By Paul Mathers
As citizens of Christ’s kingdom, we can expect conflict with the authorities of this world.
In the second century, an old man named Polycarp was the bishop of the church of Smyrna. Having been discipled as a very young man by the apostle John when John was a very old man, Polycarp was a unique figure in history. He may well have been the last person directly associated with an apostle.
Living a long, full life of building God’s kingdom and spreading the Gospel fortified Polycarp for the persecution that he would face at the end of his life. The Roman Emperor at the time, Trajan, was not one of the aggressive persecutors of Christians that many other emperors would be. (Rome’s policy toward Christians changed about as often as Emperors did.) Christians were not actively hunted under Trajan, but if someone was accused of being a Christian and was tried and found unwilling to worship the Roman gods (including the Emperor), he or she could face torture or death.
When Polycarp was brought before the proconsul, the judge urged him to deny Christ, saying, “Have respect to your old age.” Polycarp responded, “For eighty-six years, I have served him, and he has done me no evil. How could I curse my King, who saved me?”
The judge told Polycarp that, unless he recant, he would be burned alive. Polycarp responded, “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why do you tarry? Bring forth what you will.” As he was being tied to the stake, Polycarp prayed, “Lord Sovereign God… I thank you that you have deemed me worthy of this moment, so that, jointly with your martyrs, I may have a share in the cup of Christ.”
Church tradition has it that the fire would not touch Polycarp’s body, and, finally, they had to send an executioner to the stake to kill Polycarp with a dagger tied to the end of a pole.
Christ says in the Gospel of Matthew, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” As citizens of Christ’s kingdom, we have a calling and a purpose in this life given to us from the Creator. With that knowledge and with the testimony of the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, we can be encouraged to follow Christ at all cost, in whatever circumstance he has placed us.