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Sixth Edition, 1915
By Dr. John Thomas (first edition written 1861)



Chapter 2


5. "Ten Days'" Tribulation.


PAGE 253


"Ye will have tribulation TEN DAYS" (Verse 10).


Domitian, the Roman emperor, was slain A.D. 96. John was in Patmos at the time; therefore the letter to the Smyrneans was before that date. Domitian was succeeded in the throne by Nerva, who published a pardon for those who were condemned for impiety, recalled those who were banished and forbade the accusing of any men on account of impiety, or Judaism. Others, who were under accusation or under sentence of condemnation, now escaped by the lenity of Nerva. This brings us to the close of the first century, in which we behold the Christians, for the present, in a state of external peace. Under this full toleration the apostle John recovered his liberty, and, at the age of about one hundred, fell asleep in Christ before the short interval of tranquillity was closed by the persecuting spirit of Trajan.

The mild and aged Nerva adopted Trajan A.D. 98, and declared him his colleague and successor in the empire. When Nerva deceased, and Trajan became sole master of the Habitable of the Diabolos, the spirit of persecution broke out afresh; and appears to have been very severe in the region of the Seven Ecclesias. The "tribulation" continued ten years, until the death of Trajan, A.D. 117.

While the Smyrneans, and their brethren in Asia Minor, were enduring the tribulation of the symbolical "ten days," Pliny, the governor of Bithynia, a character well known in pagan history, wrote the following letter to Trajan, which sufficiently explains itself.

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C. Pliny to Trajan, Emperor.

Health. -- It is my usual custom, sir, to refer all things, of which I harbor any doubts, to you. For who can better direct my judgment in its hesitation, or instruct my understanding in its ignorance? I never had the fortune to be present at any examinations of Christians, before I came into this province. I am therefore at a loss to determine what is the usual object either of inquiry or of punishment, and to what length either of them is to be carried. It has also been a question with me very problematical, whether any distinction should be made between the young and the old, the tender and the robust; whether any room should be given for repentance, or the guilt of Christianity once incurred is not to be expiated by the most unequivocal retraction; -- whether the name itself, abstracted from any flagitiousness of conduct, or the crimes connected with the name, be the object of punishment. In the meantime, this has been my method with respect to those who were brought before me as Christians.

"I asked them whether they were Christians: if they pleaded guilty, I interrogated them twice afresh, with a menace of capital punishment. In case of obstinate perseverance, I ordered them to be executed. For of this I had no doubt, whatever was the nature of their religion, that a sullen and obstinate inflexibility called for the vengeance of the magistrate. Some were infected with the same madness whom, on account of their privilege of citizenship, I reserved to be sent to Rome, to be referred to your tribunal.

"In the course of this business, informations pouring in, as is usual when they are encouraged, more cases occurred. An anonymous libel was exhibited, with a catalogue of names of persons, who yet declared that they were not Christians then, nor ever had been; and they repeated after me an invocation of the gods and of your image, which, for this purpose, I had ordered to be brought with the images of the deities: they performed sacred rites with wine and frankincense, and execrated Christ -- none of which things I am told a real Christian can ever be compelled to do. On this account I dismissed them. Others named by an informer, first affirmed, and then denied the charge of Christianity; declaring that they had been Christians, but had ceased to be so some three years ago, others still longer, some even twenty years ago. All of them worshipped your image, and the statues of the gods, and also execrated Christ.

"And this was the account which they gave of the nature of the religion they once had professed, whether it deserves the name of crime

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or error; namely, that they were accustomed on a stated day to meet before daylight, and to repeat among themselves a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by an oath, with an obligation of not committing any wickedness; but on the contrary, of abstaining from thefts, robberies, and adulteries; also of not violating their promise, or denying a pledge; after which it was their custom to separate, and to meet again at a promiscuous harmless meal, from which last practice they however desisted, after the publication of my edict, in which, agreeably to your orders, I forbade any societies of that sort. On which account, I judged it the more necessary to inquire by torture, from two females, who were said to be deaconesses, what is the real truth. But nothing could I collect, except a depraved and excessive superstition. Deferring therefore any further investigation, I determined to consult you. For the number of culprits is so great as to call for serious consultation. Many persons are informed against, of every age and of both sexes; and more still will be in the same situation. The contagion of the superstition hath spread not only through cities, but even villages and the country. Not that I think it impossible to check and correct it. The success of my endeavors hitherto forbids such desponding thoughts, for the temples once almost desolate, begin to be frequented, and the sacred solemnities, which had long been intermitted, are now attended afresh; and the sacrificial victims are now sold everywhere, which once could scarcely find a purchaser. Whence I conclude, that many might be reclaimed, were the hope of impunity, on repentance, absolutely confirmed."

To this the emperor replied as follows

Trajan to Pliny.

You have done perfectly right, my dear Pliny, in the inquiry you have made concerning the Christians. For truly no one general rule can be laid down, which will apply itself to all cases. These people must not be sought after. If they are brought before you and convicted, let them be capitally punished, yet with this restriction, that if any one renounce Christianity, and evidence his sincerity by supplicating our gods, however suspected he may be for the past, he shall obtain pardon for the future, on his repentance. But anonymous libels in no case ought to be attended to; for the precedent would be of the worst sort, and perfectly incongruous to the maxims of my government."

Thus the Diabolos and his pagan Satan "cast them into prison that they might be tempted" to renounce the faith. Their tribulation was

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great. They had foes without, foes within, who said they were Christians, but lied, and their flesh with all its affections and lusts to contend with. But they were "rich" in faith and good works, and zealous against the Docetae or Gnostics, and the Ebionites, both of which, we have shown, constituted the Nicolaitans, or Vanquishers of the people of God's flock.

When Ignatius was at Troas, where Paul and his companions abode seven days (Acts xx. 6), he wrote to the Smyrneans commending them for their faithfulness, and zealously warning them against the Nikolaitans. In his view the evil of their heresy consisted in a nullification of Jesus as a covering for sin, and of the resurrection. Let the clergy and those deceived by them, hear him, and be instructed. "I glorify Jesus Anointed, our God, who hath given you wisdom. For I understand that ye, Smyrneans, are perfect ill the immovable faith of our Lord Jesus Christ; who REALLY was of the seed of David according to the flesh; and born of a virgin REALLY; who REALLY suffered under Pontius Pilate. For those things he suffered for us that we might be saved. And he TRULY suffered; as also he TRULY raised up himself; not as some infidels say, that he SEEMED to suffer. I forewarn you of these beasts (2 Pet. 2:12; Jude 10) who are in the shape of men; whom you ought not only not to receive (2 John 10), but if possible not even to meet with. Only you ought to pray for them -- if they may be converted (2 Tim. 2:25) -- which is a difficult case. But Jesus Christ, our true life (Col. iii. 3) has power to save to the uttermost" (Heb. 7:25). I have inserted references in parentheses to show how the scriptures were acting upon the mind of Ignatius while he was writing his epistle. It seems that the "infidels" who pretended to be true Jews or Christians, with the usual artifice of such persons, labored to work themselves into the good graces of Ignatius, who was an influential man among the saints. But he saw through their craftiness, and says -- "for what doth it profit me if any man commend me, and yet blaspheme my Lord, denying him to have come in the flesh? They separate from !greek! the giving of thanks (that is, 'the Lord's Supper') and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharistia to be (representative of) the body of our Saviour Jesus Anointed, who suffered for our sins. They who contradicted the gift of God (Gal. 1:4; 2:20; Eph. 5:25; 1 Tim. 2:6; Tit. 2:14) die in their reasonings."

Ignatius suffered death in this Trajan persecution of the "ten days." When he was led to execution, he was attended by a number of the brethren who accompanied him to Rome, and were residents of that city. When about to suffer, he prayed in behalf of the Ecclesias, that

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a stop might be put to the persecution, and that their love might be continued one toward another. He was then led into the amphitheatre, and speedily thrown to the wild beasts, who soon devoured him, leaving only a few bones, which the deacons carefully collected and afterwards buried at Antioch.

The concluding remarks of the narrative of the execution of Ignatius are expressed in terms which indicate their writers' understanding of the Diabolos in the case. They style him "the magnanimous witness of Christ, who trode under foot the Diabolos." Now the pagan Roman power cast him into prison, and put him to death; yet he trod it under foot in the sense of not yielding to its temptations, and dying with the assurance of rising again; or, as it is expressed in this letter to the Smyrneans, of "not being hurt of the Second Death." The contemporaries of Ignatius evidently regarded this power as Sin in imperial manifestation, and therefore "the Diabolos."




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