9: MONSTROUS NERO

Nero is the Emperor remembered proverbially as the one who fiddled while Rome burned. From all accounts he was a self seeking pleasure loving man, which made him a popular emperor among the pagan population. His popularity was sorely threatened, however, in AD 64 when a huge proportion of ancient Rome was destroyed by a terrible fire. Both and man beast perished together with buildings and treasures. When there is a tragedy it is natural to look for a scapegoat, someone to blame. Many in Rome accused the Emperor of starting the fire deliberately so that he could build Neropolis, a city erected in his own image.

Nero, to save himself looked for someone to blame and according to Tacitus, the Roman historian who had no sympathy for Christians, the blame fell upon the followers of Christ. They were an easy target; they were not an established religion, now recognised as a separate faith from the Jews, regarded with suspicion because of their antipathy to the pagan culture of Rome. Tacitus simply wrote:

Therefore, in order to suppress the rumor, Nero falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite tortures, those persons who, hated for their crimes, were commonly called Christians

Philip Schaff; History of the Christian Church

The hammer fell mercilessly. Christians were rounded up and crucified, sewn into the skins of wild animals and fed to wild dogs for sport and most horrible all, tied up and doused in oil and pitch before being set alight while Rome partied and Nero raced his chariots. The persecution spread beyond the capital to the provinces, so beginning almost three hundred years of martyrdom for the body of Christ.

Nero lived a further nine years, spending the remainder of his reign rebuilding old Rome. Despite his jovial exterior and terrible power he did not enjoy inner peace; dying by his own hand at thirty-four years of age, and so the family of Julius Caesar passed away never to occupy the highest seat in the Empire again. Nero left such a legacy of barbarity and cruelty that for the next hundred years the Emperors would live in fear lest Nero would rise again from the dead. Nero of course will only experience a resurrection at the last day when the trumpet will summons him to stand before Christ, to answer for his crimes against the sacred people; “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest”.

Horrors, past imagination,
Will surprise your trembling heart,
When you hear your condemnation,
Hence, accursèd wretch, depart!
Thou, with Satan and his angels, have thy part!

John Newton

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