Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was his full name, born 15 December 37 AD and Caesar of Rome from between 54 AD – 9 June 68 AD, and so started his reign around the time of Paul’s third missionary journey. He came to power as a result (as expected in the history of Rome) by intrigue. His uncle Caligula sent his family out of Rome to be raised by less wealthy parents, but was murdered in 41 AD. Claudius then took the throne and marrying the mother of Nero as his fourth wife (gulp!) led to the boy coming to the throne by default of his younger step-brother Britannicus. Claudius is mentioned in the bible in Acts 11:28; 18:2. The young age of Nero led to poor management of the senate. There was limitation on the level of legal bonds and lawyers fees, which led to bribes and underhanded conduct. Numerous changes of government and official posts were effected by the accusation of misconduct and bribery.
The last chapters of Acts finds Paul imprisoned in his own private house in Rome, Acts 28:30, and thought to be ca 62,63 AD. [It is considered that it was in this time tha Paul wrote the letter to the Hebrews to counter the continuing problem of the circumcision party in the Jerusalem ecclesia]. This first imprisonment led to his acquittal, but was before the time of 18 July to 19 July AD 64, some significant days in Rome: [Not unlike 9.8.2011 in London!] A fire broke out by the consumption of flammable materials in a shop at the Circus Maximus. Myth or legend has the insane Nero playing his fiddle (lyre) during the conflagration. The fire led to disquiet in Rome, and many were looking for scapegoats. Nero pointed the Christians.
Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians [or Chrestians] by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of all sorts was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired Tacitus Annals xv.44
Nero then built a new palace in the ruins, including a huge column with his sculpture, known as the colossus of Nero.
Paul’s second imprisonment did not have the same end. He describes Nero as the mouth of the Lion 2 Tim 4:17 an expression used also by Peter in 1 Peter 5:8 who is thought to have been also killed by the same man. But the message of both Peter and Paul was not lost on the ecclesia. Jude writes his epistle around 65 AD during the closing days of Nero with the urgent message of not ignoring the message of the apostles, but to bring it to mind. No doubt the ecclesia would have felt the power of the message as demonstrated in two men who had died instead of recanting their commitment. Jude’s message marks out the other extreme danger of humanism, and a product of Nero’s doing: Liberalism. Men had crept in and changed the value of grace into lasciviousness and liberalism, Jude 4. A direct result of ignoring the value of the atonement, and the position of God in personal experience. Nero was a champion of this cause, not unlike Lamech before him. He had heard the message directly from the mouth of Paul, and this was the subject of numerous prophecies concerning the truth coming to the ends of the earth, and to kings in particular: Isa 6,7; Acts 1:8. Paul’s direct commission was to include preaching to this man, the representative of the champion of the gentile world, Acts 9:15 and led to his insistent request for appeal to the seat of Nero, Acts 25:11,21; 26:32.
It was Nero who despatched Vespasian to engage in the rebellion of the Jews in AD 66. During 67 AD he was convinced to engage in the Olympic games to settle Grecian sentiments, and was nearly killed after being thrown from a 10-horse chariot. Again during AD 67 he commenced an ambitious project in the digging of the Corinthian canal, (a deep channel across the Corinthian isthmus) thought to include some 6000 (?Jewish) slaves to dig with shovels.
Rebellion against his taxes led to several successful victories, but the tides had turned, and both senatorial and public sentiment had decreased to a point of no return. He initially fled towards Ostia, but his troops were not with his endeavours. He returned to his last night in the palace above. After not following through with intents of throwing himself into the Tiber, and not being able to find a guard with a suitable sword, he fled in the early hours of the morning to hide in a villa around 4km from the capital. Here he had 4 loyal guards dig a grave for him, and could only pluck up enough courage to kill himself when he heard the sound of approaching horse-hoofs. Remarkably a servant called Epaphroditos witnessed his death, and prevented aid to prevent his passing to the approaching troops who intended to beat him to death.