Revelation: Nero

Nero is the most readily recognized of all the emperors of Rome, except (possibly) for Julius Caesar. He reigned from 54 until his suicide in 68 and was the last of the Julian line. Though not mentioned by name in any of the ancient biblical manuscripts, it was undoubtedly to Nero that Paul had appealed as recorded in Acts.

It was noted by the historian Seutonius that to deflect suspicion from himself as the starter of the great fire that destroyed Rome in 64 (which probably was not the case), Nero attempted to lay the blame generally on the “seditious” Christians. If that notion was not true, what is nonetheless true is that Christians were severely persecuted throughout the later years of his reign under his own hand. For some reason this is disputed by a few modern historians. However, the earliest recorders (such as Tacitus, Eusebius and Seutonius) identify Nero as the starter of the persecutions in Rome. The historian Tertullian, a half century later wrote, “Consult your histories; you will there find that Nero was the first who assailed with the imperial sword the Christian sect, making progress then especially at Rome.” It was recorded that Nero drove his chariot around the palace gardens at night using the burning bodies of condemned Christians, trussed up in oil-soaked hides, ignited, and raised to offer light.

At some point, just prior to or during his reign, Christianity came to be understood by Roman authorities as a distinct religion rather than a splinter sect of the Jews. Yet there was not any real attempt to bridle Christianity. The Christians, as had been the case with the Jews, were granted the same tolerance as were other foreign religions. The rule was – do not cause trouble, pay your obliged taxes, and thereby live peacefully under Pax Romana (the Peace of Rome). But in quick time, the Christians fell from favor with Roman officials due to the diligent work of the Jews to overthrow what they considered a seditious and spurious sect; and the Romans were especially adept at handling insurrections, perceived or real, of any sort.

It is during the reign of Nero that the Jews in Judaea began their infamous revolt (late 66). Nero dispatched Titus Flavius Vespasianus, or Vespasian, commander of the Eastern Legions, to quell the uprising in 68. By the time that Nero took his life later that year, Vespasian had subdued most of Judaea and was in the two-year process of isolating Jerusalem and starving the remaining captive population to death. Vespasian returned to Rome leaving son Titus Flavius Vespasianus (the son carried the same name as his father, but was known as Titus), in charge of the Legions to complete the siege and subjugation.

Some ancient historians and most modern ones hold that both Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome during the reign of Nero. There are confirming ancient historical records, although none date specifically to those times.

The Empire now was embroiled in more civil strife and there were brief struggles for control within Rome. Following the death of Nero there were three named emperors (all noblemen and military leaders). The three emperors in the two-year period following the suicide of Nero (the actual time of their collective reigns was just short of seventeen months) were Galba, Otho, and Vitelius (68 — 69).

Galba (Servius Sulpicius Galba) ruled seven months six-days while Otho (Marcus Salvius Otho) officially ruled just three days, although he had been elected as emperor by the senate immediately following the death of Galba. The remainder of the time went to Vitelius (eight months twenty-seven days).

Rome was besieged with insurrections immediately when Galba became emperor. Following his death, Otho’s reign did not outlast the troubles of the week of his coronation. The civil strife that had begun following Nero’s death was ended by the return of Vespasian. The city was razed as Vespasian subdued the insurrectionists and seized power following a difficult battle against Vitelius and his supporters in December of 69. Of the three emperors only the last may be remembered and for all the wrong reasons. Vitelius (court name: Aulus Vitelius Germanicus) was an immense man renowned for his debauchery, lack of manners, and huge appetite. The Roman historian Tacitus called Vitelius “a pig.”

Vespasian is listed by historians as the first emperor of the Flavian Dynasty. He was the grandson of a commoner and the son of a regular soldier, who through his own military prowess eventually rose to status of Consul and commander of the Legions. It was claimed that he also had an obscure relation by adoption to Tiberius, who had himself claimed an equally obscure relation to Augustus and thereby to the Julian line (as most of the others previously had also claimed). The Jewish nation ceased to exist during his reign. As noted, Titus, the dutiful eldest son, and no military slouch, completed the siege of Jerusalem in August of 70 destroying and burning the city.

Although modern historians speculate as to the accuracy of his accounting, Josephus (General Joseph Ben Matthias), stated that some two million Jews were slaughtered during the siege with those who survived carried into captivity or as conscripted military by the conclusion of the events. Josephus was captured and housed by Titus and was the historian of the fall of Israel by choice. He also was granted title and land; and several military and historical writers stated that his recording of the siege were accurate to a fault.

The city had been isolated for nearly a full year prior to the assault, conditions were terrible; and the hopelessness of the situation had plenty of time to express itself and to sink in. The Jews fully expected their ideal Messiah to come and save them from this horror. But that boat had already sailed.

As noted, Titus completed the siege of Judaea in 70 AD, and much of Jerusalem was sacked and destroyed, including the looting of the temple and its subsequent burning by the Jews themselves. The genealogical records that had been housed in the temple were destroyed by the legionnaires effectively ending the Levitical priesthood; and the nation of Israel ceased to exist alongside its established worship.

This clearly was the start of the fulfillment of the prophecies of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 24 and Luke 21. All of Jerusalem was burned except for the western foundation wall of the Temple (the Wailing Wall), and the three towers built by Herod. The full accounting of the prophesy may have had its completion by the third destruction of Jerusalem under Hadrian in 135 (when the remaining buildings were torn down and all the streets were plowed up). At any rate, it is quite clear that the fortunes of the Jews in this area of the world had fallen by year 70 from which they have never recovered. Some later historians mention Vespasian or Titus, as persecutors of Christians although there is no historical information (at all) to substantiate the claims.

Titus was appointed emperor by something his father called “the rights of succession” in 79 while Vespasian was still alive, and he ruled under his father’s tutelage until 81. He was the older brother of Titus Flavius Domitianus — known as Domitian.

The Christian apologist and historian Irenaeus preferred Titus, or as correctly rendered: Teitan, as the name is transliterated from Greek – and identified by numbers through “Gematria”, a coded system from near to this time for translating text into numbers – as the name identified in Revelation 13 by the number “six hundred threescore and six.” While Teitan may sound somewhat like Titus, it has been noted that they are not the same linguistically, nor in any other way. This theory though ancient is still being proffered today, though it is weaker than a two-day old kitten. It is  related to Titus as some coded form of identification.

As to historical information: Titus was widely honored in his day. The Arch of Titus still stands in the old city forum in Rome, with its scenes of the looting of the Temple and siege of Jerusalem. Titus was level headed, steady and praised for his successful military campaigns (which helped to solidify the holdings of Rome); and for his defeat of the Jews and the subjugation of Judea.