1 I BECAME acquainted through God with your much beloved name, which you have obtained by your righteous nature, according to faith and love in Christ Jesus our Saviour. You are imitators of God, and, having kindled your brotherly task by the blood of God, you completed it perfectly. 2 For when you heard that I had been sent a prisoner from Syria for the sake of our common name and hope, in the hope of obtaining by your prayers the privilege of fighting with beasts at Rome, that by so doing I might be enabled to be a true disciple, you hastened to see me. 3 Seeing then that I received in the name of God your whole congregation in the person of Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love and your bishop, I beseech you by Jesus Christ to love him, and all to resemble him. For blessed is he who granted you to be worthy to obtain such a bishop.
In this rather intimate letter between Ignatius and the church at Ephesus only a century after the apostle Paul himself wrote the canonical epistle to the Ephesian church, we see a little bit of the thinking of the persecuted church under Rome. Ignatius is writing to thank the church for its prayers in the midst of his imprisonment and subsequent transfer from Syria, where he served as a bishop, to Rome. The prayers of the church at Ephesus were probably not the type that we might ask for today. We see the nature of these prayers in what Father Ignatius says.
“…in the hope of obtaining by your prayers the privilege of fighting with beasts at Rome, that by so doing I might be enabled to be a true disciple…”
The prayers that were offered for Ignatius were not prayers for his release, they were prayers for his death in the Colosseum in Rome. We might think this a little strange, but to understand the reasoning of these holy brothers and sisters we have to take into account the second part of his statement, which says, “…that by so doing I might be enabled to be a true disciple…” Ignatius probably did not start his Christian walk with a desire to die in the Colosseum, but he has a unique perspective that by dying this death, he relates to Christ in a special way, and that it is in some way a confirmation of the depth of his faith and conviction.
Ignatius and the thousands like him who have gone to their deaths for their faith in Christ have all gone with an understanding of a foundational principle. This principle is best represented in the New Testament with Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having fa righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. -Php 3:7–11.
Paul is willing to give up everything in his pursuit of Christ, and in this, his suffering is not a liability. Suffering for Christ in Paul’s eyes only draws us to a closer knowledge of Christ, because the love of Christ was made perfect in His death. In the same way, many of the suffering church believed that their own suffering made their love for Christ more perfect and more genuine. We often say that we do not truly understand a person until we have walked a mile in their shoes. Christ died not for us, and in order to know Him more intimately, we must walk a mile in His shoes. So, the deaths of the martyrs was not met begrudgingly or in great distress, it was met with pride and humility as they walked in the footprints of Jesus.
Ignatius said of his death… “Now I begin to be a disciple. Let fire and cross, flocks of beasts, broken bones, dismemberment come upon me, so long as I attain to Jesus Christ.” Saint Ignatius’ pursuit of Christ ended in 107 A.D. in the city of Rome were, by decree of Caesar, a public spectacle was made of his delivery to the lions. Oh that we would live with the conviction to die, as did our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.
 Pope Clement I et al., The Apostolic Fathers, ed. Pope Clement I et al., vol. 1, The Loeb Classical Library (London; New York: Heinemann; Macmillan, 1912–1913), 173–175.