December 04, 2013

Two Disciples of John: Ignatius

Stephen Nichols
Two Disciples of John: Ignatius


On this episode we'll be going back in time, back to visit the church fathers. In fact we're going to do two episodes together. This episode and the next, we're going to be looking at two particular church fathers, both fascinating that they have links right to the New Testament itself.

The first person we'll be talking about is Ignatius. Ignatius was bishop of Antioch. That's a city that of course factors significantly in the New Testament itself. That city was the place where those who were the followers of "Christus" were first called Christians—and Ignatius was the bishop. We're not sure when he was born, but we do know that died in the 110's. And in fact, Ignatius died a martyr's death. He was martyred in Rome by the emperor Trajan. On his way to Rome, Ignatius had the opportunity to visit various churches, and he even was able to right letters to these churches. And so we have some wonderful pieces of literature in the early church of these letters from Ignatius. Now, what makes Ignatius so significant? Ignatius was from the city of Ephesus, and as a young man he was actually discipled by the Apostle John.

So here we have Ignatius, a bishop in the early church who is a direct link back to the New Testament itself. Well, Ignatius wrote these various letters to the church because there were some serious problems in the church. John himself writes about these problems in his epistles. He reminds the church, or maybe we should say he warns the church, that there will be false teachers who come. And these false teachers are going to be teaching that Jesus did not truly come in the flesh, he only appeared to come in the flesh. Not only were they plaguing the churches in John's day, they continued to plague the churches in the 100's. So Ignatius in most of his letters, addressed these folks who were denying the humanity of Jesus Christ.

In Igantius' epistles, he often starts off the chapters with a singular warning, and he even gives a threat to the folks who listen to these false teachers. He tells them, "Stop your ears when you hear these false teachers!" Ignatius does not want this false teaching even getting a foothold in the church. And as you read through his epistles you find out why. You see, if Christ didn't truly come in the flesh then he really wasn't born, and he really didn't live, and he really didn't die on the cross, and he really didn't rise again. And this is exactly what Ignatius says in his epistle.

In fact, at the end of one of his epistles, he goes on to say that he wants to guard this church beforehand from these beasts in the shape of men, he calls them. He doesn't mince words when it comes to these false teachers. These beasts in the shape of men from whom you must not only turn away, but even flee from them. He wants to make sure this gets no foothold whatsoever in the church. And then he says:

Only you must pray for them, if by any means they may be brought to repentance. For if the Lord were in the body in appearance only, and were crucified in appearance only, then am I also bound in appearance only? And why have I also suffered myself to death, to fire, to the sword, to the wild beasts? But I endure all things for Christ, not in appearance only, but reality. That I may suffer together with him, while he himself, inwardly, strengthens me, for of myself I have no such ability.
And there, the words of Ignatius. "For of myself I have no such ability" was all important for Ignatius that Jesus be truly human, because in his humanity, he identifies with us and our humanity. So he really was born, he really died, and he really rose again. Make no mistake about it, Jesus came in the flesh. That was the message of John the Apostle, and that was also the message of Ignatius the bishop.