Early Christians (64-67) - Persecution under Nero
Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. Psalm 45:6
Nero was the first that persecuted this doctrine… We glory in having such a man the leader in our punishment. For whoever knows him can understand that nothing was condemned by Nero unless it was something of great excellence. Tertullian (c. 160 - c. 225)
The first period of Christian persecution began under the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero. In AD 64 the city of Rome was set on fire, and it was widely suspected that the emperor had ordered this himself. But Nero laid this crime upon the Christians as a pretext to persecute them. A great number were charged, not with arson but with ill-will towards humankind in general, and their deaths were turned into a form of entertainment. Some Christians were sewed up in the skins of wild beasts and then ravaged by dogs, while others were fixed to crosses and set on fire in his garden.
It was during Nero’s reign that the apostle Paul was beheaded in Rome and the apostle Peter crucified. Among other martyrs of this period were Barsabas, who is deemed one of the 70 sent out by Jesus (Luke 10:1), Ananias, Bishop of Damascus, and Trophimus, a Gentile converted to Christianity by Paul.
Despite his brutal efforts, Nero was unable to quash this new and spreading faith, which only gained momentum in the face of persecution. Christians enjoyed a period of peace under Nero’s successor, Vespasian, but subsequent emperors were severe persecutors of Christians and created countless martyrs. This caused the Gospel to spread beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire as Christians were forced to flee, taking the message of Christ with them “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8b).
From Pharaoh to Nero there have been many persecutors.
Let us stand brave when facing our Nebuchadnezzars.
Our blood may be spilled like the many martyrs,
But oh may we have the faith of our fathers.
Carlisle Clarke (2007)
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo is the International Director of Barnabas Fund and the Executive Director of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life.
Photo by Max Kukurudziak on Unsplash
Originally appeared on Isaac Publishing