Articles Archive -- Topical Index -- Textual Index

by Al Maxey

Issue #705 ------- October 3, 2016
No man is worth his salt who is not ready
at all times to risk his body, to risk his
well-being, to risk his life, in a great cause.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)

The Hieromartyr of Pergamum
Reflecting on Antipas the Faithful Witness

Tertullian of Carthage (c. 155-240), one of the Early Church Fathers who had a tremendous impact on the shaping of Western Christian thought and vocabulary, offered the following insight with respect to the martyring of Christ's disciples by those opposed to the Christian faith: "We multiply whenever we are mown down by you; the blood of Christians is seed" [Apologeticus 50]. Over time this thought expressed by Tertullian would be rephrased into the more common expression: "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." St. Jerome (c. 340-420), long regarded as the most learned of the Latin Church scholars, and the theologian/translator who provided us with the Latin Vulgate, expressed it this way: "The Church of Christ has been founded by shedding its own blood, not that of others; by enduring outrage, not by inflicting it. Persecutions have made it grow; martyrdoms have crowned it."

During the couple of days in the Spring of 1976 when I "endured" the process of my written and oral exams for my Masters degree at the university I attended, one of my professors asked me this question, "Under what circumstance does the church grow best: under an oppressive government or under a benevolent government?" My response was that I believed the most significant growth of God's people would occur in societies where the "powers that be" were in opposition to the church and the godly principles by which the followers of Christ sought to live. He told me this was not the correct answer. A lively discussion then followed, with some of the other professors getting involved. The "debate," although it was not a heated one, centered around the word "grow." The professor was thinking of numerical growth, but I had responded to his question with the idea of spiritual growth in mind. His point was well-taken: more people tended to identify themselves as Christians when the consequences of doing so were minimal, yet I also was correct in asserting that spiritual growth and maturity tend to increase when the church is being severely tested and tried. It is during the latter times that men and women of faith truly shine forth in the darkness, and often at great personal sacrifice. It is under such oppressive circumstances that we find those persons of sacrificial faith known to us down through the ages as "martyrs." If you have never read John Foxe's book "Christian Martyrs of the World," you really owe it to yourself to do so. In the publisher's preface to that great work, we are told: "Reading the history of the martyrs of the Church is an unpleasant but instructive exercise," for it shines a light upon the fearful fate of those with fearless faith, bringing with it an increased awareness of the cost of discipleship, and the price many were/are willing to pay to serve the Lord.

Our word "martyr" comes from the Greek words "martus, martur, martureo, marturia, marturion," which convey the concept of "a witness, one who testifies; testimony." When one testifies and witnesses for the Lord, especially in times of great oppression and persecution of such testimony by these faithful witnesses, it is not uncommon for such testifiers to pay for their testimony with their lives. Such was the case with Stephen, for example, in Acts 6-7 (Reflections #61: "Why Was Stephen Stoned? A Study of Seven Factors Leading to a Good Man's Death"). Many of the Lord's apostles also paid for their testimony with their lives. Hebrews 11 speaks of those who "were tortured ... in order that they might obtain a better resurrection" (vs. 35), who "were sawn in two" (many scholars think this may have been a reference to the prophet Isaiah), "who were stoned and put to death with the sword" (vs. 37). With respect to the last mentioned method, we know that "James the brother of John was put to death with a sword" (Acts 12:2). Over the centuries countless faithful men and women, who testified to the Truth, were put to death. Revelation 17:6 speaks of the Great Harlot being "drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus." These who gave their lives are portrayed figuratively in the 5th seal (Revelation 6:9-11); of them it is said they "had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained" (see also: Revelation 20:4 - "I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God"). It wasn't until about the 3rd century, however, that the Greek word for "witness" (martus = "martyr") took on the meaning we typically give to it today: "one who forfeits his life as a result of his faithful witness/testimony." Our Lord calls us all to "be faithful even unto death, ... and not to fear what we are about to suffer" (Revelation 2:10), and in every generation there have been faithful witnesses who have done just that.

One of those brave souls was a man named Antipas. He is mentioned only once in the NT writings. Jesus, in His remarks to the church in Pergamum, said, "I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith, even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells" (Revelation 2:13). Jesus had some harsh things to say about the city of Pergamum, even calling it the city where Satan had set up his throne! Knowing something about the conditions with which the saints there were challenged daily helps us better understand the Lord's comments to them in Revelation 2:12-17. Rather than repeat all that information here, I would urge the reader to read Reflections #179 ("Tolerating the Intolerable: Jesus Evaluates the Church in Pergamum") and also Reflections #73 ("The Nicolaitans: A Case Study In Compromise"). The Nicolaitans were a group within the early church about whom Jesus had nothing good to say, and He rebuked all who tolerated them and/or followed their teachings and practices (which some in the church there were doing: vs. 15). Yet, within this congregation in Pergamum were a great many more who stayed true to the Lord, even in difficult circumstances, and one of those faithful witnesses was Antipas.

Some have sought to find some hidden meaning in this person's name, suggesting that the word "antipas" may not be this man's name at all, but rather a character reference. It is a combination of two words in Greek: "anti" (meaning "against") and "pas" (meaning "all"). Thus, some believe Jesus is revealing something about this Christian martyr: that he was bold in his faith and in his opposition to all that stood opposed to the will of God. He was thus "against all" for the Lord, which, it is speculated, led to his death at the hands of those he stood "against." The name Antipas, however, was just a shortened form of the name Antipater, as the ancient Jewish historian Josephus pointed out in his work "Antiquities of the Jews" [book 14, chapter 1, section 3]. Not to be deterred by this fact, some have even found "hidden meaning" here. Dr. John Gill (1690-1771) declared that "Antipas is the contraction of Antipater, and is the same with Antipapas, or Antipappas, which signifies one that is against the Pope: an opposer of that 'holy father' ... he is thus an emblem of the confessors, witnesses, and martyrs who suffered for Christ in their opposition to the Popes of Rome" [Exposition of the Entire Bible, e-Sword]. Some scholars feel the seven letters to the churches (Revelation 2-3) represent seven periods of church history, with the letter to Pergamum (according to some) representing the Protestant Reformation. Thus, "in keeping with apocalyptic prophecy, his name has come to represent 'those against the Pope' during the Reformation period" [from an article on the Latter Rain web site]. This web site further wrote, "Pergamum represents the church of Rome dating from the time they instituted the Nicolaitan system of separation of the priests and laity and throughout their history with giving heed to seducing spirits and the doctrines of demons. Antipas represents the opposition to the excesses of Rome and the tradition of men which led to the Protestant Reformation" [ibid]. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, therefore, Antipas is considered a saint, and the religious celebration (feast day) of the martyred St. Antipas is held every April 11th (a date some Western Churches observe also).

Most biblical scholars feel such speculations on this name are ludicrous, however. Matthew Henry (1662-1714) opined, "Who this person was, and whether there be anything mysterious in his name, we have no certain account" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. "There is no reason to assume that his name is symbolical" [R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John's Revelation, p. 105]. The Pulpit Commentary laments the fact that "much mystical trifling has been expended over the name Antipas, which no doubt is the actual name of a once well-known sufferer for the Truth" [vol. 22 - Revelation, p. 62]. "The name is neither a personification nor typical" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 5, p. 356].

In Revelation 1:5, Jesus is declared to be "the faithful witness" of the Father. Using the same wording in Greek, Antipas is characterized by Jesus Himself in Revelation 2:13 as "MY faithful witness" (the Greek term "of Me" is used twice in the phrase -- literally: "the witness of Me, the faithful one of Me" -- conveying this emphatic thought: Jesus was the faithful witness of the Father; Antipas was the faithful witness of the Son). "Christ pays this hero of the faith a noble tribute: 'faithful witness' -- words that John applies to Christ Himself in Revelation 1:5. Satan tries to undermine loyalty to Christ by persecution; Christ strengthens that loyalty by commending those who are true to Him" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 440]. In Eastern Orthodox church tradition, Antipas is known as a "hieromartyr," which is a combining of two Greek words indicating that the witness who was sacrificing his life was a priest or bishop of the church. This characterization is based on the popular tradition that Antipas was not only a student of the apostle John, but that he went on to become the Bishop of Pergamum: the spiritual leader of the Christians in that city. In the extant work "The Acts of Antipas," this man is not only declared to be the leader of the Christians in Pergamum, but that he also was ordained to that position by the apostle John. "His 'Acts' appear to have been read by Andreas and Arethas, and, according to Simon Metaphrastes, he was an old, intrepid bishop of Pergamum" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 5, p. 356].

It is not uncommon, in areas where the saints come under attack for their convictions, to find the oppressing forces going after the leaders of the church, hoping that the harsh treatment of these leaders would serve to intimidate the other members of the Body of Christ. Many times such abuse of these spiritual leaders was done very publicly, so that the Christians in that area could see with their own eyes the high price to be paid for their loyalty to the Lord. That seems to have been the case in Pergamum, yet the saints there were NOT discouraged or intimidated, but actually stood firmly for the Lord, refusing to deny Him, even though they witnessed their leader being slaughter in their midst. Jesus therefore commends the church in Pergamum for their courageous stand: "I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith, even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells" (Revelation 2:13). "He was a faithful disciple of Christ, he suffered martyrdom for it, and sealed his faith and fidelity with his blood in the place where Satan dwelt; and though the rest of the believers there knew this, and saw it, yet they were not discouraged nor drawn away from their steadfastness" [Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. "Happy is he to whom Jesus, the Faithful and True Witness, giveth such a testimony" [John Wesley, Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, e-Sword].

We really know nothing further about this faithful witness of Christ Jesus; at least nothing factual. Nevertheless, as is common with historical figures about whom little is known, there are a great many stories that have arisen from various sources in an effort to "flesh out" the life of this devoted disciple. As already mentioned, it is believed by many that he was the Bishop of Pergamum, and that he was appointed to that position by the apostle John in the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian. According to tradition, Antipas was targeted by the idol worshippers in the city because he had repeatedly stood "against all" of these pagan entities and excesses in a very public way. In the year 92 A.D. their hatred for Antipas reached the breaking point and they seized him and executed him in a most horrific manner: "by being thrown into a brazen bull which stood at the temple of Diana, and so roasted alive" [Dr. James Hastings, Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, vol. 1, p. 71]. Notice the following description of this ancient practice: "They would take the victim, place him inside the bull, and they would tie him in such a way that his head would go into the head of the bull. Then they would light a huge fire under the bull, and as the fire heated the bronze, the person inside the bull would slowly begin to roast to death. As the victim would begin to moan and to cry out in pain, his cries would echo through the pipes in the head of the bull so it seemed to make the bull come alive" [Dr. Rick Renner, A Light in the Darkness]. Tradition states, however, that Antipas did not cry out or moan in pain, but rather spent his last moments praying for the saints in Pergamum that they might remain faithful. The body of Antipas was taken that night by the Christians and buried. It is said that miracles are connected with those who come to his tomb, and that he is especially effective with toothaches and diseases of the teeth. Although "these traditions are probably fancy-drawn" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 8, p. 543], and should not be given much credit, we nevertheless are quite confident in lifting up this man as a faithful witness to God's wondrous grace, and he inspires the faithful witnesses even today to remain faithful unto death, for to such saints there is assured the crown of life!

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in South Korea:

Thank you, Al, for another insightful article ("The Tragedy of Misplaced Hope: Is the Group Denominated Church of Christ the World's Only Hope of Eternal Salvation?" - Reflections #704), regarding which: isn't it true that some people cling so tightly to a concept, even an entire mindset, so as to feel secure in being "right," that any other point of view is automatically "wrong"? It is hard for one to change if their mind is fixed. We are so lucky that God knows the intentions of our hearts! Thank you again, Al, for having the courage to ask questions, and for being so open to change in insight.

From a Minister in New Zealand:

"The Tragedy of Misplaced Hope" is another great article, Al. I sometimes think that some of our brethren perceive the church as some type of institution, and that we are all inmates. What a sad picture. The church is, if anything, a place of freedom (Galatians 5:1), a family (1 Timothy 3:15), a people for God's own possession (1 Peter 2:9). I was a real estate agent for many years and we used to strive to have "a point of difference" from all other agencies: i.e., why we were better than others. I think sometimes this mentality is in the church as well. Also, we love to put things in boxes and tick them off our list. It makes us feel comfortable and secure from a fleshly point of view, but it is not God's way. Our God is too big to be contained in such a way (Isaiah 66:1; Acts 7:49-50). We are not here to waste our time comparing ourselves with one another (2 Corinthians 9:12), but to concern ourselves with preaching the Gospel (Acts 14:7, 21; 1 Peter 2:9). I am presenting a lesson this Sunday titled "The Church is God's Kingdom on Earth." Properly understood, we are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation," and a kingdom, priests to our God and Father (Revelation 1:6), and our citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 3:20). Have a great week, Al.

From a Reader in Texas:

Just read your latest Reflections: wise words of truth here, brother! Praying that the people of our Lord will listen and take heed!

From a Reader in Texas:

Thanks so much for your last Reflections article about arrogant ignorance ("The Tragedy of Misplaced Hope"). I have now shared it with others. Al, words are inadequate to express how much I appreciate you and your work. Having grown up very rigid at the feet of Yater Tant and Roy Cogdill (I led singing for Bro. Roy when I was in college), articles like this one really strike home with me.

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, thank you for clearly stating the truth in "The Tragedy of Misplaced Hope." Thank you also for standing on Truth!

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Dearest Brother Al, when I read a Reflections like this one ("The Tragedy of Misplaced Hope"), it reminds me of the time (many years ago) when some friends asked us to come visit, and later join, their church (the Church of Christ). I must say, I am not the least bit sorry that we did, as we have enjoyed the fellowship of these people and have made lifelong friends in so doing. But, I also remember that at that time we were taught that we were so fortunate to have joined them, because the Church of Christ was THE "one and only true church" on earth. I now, due to your teaching over the years, look back and laugh at that nonsense! Brother, I am in my 90s and have never known another minister who could explain the Scriptures as clearly as you! I can't thank you enough, brother, for the freedom you've given us in knowing that our salvation is rock solid based on faith in Him, instead of being in "the right church." Jesus is our only hope of salvation, and we are now free to love other believers who feel the same, regardless of different traditions. My heart is full of love for you and Shelly for all you have taught me! Thank you!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Thank you, Al, for addressing the misguided hope that so many have: salvation in church, instead of salvation in Christ. I think this misdirected hope is one of the reasons so many in the Churches of Christ rarely, if ever, ask someone the question, "Are you saved?" Instead, they typically ask, "Are you a member of the church?" To their way of thinking, if one is not "a member of the church" (the "Church of Christ" church, of course), then such a one cannot possibly be saved, because, after all, salvation is found in being in "the right church." Again, thanks for your article! Maybe some will finally come to see that the Scriptures have Jesus inviting the lost to come unto HIM, not unto a select group of religionists. God bless!

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Thanks, Bro. Maxey, for your straight talk and reflection on a "church upbringing" I happen to share with you. It is sad that our spiritual legacy, which apparently sought godly and Christ-like goals at its beginning, has been transformed in many cases by human egos into a "bitterness" that actually ignores the spirit our Lord taught while on this earth: love and compassion!

From a Reader in Georgia:

Truer words are rarely spoken (i.e., "The Tragedy of Misplaced Hope"). I'm convinced that this dogma (saved by being in the "right" church) will one day be one of several regrets that took us temporarily off course. Truth wins out ... eventually. Have a tremendous week, Al.

From a Minister in Texas:

Thanks again for another insightful article about our faith-heritage ("The Tragedy of Misplaced Hope"). I heard Jerry Kelly at the Abilene Christian University "Summit" this week talk about people choosing the fruit of knowledge over love. I think this applies to our forefathers who thought they could reason salvation out and put it into a formula that they could bottle and sell to the world. I do not doubt their sincerity, but I do not believe we can boil down grace, mercy and love into a five-finger formula or determine who is in the sheep flock from where they attend a service once a week. The Shepherd is in charge of the sheep, and not the other way around. Jerry continued to hone in on our egotistic, narcissistic tendencies to choose things that glorify us in this world, as opposed to the things God gives us for salvation. In other words, we would rather think we can rationalize our salvation on our own (we have the "right" doctrine/dogma) as opposed to letting God give us real life through His love. It is a very easy trap to succumb to as we continually fight our pride and hubris in trying to follow God by getting out of His way in our lives. Thanks again for helping us understand that God is the final arbiter of life in this world and beyond. It's not our prerogative to determine who is or isn't part of the sheep flock. In fact, I'm often afraid those most vocal about being in the "right" flock are actually cavorting with goats and not sheep!

From a Reader in Texas:

There is so much good in this Reflections ("The Tragedy of Misplaced Hope"), and so many great comments by you that are focused on a religious past that I, like you, was raised to "imitate." I used to be one who put his faith in being in the "right" church (meaning it had to have the name "Church of Christ" on the sign). Once again, Al, you have pointed out that this is a misplaced hope, for our salvation is found only in the person of Jesus! Several things really "hit" me as I read this article. First, was the comment on tradition. You worded it just a bit differently than I've noticed in the past, and it came across much better in my mind this time: that is, that there is absolutely nothing wrong with our traditions (or those of others) UNTIL we make those traditions we enjoy GOD'S LAW. Another thing really coming through clearly this time was the way we have put our faith in the church rather than our Savior. I was really impressed when you took it even further, and you mentioned the "one true" church is the complete (universal) Body of Christ made up of ALL believers, not just those in a certain group with certain traditions. Love you, brother!

From a Reader in Alaska:

Once again, thanks for the spiritual perspectives you provide; such theological meat needs to be chewed over and over, and then slowly digested. Some folks literally choke when they bite off more than they can chew! I noticed at the top of your Reflections articles that you have now included links to your archival, topical and textual indices. That's a really great improvement: folks who happen to encounter a particular issue can now explore just how much more you have to offer on your web site, and can locate specific Scripture texts and topics very quickly. I'm particularly impressed by the index of Scriptures. Since that's my specialty, I know how much work it involves. On a sadder note, and more directly to the opening point, it's been over 40 years now, but I still recall the words as if they were spoken yesterday: "If you're not a member of the Church of Christ, you're going to hell." Spoken by a co-worker in a group setting, I kept to myself just how bad those words made me feel. As a young believer, converted only a few years before that statement, I didn't know how to react, so I kept my mouth shut. Later, in my readings, I remember someone saying that the first and greatest heresy of the Roman Catholic Church was its declaration that they were the exclusive institution representing God's Son. Like a speaker once said off the record, "We (Protestants) are all more Catholic than we like to admit." Sadly, the poster you discussed in your Reflections is another reminder of this ignorance and arrogance. Another one of my favorite borrowed sayings is: "It's the man, not the plan!" This one-liner recaps what you've explained in greater detail for careful readers to follow. Sadly, many churches proclaim religion, not relationship (the latter of which Jesus delivered in person). Even back then, religious people were sometimes "full of themselves" (e.g. Matthew 23), while others understood that they were on a journey to maturity that involves several twists and turns that invariably complicate one's faith-walk. Blessings in your ministry.

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