By Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry Jr
For several blogs I have been focusing on Paul’s “Man of Lawlessness” prophecy. Most recently I concentrated on his exalting himself to be worshiped.
But now we must note that Nero (“The Man of Lawlessness”) not only seeks worship, but openly “opposes” (2 Thess. 2:4) God by persecuting persecuting believers. He even begins the persecution by presenting himself in a chariot as the sun god Apollo. He does this while burning Christians at the stake for illumination at his self-glorifying party.
We find the earliest evidence for Nero’s persecuting wrath upon the Christians in an epistle from Clement of Rome to the Corinthians (designated 1 Clement). In 1 Clement 5 the writer mentions the persecution of the apostles. Then in section 6 Clement tells us that “unto these men were gathered a vast multitude of the elect, who through many indignities and tortures, being the victims of jealousy, set a brave example among ourselves.”
The great Christian apologist Tertullian (A.D. 150-230) defends Christianity by challenging men to search the archives of Rome for the proof that Nero persecuted the Church: “And if a heretic wishes his confidence to rest upon a public record, the archives of the empire will speak, as would the stones of Jerusalem. We read the lives of the Caesars: At Rome Nero was the first who stained with blood the rising faith” (Tertullian, Scorpion’s Sting, 15).
Roman historian Tacitus gives a most detailed and terrifying account of the beginning of the persecution:
But by no human contrivance, whether lavish distributions of money or of offerings to appease the gods, could Nero rid himself of the ugly rumor that the fire was due to his orders. So to dispel the report, he substituted as the guilty persons and inflicted unheard-of punishments on those who, detested for their abominable crimes, were vulgarly called Christians. . . .So those who first confessed were hurried to the trial, and then, on their showing, an immense number were involved in the same fate, not so much on the charge of incendiaries as from hatred of the human race. And their death was aggravated with mockeries, insomuch that, wrapped in the hides of wild beasts, they were torn to pieces by dogs, or fastened to crosses to be set on fire, that when the darkness fell they might be burned to illuminate the night. Nero had offered his own gardens for the spectacle, and exhibited a circus show, mingling with the crowd, himself dressed as a charioteer or riding in a chariot. Whence it came about that, though the victims were guilty and deserved the most exemplary punishment, a sense of pity was aroused by the felling that they were sacrificed no on the altar of public interest, but to satisfy the cruelty of one man. (Tacitus, Annals 15:44)
In a list of the “positive” contributions of Nero as emperor, Roman historian Suetonius (A.D. 70-160) notes that he persecuted Christians: “During his reign many abuses were severely punished and put down, and no fewer new laws were made: a limit was set to expenditures: “Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition” (Suetonius, Nero 16).