Do not be overcome by evil. Romans 12:21
The next emperor after Claudius was Nero, who came to power in the year AD 54 and ruled for 14 years, until he took his own life at the age of 32 (AD 68). Nero was a man of extraordinary cruelty—he arranged for the murder of his own mother, his aunt, and one of his wives.
Nero was also married to three women and two men. Suetonius records, “He gelded [castrated] the boy Sporus and endeavored to transform him into a woman. He even went so far as to marry him… When the ceremony was over, he…treated him as his wife… This Sporus he carried about with him…dressed in the rich attire of an empress; kissing him from time to time.”
Suetonius, a secular historian who was no friend of Christianity, sums up Nero’s life in these words: “In vain would history be ransacked for a parallel to this emperor…the whole of whose life was one continued scene of lewdness, sensuality…cruelty, and folly.” That’s what was happening in the Roman empire in the first century.
Here are some key events in the early church. Pentecost, that great day when the Holy Spirit was poured out and the church was born, was in the year AD 33. The book of Acts, which covers the next 30 years, is set against the background of Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. The book of Romans was written when Paul was in Corinth in the winter of AD 56/57. So when you read Romans 12 (and then what Paul says about submitting to governing authorities in Romans 13!), it is good to remember that Nero was the emperor at that time!
We sometimes feel that things couldn’t get much worse. How should the background to the book of Romans impact the way we trust God in the hard times?