Session 1: An Enduring Witness
We are encouraged when we realize that there are those who have gone before us. Some voices from the past have left behind a testimony from which we can draw for our own perseverance in the Christian life.
(Revelation 2:8-11) “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.'”
As we look at this letter to the church at Smyrna, we recognize that it was facing persecution from two fronts: the Romans, and we expect as much; but we also find that they faced scorn from the Jewish community that was there in Smyrna. This brief letter foreshadows not only imprisonment and martyrdom, but one of the most popular pieces of literature outside the New Testament that circulated in the early church, which was a letter about the martyrdom of a bishop who happened to be the bishop of the church at Smyrna.
Dr. Stephen Nichols, who taught the session, found it remarkable as a stroke of providence that Polycarp was martyred on February 23, A.D. 155, and the privilege of being able to teach about Polycarp on February 23, 2015, the anniversary of his martyrdom during the cruise which is themed about perseverance.
An epistle was written that details the account of Polycarp’s martyrdom and the events that led up to it. We know from the writings of Irenaeus that he was trained by none other than the Apostle John. We have a direct link from the apostles of the 1st century to the church fathers transitioning into the 2nd century, through John’s discipleship by Irenaeus, and also of Ignatius, and then of Polycarp. As a young man, Polycarp was discipled by the apostle, and he himself then, as the tradition has it, was appointed bishop, perhaps even by John himself or by one whom John would have appointed as bishop at the church at Smyrna.
Polycarp, like his predecessors, had been charged to defend and protect the Word of God (II Timothy 1:13-14), and spent much of his career fulfilling that commission. “An early heretic in the church named Marcion had drunken a little too much Plato for his own good,” Dr. Nichols said. “Through his Platonism, he wasn’t able to see that matter, that earthy things, are actually of value and that God even cared about the creation he made. As Marcion, from his Platonism, read through the Old Testament, he said to himself, ‘There sure is a lot of earthy stuff in here. It doesn’t rise to the level of divine revelation.'”