Polycarp's Letter


Polycarp- He was probably born around 69 and died sometime between 155 and 165. According to Irenaeus (115-200?) and Tertullian (160-220) he was a disciple of the Apostle John but that claim is completely unsubstantiated. It was Irenaeus who said that Papias also was a disciple of John, but Papias denied it. Two writings are attached to the name of Polycarp, a letter from him to the Philippians and one concerning his martyrdom.

There are two occasions in Polycarp's letter to the Philippians where he makes interesting comments concerning the the return of Christ.

So then, let us serve him with fear and all reverence, just as he himself has commanded, as did the apostles, who preached the gospel to us, and the prophets, who announced in advance the coming of our Lord... [6:3]

His statement about the apostles preaching the gospel unto them deserves comment. And further, in what sense did he mean that the prophets had preached in advance the coming of the Lord? Which coming is he referring to, Yeshua's first or second?

These prophets being linked with the apostles lends us to consider them as Christian prophets, who could only then be referring to Yeshua's second coming. Evidently these Christian prophets had announced in advance the return of Christ. For Polycarp, or whoever was this writer, the return of Christ was an accomplished fact.

That being the case, we must then assume that Yeshua had already returned for them, the apostles and prophets, and therefore they could hardly have preached personally to Polycarp or his contemporaries many years later. It seems likely that Polycarp means that the apostles preached to the Philippians in general, at an earlier time, and not to him personally.

He writes again.

I urge all of you, therefore, to obey the teaching about righteousness and to exercise unlimited endurance, like that which you saw with your own eyes not only in the blessed Ignatius and Zosimus and Rufus but also in others from your congregation and in Paul himself and the rest of the apostles; be assured that all these "did not run in vain" but in faith and righteousness, and that they are now in the place due them with the Lord, with whom they also suffered together.... [9:1-2]

Again, Polycarp no doubt is speaking of the Return of Christ. How are we to expect that they got to the place due them, with the Lord unless Yeshua had returned and gathered them into His kingdom?

Polycarp never encourages his readers to wait for the coming of the Lord, or that His return is soon to come, but rather, that it is an accomplished fact. That being the case, he directs his fellow believers to serve and obey, and endure and stand fast.