Introducing Acts Pt. 2: The Early Church and Roman Persecution

Historical Context – Roman Rule and Persecution

And what was going on in the world during the book of Acts? Well, this would have been about 30 to 35 years since Christ had been crucified when the events of Acts began. The crucifixion was somewhere in the region of 28 to 33 AD. The conversion of Paul would have been around the years 33 to 36.  What follows then, in the back chapters of the book of Acts, is the accounts of Paul’s missionary journeys to start churches and spread the gospel message.

The Romans had pretty well conquered the known world with their military might. Surprisingly enough things were reasonably peaceful for the Christians — for a few years in there at least. The years when it got turbulent were after Nero came to power in 54. Even the first ten years or so were OK with him. Then it all unraveled. In June of 64 a fire was set in the city of Rome.

Nero Fiddles while Rome Burns

This fire began in the older part of the city which was made largely of wooden structures, and it spread rapidly from there until it consumed much of the city. Nero was away from Rome at that point. It wasn’t long before accusations were flying that he had intended to burn down the city himself and re-build it into a more glorious version. His plan was to call it ‘Neropolis.’  This is part of the reason that you hear the accusation that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. He was away and relatively unconcerned with the news when he heard it. The backlash became heated enough that Nero began to look for a scapegoat for the accusations.

Christians Take the Blame – Persecution Begins

Christians were a very easy target. And so they were blamed for the city burning, because Nero and the rest of the Roman citizenry saw the Christians as obstinate and unwilling to assimilate into the society. They were correct about that. The Christians were unwilling.

[box] After this point in time, Nero unleashed the cruellest set of tortures against humans that may have ever occurred. He would roll them in tar and light them on fire. Then he would have the Christians mounted on poles so they would provide light for walkways at night. He was the one who had them to face wild animals for sport in the coliseum. And of course everyone who did this was martyred for their beliefs. This was the world where Luke and Paul lived.[/box]

Jewish Zealots Revolt – Romans Lay Siege to Jerusalem

Finally, in 70 AD the Zealots, a political party in Jerusalem, had decided that they had had enough of the Roman’s bullying and started an uprising. This was met with a crushing blow to the Jews of Jerusalem as the Romans laid siege to the city–Nothing going into the city and nothing coming out. The water and food stayed out and the waste products of the people stayed in. After a time, there was pestilence from the lack of sanitary conditions and people were beginning to practice cannibalism on the younger and weaker in the city. That meant children were the first to go. When the siege was over Jerusalem lay in ruins including the Temple, never to be risen again to this day. Over one million of the inhabitants of Jerusalem had died.

Continued Persecution until Constantine in the 300’s AD

Nero died in 68 AD by suicide after being replaced as emperor.

[box] The years that followed his reign alternated between those emperors who tolerated Christianity and those who actively rounded up Christians and killed them. So those coming to Christ during these years never knew where they would stand from one day to the next. [/box]

And this continued into the 300’s AD, until Constantine, a Christian himself, became the Roman emperor. So there were some 200 solid years of tremendous persecution and uncertainty for the Christians in every single part of the world. Because, until the fall of Rome, it was all under Roman control. This was until the early 6th Century AD, when the last of the empire faded.

Watch the full sermon on our Youtube Channel: Koinoina Livestream

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info] Pastor Dan Woody is a founding elder for Koinonia. He has been serving churches as a pastor for the past 13 years. He and his wife Peggy are the parents of two sons, Chris and Jonathan. Pastor Dan is currently studying for his Mdiv with The North American Reformed Seminary. His interests include music, and most outdoor sports like golf, hiking, tennis and fishing. [/author_info] [/author]