In the year AD 64, a devastating fire broke out in the capital city of Rome. Tragically, large parts of the city were destroyed. The historian Tacitus said that there were some who believed that the Roman emperor, Nero, was actually the one who started the fire. Nero was believed by some to be mentally unstable. Looking for a scapegoat, the deeply unpopular Nero blamed the fire on the Christians. At this time, among the general public in Rome, there was such ill will toward Christians that these accusations took root. During the persecution of the Christians in Rome, Nero displayed his cruelty by making sport of killing Christians. One of his chosen methods was setting Christians on fire and using them as torches to illuminate his garden.
Persecution of Christians
But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
Watch Week Three, Day One
persecution from the roman empire
martyrdom of peter and paul
Some biblical scholars believe that the apostles Peter and Paul were also killed during this persecution. This was an important moment in the life of the early church; leadership was shifting beyond the first apostles. There are various traditional accounts about how exactly Peter and Paul were martyred, and we don’t know the exact circumstances surrounding their deaths. We do have their own testimony concerning their faith in the Lord Jesus and their commitment to Christ. Consider these words from the apostle Paul in Acts 20:24, “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if I only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” And the apostle Peter wrote on suffering for the sake of the gospel in 1 Peter 3:14–16:
But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
why were christians persecuted by the romans?
According to Tacitus, Christians were seen as those who hated humanity. Why? Christians were labeled as “atheists” by the Romans because they refused to bow down to the pagan gods of the surrounding culture. They also refused to be involved in emperor worship and the cult that surrounded it. This meant that Christians withdrew from the public life of the Romans. In addition to this, citizens raised charges against Christians concerning their behavior. There were accusations of cannibalism, since Christians spoke of eating the body and blood of Christ. There were also charges of incest, since Christians could be heard referring to each other as brother and sister and greeting one another with a holy kiss.
Although persecution was not widespread, during this time Romans started persecuting Christians simply because they were Christians. As we shall see in future weeks, that persecution came in waves, occurred in certain places, and intensified under certain emperors.
Reflect on the words of the apostle Paul and Peter. What strikes you about their words and testimony?
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