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259 A.D. : Polyeuctus of the Thundering Legion




The Thundering Legion was a special legion, not in the glorious history of Rome, but in the Kingdom of God. They were the Roman 12th Legion, or the 'Legio XII Fulminate' (their symbol from early times was a thunderbolt.)

So poor was their record among Roman legions that they were sometimes called the 'bad luck legion'. It was their military loss to the Jews just before 70 A.D. that got the Jewish confidence so fatally inflated. They were beseiging Jerusalem, while inside the Jews prayed for help from God. For some reason, the Commander of the 12th, Cestius,  decided to lift the seige and relocate, to rethink his strategies perhaps. But when he left, the Jews took it for their sign that they were going to win yet another unlikely war by the power of God, so they raced out of the city of Jerusalem to overtake the 12th, who were a good ways away by then.

This also was important, because the Christians inside of Jerusalem used this opportunity to get out of Jerusalem and flee to the city called Pella, in Jordan, while the window of opportunity was opened.  There were neither Romans outside the city to kill them, nor Jewish soldiers inside the city to call them traiters and then kill them. So, it has been said since ancient times that no Christians died in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and that is why.

But, the Jews overtook the poorly led 12th, and just clobbered them. They stole almost all of their baggage, stole their Eagle Standard (about the most shameful thing that could happen to a Roman Legion) and that night, the besieged 12th left 400 brave soldiers to gaurd the campfires and make it look like there was activity in the camp, while the rest of them ran away as fast as they could into the darkness. The 400 Roman gaurds were easily destroyed the next day, when the Jews saw the situation and attacked again. All told, about 6000 Romans died. This shocked Rome, and was one of its most humiliating defeats ever.  (It also emboldened other people in the Roman Empire to try their luck in rebelling against the empire's might, later.)

But at that point, when the next Legions of Roman Soldiers came to surround Jerusalem and lay siege to it, they were out for blood. They hated the Jews now! Their reputation was damaged, and they wanted payback.

The Jews fought fiercely for many months, thinking they would win because God favored them. But they had crucified their own Messiah, Jesus, who was God's dear Son. So, at that time, for that particular generation of Jews, there was no real hope for mercy from God. He had determined to punish them for their many sins, and Jesus had foretold this very thing before He was crucified.

The end was horrible and very very bloody. It was the end of the Jewish nation and God's holy temple for around 1,878 years for the nation, and the temple is still not rebuilt.  

But as for the disgraced 12th Legion, under normal circumstances, Rome would probably just have abandoned it, and started over from scratch with new soldiers. But there was a lot of fighting going on. So, they were attached to new leaders and sent back into war against the Jews, where they fought adequately.

But later, they were viewed as a pretty discredited Legion, and ended up going from one desolate assignment to another. Yet God seemed to now have plans for them.

They were involved in the famous Thundering Legion episode, in 176 A.D., when their prayers for their surrounded peers and themselves resulted in a miraculous rescue by God via a fiery storm.  This site has that account also.

Then in 259 A.D., in what was then called Syria, but was more specifically their newly assigned duty station in the city of Melitene in lesser Armenia, a second incident occurred.

Valerian the Emperor had decreed persecution against the sect of Christians. One of the soldiers of the 12th, Polyeuctus, a Roman officer from a rich family, was upset because he had a good friend named Nearchus in the unit who was a Christian. Nearchus was likely to be executed, but concerning that Nearchus was fairly glad, looking forward to his eternal life. But it did make him sad that his friend Polyeuctus was not convinced yet to accept Jesus. They were like brothers.

Polyeuctus went to comfort his friend, but when he found out that the real reason Nearchus was upset was only because of him, he gave the matter serious thought. That night, he had a dream in which the Lord appeared to him, gave him beautiful shining new clothes, and set him upon a winged horse.

He became a believer, and told Nearchus with great joy early the next morning. But his Christian enthusiasm was so powerful that he went to town, found the posted 'Emperor's Edict' against Christianity, and tore it up right there in public. Then, he went about and destroyed a few stone idols of gods that people in the city were quite fond of.

He was jailed, showed no remorse, and in the end was executed, martyred....killed even before Nearchus, who was also martyred, but at a later time.

He became known as St. Polyeuctus, and his friend would eventually be known as St. Nearchus. Their names are still listed today in various lists of the martyred believers, in that region especially.

©2017 Daniel Curry & 'Deeds of God' Website