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History of the Church #12

Great Tribulation


(BRIEF) CHURCH HISTORY #12

Continued from previous page:


MUCH TRIBULATION

The preaching of Paul and Peter in Rome was an epoch in the
history of the church. It gave an impulse to the growth of
Christianity. Their martyrdom was even more effective in the end:
it cemented the bond of union between the Jewish and Gentile
converts, and consecrated the soil of the heathen metropolis.    
Jerusalem crucified the Lord, Rome beheaded and crucified his
chief apostles (No not "chief" in the way Schaff would have you
understand it - Keith Hunt) and plunged the whole Roman church
into a baptism of blood. Rome became, for good and for evil, the
Jerusalem of Christendom, and the Vatican hill the Golgotha of
the West. Peter and Paul, like a new Romulus and Remus, laid the
foundation of a spiritual empire vaster and more enduring than
that of the Caesars. The cross was substituted for the sword as
the symbol of conquest and power.

(Yes...spiritual empire all right, the "seat of Satan" - the 
beginning of the false Christianity that would in time engulf the
whole world with false teachings and practices and traditions,
and even more .... kill thousands of true saints of God. As the
book of Revelation says about this Babylon Mystery religion,
being dunk with the blood of the saints - Keith Hunt)

But the change was effected at the sacrifice of precious blood.
The Roman empire was at first, by its laws of justice, the
protector of Christianity, without knowing its true character,
and came to the rescue of Paul on several critical occasions, as
in Corinth through the Proconsul Annaeus Gallio, in Jerusalem
through the Captain Lysias, and in Caesarea through the
Procurator Festus. But now it rushed into deadly couffict with
the new religion, and opened, in the name of idolatry and pa-
triotism, a series of intermittent persecutions, which ended at
last in the triumph of the banner of the cross at the Milvian
bridge. Formerly a restraining power that kept back for a while
the outbreak of Antichrist, it now openly assumed the character
of Antichrist with fire and sword. 

NERO

The first of these imperial persecutions with which the mar-
tyrdom of Peter and Paul is connected by ecclesiastical
tradition, took place in the tenth year of Nero's reign, A.D. 64,
and by the instigation of that very emperor to whom Paul, as a
Roman citizen, had appealed from the Jewish tribunal. It was,
however, not a strictly religious persecution, like those under
the later emperors; it originated in a public calamity which was
wantonly charged upon the innocent Christians.

A greater contrast can hardly be imagined than that between Paul,
one of the purest and noblest of men, and Nero, one of the basest
and vilest of tyrants. The glorious first five years of Nero's
reign (54-59) under the wise guidance of Seneca and Burrhus, make
the other nine (59-66) only more hideous by contrast. We read
his life with mingled feelings of contempt for his folly, and
horror of his wickedness. The world was to him a comedy and a
tragedy, in which he was to be the chief actor. He had an
insane passion for popular applause; he played on the lyre; he
sung his odes at supper; he drove his chariots in the circus; he
appeared as a mimic on the stage, and compelled men of the
highest rank to represent in dramas or in tableaux the obscenest
of the Greek myths. But the comedian was surpassed by the
tragedian. He heaped crime upon crime until he became a
proverbial monster of iniquity. The murder of his brother
(Britannicus), his mother (Agrippina), his wives (Octavia and
Poppaea), his teacher (Seneca), and many eminent Romans, was
fitly followed by his suicide in the thirty-second year of his
age. With him the family of Julius Caesar ignominiously perished,
and the empire became the prize of successful soldiers and
adventurers.

THE CONFLAGRATION IN ROME

For such a demon in human shape, the murder of a crowd of
innocent Christians was pleasant sport. The occasion of the
hellish spectacle was a fearful conflagration of Rome, the most
destructive and disastrous that ever occurred in history. It
broke out in the night between the 13th and 19th of July, among
the wooden shops in the south-eastern end of the Great Circus,
near the Palatine hill. Lashed by the wind, it defied all
exertions of the firemen and soldiers, and raged with unabated
fury for seven nights and six days! Then it burst out again
in another part, near the field of Mars, and in three days more
laid waste two other districts of the city.
The calamity was incalculable. Only four of the fourteen regions
into which the city was divided, remained uninjured; three,
including the whole interior city from the Circus to the
Esquiline hill, were a shapeless mass of ruins; the remaining
seven were more or less destroyed; venerable temples, mono mental
buildings of the royal, republican, and imperial times, the
richest creations of Greek art which bad been collected for
centuries, were turned into dust and ashes; men and beasts
perished in the flames, and the metropolis of the world assumed
the aspect of a graveyard with a million of mourners over the
loss of irreparable treasures.

This fearful catastrophe must have been before the mind of St.
John in the Apocalypse when he wrote his funeral dirge of the
downfall of imperial Rome (ch.18).

(No, not really, John was inspired to write the book of
Revelation, which at the very begining we are told it is the
revelation of Jesus Christ - Keith Hunt)


The cause of the conflagration is involved in mystery. Public
rumor traced it to Nero, who wished to enjoy the lurid spec-
tacle of burning Troy, and to gratify his ambition to rebuild
Rome on a more magnificent scale, and to call it Neropolis. When
the fire broke out he was on the seashore at Antium, his
birthplace; he returned when the devouring element reached his
own palace, and made extraordinary efforts to stay and then to
repair the disaster by a reconstruction which continued till
after his death, not forgetting to replace his partially
destroyed temporary residence (domus transitoria) by "the golden
house" (domus aurea), as a standing wonder of architectural
magnificence and extravagance.

THE PERSECUTION OF THE CHRISTIANS

To divert from himself the general suspicion of incendiarism, and
at the same time to furnish new entertainment for his diabolical
cruelty, Nero wickedly cast the blame upon the hated Christians,
who, meanwhile, especially since the public trial of Paul and his
successful labors in Rome, had come to be distinguished from the
Jews as a genus tertium, or as the most dangerous offshoot from
that race. They were certainly despisers of the Roman gods and
loyal subjects of a higher king than Caesar, and they were
falsely suspected of secret crimes. The police and people, under
the influence of the panic, created by the awful calamity, were
ready to believe the worst slanders, and demanded victims. What
could be expected of the ignorant multitude, when even such
cultivated Romans as Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny, stigmatized
Christianity as a vulgar and pestiferous superstition. It
appeared to them even worse than Judaism, which was at least an
ancient national religion, while Christianity was novel, detached
from any particular nationality, and aiming at universal
dominion. Some Christians were arrested, confessed their faith,
and were "convicted not so much," says Tacitus, "of the crime of
incendiarism as of hating the human race." Their Jewish origin,
their indifference to politics and public affairs, their
abhorrence of heathen customs, were construed into an "odium
generis humani," and this made an attempt on their part to
destroy the city sufficiently plausible to justify a verdict of
guilty. An infuriated mob does not stop to reason, and is as apt
to run mad as an individual.

Under this wanton charge of incendiarism, backed by the equally
groundless charge of misanthropy and unnatural vice, there began
a carnival of blood such as even heathen Rome never saw before or
since. It was the answer of the powers of hell to the mighty
preaching of the two apostles, which had shaken heathenism
to its centre. A "vast multitude" of Christians was put to death
in the most shocking manner. Some were crucified, probably in
mockery of the punishment of Christ, some sewed up in the skins
of wild beasts and exposed to the voracity of mad dogs in the
arena. The satanic tragedy reached its climax at night in the
imperial gardens on the slope of the Vatican (which embraced, it
is supposed, the present site of the place and church of St.
Peter): Christian men and women, covered with pitch or oil or
resin, and nailed to posts of pine, were lighted and burned as
torches for the amusement of the mob; while Nero, in fantastical
dress, figured in a horse race, and displayed his art as
charioteer. Burning alive was the ordinary punishment of
incendiaries; but only the cruel ingenuity of this imperial
monster, under the inspiration of the devil, could invent such a
horrible system of illumination.

This is the account of the greatest heathen historian, the
fullest we have - as the best description of the destruction of
Jerusalem is from the pen of the learned Jewish historian. Thus
enemies bear witness to the truth of Christianity. Tacitus
incidentally mentions in this connection the crucifixion of
Christ under Pontius Pilate, in the reign of Tiberius. With all
his haughty Roman contempt for the Christians whom he knew only
from rumor and reading, he was convinced of their innocence of
incendiarism, and notwithstanding his cold stoicism, he could not
suppress a feeling of pity for them because they were sacrificed
not to the public good, but to the ferocity of a wicked tyrant.
Some historians have doubted, not indeed the truth of this
terrible persecution, but that the Christians, rather than the
Jews, or the Christians alone, were the sufferers. It seems
difficult to understand that the harmless and peaceful
Christians, whom the contemporary writers, Seneca, Pliny, Lucan,
Persius, ignore, while they notice the Jews, should so soon have
become the subjects of popular indignation. It is supposed that
Tacitus and Suetonius, writing some fifty years after the event,
confounded the Christians with the Jews, who were generally
obnoxious to the Romans, and justified the suspicion of
incendiarisin by the escape of their transtiberine quarter from
the injury of the fire.

But the atrocious act was too public to leave room for such a
mistake. Both Tacitus and Suetonius distinguish the two sects,
although they knew very little of either; and the former
expressly derives the name Christians from Christ, as the founder
of the new religion. Moreover Nero, as previously remarked,
was not averse to the Jews, and his second wife, Poppaea Sabina,
a year before the conflagration, had shown special favor to
Josephus, and loaded him with presents. Josephus speaks of the
crimes of Nero, but says not a word of any persecution of his
fellow-religioniscs. This alone seems to be conclusive. It is
not unlikely that in this (as in all previous persecutions, and
often afterwards) the fanatical Jews, enraged by the rapid
progress of Christianity, and anxious to avert suspicion from
themselves, stirred up the people against the hated Galileeans,
and that the heathen Romans fell with double fury on these
supposed half Jews, disowned by their own strange brethren.
    
THE PROBABLE EXTENT OF THE PERSECUTION

The heathen historians, if we are to judge from their silence,
seem to confine the persecution to the city of Rome, but later
Christian writers extend it to the provinces. The example set by
the emperor in the capital could hardly be without influence in
the provinces, and would justify the outbreak of popular hatred. 
If the Apocalypse was written under Nero, or shortly after his
death, John's exile to Patmos must be connected with this
persecution. It mentions imprisonments in Smyrna, the martyrdom
of Antipas in Pergamus, and speaks of the murder of prophets and
saints and all that have been slain on the earth. The Epistle to
the Hebrews which was written in Italy, probably in the year 64,
likewise alludes to bloody persecutions, 10:32-34, and to the
release of Timothy from prison, 13:23. And Peter, in his first
Epistle, which may be assigned to the same year, immediately
after the outbreak of the persecution, and shortly before his
death, warns the Christians in Asia Minor of a fiery trial which
is to try them, and of sufferings already endured or to be
endured, not for any crime, but for the name of "Christians."   
The name " Babylon" for Rome is most easily explained by the
time and circumstances of composition. Christianity, which had
just reached the age of its founder, seemed annihilated in Rome. 

With Peter and Paul the first generation of Christians was
buried. Darkness must have overshadowed the trembling disciples,
and a despondency seized them almost as deep as on the evening of
the crucifixion, thirtyfour years before.... the very spot of the
martyrdom of St. Peter was to become the site of the greatest
church in Christendom and the palatial residence of his reputed
successors.

(The greatest church in Christendom for deceptions, false
teachings, and false traditions ... a church which would in time
deceive all the earth and in one way or another all nations upon
it - Keith Hunt)

THE APOCALYPSE ON THE NERONIAN PERSECUTION

None of the leading apostles remained to record the horrible
massacre, except John. He may have heard of it in Ephesus, or he
may have accompanied Peter to Rome and escaped a fearful death in
the Neronian gardens, if we are to credit the ancient tradition
of his miraculous preservation from being burnt alive with his
fellow-Christians in that hellish illumination on the Vatican
hill. At all events he was himself a victim of persecution for
the name of Jesus, and depicted its horrors, as an exile
on the lonely island of Patmos in the vision of the Apocalypse.
This mysterious book - whether written between 68 and 69, or
under Domitian in 95 - was undoubtedly intended for the church of
that age as well as for future ages, and must have been
sufficiently adapted to the actual condition and surroundings of
its first readers to give them substantial aid and comfort in
their fiery trials. Owing to the nearness of events alluded to,
they must have understood it even better, for practical purposes,
than readers of later generations. 

(No they would not have understood it to any degree at all - the
book of Revelation was written for the end of this age -
especially for the "day of the Lord" which will be about the
last year before Jesus returns to this earth as described in
Revelation 19. I expound for you the book of Revelation on this
website - Keith Hunt)

John looks, indeed, forward to the final consummation, but he
sees the end in the beginning. He takes his standpoint on the
historic foundation of the old Roman empire in which he lived, as
the visions of the prophets of Israel took their departure from
the kingdom of David or the age of the Babylonian captivity.  He
describes the heathen Rome of his day as "the beast that ascended
out of the abyss," as "a beast coming out of the sea, having ten
horns and seven heads" (or kings, emperors), as "the great harlot
that sitteth among many waters," as a "woman sitting upon a
scarlet-colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven
heads and ten horns," as "Babylon the great, the mother of the
harlots and of the abominations of the earth."  The seer must
have in view the Neronian persecution, the most cruel that ever
occurred, when he calls the woman seated on seven hills, "drunken
with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of
Jesus," and prophesied her downfall as a matter of rejoicing for
the "saints and apostles and prophets."

(Schaff is wrong, it had nothing to do with the Nero persecution;
it had everyhting to do with the Roman Beast ruled by the Babylon
Mystery religion - the Roman church itself, as it would play
itself out in history, right down to the last year before Christ
would come back and smash it in its entire work of the greatest
deception to reign over the nations of the earth. Schaff really
had not a clue back in the late 1800s about the real
understanding of the book of Revelation. Today it can be
understood and I have expounded it for you on this website -
Keith Hunt)

Recent commentators discover even a direct allusion to Nero, as
expressing in Hebrew letters (Neron Kesar) the mysterious
number 666, and as being the fifth of the seven heads of the
beast which was slaughtered, but would return again from the
abyss as Antichrist. But this interpretation is uncertain, and in
no case can we attribute to John the belief that Nero would
literally rise from the dead as Antichrist. He meant only that
Nero, the persecutor of the Christian church, was (like Antiochus
Epiphanes) the forerunner of Antichrist, who would be inspired by
the same bloody spirit from the infernal world. In a similar
sense Rome was a second Babylon, and John the Baptist another
Elijah.

(Rome indeed was going to be a second Babylon - a Babylon Mystery
religion city - to bring deception and falsehood under the name
of "Christ" - and that deception we see today has a membership of
over ONE BILLION people. Put that with all of her daughters that
came out of her in protest, and you have really TWO BILLION
deceived Christians on this earth. Truly Jesus said His true
followers would be the salt of the earth and the very very little
flock [as the Greek reads] - Keith Hunt)


NOTES.

I. THE ACCOUNTS OF THE NERONIAN PERSECUTION

1. From heathen historians

We have chiefly two accounts of the first imperial persecution,
from TACITUS, who was born about eight years before the event,
and probably survived Trajan (d. 117), and from SUETONIUS, who
wrote his XII. Cesares a little later, about A.D. 120. DION
CASSIUS (born circa A.D. 155), in his History of Rome (Greek 
preserved in fragments, and in the abridgment of the monk
Xiphilinus), from the arrival of Aeneas to A.D. 229, mentions the
conflagration of Rome, but ignores the persecutions of the
Christians.

The description of TACITUS is in his terse, pregnant, and graphic
style, and beyond suspicion of interpolation, but has some
obscurities. We give it in full, from Annal., XV. 44

"But not all the relief of men, nor the bounties of the emperor,
nor the propitiation of the gods, could relieve him [Nero] from
the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration.
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 (subdidit reos, et quesitis-simis penis affecit, quos
per flagitia invisos vulgus Christianos appellabat). The
founder of that name, Christus, had been put to death (supplicio
affectus erat) by the procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate, in the
reign of Tiberius; but the pernicious superstition (exitiabilis
superstitio), repressed for a time, broke out again, not only
through Judea, the source of this evil, but also through the city
[of Rome], whither all things vile and shameful flow from all
quarters, and are encouraged (quo cuncta undique atrocia nut
pudenda confluunt celebranturque). Accordingly, first, those only
were arrested who confessed. Next, on their information, a vast
multitude (multitudo ingens), were convicted, not so much of the
crime of incendiarism as of hatred of the human race (odio humani
generis). And in their deaths they were made the subjects of
sport; for they were wrapped in the hides of wild beasts and torn
to pieces by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set on fire, and when
day declined, were burned to serve for nocturnal lights (in usum
nocturni luminis urerentur). Nero had offered his own gardens [on
the Vatican] for this spectacle, and also exhibited a chariot
race on the occasion, now mingling in the crowd in the dress of a
charioteer, now actually holding the reins. Whence a feeling of
compassion arose towards the sufferers, though justly held to be
odious, because they seemed not to be cut off for the public
good, but as victims to the ferocity of one man."


The account of SUETONIUS, Nero, c. 16, is very short and
unsatisfactory: "Aflicti suppliciis Christiani, genus hominum
superstitionis nonce ac malefice." He does not connect the
persecution with the conflagration, but with police regulations.

JUVENAL, the satirical poet, alludes, probably as an eye-witness,
to the persecution, like Tacitus, with mingled feelings of
contempt and pity for the Christian sufferers (Sat. I. 155)
"Dar'st thou speak of Tigellinus' guilt Thou too shalt shine like
those we saw Stand at the stake with throat transfixed Smoking
and burning."

2. From Christians

CLEMENT of Rome, near the close of the first century, must refer
to the Neronian persecution when he writes of the "vast
multitude of the elect" who suffered "many indignities and
tortures, being the victims of jealousy;" and of Christian women
who were made to personate Danaides" and "Dirces," Ad
Corinth., c. 6. I have made no use of this passage in the text.
Renan amplifies and weaves it into his graphic description of the
persecution (L'Antechrist, pp. 163 sqq., almost literally
repeated in his Hibbert Lectures). According to the legend, Dirce
was bound to a raging bull and dragged to death. The scene is
represented in the famous marble group in the museum at Naples.  
But the Danaides can furnish no suitable parallel to Christian
martyrs, unless, as Renan suggests, Nero had the sufferings of
the Tartarus represented. 
Lightfoot, following the bold emendation of Wordsworth (on
Theocritus, XXVI. 1), rejects the reading (Greek is given) 
(which is retained in all editions, including that of Gebhardt
and Harnack), and substitutes for it (Greek is given) so that
Clement would say: "Matrons (Greek), maidens, slave-girls, being
persecuted, after suffering cruel and unholy insults, safely
reached the goal in the race of faith, and received a noble
reward, feeble though they were in body."

TERTULLIAN (d. about 220) thus alludes to the Neronian
persecution, Ad Nationes, I. ch. 7: "This name of ours took
its rise in the reign of Augustus; under Tiberius it was taught
with all clearness and publicity; under Nero it was ruthlessly
condemned (sub Nerone damnatio invaluit), and you may weigh its
worth and character even from the person of its persecutor. If
that prince was a pious man, then the Christians are impious; if
he was just, if he was pure, then the Christians are unjust and
impure; if he was not a public enemy, we are enemies of our
country: what sort of men we are, our persecutor himself shows,
since he of course punished what produced hostility to himself.
Now, although every other institution which existed under Nero
has been destroyed, yet this of ours has firmly remained 
righteous, it would seem, as being unlike the author [of
its persecution]."

SULPICIUS SEVERUS, Chron. II. 28,29, gives a pretty full
account, but mostly from Tacitus. He and Orosros (Hist. VII. 7)
first clearly assert that Nero extended the persecution to the
provinces.

....................

So was the greatest persecution and killing of Christians in the
first century A.D.

Keith Hunt

To be continued


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