Video Transcript: Unit 1 Lecture 3

The gospel of Luke tells us that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. The Roman emperor wanted to have a list of everyone who lived in the empire from one end to the other. So he said about acquiring this list by means of census taking. 

It seemed that the emperor was not so sure of his place in the Roman world. He had to fight his way into power and knew that if a powerful person would rise to oppose him then he could lose that power again. So he undertook a variety of measures which would ensure that he would be seen to be the greatest ruler and he believed that would ensure that no one could raise an army among the populace who would oppose the one who is very person embodied the best that it meant to be a Roman.

So he said about making the use of every measure he could to think of to have the populace of the empire think of him as a man worthy of honor. It became essential in his mind until they claim to some sort of divinity. When a comet appeared in the sky early in his reign Augustus declared that what was being seen was the soul of Julius Caesar, his predecessor entering heaven. So Julius Caesar was a God that Augustus his heir must be a son of God and so was born the worship of the Roman Empire. 

In our day we look at the Romans as a superstitious people who too readily would believe some mumbo jumbo about the emperor. But we do well to understand what the term superstition meant to the Romans. For our next topic is going to be the persecution that arose against the Christians for whom the most important charge was superstition. When we study history it's often helpful to know the point of view of the person who is writing the history. From the Roman point of view the Jews and the Christians as well as a few other religious faith the time of Jesus and the early church were considered just superstitions. 

But when we look back and see what the Romans were looking at and what they believed then the charge of superstition that was undermining the Roman state fits the church. For the Roman view of religion was that it was a duty to be performed. The veneration of the Roman pantheon of gods was actually a civic duty. It was an act of making sure that the empire would continue to be a place of peace, prosperity and harmony. It was a way of ensuring that the gods of the Romans would provide the protection from enemies and bad weather and calamities of all sorts. It's important to note that the Roman citizen was to participate in this worship of the Roman gods. It was a way of demonstrating allegiance to the glory of the Roman state. 

Now we need to stop for a moment to realize that Paul the apostle was a Roman citizen. In the letter to the Romans, we find mention of the city treasurer of Corinth a man named Erastus. He would have been a Roman citizen. There were many others we could be sure who were Roman citizens who were numbered among the early Christians. These people found themselves in a quandary when it came to practicing their civic duties. 

Beginning with Augustus the Roman Senate that's the Roman ruling body would declare the dead emperor divine. Julius Caesar then had been declared as God and Augustus then was the son of the God. That gave him a very significant place in the hearts and minds of those who loved the Roman ideals. Those of us who have made our faith and mostly private affair would find ourselves mystified by the way the worship of the emperor could have so filled the hearts and minds of the general population. But by the time of the death and resurrection of Jesus there were temples to Caesar all over the empire. One would stop by the temple to burn some incense to the genius of the emperor and then go on his way. 

The interesting thing about the emperor worship was that it was the only religious rights that could be found all over the empire. Everywhere the power of Caesar extended so did the worship of the genius of Augustus. No other faith was found all across the empire from what we called Europe all the way to India. With the emperor worship was the way for the state to permeate the society with the sort of worship that enabled the emperor to know who was a legitimate citizen and just who might be suspect. 

I needed to take a little detour to set up what I'm going to talk about next, that is the persecution of the Christians who made-up the early church in Rome. This persecution began under the Roman emperor Nero in particular. It was Nero who ordered the deaths of Peter and Paul the apostles. He was also responsible for many, many deaths of the Christians who were in Rome when the city burned. In AD 64 a fire mysteriously broke out in Rome which burned 10 of the 12 of the fourth of the so-called quarters of the city. It was a devastating fire that destroyed a significant part of the capital of the empire. Nero rushed back from where he was staying at the time and organized a gigantic relief effort. But in the midst of it all the population of Rome began to spread the rumor that Nero himself had ordered the fire to be lighted. 

In order to turn the finger of accusation away from himself Nero blamed the Christians who for him were not to be trusted. According to Tacitus, the Roman historian of the time Nero ordered Christians to be thrown to dogs while others were crucified or burned to serve as lights. Tacitus describes the event as follows. As a consequence to get rid of the report Nero fastened the guilt and afflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations called Christians by the populace. Christus from whom the name had its origin suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus and most mischievous superstition thus checked for the moment again broke out not only in Judea the first source of the evil but even in Rome where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular. In accordance an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty. Then thereupon their information and immense multitude was convicted. Not as much of the crime of firing the city as if hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts they were torn by dogs and perished or were nailed to crosses or were doomed to the flames and burned to serve as nightly illumination when the daylight had expired. 

It was during this wave of persecution that the Christians were found to be steadfast in their faith. They did not waver from their commitment to Jesus even though they were found guilty of what was called a mischievous superstition by the courts of the Romans. They knew that their Redeemer lived. They could face death along with Paul and all the others with the same confidence that Paul wrote in his letter to Timothy. For I am ready to being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure has come. I fought the good fight I finished the race. I've kept the faith. There's laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord the righteous judge will award to me on that day and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. 

I'm telling you about this not because one is so unaware of our history as Christians but rather because we do well to understand that from the very beginning of the church Christ followers did not fit in with the world around. When Paul was killed around the year 60 the situation for both Jews and Christians was tenuous at best. In the years immediately following his death things began to deteriorate in the land of Judea itself. Jesus had predicted it 37 years before it happened. King Agrippa the second and his sister Bernice who heard Paul's testimony at Caesarea tried hard to prevent it as did the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus who's our main source of 1st century information. With the fall of Jerusalem and the burning of the temple in AD 70 happened nevertheless. It was a catastrophe with almost unparalleled consequences for Jews Christians and indeed of all subsequent history. 

Flavius however Rome's last governor before the Jewish rebellion made Pilate look like a very virtuous man by comparison. Emperor Nero perhaps distracted in the aftermath of the great fire of Rome had not done a good job of screening overseas governors and this wretch slipped through. Venal corrupt and brutal Flores hoped that a Jewish rebellion would somehow cover his own crimes in Judea and so he fomented discontent among his subjects whenever possible. Even the 1st century Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus commented Jewish patience persisted until Decidious florist became procurator. Justifiably outraged Jerusalemites rose in revolt even though Jews visited Rome warned that war would end in disaster because of Rome's overwhelming resources. Until that is commander of Vespasian landed in Galilee with three legions. 

After that it was a steady Roman advance southward into Judea but Judea Jewish strongholds falling one after another after another along the way. In fact Vespasian was at the walls of Jerusalem when the news reached him of turmoil in Rome following Nero's death. Soon Rome's eastern regions declared Vespasian the new emperor. 

Before hurrying off to Rome in AD 69 to Donnie interior purple he transferred command of the Jewish war to his own son Titus who was also the future emperor who would complete the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. With careful strategy of maximum resources Titus finished the job in a matter of months despite fierce Jewish resistance. After furious fighting inside Jerusalem the temple mount finally fell to the Romans. According to Josephus, Titus had ordered that the template itself be spared although some historians doubt that. One of the Roman troops hurled burning firebrand through a window of the temple and went up in flames anyway. 

The date August 30 and the year 70 with the very day on which nebuchadnezzar had destroyed the temple in 586 BC. What was left was torn down by the victors almost in literal fulfillment of Jesus famous statement not one stone here will be left upon another as you find in Matthew 24. This will the catastrophic end of temple Jerusalem that's where we'll leave off for today so next time, God be with you.

Last modified: Monday, March 13, 2023, 11:55 AM