Paul, Letters, and Nero

It is worth a few minutes to look over this timeline of Paul’s life so far:

  • The first row: year 5 AD to 44AD
  • The second row: year 45 AD to 56 AD
  • The third row: year 57 AD to 68 AD

We are about to start the 3rd row in the reading.

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Take a look at this chart. First, we will begin Romans, and then we will read the Prison Letters.  The dates are significant because we are entering a period when Christians are being persecuted greater each year.

We recently read a bulleted list of hardships Paul went through during his ministry.  It is hard for us in safe America to imagine real Christian persecution.  One of the most famous of the tyrannic leaders of this time was Nero.

Born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus in December of AD 37, Nero became the fifth emperor of Rome. Nero, along with Rome’s first four emperors:

  1. Augustus,
  2. Tiberius,
  3. Caligula, and
  4. Claudius

They made up what is called the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Nero was adopted by his great uncle Claudius to become his successor, and upon Claudius’s death in AD 54, Nero became the youngest emperor at age 16. His reign lasted nearly fourteen years until AD 68 when he committed suicide at 30.

Christianity was spreading rapidly during this time. In fact, approximately fourteen of the New Testament’s twenty-seven books were written in whole or in part during Nero’s emperorship.

Nero is the “Caesar” who Paul will appeal to for justice during his trial in Caesarea (Acts 25:10–12).

His regime began with mildness and idealism; it ended with cruelty and tyranny. Then, he began murdering anyone who became an obstacle to him; his victims included his own wife and mother as well as his step-brother Britannicus—Emperor Claudius’s biological son.

In July of 64, the Great Fire of Rome broke out and lasted for six days.  Some historians believe Nero may have been responsible for the fire (he wanted to rebuild the city, so he burned the poor section), although his involvement is unclear. What is clear is that Nero deflected the focus from himself by blaming the fire on the Christians, many of whom he tortured and killed.  Some of Nero’s tactics towards Christians were”

  • Covering them with fresh animal skins and letting wild dogs tear them apart
  • were nailed to crosses
  • Burned alive: Nero’s use of Christians as human torches to light his evening garden parties is well documented.

Long story short, Nero was declared a public enemy. As a result, Nero was forced to flee Rome and later took his own life. Having no heir to succeed him, Nero was the last of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Nero’s death was followed by a brief period of civil war, which was then followed by the rise and fall of four emperors in a single year, a chaotic period of Roman history known as “The Year of the Four Emperors.”

D. Persecution of Christians - Christianity and the Roman Empire

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