The Emperors of Rome in the Days of Paul

Through five hundred years of almost uninterrupted war, Rome grew from an obscure village on the banks of the Tiber to rule the world. The people longed for peace and stability.

AUGUSTUS (27 B.C. to A.D. 14). Under the rule of Augustus Caesar, the power of the imperial state was thoroughly established as the emperor sought to improve the morale of the people. Augustus boasted that he found Rome brick and had left it marble. During the forty-one years of his administration, he brought order out of chaos.

Around the time of the birth of Jesus and Paul, Augustus Caesar proclaimed Pax Romana (Roman Peace) for the world. Roman roads connected the empire. Safe and easy travel from place to place was possible. Jewish synagogues were springing up in almost every city and town of the Empire.

However, Augustus introduced to the provinces the imperial cult, a worship of Rome as a state. In many places, the Emperor himself was worshiped as Dominus et Deus (Lord and God).

TIBERIUS (A.D. 14 to 37). Tiberius was never popular and was generally feared and disliked. He was suspicious and cruel. Domestic troubles clouded his later years. Even the Roman Senate breathed freely after his death. Under Tiberius, the Gentiles grew disillusioned with Roman religion and began to embrace the monotheism of Judaism. Everything was in place for the spread of the Gospel of God at the end of his reign.

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons (Galatians 4:4-5).

CALIGULA (A.D. 37 to 41). Gauius Caligula or “Little Boots,” as he was affectionately called by the Roman legions was made Tiberius’ successor by the Senate. At the outset of his reign, he was as popular as Tiberius had been unpopular. He pardoned political prisoners, reduced taxes, gave public entertainments, and endeared himself generally to the populace.

Caligula’s reckless expenditure of funds exhausted the public treasury. In order to replenish it, he resorted to violence, confiscation of private property, compulsory legacies, and extortion of every kind. His tyranny finally became so unbearable that he was assassinated by a tribune of the imperial guards.

Caligula demanded to be worshiped as god, which alienated the Jews in his realm. The Jews appealed to the emperor, but he responded by ordering his statute to be erected in the Temple at Jerusalem. His representative delayed erection rather than risk an armed rebellion, and the death of Caligula (A.D. 41) prevented the crisis and pushed Christ’s prophecy into the distant future.

When you see `the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains (Mark 13:14).

CLAUDIUS (A.D. 41 to 54). At Caligula’s death, the Praetorian Guard saluted Tiberius Claudius Germanicus and made him Emperor. He was more interested in literary pursuits than in government. He was completely dominated by his freedmen who served as his secretaries and by his wives. Under his rule, Rome became a bureaucracy, governed by committees and secretaries. He extended citizenship to provincials. Because of riots in Rome, he expelled the Jews, which providentially brought Aquila and Priscilla to Paul.

NERO (A.D. 54 to 68). By temperament, Nero was an artist, not an executive. The first five years of Nero’s reign, however, were peaceful and successful. Like Caligula, he emptied the treasury and resorted to oppression and violence to replenish it, and incurred the hatred of the Senate.

In A.D. 64, a great fire destroyed a large part of the city of Rome. Nero was suspected of having deliberately set it in order to make room for his new palace. To divert blame from himself, Nero accused the Christians of having caused the disaster. Their attitude of aloofness from the heathen and their talk of ultimate destruction of the world by fire lent plausibility to the charge. Many of them were brought to trial and were tortured to death. Tradition says that Peter and Paul perished in this persecution, the first one conducted by the state.

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