Polycarp (69 – 156 AD) was a member of the church who was reported to be a disciple of the apostle John. According to his account, he appears to have been at least 86 years old when he was arrested and put to death. What was his great crime? He refused to burn incense and thus acknowledge that Caesar was Lord. When they pressed him to do so to spare his life, his response is reported to have been “"Eighty and six years have I now served Christ, and he has never done me the least wrong: How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?" When they threatened to burn him at the stake he stood firm and replied “"Thou threatenest me with Fire which burns for an hour, and so is extinguished; but knowest not the Fire of the Future Judgment of that Eternal Punishment which is reserved for the Ungodly. But why tarriest thou? Bring forth what thou wilt!" Because he was a Christian, meaning he knew that Jesus alone is Lord, he was burned at the stake.
These events occurred in the city of Smyrna. The city of Smyrna was chosen, over other competing Asian cities, by the Roman Empire with the honor of having a temple built to Emperor Tiberius. This was not good news for the church there. As one writer noted:
Evidently then the cult of Empire and Emperor, of Rome and Rome’s Caesar, was a matter of great pride in Smyrna. Did the Christians refuse to sprinkle incense on the fire which burned before the emperor’s bust? Of course they did. To do so would be idolatry. They could not call Caesar Lord when Jesus was their Lord. But their unwillingness to conform was interpreted by the common people as a disgraceful and even treacherous lack of patriotism. -- John R. W. Stott, “What Christ Thinks of the Church,” Preaching for Today, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1958, p. 37.Many Christians suffered at Smyrna including Polycarp, who was among many who died here for their allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ. I find it very interesting that Smyrna is one of the churches of Asia Minor that were written to in Revelation by the apostle John. Again, Polycarp is believed to have been one of John’s disciples and the letter to Smyrna dealt with pending persecution that was to fall upon Christians. The events surrounding Polycarp’s death bring what John revealed to this church over fifty years prior—“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10, NKJV.) Polycarp is just one recorded example of fulfilling what Jesus rightfully expects—be faithful to Him up to and including your death.
I became more interested in learning about the city of Smyrna and The Bible in 3D: God’s Word Revealed Through Bible Geography was a treasure of information. This lectureship book deals with several key biblical places from three vantage points—lectures on key places and corresponding events, an index to the Bible based on places of the Bible and a very informative and attractive set of maps. I found myself really captivated by much of the material in this book. Since it was published in 2006, it contains a wealth of information from past scholars and recent discoveries as well. This would be an excellent addition to the church library dealing with a subject that some may have not given as much detail to as in times past.
Originally printed in West Virginia Christian, Vol. 17, No. 12, December 2010, p. 8. Reprinted by permission.