By Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry Jr
The imperial arrogance to divine pretensions could well manufacture false miracles or spread rumors of such among a superstitious people. This would be helpful in confirming the emperor’s supremacy. Notice that Paul speaks of these as “lying wonders” (2 Thess. 2:9). One example available to us a short while after Nero’s death is the calling of Vespasian “the miracle worker” (Tacitus, Histories 4:81), because by him “many miracles occurred” (Suetonius, Vespasian 7).
As I show in the previous blog, Nero, the Man of Lawlessness himself, becomes the enemy of Christianity due to his persecution beginning in November, A.D. 64, after several years of relatively stable government. This persecution involves the emperor directly: he rides in a chariot (apparently in mimicry of Apollo the sun god, as was his practice ) while burning Christians at the stake.
Of that year’s ending, Tacitus provides interesting material: “As the year ended omens of impending misfortune were widely rumored — unprecedentedly frequent lightning; a comet (atoned for by Nero, as usual, by aristocratic blood); two-headed offspring of men and beasts, thrown into the streets or discovered among the offerings to those deities to whom pregnant victims are sacrificed” (Annals 15).
Such “signs” among a superstitious people provide the context for understanding Paul’s prophecy.
Note Suetonius writes of Nero: “Because of his singing he had been compared to Phoebus Apollo and because of his chariot-riding to the Sun-God” (Nero, 53).