on a donkey and lead him into the city where they then put him in a carriage and take him to the huge city stadium. (To be continued in our next article)