Among these martyrs was Ignatius of Antioch. Doomed to die for his beliefs in Christ, he asked for prayer "that I may not only speak of a willingness to follow Christ wherever, but truly want it; that I may not merely be called a Christian, but actually be one. For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal . . . The greatness of Christianity lies in its being hated by the world, not in its being convincing to it."
Antioch, in modern-day Turkey, was one of the most important churches of the time period immediately following the apostles. It was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians. Antioch also served as a home base for Paul and Barnabas. Ignatius became leader of the Antioch church during a time of intense debate as Christianity sorted out a theology deeply colored and divided by Jewish and Greek influences. Denouncing division as "the beginning of evil," Ignatius tackled the issues head on. On the Jewish end were those who advocated adherence to Old Testament Law as an augmentation to grace. They weren't going as far as to require circumcision as in Galatia, but they did insist on rigorous Sabbath-keeping. In response, Ignatius argued in favor of replacing the Sabbath with the Lord's Day. He's a reason why we meet in church on Sunday. On the other end were those who accommodated to Greek influence, asserting that flesh and matter were by nature evil. Therefore, Jesus could not been a flesh and blood human being, he only appeared to be, like a holy hologram. In response, Ignatius vigorously defended the full humanity of Christ alongside his divinity.
Of course anybody so passionate about defending Jesus as Lord was bound to catch the attention of Roman inquisitors. In Rome only Caesar was Lord and to believe otherwise branded you an atheist and traitor deserving of death. The Ignatian corpus, seven letters total, all come to us from his detainment during a military escort from Antioch to Rome where he would be led to the Coliseum and fed to the lions. Interestingly, we don't know whether Ignatius was ever actually eaten. But we presume so; there exist no reports of the Lord pulling another Daniel. Not that this bothered Ignatius. He took his cue, his conviction, and his courage from Paul's words to the Philippians: "to live is Christ, to die is gain."
Imprisoned for his own faith and mission work, Paul knew that there was a good chance he would get executed. In anticipation, he wrote in verse 20: "I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed." Many have taken this to mean Paul was concerned that he might choke when the time came to stand up for Jesus at his pending Roman tribunal; that he might recoil from his customary boldness once the heat was on; that he might get scared. But Paul wasn't scared. A better rendering than "be a-shamed" in verse 20 is "be shamed" as in "be disgraced." In continuity with the Psalmists, Paul's confidence in God assures him that God will not shame him even if his adversaries do. Paul knows that the outcome of his ordeal will honor Christ and benefit himself—even if the outcome is death. Since to live is Christ and to die is gain, Paul wins either way.
In verses 21-24, Paul oscillates between longing to depart to be with Christ and staying engaged with his "fruitful labor" on earth. His sure hope in Christ creates genuine enthusiasm for eternity now, but his equal passion for Gentiles to have eternal life too makes staying and working advantageous. "What shall I choose?" he rhetorically asks himself, as if the decision were his to make. But happily he knows it's not. God alone is sovereign over life and death. Therefore, verse 25, "Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my return to be with you again, your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me." Interestingly, although Paul expects a return to Phillipi in the flesh, the word he uses for return hereis the same that in most every other biblical instance refers to the second coming of Jesus. Paul covers all the bases. Dead or alive, sooner or later, "here there or in the air," he would see the Philippians again and their mutual joy will be outstanding.
Likewise for Ignatius, though his earthly doom was more impending than Paul's. Tortured by Roman guards on his march to his execution, Ignatius writes as a man who had already given his life away. His zeal at gaining Christ is a martyr's zeal—one that for skeptics smacks of melodrama and self-righteous masochism. Yet even skeptics cannot miss his burning sincerity and courage to share in the sufferings of his Lord. His only fear is that his friends will try to keep him from it. He writes: