Tag Archives: Persecution

Nero Claudius Caesar

Born in AD 37, Nero was the adopted son of Emperor Claudius. His mother, Agrippina the Younger, married Claudius, her uncle, and convinced him to make Nero his heir instead of his own son, Britannicus.

Nero was Rome’s fifth emperor (AD 54-68). His first five years of rule were comparatively peaceful, since his able teacher Seneca ran the government. But Nero chafed under the supervision of wiser minds. He murdered his mother and his wife. Thereupon Seneca retired. (Nero forced him to commit suicide in AD 65.) Now free to rule as he pleased, he ruined the Roman economy and thinned out the ranks of the senate by accusing many of treason.

Nero’s unique evil was demonstrated in condemning Christians as scapegoats for a fire that destroyed much of Rome in AD 64. Tacitus recounts the terror of the blaze that consumed ten of Rome’s fourteen districts – “Nero was seeking the glory of founding a new capital and endowing it with his own name” (Annals 15.40). But Nero needed a scapegoat to blame in order to deflect the suspicion that the fire was set by imperial order: Therefore, “Nero substituted as culprits, and punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men, loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled Christians” (15.44).

Tacitus then describes Nero’s cruelty: “First, then the confessed members of the sect were arrested; next, on their disclosures, vast numbers were convicted, not so much on the count of arson as for hatred of the human race…They were covered with wild beasts’ skins and torn to death by dogs; or they were fastened on crosses, and, when daylight failed were burned to serve as lamps by night. Hence there arose a sentiment of pity, due to the impression that they were being sacrificed not for the welfare of the state but to the ferocity of a single man” (15.44).

The New Testament in Antiquity, 364, 257

 

 

An Election Reflection

Hurrah for James!

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1.2-4).

James begins his book with a warning of sorts – if it’s your intention to live righteously and fear God, then this ole world is probably going to be a fairly hostile place. The “trials” he refers to may be those temptations that cause us to sin – but more likely, in view of the context, he is referring to the daily troubles, frustrations, and disappointments that constantly nip at our heels.

Last week saw the end of a tedious presidential campaign with two of the most unpopular candidates in history vying for the office. After eighteen months of one of the meanest and tackiest campaigns on record, despair rather than hope probably best summarizes the nation’s mood.

Friends! Christianity is the religion of hope. It is the Faith of optimism. No candidate nor political party has the power to rob us of that confidence.

Christianity was born in the midst of a corrupt and evil secular environment. Political position was bought and bartered by unscrupulous people who would stop at nothing to gain advantage. Gross immorality characterized the culture. The poor and underprivileged were exploited. Unwanted babies were literally thrown away as garbage.

Christians were mocked and hounded and finally viciously persecuted. They were accused of being atheists by idolatrous pagans who bowed before a pantheon of false gods. When they observed the “Lord’s Supper,” they were slandered as cannibals for “eating His flesh and drinking His blood.” Married couples were charged with incest because they called each other “brother” and “sister.”

It was into that cultural chaos that Jesus called His first disciples to be “the light of the world.” They had no political rights; no voice in selecting who would govern them; and no forum for redress of their grievances.

We are fortunate we don’t live in such a world – but make no mistake, we do live in a world that is hostile to our faith and values. The warnings Jesus gave His early disciples ring just as true today as then:

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake…You will be hated by all because of My name” (Matthew 10.16-23).

The principle of government is ordained by God as necessary for the function of an ordered society. Unfortunately, at some point, “government” begins to produce professional politicians. Modern politics is a vicious game. Even the best candidates will say or do nearly anything to get elected. Rhetoric is cheap – promises made and positions espoused during a campaign are seldom kept once the candidate assumes office. That’s just the nature of political compromise and consensus.

To become so invested in a particular candidate or political party’s promise to restore our values and morals only to be devastated when the election is lost is, in my view, naïve. Certainly we should do our best to select the best possible men and women to lead and govern our nation, but the fact remains that ours is a progressively secular nation.

There has been a gradual but definite culture shift over the last 50 plus years. While we hope and pray that our government officials will honor and respect biblical (Christian) morals and values, it is a mistake to place our confidence in them to actually do it.

Christianity is a personal religion, not a national religion. When Jesus said, “you are the light of the world,” He meant you, me, us. Whether or not our nation values the life of the unborn, the sanctity of marriage, or the natural role of gender is really beside the point – those are God’s immutable values and that’s the only thing that matters.

When Christianity turned the first century pagan world “upside down” it wasn’t because of an election, because they put the “right guy” in office. It was because Christian men and women refused to yield their faith, morals, and values to the surrounding culture regardless of the cost to themselves. They paid a high price – but they changed the world, one person at a time.

– Bill

 

 

“Persecuted for the Sake of Righteousness…”

The first seven beatitudes describe the kind of people we ought to be. The final beatitude is different; it is not a characteristic but a consequence! Discipleship involves suffering.

“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 5:11).

“Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man” (Luke 6.22).

“Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way” (Luke 6.26).

“You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved” (Matthew 10.22).

To seek persecution and to behave in such a way as to encourage it is not what Jesus meant. Some people believe the degree of their suffering is a measure of their devotion and spirituality. That is wrong. Persecution for “righteousness sake” is what is commended. Our suffering must mirror the suffering of Jesus, “who when He was reviled, reviled not again” (1 Peter 2.23). “If any man suffer as a Christian let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf” (1 Peter 4.16).

“For in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Jesus reminds us of the faithful before us. Our reward is the same as theirs! Therefore, our attitude toward suffering must reflect the same as theirs, not to seek persecution as a badge of our holiness, but a willingness to endure it if it comes.

The Holy Spirit is clear on this subject, Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3.12). May God grant us grace in the hour of trial.

“Happy are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

 – Bill