“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.”
In 155 AD, a Roman official told an eighty-six-year-old man to burn incense in honor of the emperor of Rome, who the Romans considered a God. The man, Polycarp, shook his head and said, “No!”
Now angry, the Roman official again told Polycarp, “Deny your loyalty to Jesus and burn the incense or be burned at the stake.”
Stoically, Polycarp refused and said, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong.”
The Roman official looked sternly at Polycarp and curtly uttered, “Burn him!”
Polycarp, in turn, bravely said, “I bless you, Father, for judging me worthy of this hour, so that in the company of the martyrs I may share the cup of Christ.”
Polycarp was led to a pile of wood with a tall wooden stake in the center. He was strapped onto the stake with leather. Then the guards lit the dry wood. As the fire grew and began to grow around Polycarp, he said nothing. However, it soon became apparent not enough wood was placed to consume Polycarp. Finally, a guard stepped near Polycarp and pierced his side. After which, Polycarp died.
Polycarp was born in 69 AD and was the bishop of Smyrna at the time of his death. He was made the bishop of Smyrna by the Apostle John. Yes, the same John who walked with Jesus! Not only that, before being made a bishop, he had spent considerable time with John as a student. Amazingly, Polycarp, during his time with John, heard stories about Jesus from a first-person witness to Jesus!
I had heard about Polycarp at Theological school and generally knew he was important as a first first-century scholar and historian. But at no time in seven years of attending theological school did I hear there were well-regarded writings about him being an eyewitness to the Apostle John. I knew most of the Apostles died as Martyrs well before early non-Biblical Christian writings occurred. However, John was the only Apostle not to die as a martyr. In fact, there is evidence he lived until 100 AD.
The Apostle John was the only Apostle not to die as a Martyr. He also died of old age and, during his lifetime, became known as the Son of Love. Throughout his later years, he had many students, of which Polycarp was one.
Perhaps I missed this in my education, but I immediately stopped when I recently read a story about Polycarp and found his association with John buried in the article. I asked myself, Wait a minute, we have a well-respected ancient scholar who knew John? This was big; we have a firm eyewitness audit trail to Jesus! Wow! And not only that, the connecting piece, Polycarp, is a well-respected and trusted scholar who is often quoted in scholarly articles. So to me, this was a big revelation, very big!
So some may say, “Is that really true?” Well, there is plenty of evidence to confirm Polycarp existed, was a student of John, and was martyred. Two well-regarded early Christian historians and contemporaries, Irenaeus and Tertullian, individually confirmed this connection in their respective writings. In his book On Illustrious Men, Jerome, another early Christian historian, and scholar, he has also confirmed his existence and relationship with John.
Plus, there is more to know! Polycarp was one of the three people called Apostolic Fathers, along with Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch. So what exactly are Apostolic Fathers? It seems these three were early historians and writers, considered leaders of the early church. In fact, Clement was the fourth Pope from 88-97 AD. But to be called an Apostolic Father, besides being influential, one had to have personally worked or studied with an Apostle.
Polycarp was an early scholar, historian, bishop, and a student of John’s. Clement knew Peter well. In fact, it is written that Peter consecrated Clement. Ignatius, a prolific early Christian writer, was also a student of John. Additionally, all three men, besides being prolific authors, developed many theologically important thoughts. These were the big three, after the Apostles had died off, that carried forward the message and lessons of Jesus.
Either I should have paid closer attention in Theological school, or more should have been made of their value to our faith by these three men. In fact, another little-known fact is that Clement is actually mentioned in Philippians 4:3.
In their day, they were famous, like our presidents or the king and queen of England. The amount written by them and about them by well-known scholars is impressive. Type Apostolic Fathers into your search engine and discover these three important men.
Here is the point. Recently, I received a rather harsh Twitter message stating Jesus didn’t exist and that I was following a fairy tale. Actually, the wording was far more offensive and unfit to print. But here is actual proof Jesus was real! While we all have faith, it is nice to know when our faith is attacked or when we may have doubt; there were documented witnesses to the people who walked with Jesus.
Especially a person who said, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong.”