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TRUSTING UNDER PERSECUTION
When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; But when a wicked man rules, the people groan. (Proverbs 29:2)
Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety. (Proverbs 11:14)
From our vantage point in 21st century USA, the reign of Nero is a safe intellectual study on the consequences of a wicked and prideful ruler. But from the point of view of the average Christian living in Rome during this time period, Nero was an unpredictable despot who at any time might gather them up for a brutal punishment and savage entertainment in a Roman coliseum. It was a horrific time that required a deep faith in the Father who works all things for the good of those called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28), and who hears the cry of the helpless and brings vengeance (Isaiah 35:4).
Nero’s attempts to scapegoat Christianity for his own faults caused many followers of Jesus to hold up their heads, walking forward, leaving loved ones, possessions, and life itself behind. They became a spectacle to the watching Roman cosmopolitan world. Their trust in Christ, in the face of torture and death, planted the seeds of redemption deep into the earth, and generations who reaped the good fruit of their sacrifice are indebted to them. Still today, the voices of the martyrs from Sudan to China cry out to the throne room of the Almighty.
Nero himself, who had much promise in the beginning, never acquired the taste for wisdom that his original counselors tried to inculcate. When left to his own devices he regressed into a beast like state and was swallowed by his own lusts. Still, God doesn’t rejoice at the death of the wicked (Ezek 33:11). Nero would have been wise if he could have found humility like that of King Nebuchadnezzar, another empire ruler who suffered from temporary insanity, but who finally turned to God and worshipped Him before the end of his life.
“And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, "What have You done?" At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my honor and splendor returned to me. My counselors and nobles resorted to me, I was restored to my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down.” (Daniel 4:34,35)
His Birth and Youth
Senecca and Burrus
Nero Becomes Emperor
The Great Fire of Rome
The Jewish Revolt
Coins and Images
Primary Sources for the Study of the Emperor Nero are: Tacitus, Dio Cassius, Suetonius, Christian and Jewish Tradition, and Archaeology.
The 5th Emperor (Princeps) of Rome (54-68 A.D.)
The Roman Empire beyond Italy was divided into about 40 provinces
(territories), with each province having its own governor who kept order and
collected taxes for Rome. He was either appointed by the emperor or named by the
During the first century A.D. the Roman Empire was near its peak with a population of 50-60 million. This was more than 1/5 of the world's population at that time. Jesus lived and died during the period known in Roman history as the Pax Romana or the "Peace of Rome".
It was an amazing time in history when the risen Jesus empowered His church to go into all the world to preach the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact the apostles journeyed throughout the Mediterranean world which was part of the Roman Empire. They traveled through Roman cities on Roman roads and everywhere that they traveled they came into contact with Rome.
Julius Caesar had a dream for Rome but he was assassinated before he could see it fulfilled. The big problem was who would become the next emperor after his assassination. Very few had expected the young Octavian (Augustus) to become the chief heir and new emperor after Julius Caesar, but it was Augustus who turned out to be the most important emperor in all of Roman history.
Augustus was very aware of what had happened with Julius Caesar, and desired to avoid the same problems with the Roman Senate. He wanted his stepson Tiberius to be emperor after his death and to make sure that this would happen he began to share his power with Tiberius. When Augustus died in 14 A.D. Tiberius was easily accepted as emperor. In fact this became the new way that emperors would be chosen. Each emperor would choose a successor from among his family or he would adopt someone who he thought would be fit to rule after him.
During the 200 years after the death of Augustus, four dynasties (family lines) ruled the Roman Empire. Some of the emperors in each dynasty were somewhat moral emperors and others were horribly cruel. Each of the four dynasties ended with a violent overthrow of an unfit emperor.
Augustus’ family line ended in disgrace in 68 A.D. with the Emperor Nero, who came to power when he was a young boy at the age of 17. Nero Claudius Caesar was born in December of 37 A.D. at Antium and reigned as the fifth emperor (Princeps) of Rome, from 54-68 A.D. under the political system created by Augustus after Civil War had finally put an end to the Roman Republic.
Throughout the early years of his rule Nero was directed by his tutors (including the famous writer Seneca) and there was peace throughout the Empire. The Emperor Nero loved performing in the Theatre, races and games. He was not respected by the senators or the army. He was criticized by the people of Rome for being more interested in entertaining himself than in governing the empire. However, when his main advisors had either retired, or were dead, Nero revealed his true character. It did not take long for the people to realize that Nero was a tyrant. In 59 A.D. Nero executed his mother, his wife, Claudius’s son Britannicus, and several of his advisors and anyone that opposed him was executed.
In 64 A.D. a devastating fire swept through Rome destroying everything in its path. Everyone thought that Nero had started the fire so that he could rebuild a more beautiful city, including his Golden House. According to the Roman historian Suetonius, Nero sang and played the lyre while Rome burned. When Nero felt that the rumor had turned everyone against him he found some scapegoats to bare the blame for the fire, the Christians. He punished them severely and had many of them burned alive or torn apart by wild beasts. It is believed that the apostles Paul and Peter were martyred during this persecution.
There were many who sought Nero’s death and in 68 A.D. his own army rebelled against him and various military commanders attempted to seize the throne. The Emperor Nero was forced to flee from Rome and soon afterward he committed suicide. He was the last emperor who was of the dynasty of Augustus (Julio-Claudian dynasty).
- Agrippina - Nero's dominating mother
The main people involved in the life of Nero were:
- Nero Himself - Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus
- Claudius - The emperor before Nero- Octavia - Claudius' daughter and Nero's first wife
- Britannicus - Claudius' son and rightful heir to the throne- Seneca and Burrus - Nero's trusted tutors
- Poppaea - Nero's second wife- Galba - General in Spain and the next emperor of Rome
- The First Imperial 'Persecution' of Christians – 64 A.D.
Important events that happened during the life of Nero:
- The Great Fire of Rome – 64 A.D.
- The first Jewish Revolt Against Rome – 66 A.D.
- Suetonius Svetonius Tranquillus (70-140 A.D. approx.)
The main historical sources about the life of Nero were:
- Tacitus Tacitus Publius Cornelius (55-120 A.D. approx.)
- Cassius Dio Dion Cassius Cocceianus (155-235 A.D. approx.)- Jewish and Christian Tradition
- Archaeology: inscriptions, coins, written text.
Bibliography on the Emperor Nero
Chronicle of the Roman Emperors
by Scarre, 240 Pages, Pub. 2012
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