Smyrna: Faithful unto Death
Polycarp was in his twenties when this letter (the book of Revelation) came to the church of Smyrna, and he died when he was eighty-six. On February 22, AD 156, this venerable bishop, who had fled Smyrna at the urging of his local church, was tracked down in a hiding place twenty miles from Smyrna. He made no attempt to flee but instead offered food and drink to his captors. When they asked him if he had any special requests before being martyred, he asked for two hours for prayer. The officers granted his request, then bound him and brought him back to Smyrna for trial.
Two weeks later, Polycarp was led into the amphitheater, where he would be put to death before thousands of people. The proconsul said: ‘Polycarp, I will have respect for your old age. Swear just once by the genius of Caesar, and I will immediately release you.’ Polycarp replied, ‘Eighty-six years have I served Christ, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?’ The proconsul persisted, saying: ‘The wild beasts are ready. If you refuse to swear by Caesar, you will be thrown to them.’ Polycarp answered, ‘Bid them be brought.’ Infuriated, the proconsul responded: ‘As you despise beasts, I give you one last opportunity to change your mind. Else I shall destroy you by fire.’ But Polycarp refused to recant.
Polycarp was brought to the stake. Before he was fastened with cords, he said, ‘I have one request; leave me unfastened, for I will die voluntarily for my Master’s sake.’ The captors left him unfastened as they kindled the fire. Wind drove the flames away, prolonging Polycarp’s agony, but also giving him more time to confess Christ. Over the flames and wind, Polycarp cried out,
‘O Lord, Almighty God, the Father of Thy beloved Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of Thee, I thank Thee that Thou hast thought me worthy this day, this hour to share the cup of Thy Christ among the number of Thy witnesses.’
That so angered one soldier that he took his sword and pierced the old man who refused to run from the flames of death.
Polycarp is one example of a man who followed Jesus’ counsel to the Smyrnian church, ‘Be thou faithful unto death’ (2:10c). Polycarp portrays the profound truth that it may cost the true believer everything to be a faithful disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.
That is still true today in many parts of the world. In more countries than at any other time in history, thousands of Christians are languishing in prisons or being killed for no other reason than that they confess the name of Christ. In other countries, they are denied work or must risk their lives to obtain one page of Holy Scripture. The church in the United States has been an exception to this rule. But this may soon come to an end.
Are we prepared to stand true to Christ and his Word? Already, many are seeking to avoid suffering by compromising and sacrificing the truth. We want to be respectable, conventional, and inoffensive. But the Smyrnian church drew a line for the truth for Christ’s sake. She obeyed Christ’s counsel not to compromise with the world. The cost of that obedience was great. So it is today, for when we walk the straight and narrow paths of inspired Scripture, many people regard us as puritanical, old-fashioned, rigid, or impractical. They ridicule and despise us – and, at times, even seek to do us grievous harm.
But when we hear the truth of God’s Word with faith and seek to live according to it, we become rich in Christ Jesus.
Please join us this Lord’s Day as we consider ‘Smyrna: Faithful unto Death’. Michelle and I will be back this Sunday and are grateful that you allowed us to go back home to celebrate with our family in a graduation ceremony. We also want to take this time to wish our mothers a Happy Mother’s Day! May the blessings of the Lord be with you. And don’t forget our church picnic on Sunday, May 20 immediately following our morning service.
For His Glory,