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Under Nero

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Under Nero

The Neronian persecution was vicious indeed. Tacitus (A.D.60-120), a Roman historian, has preserved a record of this situation. We quote the following from his Annals (XV.44).

"And so, to get rid of this rumor, Nero set up [i.e., falsely accused] as the culprits and punished with the utmost refinement of cruelty a class hated for their abominations, who are commonly called Christians. Christus, from whom their name is derived, was executed at the hands of the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. Checked for a moment, this pernicious superstition again broke out, not only in Judea, the source of the evil, but even in Rome…Accordingly, arrest was first made of those who confessed [to being Christians]; then, on their evidence, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much on the charge of arson as because of [their] hatred for the human race. Besides being put to death they were made to serve as objects of amusement; they were clothed in the hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs; others were crucified, others set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed. Nero had thrown open his grounds for the display, and was putting on a show in the circus, where he mingled with the people in the dress of charioteer or drove about in his chariot. All this gave rise to a feeling of pity, even toward men whose guilt merited the most exemplary punishment; for it was felt that they were being destroyed not for the public good but to gratify the cruelty of an individual."

There are several interesting things to consider about this topic.

1. Nero was the Caesar to whom Paul appealed when he was unjustly accused by the Jews and falsely imprisoned (cf. Acts 25:11). The apostle was taken to Rome and kept under guard for two years (Acts 28:30), before Nero finally heard his case.

It is not correct to say: "…it is unknown whether Nero took any personal part in the Apostle’s trial" (Cross, 945), inasmuch as an angel had explicitly informed Paul: "…you must stand before Caesar" (Acts 27:24). The great apostle won his appeal (as chronological data in 1st Timothy, Titus, and 2nd Timothy reveal), only to be later condemned by the malevolent ruler. According to the historian Eusebius, Nero beheaded Paul and had Peter crucified (II.25).

2. When Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, he admonished: "Let every soul be in subjection to the higher powers..." (13:1). He points out that government, generally speaking, is for the ordering and protection of society. Laws directed to that end ought to be obeyed. Similarly, Peter wrote: "Be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as sent by him..." (1 Pet. 2:13,14).

These passages are subtle indicators of the inspired nature of the New Testament. Men who were writing under ordinary human impulses would hardly have encouraged brethren to submit to and obey one as vile as Nero. But Chris-tians are to be good citizens regardless of the character of their leaders.




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