College Notes
Church History
Lecture 4

Persecution/Fall of Jerusalem/Flight of the Church

A. At first the church flourished as a Jewish sect
    1. Act 18:2, things tightened under Claudius
        a. Seutonius records this persecution
        b. Rome always antagonistic to Jews
    2. The Church felt some but not much of this anti-semitism
B. Paul was in Corinth at this time

A. Claudius reigned in Rome during most of the early church
B. Nero's mother got Claudius to kill his wife and marry her
C. Nero's mother got Claudius to adopt Nero as heir to throne
D. Nero's mother poisoned Claudius
E. Nero ascended to the throne at age 16-17, about 58-59 A.D.
    1. Paul in Ceasarea in 2 year imprisonment now
    2. Nero the teen-age paranoid was the Ceasar Paul asked to appear before
F. By 59 A.D. Nero had his mother and step-brother killed 
G. Tradition says that the day Paul landed in Rome was the day that Nero killed his mother

A. Frank C Bourne's, A History Of The Romans, reveals Nero's character:

"The crimes of Nero's reign were infamous and patent. They were the more dreadful because Nero himself was a physical and moral coward. His adoptive brother Britannicus was poisoned early in the reign because he might prove a rival. His mother's ambition and her disapproval of his unstatesman-like devotion to the arts and to his mistresses caused him to have her murdered in 59 A.D." (p. 393)

A. Acts 28:3O-31 Paul free to work and teach 2 years in his hired house
B. Paul probably faced Nero in a minor ceremony since he appealed to see him

A. No salutation at the end of the book
B. Possibly more was to have been added
C. Paul was freed and traveled for 7 more years
D. Romans 15:24, Paul intended to go to Spain
E. Traditions say that he went to Spain and Britain
F. Paul's later travels may be included in the book
G. Possibly God left the book open on purpose
    1. The Acts of other different eras may be added later
    2. Possibly material or quotes from events we will discuss in this class will go into a continuing book of Acts

A. 64 A.D. a monumental year for the church
B. Rome caught on fire
C. Nero 2O-3O miles away when it started
D. 1O of Rome's 14 precincts burned
E. The fire was a terrible tragedy:

Weigall writes in the book Nero:

"For six days the city blazed; and then, when the catastrophe was thought to be over, the flames broke out again and continued their destruction for three days more....During the blaze panic took hold of the citizens, and during the first days of the blaze the confusion was appalling. The screams of the women and children, the cries and shouts of the men were incessant; and the noise and smoke, the crashing of buildings, and the heat and glare of the leaping flames, bereft the people of their senses. Distractedly they ran to and fro, often finding themselves hemmed in when they had waited too long in helping the aged or infirm to escape, or in salvaging their goods.  In the sudden panics and rushes which occurred as street after street was attacked, scores of people were trampled underfoot or suffocated; scores more were burnt to death as they attempted to rescue their friends or relations or to save their belongings; and it is said that many went mad and flung themselves into the flames which had destroyed all they loved or possessed, or they stood dumb and motionless while their retreat was cut off. To add to this confusion, thieves were soon at work, assaulting and robbing the householders who were carrying their treasures into the streets." (p. 28O)

A. Christians may have thought this was the end of the world
B. God's church probably knew Rome was the 4th Beast 
C. The church teaching was that the world was to end by fire
D. Rome knew the Christian teaching about the end
E. They also knew that Christians taught against the Roman gods
F. The fact that Christians did not help put out the fire helped move public sentiment against them. 
Weigall relates the Christian sentiment over the fire on pages 295-296 in his book, Nero:

"Also, it was reported that during the blaze, when asked by their distracted fellowmen if, then they were glad to see Rome burn, they had replied that this was heaven's fiery vengeance for which they were waiting, nor would they raise a hand to extinguish the flames. The Lord's immediate return, in actual fact, was the main spring of their faith, the Second Coming being the supreme event which the elect were hourly expecting; and so great a disaster could not have been thought to be anything but the beginning of this tremendous advent. They thought Jesus was coming! 'The heavens would open now at any moment, and they would see Him riding upon the fiery clouds'"

A. Tacitus' account of the persecution is as follows:

"First were arraigned those who confessed, then on their information a vast multitude were convicted, not so much on the charge of arson as for their hatred of the human race. Their deaths were made more cruel by the mockery that accompanied them. Some were covered with the skins of wild beasts and torn to pieces by dogs; others perished on the cross (by crucifixion) or (others were burned) in the flames; and (yet) others again were (covered with tar and) were burnt after sunset as torches to light up the darkness...  Nero himself granted his gardens for the show, and gave an exhibition in the circus, and dressed as a charioteer, ...drove his chariot himself" (Annals XV, 44, 6)

B. The persecution was so bad that even the Romans felt pity
     1. Tacitus continues:

'Thus, guilt and deserving the severest punishment as they were, they were yet pitied, as they seemed to be put to death, not for the benefit of the State, but to gratify the cruelty of an individual." (Annals XV, 44, 7)

    2. Ramsey writes in The Church In The Roman Empire:

"...As Tacitus emphatically says, and as Pliny afterwards attests, the judgment of the mob on the origin of the fire was not permanently blinded: Nero was the real culprit and not these miserable victims." (p. 235)

A. Two years later in 66 A.D. the Jews revolted
    1. Caesar required them to worship him as a god
    2. Priests led a revolt
B. Nero sent his best general, Vespasian
C. Jews sent their best general, Joseph
    1. Jews could not fend them off
    2. Joseph captured
    3. Joseph surrendered to him
D. Joseph told Vespasian that he had had a vision from God and that Vespasian would become Ceasar
E. Vespasian gave Joseph a pension and he spent the rest of his life writing a history of the Jewish people
F. Joseph took the Roman name "Flavius Josephus"
    1. His works are Wars Of The Jews and Antiquities Of the Jews.
    2. Every serious Bible student should have this work
G. In 68-69 Nero committed suicide.
    1. Vespatian returned to Rome and became Ceasar
    2. He left his son Titus in charge of the armies
    3. Titus finally took Jerusalem
H. Josephus tells of how the Jews were warned to flee in his book, Wars Of The Jews:

"I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the] temple, as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, 'let us remove hence'" (Book. 6, ch.5, par. 3)

I. Only one group of people understood this sign
    a. Luke 21:2O-21 This was a dual prophecy
    b. The Christians fled Jerusalem

In The History of the Primitive Church, the author writes:

"Before the siege, the Christians left the city: 'By a prophecy which had been revealed to the leaders of the Church of Jerusalem, the faithful were admonished to leave the city before the war, and to go and live in a town in Perea named Pella; they accordingly withdrew there, and thus the metropolis of the Jews and all the land of Judea was completely abandoned by the saints.'" (p. 3O6)

J. It was difficult to flee at this time and to do so would require God's miraculous intervention.  S.G.F. Brandon writes in The Fall Of Jerusalem and The Christian Church:

[The Christians would have had to] "...pass unmolested through a considerable tract of insurgent country, patrolled as it was undoubtedly at such a time by bands of nationalist troops..." [They would have to have] "...succeeded in eluding the attention of their zealous countrymen and traveled safely, with some proportion of their goods, through territory now held by the Romans and probably still carefully patrolled." (p. 171)

A. Acts 24:5 - the term was first used because Jesus was from Nazareth
B. The Hebrew name for Nazareth was "Netzer" and means branch or germ
C. Eventually the term came to mean a "despised one" 
D. These people existed until the late 4th century.  The Encyclopedia Britannica 11th edition describes these people as:

"... an obscure Jewish-Christian sect, existing at the time of Epiphanius (A.D. 37O) in Coele-Syria, Decapolis (Pella) and Basanitis (Cocabe).  ...they dated their settlement in Pella from the time of the flight of the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem, immediately before the siege in A.D. 7O..." They are characterized as "neither more nor less than Jew, pure and simple, but adds that they recognized the new covenant as well as the old, and believed in the resurrection and in the one God and His Son Jesus Christ...  Jerome says that they believed in Christ the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, who suffered under Pontius Pilate and rose again, but adds that desiring to be both Jews and Christians, they are neither the one nor the other." (p. 319)

The Roman Emperors

Zenith of Roman power: 46 B.C. - 180 A.D.

Caesar Reign Comment
Julius Caesar 46-44 B.C.  
Augustus Caesar 31-14 A.D. Prepared empire most for Christianity.  Christ born in 4 B.C.
Tiberius 12-37 Christ crucified 31 A.D.
Caligula 37-41  
Claudius 41-54  
Nero 54-68 Persecuted Christians.  Executed Paul.
Galba 68-69  
Otho, Vitelus 69  
Vespasian 69-79 Destroyed Jerusalem
Titus 79-81  
Domitian 81-96 Persecuted Christians in 96 A.D.
Trajan 96-117 Persecuted Christians
Hadrian 117-138 Persecuted Christians
Marcus Aurelius 138-161 Persecuted Christians
Antonius Pius 161-180 Persecuted Christians

Decline and fall of the Roman Empire: 180-476 A.D.

Commodus 180-182  
Barrack Emperors


Appointed by Army. Civil War
Septimius Severus 193-211 Persecution severe but not general
Caracalla 218-222 Tolerated Christianity
Alexander Severus 222-235 Favorable to Christianity
Maximin 235-238 Persecuted Christians
Phillips 244-249 Very Favorable to Christianity
Decius 249-251 Determined to exterminate Christiantiy
Valerian 253-260 Persecution more severe than Decius
Galienus 260-268 Favored Christianity
Aurelian 270-275 Persecuted Christianity
Diocletian 284-305 Last persecution, most severe
Constantine 306-337 Became a Christian
Julian 361-363 Sought to restore Paganism
Jovian 363-364 Restored Christianity
Theodosius 378-395 Made Christianity state religion

Empire divided in East and West in 395 A.D.

Western Empire fell in 476 A.D.

Justinian restored empire 554 A.D.
Eastern empire fell in 1453 A.D.

Index | Lecture 3 | Lecture 5