“…more than conquerors through him that loved us”.

Romans 8:37

A little knowledge of the Roman emperors is useful in helping us understand the background to the New Testament as well as the development of the Christian Church. These men led an empire which moulded history and laid the foundations of modern Europe. While the Romans have become ruins and artefacts, we should recognise their profound influence upon the world.

Providentially, Christ was born during the reign of Caesar Augustus otherwise known as Octavian, who was the first of the Roman Emperors. As the adopted son of Julius Caesar, the mantle of leadership fell upon his shoulders only after he defeated Mark Anthony in battle. He received the name Augustus in recognition of his superiority. As Julius Caesar gave us the month of July, so Octavian has bequeathed as his legacy the month of August. He reorganised Rome’s administration, overseeing the transition from a republic controlled by a senate to an empire presided over by an emperor, seized vast new territories and ushered in a long period of peace. He is one of the most effective leaders in world history.

In his quest to establish the Romans as a global superpower, it was Octavian who ordered the census, which brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, where the Prince of Peace would be born into the world. The conclusion is inevitable – God raised up the Roman Empire, using its power for the benefit of His Kingdom. A unified language aided communication and the famous network of roads assisted travel. In addition to these considerable advantages which assisted the spread the message of the apostles, Octavian ushered in a period of peace within the Empire. Never in history was there a better time for the proclamation of a message which could unite humanity within one body, a truly global message for both Jew and Gentile. The world was ready for Christianity because God made the world ready.

By the time Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of Empire more than three hundred years after Octavian, Rome was nearing its final days. Sensing Rome’s insecurity to the armies of the northern barbarians Constantine even moved his Imperial Capital to Constantinople, now known as Istanbul. By this time it is estimated that one tenth of the Empire were Christians. Rome would eventually collapse leaving behind a lost way of life. But the Church which the mighty Empire expended its capital attempting to exterminate for three centuries continues. The light was never eclipsed.

Crowns and thrones may perish
Kingdoms rise and wane;
But the Church of Jesus
Constant will remain.

S. Baring Gould

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