Recently I became fascinated reading about the Roman Emperor Nero. We are all familiar with Nero because we all know the expression “fiddling while Rome burned.” Unfortunately, that’s about all we know about the Roman Emperor Nero.
We need to know about Nero because he was the Roman emperor during one of the most significant times in world history. His reign coincided with dramatic growth in the churches and in the Christian faith.
During the reign of Nero, Paul conducted his Ephesian ministry (Acts 19-20) and completed his third missionary journey. Paul was placed in prison (probably two times) during Nero’s time as emperor.
It was also during this time that both the apostles Peter and Paul were executed by the Roman state. Who was Nero?
Nero became emperor at age 17 at the death of his adoptive father Claudius. Nero reigned until he was 31 when he killed himself.
Nero came to power because his mother married Claudius and insisted that Nero be adopted as the son of the emperor. This meant that Nero was the heir to the throne, even before Claudius’ natural sons. Soon thereafter, Claudius mysteriously died. Many historians believe Nero’s mother poisoned him. Later in life, Nero had his mother poisoned.
Nero was a cruel and barbaric leader. No one was safe during his reign, not even members of the Roman Senate. Executions were common and Nero is commonly described as a “mad-man.”
When Rome burned (some people believe Nero himself started the fire), Nero blamed the Christians for the fire that destroyed 75 percent of the city. Christians were an easy target. They lived different lives from most Romans. Nero’s lifestyle and disregard for human beings made him hate Christians even more.
How did believers live during such terrible times?
They preached the gospel and shared their faith. In the midst of harsh persecution, they showed the power of the Gospel. Paul described his Roman imprisonment: “I want you to know, brethren, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brethren have been made confident in the Lord because of my imprisonment, and are much more bold to speak the word of God without fear” (Philippians 1:12-14).
I feel certain Paul’s experience was not an isolated one. I thank God for faithful Christians in the time of Nero. In that kind of oppression, they remained faithful and the gospel message exploded across the empire.
What will you do in a time of persecution? How will we respond?
May we be found faithful in the midst of difficult times.
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