Nero, persecutor of Christians (Philippians 4)

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Nero was emperor for 14 years, from A.D. 54 to 68. His first five years were considered exemplary, probably because good advisors, such as the renowned Seneca. During this early period Nero demonstrated more respect for the Senate than had his predecessors and reversed some of the cruelty and excesses of power that former emperors had exercised. After Nero’s initial five years as emperor, however, one of his trusted advisors died and another retired to private life. Thereafter, the emperor sank into immorality and crime, to the point of being implicated in the murders of his own mother and cousin.

In A.D. 64 fire destroyed much of Rome. Many attributed the blaze to Nero himself, for it quickly became known that he intended to build his new palace on the site of the burned quarters, seizing a good deal of private property for the state. To avoid charges, Nero shifted blame to the Christians. It is reported that Nero burned Christians alive, using them as human torches during his circus races.

In66, after the district had endured a series of harsh governors, rebellion broke out in -Judea, and Nero sent his general Vespasian to supress the Jews. Meanwhile, he travelled to Greece to compete in his declaration that Greece was henceforth free from Roman rule and taxation, an act that won him the lasting goodwill of the Greek. The following year Nero committed suicide in a country villa, while rebellion intensified within the Senate and aristocracy. In the aftermath of Nero’s death in A.D. 68, Vespasian left Judea to seize the throne in Rome. Titus, Vespasian’s son, took charge of the Roman army in Judea and went and destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70, fulfilling the prophecy of Jesus (Matthew 24:1-2, Mark 13:1-2, Luke 21:5-6).

Paul’s imprisonment and subsequent trial in Caesarea probably took place around 57-59; thus, all of the references to “Caesar” in Acts 25-28 are to Nero. Paul was transferred to Rome and spent at least two years there as a prisoner during Nero’s reign (Acts 28:30). Throughout the years of Paul’s missionary journeys,Christianity was rapidly making inroads in Rome. By the time the apostle himself arrived, there were already many there who followed “the Way” (Acts 9:2, 19:23, 22:4, 24:14, 22), including numerous individuals employed in the imperial palace. Philippians was likely written in Rome while Paul was under house arrest there. At the end of the letter he sent greetings from the saints, “especially those who belong to Caesar’s household” (Philippians4:22).

While Nero baegan his career with distinction and merit, even winning the love and gratitude of the commoners through the many games and festivals he sponsored, he is remembered most for instigating the Roman persecution of Christians. This policy of persecuting Christians was continued by Roman authorities until the fourth century.


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