Martyrdom is not new when we come to Ignatius, but he brings an element heretofore unseen.
First, there are numerous records of martyrs around the Bible. In Acts chapter 7 we see Stephen as the first Christian martyr. It is a glorious, inspiring record:
Now when they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.
But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.
But they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and rushed upon him with one accord;
and they cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.
And they stoned Stephen, calling upon the Lord, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. [Acts 7:54-60]
This is so incredible that Stephen had such conviction, such faith! While it was not always an accepted book, The Book of Hebrews offers powerful insight into the mind of those that accepted death rather than reject God’s call. Chapter 11 starts a long discourse on Abel, Enoch. Noah Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and more as examples of those who walked by in faith. We get to verse 35:
Women received their dead by a resurrection: and others were tortured, not accepting their deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:
and others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were tempted, they were slain with the sword: they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated(of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves, and the holes of the earth.And these all, having had witness borne to them through their faith, received not the promise,
God having provided some better thing concerning us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. [Heb 11:35-40]
And of course there is Jesus who suffered his terrible passion and died for us. So we see that there is an abundance of records about the stand believers take in their lives when confronted with the choice of doing God’s will or not.
So it should be no surprise that Ignatius and others would be martyrs. But what is different is that Ignatius went to die telling the believers not to try to get him off. Ignatius writes that without martyrdom he might not attain Christ. That is new, and it is a little shocking.
For I am afraid of your love, lest it should do me an injury. For it is easy for you to accomplish what you please; but it is difficult for me to attain to God, if ye spare me.
It is good to set from the world unto God, that I may rise again to Him.
I write to the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless ye hinder me. I beseech of you not to show an unseasonable good-will towards me. Suffer me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ. Rather entice the wild beasts, that they may become my tomb, and may leave nothing of my body; so that when I have fallen asleep [in death], I may be no trouble to any one. Then shall I truly be a disciple of Christ, when the world shall not see so much as my body. Entreat Christ for me, that by these instruments I may be found a sacrifice [to God]. I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles; I am but a condemned man: they were free, while I am, even until now, a servant. But when I suffer, I shall be the freedman of Jesus, and shall rise again emancipated in Him. And now, being a prisoner, I learn not to desire anything worldly or vain.
What concerns me is “it is difficult for me to attain to God, if ye spare me” and “Then shall I truly be a disciple of Christ, when the world shall not see so much as my body.” Does Ignatius doubt his faith that he thinks he has to die as a martyr to attain Christ? He doesn’t think that he or others are truly disciples unless they become martyrs? He writes above, “Suffer me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God”. Ignatius doesn’t want to live.
May I enjoy the wild beasts that are prepared for me; and I pray they may be found eager to rush upon me, which also I will entice to devour me speedily, and not deal with me as with some, whom, out of fear, they have not touched.
I no longer wish to live after the manner of men, and my desire shall be fulfilled if ye consent.
The desire of Ignatius to die is huge. He even works to stop people from trying to prevent it (“my desire shall be fulfilled if ye consent”).
Another epistle written concerning Ignatius is The Martyrdom of Ignatius, written according to the letter by believers present along Ignatius path to his death. In it we read:
Now he enjoined some to keep silence who, in their fervent zeal, were saying that they would appease the people, so that they should not demand the destruction of this just one. He being immediately aware of this through the Spirit…
The above paragraph says that Ignatius worked to stop the people that might intercede on his behalf. These believers wrote that he was aware of this through the spirit. This epistle is most certainly not inspired writing, so we do not know that the Spirit led Ignatius to do this. We do not know that Ignatius martyrdom was God’s will. And while we certainly admire his bravery and understand his desire to be with the Lord, We do not know that Ignatius was just not overzealous and tired of being persecuted in his desire to be with God and “attain God”.
Ignatius wasn’t the first martyr, but he may be the first one who sought to be a martyr, to the point of persuading everyone not to intercede on his behalf. And it is obvious that the Christians bought his story, referring to how Ignatius was apparently walking in the Spirit, aware of their thoughts and intentions to free him and rid him of his burden. Ignatius became one of many martyrs in this Christian culture where it became the mark of the true Christian to keep speaking for Christ in the face of death. And it became shameful for anyone that did not take this stand.
If you listen to people on Christian radio today you will hear that God doesn’t want you to die for him, he wants you to live for him. All Christians thank God for all those who stood steadfast on their faith and didn’t recant when threatened with torture or death. I pray that every one of us will follow that example if faced with torture or death. But the teaching that one should seek to be a martyr is not one appears in the gospel record. Jesus had to die that we could live. We don’t have to die to attain salvation. There is nothing in the scripture that says that if God can provide a way out of torture or death that someone shouldn’t take it. This appears to be another doctrinal development that started in the time of Ignatius.
 Ignatius Epistle to the Romans, Chap. I. — As a Prisoner, I Hope to See You, E-Sword Program
 Ignatius Epistle to the Romans, Chap. II. — Do Not Save Me from Martyrdom.
 Ignatius Epistle to the Romans, Chap. IV. — Allow Me to Fall a Prey to the Wild Beasts.
 Ignatius Epistle to the Romans, Chap. V. — I Desire to Die., E-Sword Program
 Ignatius Epistle to the Romans, Chap. VIII. — Be Ye Favourable to Me., E-Sword Program
 The Martyrdom of Ignatius, Chap. VI. — Ignatius Is Devoured by the Beasts at Rome., E-Sword Program
© copyright 2010 Mark W Smith, all rights reserved.