Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ignatius to the Smyrneans - A Resurrection of the Flesh

This is a continuation of my series on Ignatius and the seven letters he wrote while on his way to be martyred in Rome. If you are unfamiliar with Ignatius, you may want to start with the introduction to this series.

Ignatius reminds us that Jesus not only lived, suffered, and died in the flesh but also was raised in the flesh.
"For I know that after His resurrection also He was still possessed of flesh, and I believe that He is so now. When, for instance, He came to those who were with Peter, He said to them, 'Lay hold, handle Me, and see that I am not an incorporeal spirit.' And immediately they touched Him, and believed, being convinced both by His flesh and spirit. For this cause also they despised death, and were found its conquerors. And after his resurrection He did eat and drink with them, as being possessed of flesh, although spiritually He was united to the Father." (Ignatius to the Smyrneans, Chapter 3)
Furthermore, not only did He rise again in flesh, but it was Ignatius' belief that Jesus continues to live on in the flesh; His flesh having put on immortality. It is this fact, of His bodily resurrection, that frees us from our fear of death and gives us the hope of our own resurrection and eternal life.

Though Ignatius was confident that the church at Smyrna shared his beliefs, he felt it was worthwhile to remind them of this and to encourage them to be on guard against those who would preach a different gospel.
"I give you these instructions, beloved, assured that ye also hold the same opinions [as I do]. But I guard you beforehand from those beasts in the shape of men, whom you must not only not receive, but, if it be possible, not even meet with; only you must pray to God for them, if by any means they may be brought to repentance, which, however, will be very difficult. Yet Jesus Christ, who is our true life, has the power of [effecting] this." (Ignatius to the Smyrneans, Chapter 4)
Those who denied Jesus in the flesh had also denied the common hope of all believers and had withdrawn themselves from the communion of the saints. Ignatius reminded the church to pray for them that Jesus would restore them to the true faith and unite them to the one Body of Christ.

Ignatius also confessed that knowing that Jesus suffered and died in the flesh encouraged him in his own journey to martyrdom. In his own suffering and death he knew that Jesus was near to him, one who had already suffered these things, and would continue to strengthen and encourage him in his way.
"But if these things were done by our Lord only in appearance, then am I also only in appearance bound. And why have I also surrendered myself to death, to fire, to the sword, to the wild beasts? But, [in fact,] he who is near to the sword is near to God; he that is among the wild beasts is in company with God; provided only he be so in the name of Jesus Christ. I undergo all these things that I may suffer together with Him, He who became a perfect man inwardly strengthening me." (Ignatius to the Smyrneans, Chapter 4)
Ignatius was not only suffering for his faith but was also suffering with Christ and being strengthen by Him who had left him an example to follow.

The truth of the flesh of Christ was declared by the prophets, the law, the Gospels, and was being daily demonstrated by those believers who were suffering for their faith. Those who chose to deny the flesh of Jesus also denied the evidence and the testimony of the prophets, Moses, the apostles, and the early believers. In denying the flesh of Christ they found themselves denied by Christ.
"Some ignorantly deny Him, or rather have been denied by Him, being the advocates of death rather than of the truth. These persons neither have the prophets persuaded, nor the law of Moses, nor the Gospel even to this day, nor the sufferings we have individually endured. For they think also the same thing regarding us. For what does any one profit me, if he commends me, but blasphemes my Lord, not confessing that He was [truly] possessed of a body? But he who does not acknowledge this, has in fact altogether denied Him, being enveloped in death." (Ignatius to the Smyrneans, Chapter 5)
Ignatius considered it blasphemy to acknowledge Christ but deny His fleshy body. So concerned was Ignatius with the false apostles of Christ, that he refused to even mention them by name lest there should accrue to them some measure of honor and glory by being mentioned in his letters. Such honor and glory he reserve for those who loved and believed in his Christ.
"I have not, however, thought good to write the names of such persons, inasmuch as they are unbelievers. Yea, far be it from me to make any mention of them, until they repent and return to [a true belief in] Christ’s passion, which is our resurrection." (Ignatius to the Smyrneans, Chapter 5)
Today, there are not many who would fail to at least acknowledge the life and suffering of Jesus, including His flesh. Some of this is due in part to the tireless defense of the faith by these early Christian writers such as Ignatius. We owe them a debt of gratitude.

David Robison

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