The Beginnings of the Empire What follows in this and the next three essays is a short biography of most of the Roman emperors up through the time of the emperor Constantine the Great. The hope is that the information may be useful to the student of the New Testament.
New Testament times were Roman times.
Christ was born during the reign of the second Roman emperor Octavius, and died while his successor Tiberias ruled. The entire New Testament was compiled before the Emperor Domitian had passed.
Peter and Paul met their ends before Nero finished fiddling, and we can rest assured that each of the other living apostles had each gone on to their reward prior to the end of the first century, while likely yet sojourners in the land of the Caesars.
As you cannot read the New Testament (or any number of the prophecies from the Old) without a consideration being given to the formation and rule of the Roman state, it should then be in our own best interest as learners to understand some of the history of the Roman republic and empire.
What part did Rome play in the politics and daily regimen of the Jews of Judea? What is the import of prophesy concerning when the Kingdom of Heaven would be established? What would be the signs of the government that would be in place when these things would come into play? What sort of rulers were the Caesars? How did they come to power? How did they exit? How did the Jews and Christian fare under them? Which predictions of prophesy were fulfilled long ago or may be awaiting fulfillment in days ahead? There are some latter day theories that hinge upon the rise of a new Roman empire and some that see no mention of Rome at all, with a few scattered theories in between. Which of these have any scriptural basis?
All of these are important questions for understanding the workings of God in the days of the Christ and of his apostles, and then away into our own times. The church had its beginning during this period and it should be useful to identify the road signs and markers on all of these events, those which can be identified, so that we might have a better understanding of God’s will for mankind.
In that light, we offer this “lite” series on the history of Rome. It is not intended to be comprehensive, but is only a simple relating of the basic history of the Roman Empire through the Caesars into the fourth century. That should mean that this will improperly serve serious inquiry and only offer enough to perhaps whet the most pallid of historical appetites. It may possibly serve to pose more questions than it rightly can answer and so it may offer answer to only just a few. Yet, if we only pause long enough to ponder, if we only correct some misconception, or if we only cause someone to take a deeper look, then we have accomplished what was here set out.
The series begins with a few thoughts and scriptures on the place Rome was accorded in some of the prophecies of Daniel, and continues with an encapsulated biography of most of the rulers through the reign of Constantine the Great, all in seven or eight parts, as the information requires.
In the prophecies of Daniel
Rome appears prominently in the prophecies of the book of Daniel. For instance, in the course of the interpretation of the dream of Nebuchadnezzar as presented in Daniel chapter 2, four successive kingdoms were mentioned before the Kingdom of Heaven should be established.
Beginning in chapter 2:39—40, the dream text states that Babylon, the first of the mentioned kingdoms, was likened to gold. It was noted as superior to the three that would follow. According to the prophecy, each ensuing kingdom was to be of a lesser stature as compared to its predecessor.
The other mentioned kingdoms or empires were the Medo-Persian, the Macedonian, and lastly, the Roman.
The Roman was characterized as inferior to all of those previously mentioned (with “feet of miry clay”).
In the interpretation of the dream Daniel listed that these four kingdoms would rise prior to “…the kingdom which shall never be destroyed.” And it was to be the last of these kingdoms of men that would to be smitten by the stone “cut out without hands” (v.34), during the time of said kingdom of men “…shall the God in heaven set up a kingdom…” (v.44).
Therefore, some five centuries before the coming of the Christ, God Almighty issued some information concerning the importance and status of the empires of men as concerned heavenly things. It is during the early days of the fourth mentioned kingdom, the Roman Empire, that the church of Christ was in fact established (as the earthly entrance) and the Kingdom of God was then again returned to humanity.
While much of western civilization considers Rome the greatest of all ancient kingdoms, God apparently had a somewhat different view. Indeed, the Revelation of the Christ did not picture Rome as a good or superior civilization. Anything likened to a beast is usually not thought of as good.
In the next installment, we will look briefly at the Chaldean, Persian, and Macedonian empires, and then move on into the history of the founding of the Roman republic.