The Blood of the Martyrs
It hasn't always been easy to be a Christian, particularly in the early years. It is believed that, save John, all of Christ's apostles faced death by execution.
Nero, Emperor of Rome from AD 54-68, blamed the Christians for disastrous fire in Rome in AD 64, and carried out a full-scale persecution of Christians within the Roman Empire. Of this time, a Roman historian wrote:
Nero set up as the culprits and punished with the utmost cruelty a class hated for their abominations, commonly called Christians .. Besides being put to death, they were made objects of entertainment. They were clothed in the skins of beasts and torn to death by dogs; others were crucified ...
Faith in Suffering
- Nero's persecution of Christians within the Roman Empire, although spectacular, was neither the first nor the last example.
- In Palestine, both the Jews and the Romans oppressed believers in Christ, and persecution in Rome continued off and on throughout three centuries. Emperor Domitian made victims of Christians during his reign, while others, such as Valerianus and Decius, persecuted Christians as a way of drawing attention away from their own deficiencies.
- Ironically, Christians were thought to be atheists, as they refused to worship the emperor. Christians were held to be disloyal to the state, as they claimed a higher allegiance to God. They were accused of abominations, as the eucharistic words pertaining to "eating Christ's flesh" were taken as evidence of cannibalism.
Anti-Christian graffiti was found scratched onto a wall in Rome which depicted a boy raising his hand in worship of a crucified figure with the head of an ass. Translated, the words say, Alexamenos worships his god.
The last sustained persecution within the Roman Empire came under the rule of Diocletian in AD 284-305. Things changed dramatically after that. The Emperor Galerius was tolerant of Christianity, and Constantine, who became emperor in AD 324, adopted the Christian faith himself, although it can convincingly be argued that he did this as a political maneuver rather than out of personal conviction.