(Last of Nine in a Series)
As this edifying series of chapel talks concludes, we once again heartily thank Prof. emeritus Paul R. Koch for sharing them with us from his archives while he served on the faculty at Immanuel Lutheran College, Eau Claire, Wis. The Spirit of God bless these messages! – Ed.
Down along the end of Scripture’s lengthy list of God’s dear children who are hardly known to us, we come today to a Christian martyr by the name of Antipas. All that we know of him is found in this single verse, part of the Savior’s testimony to the church in Pergamos: “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells” (Revelation 2:13).
Who was this Antipas (“in place of the father”)? Not to be confused with Antipas, short-lived procurator of Judea half-a-century before Jesus’ birth, for the Antipas of Revelation was our Christian brother, a child of God who endured even death rather than desert his Savior. Jesus took God’s obscure saint to heaven in a blood-bath of glory, claiming as His own this gentleman as “My faithful martyr, who was killed among you.”
Picture, if you will, what was going on; the scenario can be found in sacred and secular records—there came a pounding at his door in the dead of night; Roman soldiers dragged Antipas from his home and family, and within sight of the altar to Zeus or the temple of Athena on City Heights they dumped him before the gilded shrine of the “divine Augustus.”
Then and there the choice was laid before him—a choice given to others, and a choice others had made: take a pinch of this incense, step forward, and dribble the incense into the flame, thus making the gesture of worship to Augustus Caesar, the demi-god of the day. Nobody would see if he did so with mental reservations or private compunctions of conscience, for worship can be faked, and everyone knew it. If Antipas faked it, he could walk away and go back home; the heathen would be pacified, and “no harm done.”
However, they meant the gesture to be worship, that’s how Satan meant it, and that’s how it would be interpreted by Jesus, who had given grace and mercy and redemption and sanctification to Antipas, and who now granted Antipas this outstanding opportunity to be His faithful witness.
Jesus was watching and waiting. What would Antipas do? We have no details, for none of his words are recorded—but it amounted to this, that Antipas did from his heart what he knew was right, and he was willing to live and die by His Savior’s code, “Whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).
My friends, that was no child’s game for Antipas, and neither is it for us. This life we are in and the moral decisions we make have eternal import; Satan is not on vacation; every day in every way Satan is poking and prodding and coaxing and urging his evil agenda upon us too.
In the Pergamos congregation Satan had made his impact; how else are we to understand the words of Jesus to the congregation: “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.”
Isn’t it unsettling that every breath of God’s approval is counter-balanced with a warning? Verses 14, 15, and 16 of chapter 2 may strike the casual reader as being unnecessarily negative. Well, tell Jesus about being negative! He could see the dangers they didn’t; He could perceive what the old evil foe was doing among them. There was so much evil threatening the Pergamos congregation that Jesus had to declare that He was going to use His two-edged sword among them, for Satan had his throne there, and Satan dwelt there, too.
Those people needed Jesus on the job for them and in them and with them – and it was hard work for Jesus to preserve His faithful few, including the one-and-only Christian mentioned by name in that congregation – Antipas, one of God’s obscure saints now and forever defined as “My faithful martyr.”
In short, Antipas did not slouch away in defeat that day, still living in body but dead of soul; he chose to fall before the sword as Jesus’ faithful martyr! He closed his eyes before the idol of Caesar and then opened them to see his Savior with open arms at the door of heaven! Jesus gave him strength to confess in word and deed and whisked him out of his crumpled corpse to eternal glory. Antipas survives!
Now, what does Jesus want us to learn from this brief note about one of His obscure saints? First, let’s not be so parochial that we comfort ourselves with our safe distance from bodily persecution. Are we so far removed from God’s obscure saints in India and Africa and Burma [Myanmar] that we don’t partake of their pain? “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?” (2 Corinthians 11:29) Besides, Satan does his dirty work with slivers as well as with axe and torch. You and I are targets of many “fiery darts of the wicked one” in our secular, humanist, idolatrous, lusting, entertainment-oriented world. Pay attention! A single wound not attended to can turn septic and kill you! Prevent that puncture! Build up your defenses! “Put on the whole armor of God, that you [God’s obscure saints] may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11).
Lord, have mercy!
Preserve Thy Word, O Savior,
To us this latter day
And let Thy kingdom flourish,
Enlarge Thy Church, we pray.
Oh, keep our faith from failing,
Keep hope’s bright star aglow.
Let naught from Thy Word turn us
While wand’ring here below.
Preserve Thy Word and preaching,
The truth that makes us whole,
The mirror of Thy glory,
The power that saves the soul.
Oh, may this living water,
This dew of heavenly grace,
Sustain us while here living
Until we see Thy face!