During the course of the first three centuries, Christians
endured almost constant persecution, first — from the unbelieving Jews and then
— from pagans.
The Jews, who did not accept the Saviour promised
by God, the Lord Jesus Christ, but rather condemned Him to death with crazed
shouts of "Let His blood be upon us and on our children" and who also
killed many Christians, were finally punished for all their lawlessness. Jerusalem and the Temple
of God were destroyed to their foundations by the Roman soldiers
when the Jews arose in revolt. This happened in 70 A.D. as the Lord had prophesied.
The place where the first Temple
of God had stood was ploughed under, so that not a stone was
left upon a stone.
The Jewish people were scattered all over the
world. More than a million Jews were annihilated. Tens of thousands of them
were sold into slavery. In their place, inhabitants of other nations settled in
Palestine and again built up the ruined cities among which was the
city of Jerusalem. The Christian faith began to flourish among the pagans.
The spread of the Christian faith among the pagans
provoked persecution of the Christians by pagan Roman emperors. Adherents of
the pagan faith convinced the Emperor that Christians were enemies of the
state, enemies of the Emperor himself and of all the mankind as a whole.
Persecution of the Christians was so cruel that it is difficult to describe.
The Christians underwent the most terrifying tortures imaginable.
The first cruel persecution began in the year 64
after the birth of Christ, under the Emperor Nero. Nero burned the city of Rome for his amusement and laid the whole blame on the Christians. By his
command, the Christians were tracked down, seized, and given up to be torn to
pieces in the circus by wild animals. They dressed them in animal skins and set
dogs on them, crucified them on crosses, poured tar over them and burned them
instead of torches at night to light Nero’s garden. The Apostles Peter and Paul
suffered during this persecution in Rome. In 67 A.D., Paul was beheaded by the sword and Peter was crucified on
a cross; but by his own special request, he was crucified head down because he
did not consider himself worthy to die the same death as the Lord Jesus Christ.
The most terrible was the last persecution of
Christians under the Emperor Diocletian. This persecution lasted from 303 A.D.
to 313 A.D. At that time, a hundred thousand Christians were killed with the
greatest variety of torments. During this persecution, the Holy Scriptures were
seized and burned.
At the time of the persecution Lactantius, a noted
Christian writer and teacher of philosophy in Nicomedia wrote, "If I had a
hundred mouths and a breast of iron, still I would not be able to enumerate all
the various kinds of torments endured by the believers."
They tortured in one place from ten to one hundred
men in a day. Many of the exhausted and mutilated were revived by medical care
so that they could be tortured again. They tortured Christians without regarding
sex or age. "I myself was an eyewitness of it," wrote the historian Eusebius.
"The iron implements became blunt and broken, and the executioners
themselves were wearied and had to take turns to relieve each other."
But the suffering and spiritual feats of the
martyrs strengthened and spread the Christian faith among other people. Many
pagans seeing the faith and feats of the Christian martyrs and the miracles
springing from them were themselves convinced of the truth of the Christian
faith and accepted Christianity. The more they persecuted and tortured the
Christians, the more the Christian faith was strengthened.
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