Chapter Ten ends up being something akin to a connecting room between the teaching so far and the exhortation yet to come. Inside, the writer summarizes all that has been taught, and pivots the focus of his teaching from the supremacy of Christ and the better covenant we have in Christ, to the path of maturity God has laid out before us.

If the first part of Hebrews refers to the things of salvation, then the second part refers to the things of sanctification.

The end of the chapter features a brief reprise of Chapter Six’s warnings, and reassurance that those who have read thus far in this epistle have not fallen away but are persevering in faith. This encouragement is necessary, for the readers would need courage to face fierce persecution.

Blessed Endurance

“But recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.

“—For you had compassion for those who were in prison,

“—and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting.

Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward.

Hebrews 10:32-35 (NRSV)

They were all in this together, and so they were kind to each other. They showed compassion to those among them who had been imprisoned for their faith, just as Paul’s companions showed compassion on him, bringing him provisions, his books, materials to write with, his favorite cloak. They came to sit with Paul, to fellowship with him and pray with him, knowing just being there would strengthen his spirit.

Gustave Doré, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

They all knew well what Jesus had said about the time of judgment to come,

“The king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;

“’—for I was hungry and you gave me food,

“’—I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,

“’—I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

“’—I was naked and you gave me clothing,

“’—I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’

“And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”

Matthew 25:34-40 (NRSV)
Separation of Sheep and Goats, early 20th century (original dated early 6th century) | Byzantine; Mosaic; Reproductions-Mosaics, Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mighty Endurance

For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet

“in a very little while,
    the one who is coming will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one will live by faith.
    My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back.”

Hebrews 10:36-38 (NRSV)

Jesus also commended those who would stand until the end, and it is for their sakes that God would cut short the time of tribulation.

For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.”

Matthew 24:21-23 (NRSV)

Polycarp, one of the second century church fathers, exemplified the courage the writer of Hebrews described. In a document entitled “The Martyrdom of Polycarp,” his last hour became a source of powerful encouragement to the suffering Christ community.

An old man, he was led out into the arena to face a gruesome and bloody and death, but God spoke to Polycarp, and those faithful who had been ministering to Polycarp heard God’s voice.

Strophe 9

Then to Polycarp, going into the stadium, came a voice out of heaven: “Be mighty, Polycarp, and conduct yourself courageously.

So, on the one hand, no one was seeing this, but on the other hand, our [ones] who were present heard the voice. Then, finally he bringing him forward, [there] was a great clamor [from those] who heard, that Polycarp had been seized.

Consequently, he being brought forward, the proconsul asked him if he were Polycarp. And of he who confessed [it], he was persuading to deny, saying: “Respect your age,” and other following things, as [it was] a custom to them to say: “Take an oath [by] the fortune [of] Caesar, change your mind, say ‘take up the atheists.’”

So, Polycarp, dignified, his face to all the crowd that [was] in the stadium, lawless Gentiles looking on, and shaking the hand at them, groaning and then looking up into heaven, said, “Take up the atheists.”

And insisting urgently, the proconsul then saying: “Take an oath, and I release you, revile the Christ,” [responded] Polycarp: “Eighty-six years I serve Him, and He never wronged me; then how I am able to blaspheme my king, the one who saved me?”

Strophe 10

Then who again persisted of him and who said: “Take an oath by the fortune [of] Caesar,”

he answered: “If you vainly imagine, in order that I take an oath by the fortune [of] Caesar, as you say, and you are pretending to be ignorant [of] me, who I am, with clarity listen: I am Christian. But if you desire of Christianity to learn an account, assign a day and listen.”

[Responded] the proconsul: “Persuade the people.”

But Polycarp said, “You yourself I deemed worthy at least [to have] an account: for we have been instructed from the beginning also to authorities—on behalf of God having put in place—according to what is suitable, to show honor, this not injuring us: but those I do not believe are worthy of this, to defend myself to them.

Strophe 11

So the procurator said: “I have wild animals, I will throw you to these, if not you do not change your mind.”

But he said: “Summon [them], for [it is] impossible for us [to repent] from the better over the worse: but beautiful to turn away from the difficult [things] toward the righteous [things].”

So he again [said] to him: “I will destroy you [with] fire, if you disregard the wild animals, if you do not change your mind.”

But Polycarp said: “You threaten fire which keeps burning [for] a time and after [a] little [while] which is extinguished: for you do not know this fire which is preserved [for] those who are destined, the ungodly [ones] who are separated then to eternal punishment. But rather, what [are] you hesitate[ing for]? Cause what you will.”

The Martyrdom of Polycarp (my own translation)

The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer
| Jean-Léon Gérôme, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Those Who Do Not Shrink Back

The very last line in Hebrews Chapter Ten echoes Polycarp’s last words!

But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.

Hebrews 10:39 (NRSV)

3 thoughts on “Hebrews: The Courage of Polycarp

  1. Hi Sister/Professor Joanne; this is a true example of what it means to be tested by fire both figuratively and literally being threatened to be burned up but Polycarp’s faith in the Lord God holds firm throughout never wavering or even flinching, to me also showing he had no need to hold onto this life under such threat from the emperor’s edicts by having no fear or doubt actually, believing so fully by his own faith that his real life was beyond this world with Jesus and the Father.

    Another point that stands out to me though is something I’ve been aware of most of my life, but never really examined very closely what’s being said more concisely, is in this following excerpt by which I begin to understand better, but, also now wonder why it seems all humans would eventually give in during End Time without God’s final intervention.

    “For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” Matthew 24:21-23 (NRSV)

    “If those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved;” does this mean anyone during the tribulation would succumb to unforgivable mortal sin and transgression against God by or through temptations or perhaps the need to take the “Mark of the Beast” then their souls being damned to hell, because of such powerful temptation, or are we to be considering that all persons would be physically attacked and killed, so God is going to cut that short, not allowing all persons or especially His elect that are still on earth during this time; to be tortured, martyred or killed in order to just not allow the evil to finish everyone off; as that would be pointless and very unnecessary suffering it would seem?

    Perhaps I expect too definitive an answer in some things were there isn’t a need to do so, but, I tend to always lean toward the actual fact of the matter being that I have so much to learn.

    Thank you for this great overview and detailed explanation!
    Brother in Christ,

    1. Brother in Christ Lawrence, you ask those “million dollar” questions! Theologians have a number of ways of understanding what Jesus meant, and I think the reading that is the most honoring to God’s character is probably the best understanding.

      I think what Jesus was intending to convey is how very difficult those days will be, when the end comes, and it will be out of God’s great love and grace that the Lord will actively intervene and bring that time to an end, rather than let it play out as it might otherwise, if human beings–and the powers of evil–were left in charge.

      The scriptures point to the absolute security of those who have been saved. Believers will stand. But not because of any human strength, but rather because of the God’s mercy and power. Grace and peace, Joanne

      1. Sister in Christ Joanne! Perfect and this is so beautiful how you put it all in proper perspective! I can feel this deeply and so much better than I had before!

        “I think what Jesus was intending to convey is how very difficult those days will be, when the end comes, and it will be out of God’s great love and grace that the Lord will actively intervene and bring that time to an end”

        Of course this is the ultimate revelation, for those that will be joining our Father and Jesus in Heaven how massive and incomprehensible His Mercy and Grace are!!! I do like my Dad used to tell me as a young fella, ask questions about things that maybe you’re not supposed to know or can’t understand; so let God handle all the things He does, and you just do His will each day!!!

        It’s rather simple isn’t it Sister, my Dad also said Life is simple as Scriptures mention but people complicate it when it’s really so simple what we need to know, that even a child can, and that is verses what we want to know, I may be wanting too much; as my Dad said!

        Thank you for clearing this up in such a profound and deeply felt way here!
        God bless you!
        Your grateful brother in Christ, Lawrence.

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