Easter, Passover and an Early Christion Leader
By Dianne D. McDonnell
Does the example of Jesus matter? If you are a Christian, then the answer should be a wholehearted “Yes”! It is the example of Jesus and his teachings that we must base our lives upon. Does the example of the earliest followers of Christianity matter? That answer should also be a resounding “Yes”! Surely the earliest Christians were closer to the true tenets of our faith and the eye witnesses who knew Jesus.
Nearing the end of the second century, the Christian church was in a major controversy. The disagreement was about whether to celebrate Easter on the “Lord’s Day” as the Roman church called Sunday, or whether to celebrate Passover on the 14th which was now being called “the old custom”. Jesus died on Passover, the 14th of the first month, corresponding to our March/April, and early Christians continued to honor that evening with bread and wine symbols representing Christ.
But now Passover observance was being belittled and distained as “Jewish”. Although Eusebius, called “the church historian,”  was on the side of changing to Easter, he recopied for history a very important letter written in about 195 AD by Polycrates, an early Christian bishop in Asia who presented the other side. Thus the letter of Polycrates to Victor at the church in Rome, was preserved for over eighteen hundred years, and stands today as an amazing link to the earliest leaders and martyrs of Christianity. Here is his full letter:
The author added the bold emphasis and selected only the letter itself from the account of Eusebius. 
Does the Letter of Polycrates match NT Statements?
How does this letter compare with other writings in the New Testament? Polycrates states “great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the day of the Lord's coming” and also believes that the Lord will return to the earth at a future time saying “he shall come with glory from heaven, and shall seek out all the saints”.
Throughout the letter he refers to death as “sleep”, following the same symbolism used by Jesus and the apostle Paul. Paul spoke of the “saints who have fallen asleep in Christ…” and of the coming resurrection of the saints at the return of Jesus when the saints will rise from the dead and be made immortal. See 1 Cor. 15:20, 23, 51-54, and also Acts 1:9-11.
Did John die in Ephesus?
Polycrates lists the final resting place of many early Christians, and lists Ephesus as where John “fell asleep.” Many Christians know that John was banished to the island of Patmos, but do not realize that he later lived in Ephesus. S. F. Hunter wrote in his article on John, the Apostle, “The consentient testimony of the church of the 2nd century is that the later years of John were spent at Ephesus, where he wrote his Gospel, and gathered round him many disciples.” 
Who is Polycarp?
One of these disciples was “Polycarp… who was a bishop and martyr”. We have many historical records of this beloved man who became bishop of Ephesus, and was personally taught by the apostle John. Polycarp (69-155 AD) went to Rome about 150 AD to discuss the Quartrodeciman controversy with Anicetus the bishop of Rome. Polycarp testified that the apostle John instructed him to observe the Passover in honor of Jesus, but Anicetus refused his testimony. About five years later, Polycarp, now a frail and gentle elderly man, was forced into hiding and finally captured. He saw that his captors were fed a good meal, then went calmly with them. Before a screaming mob, a Roman official urged him to deny Christ or face death:
The Steadfast Example of Polycrates
We see from his letter that the beleaguered Polycrates faces a fierce opponent in Victor of Rome, and he knows it. Victor has sent threats of “terrifying words”, yet Polycrates witnesses that he is not “affrighted” or frightened by these threats because “we ought to obey God rather than man” quoting Peter from Acts 4:19. But we notice that Polycrates lists only those martyred believers that “sleep” and does not mention the names of the many bishops in Asia that have assembled to back his stand for Passover. He obviously feels that Victor might martyr any opposing leaders that he can identify.
Not naming the Names of Living Believers
He protects them by not naming their names just as the apostle John did in 1 John 1:12 when he calls believers only “children”. In 2 John, John refers to himself merely as “the elder” as he protects a woman leader by calling her only “chosen lady” and her converts as “your children walking in the truth”. John adds that he looks forward to talking to this female leader “face to face” and giving her the information he dares not write down. All three of John’s letters were composed during times of harsh persecution, just as the letter written by Polycrates was. Both men knew it was now dangerous to name names.
It was safe for Polycrates to name the martyrs that had gone before him for they were safely “asleep”. Yet for Polycrates, following Jesus’ example and teachings accurately, and the example of the leaders that had gone before him-- was more important than even his own life! And one senses in the letter that has come down to us that he perceives his sixty-five years are about to be concluded. Victor did excommunicate Polycrates, but the bishops of Asia ignored the order, and continued to regard him as the bishop of Ephesus and as their leader. The veil of history hides the fate of Polycrates, but many believe he died in 196 AD, at 66 years old—a year after he wrote his letter.
Did Jesus Keep the Passover?
Polycrates said “I…governed my life by the Lord Jesus." So are there records of Jesus observing the Passover throughout his entire life?  John 6:4 reveals that it was Passover time when Jesus first showed that the bread symbol of Passover symbolizes himself!
Later, on the last night of his life, as the 14th day began at sunset, Jesus celebrated the Passover, and again revealed that the traditional Passover bread and wine symbolize his own body and blood!
Words of Jesus
On that Passover evening, Jesus knew he would be dead when sunset ended that day.  Then other Jews would start eating what they termed a Passover meal on the 15th day  , but Jesus would be in Joseph’s tomb. Before Jesus suffered for you and for me, on the evening of the 14th, he gave us these important instructions:
“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love”
Polycrates ended his letter by saying that he had always “governed” his “life by the Lord Jesus”. Do you do the same-- really and truly? If you do, resolve to find out how a Christian observes Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread in honor of Jesus. You can start with “Easter, Passover and the Crucifixion”, the March, 2009, monthly article on this website. Then observe these days! Many brave men and women have witnessed and died for your right to honor Jesus on the exact anniversary of his death on Passover day, and to celebrate his resurrection during the Days of Unleavened Bread a full three days and three nights later. Follow the example of Jesus and the earliest Christians such as Philip and his three daughters, faithful John, brave Polycarp, steadfast Polycrates and others taught by the apostles, and in this loving obedience, truly “abide” in the love of Jesus and the Father!
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Pastor Dianne D. McDonnell
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