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61. The Worldwide Persecution of Christians. The Destruction of Jerusalem.

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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