Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you. 1 Peter 4:12
The Roman historian Tacitus records what happened: “To scotch [squelch] the rumour, Nero substituted as culprits, and punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men…whom the crowd styled [called] Christians. Christus, from whom they got their name, had been executed by the sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate when Tiberius was emperor…”
Tacitus went on: “First… those who confessed themselves Christians were arrested; next, on their disclosures, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much on the charge of arson as for hatred of the human race.” The first Christians did not fit in with where the culture was going, so they were branded as haters.
Tacitus describes their punishment: “Their death was made a matter of sport; they were covered in wild beasts’ skins and torn to pieces by dogs; or were fastened to crosses and set on fire in order to serve as torches by night when daylight failed… There arose a feeling of pity, because it was felt that they were being sacrificed not for the common good but to gratify the savagery of one man.”
Notice how quickly the world changed for the early Christians. In the late 50s, Paul could say, “I appeal to Caesar,” confident that, even under a bad emperor, he could count on a Roman court to uphold his freedom to preach the gospel. But within just five or six years, the system of justice had collapsed so completely that Christians were being thrown to the lions.
When you find yourself saying, “It seems that our freedoms are under threat and that morality, as we know it, has been swept away,” remember, Christians have been here before.
Why were the early Christians persecuted? Why are Christians persecuted today?