Nero is not mentioned by name in the New Testament, but his impact on the early church was so notorious that some early Christians viewed him as the AntiChrist!
Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus became Roman Emperor, aided by his scheming mother, Agrippina (who had charmed her way into the affections of Claudius, the previous emperor), and reigned from 54-68AD, and the last in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Nero was adopted by his great-uncle, Claudius, to become his heir and successor, and succeeded to the throne in 54AD following Claudius’ death.
Nero focused much of his attention on trade and enhancing the cultural life of the Empire. He ordered theaters built, and promoted athletic games. During his reign, General Corbulo conducted a successful war and negotiated peace with the Parthian Empire. His general, Suetonius Paulinus, crushed a revolt in Britain.
Nero was regarded by most under his reign as insane. He loved to compose his own songs, and perform them publicly… much to the chagrin of the Roman officials. He was desperate for attention; he made an extended visit to Greece, where his flamboyant personality was more enthusiastically received. Shortly before his eventual suicide, he would sadly say the world was about to lose a great artist.
In 64AD, most of Rome was destroyed in the Great Fire of Rome, which many Romans believed Nero himself had started in order to clear land for his planned palatial complex, the Domus Aurea.
Nero is the emperor Paul stood before, toward the end of his ministry, to plead his case… just a few years before the great fire (Acts 25). As a Roman citizen, Paul had the right to personally defend himself before Caesar. Paul’s exact fate is unknown. He was beheaded… though it is unclear whether it was at this point, under Nero’s orders… or some short time later, after further ministry.
As emperor, Nero proved to be a menace to the church. When large sections of Rome burned to the ground in 64AD, most of the population suspected he set the fire (according to the historian, Tacitus). But, Nero blamed the fire on the Christian believers living in Rome. As an unpopular minority falsely accused of everything from orgies to cannibalism, Christians proved an easy scapegoat. On Nero’s orders, a number of believers were brutally executed. Some were sewn into animal skins and torn apart by dogs, bears, tiger or lions in the Roman Games. Some were crucified. Some he dipped in oil, and set them on fire in his garden at night as a source of light.
But, he seems to have been an emperor who was popular with the common Roman people, especially in the East.
In 68AD, the rebellion of Vindex in Gaul and, later, the acclamation of Galba in Hispania drove Nero from the throne. Facing a false report of being denounced as a public enemy who was to be executed, he committed suicide on June 9, 68AD (the first Roman emperor to do so).
His death ended the Julio-Claudian Dynasty, sparking a brief period of civil wars known as the Year of the Four Emperors. Nero’s rule is often associated with tyranny and extravagance. He is known for many executions, including that of his mother (evidently poisoning her food much the same way as she did that of Claudius), and the probable murder by poison of his stepbrother, Britannicus.
The days under Nero were dark days for the Christians of the early church. Yet, Nero’s persecution made the church stronger than it would have been if left to their own progress in faith.
Yet another example of God taking something terrible… and making it triumphant!
Our God is a truly great God!