The Christian Church During the Reign of Nero: a Time of Growth or Disaster?The Christian Church During the Reign of Nero: a Time of Growth or Disaster?
Nero was one of the most treacherous Roman emperors. Crazed and manic, he murdered and created havoc throughout his life. This despicable man even killed his own mother. Although he did attempt to improve the economy of the Roman citizens, nothing can make up for his villainous acts. Nero committed suicide at the age of 32 to keep from being flogged to death by Roman soldiers.
The Christians did not come to Rome until about forty years after the death of Jesus Christ. Destitute and impoverished, Christians told the Roman citizens of the return of Christ and his kingdom. The authorities felt the group were suspicious and labeled the Christians as subversive.
The most vicious of all rulers in his treatment toward the Christians was Nero. The worst began in 64 A.D. The infamous fire spread through Rome. Rumors held that Nero himself had burned the city in order to build another beautiful one in its place. “And fiddled while Rome burned.” Historians believe that more than seventy percent of Rome was completely lost to the terrible fire.
Roman citizens began to openly criticize Nero. Nero would not be held responsible. He devised a plan to blame the followers of Jesus Christ as the criminals who set the fire. He launched a horrific persecution against them. Eventually, the people of Rome felt this fierce punishment was for Nero’s personal gratification and not for the good of Rome.
One historian of the times, Tacitus wrote about the terrible punishments that Nero gave to these culprits. The first to be put to death were those with strongest beliefs that admitted to being Christian.
Tactius describes the torture to which Christians were subjected — thrown to wild dogs to be torn apart, burned alive to serve as torches in the night for Nero’s garden. What suffering! What faith!!
Before being put to death, Nero used the Christians for amusement. Servants placed hides of bears or lions on them and then turned packs of dogs loose to tear them apart. Some were crucified. Two of the great apostles spoke on behalf of the Christians: Paul was beheaded and Peter was crucified upside down.
Because of the fear and pain, several Christians turned on the others and testified against their brothers. As a result, a huge multitude was put to death.
One question endures: why were people willing to suffer this torment? Their beliefs were so strong that Christ was real; that he had been resurrected; and that if one believed, he would give eternal life for those who maintained their faith.
Did this help the cause of the Christians? What can be gained from hundreds of innocent people dying for the pleasure of a maniac? Nothing…The growth of the sect was slow because of the fear of castigation.
The torture of the Christians continued long after Nero was gone. He was just the first of many of the Roman emperors who used the believers as their scape goats.
I agree with Post #4 that the Christian Church during the reign of Nero was a time of growth as well as disaster. Looking at disaster first, the reign of Nero inflicted great suffering and death upon Christians. This was a disaster in the sense that people were tortured and killed for holding fast to their beliefs -they believed in and followed Jesus Christ of their own free will and received persecution because of their beliefs and convictions. They, however, refused to capitulate in their beliefs and this led to the strengthening of faith in other true Christians who found in these martyrs examples the determination to continue to fight the good fight and run their Christian race to the end of their lives - no matter what the cost. Their goal was the future reward promised to the saints.
Therefore, this was also a time of growth for the true Christian Church, not only physical growth as a body of true believers that exists to this day...
(Mathew 16:18 -English Standard Version (©2001)
"And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.")
... but also spiritual growth. The growth of true Christianity may have been slowed because of persecution; however, Christianity never faded from the scene and has continued to survive through multiple persecutions in many forms.
You could argue that growth comes out of any kind of destruction.
Nero is most famous for the great fire that swept through Rome on his watch. He needed someone to blame, so he blamed the Christians for that fire.
Nero sought to avert rumors accusing him of irresponsibility by accusing Rome’s Christian inhabitants of starting the fire, thereafter making Christians the victims of vicious and cruel tortures. (see first link)
Eventually, all of the differences between the Romans and the Christians were ironed out. There was certainly a period of unrest at this time though. The persecution of many Christians could have been the last straw, and it was this persecution that caused the need for a more conciliatory relationship.