Martyrdom of Polycarp Summary

Martyrdom of Polycarp Summary

Polycarp’s martyrdom was an extraordinary example of both the persecution and the bravery of early Christians.

In history, great persecution was upon the Christians of Smyrna. One time after his return from Rome Polycarp’s congregation urged him to leave the city because of the great threat in the area. However, trusting that God wanted him to be around a few more years, Polycarp left the city and went into a hideout on a farm belonging to his Christian friends. While on the farm Polycarp had a vision of his pillow consumed in flames as he prayed in his room. Polycarp understood the meaning of the vision and he told his companions, “I see that I must be put on fire at the stake.”

While in the hideout, the chief of police issued a warrant for his arrest. Not knowing where he was, they apprehended one of Polycarp’s servants. He was tortured until he revealed Polycarp’s hideout. Once in the old farm house, they were embarrassed at the arrest of an oil frail man. They unenthusiastically put him on a donkey and walked him back to the city of Smyrna.

On the way to the city, in order to let him go, they tried to urge Polycarp to offer a pinch of incense to the statue of Caesar and simply say “Caesar is Lord.” Polycarp would not heed their request even after much plea. The police chief was at times angry and he pushed the old man from his carriage and onto the hard ground. Although Polycarp was hurt he was unyielding to any of their request. He got up and walked to the arena the rest of the way.

Once in the arena, he found himself in the company of other persecuted Christians.   Polycarp and the other Christians heard a voice from heaven saying “Be strong, Polycarp, play the man”. The proconsul tried one more time to get him to forsake Jesus. The proconsul continued. “Take the pledge and deny Christ and I’ll let you go free!” Polycarp answered, “For 86 years I have served Jesus; how dare I now deny my King?”

The proconsul lastly gave up, and stated to the crowd, “Polycarp has acknowledged that he is a Christian. “The crowd yelled, “Let the lions loose!” The lions had already been put away. For an alternative death, the crowd then demanded that Polycarp be burnt. Once the demand was made, the old man recalled the dream about the burning pillow and took confidence in God. He courageously said to his slayers, “It is well. I fear not the fire that burns for a season and after a while is extinguished. Why do you hesitate? Come, do your will.”

They put together a great pile of wood and set up a pole in the middle. As they tied Polycarp to the pole, he prayed: “I thank You that You have found me worthy of this day and this hour, that I may get a lot in the number of the martyrs, in the cup of Christ.”

After he prayed and thanked God, they set the wood on fire. A great wall of flame lit up to the sky, but it never reached Polycarp. God set a hedge of shield between him and the fire. Seeing that he would not burn, the slayers, in rage, stabbed the old man with a long spear. Immediately, streams of blood came out from his body and seemed to extinguish the fire. As soon as this happened, witnesses said they witnessed a dove fly up from the smoke to heaven. At the very same moment, a church leader in Rome called Iraenus said he heard God say to him, “Polycarp is departed.” God called his servant home.

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