Reply To: Who was Emperor Nero

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Nero was a deranged Roman emperor. Nero is not mentioned by name in the New Testament, but his impact on the fledgling church was so notorious that some early Christians came to regard him as the Antichrist.

Nero came to power in AD 54, aided by his scheming mother, Agrippina, who had charmed her way into the affections of Claudius, the previous emperor. Nero’s mother very likely instigated Claudius’s assassination by poisoning—and Nero seems to have inherited his mother’s homicidal tendencies, arranging her own demise a few years later.

Nero was regarded as a megalomaniac. Much to the consternation of Rome’s staid nobility, Nero loved to compose his own songs and perform them publicly. Desperate for adulation, Nero made an extended visit to Greece, where his flamboyant performances were more enthusiastically received. Just prior to his suicide, Nero is said to have lamented that the world was about to lose a great artist.

As emperor, Nero proved a menace to the church. When large sections of Rome burned to the ground in AD 64, Nero blamed the fire on the local Christian sect. According to the historian Tacitus, a contemporary of Nero, Rome’s displaced population suspected its own emperor of arson. 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 covered in animal skins and torn apart by dogs, others were crucified, still others were lit as human torches.

This was the emperor to whom Paul appealed his case just a few years before the great fire (see Acts 25). As a Roman citizen, Paul had the right to personally defend himself before Caesar. While Paul’s exact fate remains a matter of speculation, one early tradition held that Paul was beheaded on Nero’s orders, shortly before the emperor’s own downfall.

Paul’s teaching concerning the “governing authorities” (see Romans 13:1) is especially poignant when one considers just who the “governing authority” was at the time: Nero. Christians, Paul taught, are to be good citizens regardless of who sits on the throne.