Tag Archives: Nero

Tribulation And The Crown of Life

Revelation 2:10: “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast [some] of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”


The original persecution of Christians is described in the New Testament and was from the unbelieving Jews. It was the Jews of Judea that came into direct conflict with Christ in the Gospels and were the instruments of His arrest, condemnation and crucifixion. The Roman Empire did not distinguish between Christians and Jews until later at the time of Nero, or perhaps Hadrian. Even then the persecution under the Roman government was often at the instigation of the unbelieving Jews, as is indicated clearly in the New Testament as well as secular Roman history.

The tribulation under Nero may have been instigated by his wife, Poppea, who was a Jewish proselyte and a probable source of accusations against Christians . Poppea had requested and received favors for the Jews and had retained the High Priest Ismael and Helcias the treasurer. (Josephus’ Antiquites 20.2, also footnote; see also Eusebius, History of the Church, 104-5).

Other Persecution

There were several other periods of intense persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire. Those under Domitian, (circa AD 96), and Diocletian, (circa AD 245-313), are well documented by secular historians. However, in New Testament times, it was the Jews that “had the greater sin, John 19:11.”

“Persecution of the early Christians was sometimes because they would not bear arms and because they would not worship the emperor. As the Empire weakened some saw its collapse as a prelude to the fall of ‘Babylon’ and the return of Christ. The persecution under Diocletian lasted for 8 years and about 1500 Christians died. Some denied the faith and the Church seemed weakened for a time but the example and testimony of the martyrs became the source of many-fold converts. ‘The blood of martyrs,’ said Tertullian, ‘is seed’.

“‘There is no greater drama in human record than the sight of a few Christians, scorned or oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trials with a fierce tenacity, multiplying quietly, building order while their enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state that history has known. Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had won,'” (Will Durant, in The Story of Civilization, Part III, (Simon and Schuster, 1944), p. 652.

The message of Revelation 2:10 has strengthened every persecuted saint since that time with the command: “Fear not!” A fearless people are unconquerable.

The Crown of Life

The idea of the “Crown of Life” promised here is not taken from the ornamental headdress worn by kings as a symbol of their status, power and authority. It is rather from the idea of the crown of a plant, which is indeed a crown of Life.

The crown of a plant is that amazing cell or clump of cells from which the plant grows and increases. It is the life-producing part which reaches upward toward the light of the sun and multiplies itself continually. At the same time, it is reaching downward into the earth for the water and nutrients required to sustain its growth and produce fruit. Some plants will die if this crown is destroyed. Others will create new crowns at the leaf junctures. In any case, the plant grows only from the crown.

The idea of the king’s crown no doubt originated from the plant crown. It indicates a life source, or eternal life. When associated with mortal kingship, it is therefore a form of idolatry, since it is ascribing attributes of deity to a mortal man. A prominent and enduring motif of this symbol is the fleur de lis, combining the idea of the plant crown and the king’s crown.

This lesson is an edited excerpt from my book, Revelation in Context, available locally at the Living Word Bookstore in Shawnee, Oklahoma or www.Amazon.com, or www.XulonPress.com.
Free downloads are also available at www.revelationincontext.sermon.net.


Revelation 1:9. Tribulation: “I, John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation.”

Purpose of the Writing

Discerning the purpose of any writing is crucial to its interpretation. Just so, in the Book of Revelation, what one discerns as its primary purpose colors every aspect of the interpretation of the Book. Many interpreters see the purpose of the Book as being to comfort those who are being persecuted. Those who thus interpret the purpose of the Book then usually interpret this persecution as coming from the Roman government.

There are therefore two questions to be examined: (1) Is the primary purpose of the Book to comfort those suffering persecution? And (2) is the persecution alluded to in the Book from the Romans or from the Jews? The question of the source of persecution is tied to the date of the writing.

Date of the Writing: 96 AD or 68 AD?

Those who see the date of writing as in Emperor Domitian’s reign, circa 96 AD, view the persecution as coming from the Roman Empire, and Mystery Babylon as Rome. These three facets of interpretation, i.e., (1) the date of writing, (2) the source of persecution, and (3) the identity of Mystery Babylon, all depend upon each other and neither of them can stand alone. If any one of them is totally proven, the others would be on much steadier ground. However, if any one of them is totally disproved, the others must fall with it.

Those who see the writing as being in Emperor Nero’s reign, about 64-68 AD, have the option to view the persecution as coming both from the Roman Empire (Rome, interpreted as the Beast), and Judaism, (Jerusalem), interpreted as Mystery Babylon. After reviewing Biblical and historical records, this is my view.*

Persecution Under Nero, circa 64 AD

The Roman persecution under Nero as described by the ancient Roman historian Tacitus[i] was probably not a general law against Christianity as such but a specific charge such as of arson. Tacitus had no respect for Christianity, but admitted that the charges of their having set fire to Rome in 64 AD were a “frame-up.” Whatever difficulties they may have encountered at this time in Rome, the modern historian Cary says: “There is no evidence for persecution outside Rome,” (ibid. note 27), and Nero’s ruthless treatment of Christians caused the general populous to pity them and to hate Nero even more, (ibid. 359).

The Church historians have little record or memory of the Neronian persecution. Other than Tacitus, they have the ancient historian Suetonias’ allusion to a disturbance in Rome caused by one “Chrestus” which may have been his mistaken conception of a Jewish uprising against the Christians in that city, (ibid. 639, n. 50).

Therefore, there is little evidence of widespread Roman persecution in Nero’s reign, but there is evidence that there was a “frame-up” against the Christians and a Jewish uprising against the Christians.

*(See Lesson 18: “The Writer and Date of Writing” in my Book, Revelation In Context.)

[i] As given by Cary and Scullard, History of Rome, 634, note 26-7.

Blessings To The Hearers And Keepers

Revelation 1:2Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written therein; for the time is near, (RSV).

Hebrew Writing

The blessing to “he who reads aloud the words of this prophecy” further indicates that it originated in written form rather than the oral form often used by the other prophets. Since John was in exile it was necessary that he address his audience in writing. Since their native tongue was Hebrew/Aramaic, the letter was probably written in Hebrew. Why would he, being a Jew and writing to Jews, not write in Hebrew? Furthermore, it was at that time thought that all true prophecy must be written in Hebrew.

What is the special blessing for those who read, hear and keep the words of this prophecy?

This blessing is related to the fact that “the [appointed] time, (kairos), is near.” If we take “the appointed time” to mean the time foretold by Daniel and confirmed by Christ of the judgments of God upon Jerusalem, then we can see that the special blessing is that those who heed this prophecy will be delivered from the “wrath to come,” and will escape the judgments coming upon Jerusalem.

The Oracle

Eusebius tells us that there was an “oracle given by revelation to acceptable persons,” that ordered the Christians to leave the city, just before the Roman siege. This oracle was circulated in Jerusalem at the time of the Roman invasion (Eusebius 3.5.4). What was that “oracle ” that was so influential as to cause the entire local church to emigrate? I believe that “oracle given by revelation” is, or is contained in, the Book of Revelation which we now have as the final book of our Bibles. The word “revelation” or apokalupsis may also be translated “oracle.”

Eusebius says that the war began in the twelfth year of Nero, which Williamson notes was 66 AD,* and that the Christian exodus was “before the war began.” He no doubt means the Roman war against Jerusalem to put down the Jewish rebellion against Rome that had been going on for some time. The historians Kee, Young, Froelich, says: “Presumably it was just before the siege began that the Christians decided to flee to a place of safety.” The time of the flight, therefore, may have been at some point “before the siege,” which began in April 70 AD. Other indications are that it may have been in the summer of 68 AD.* (See also my Commentary at 18:4 “Flight to Pella.“)

How Did The Christians Escape?

Other accounts show that after the city was under siege and Titus offered their life to anyone who would voluntarily come out to him, the warring factions of Jews inside the city stood guard at the gates and did not allow anyone to pass out to Titus. Some they robbed and some they ripped open in order to obtain any gold pieces they might have swallowed in their effort to get it out of the city. It thus became impossible to leave the city.

However, the account goes, this band of Christian Jews “were found” in another place across the desert from Judea. This may have involved a bodily translation as in Acts 8:40: “…but Philip was found at Azotus,” which may indicate that he was bodily translated from one place to the other. This may well have been the signal fulfillment of the “catching away,” or “rapture” that points to the fact that it can, and has, happened whenever it becomes necessary for Christians to be so delivered.  Indeed, we have modern accounts of saints being bodily translated. It can happen when needed.

*The discrepancy between the dates 66 and 68 AD may be that one was using lunar years and the other solar years.

Dating The Writing of the Book of Revelation

If we are to understand the Book of Revelation, we must identify the approximate date of its writing. Historical context requires knowledge of the time factor. The date of the writing is crucial to its interpretation.

There are two main views of the date of the writing:

  1. In the time of the reign of Domitian during the persecution of 96 AD.
  2. In the time of Nero, before the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.

(1) Those who favor a date in the reign of Domitian, (AD 81-96), do so on the basis that:

  • (A) Mystery Babylon depicts the Roman empire and that:
  • (B) this date more accurately depicts the conditions of the empire at that time than at the time of Nero and
  • that the later date gives more time for the decline of the churches shown in the letters in chapters two and three.

(2) I favor the view that it was written

  • Immediately following Nero’s death, in Galba’s reign, in 68 AD.
  • That canonization of the Book depended upon its having been written by an Apostle.
  • That the identity of Mystery Babylon is not Rome, but rather the fallen Jerusalem.
  • That the external evidence from the Book of II Esdras, furnishes historical evidence for the time of Nero.

My View

My view is that the Book was written in 68 AD during the brief reign of Galba, immediately following the death of Nero.* Some of the evidence that favors this earlier date is that the temple is mentioned as if it were literally extant in Revelation 11:1-2 which favors a date in Nero’s reign and that the numerical value of Nero’s name, Neron Caesar, can be calculated to equal the cryptic number of the Beast, 666.

Further evidence for the writing having been during the reign of Galba will be dealt with in my Commentary on Revelation 17:9* showing that Galba was the sixth of the “Seven Kings,” who was the present King in the writing of Revelation.

Internal Evidence: Apostolicity:

One of the criteria for canonization of a writing in the early Church was apostolicity, that is, that it was written by or was based upon the witness of an apostle. The fact that it was accepted into the canon is evidence that the early Church believed it to be the work of John the Beloved Apostle. John would have been an old Man in 68 AD, although it is possible, but not probable, that he lived to Domitian’s reign, 25 years later.

The internal evidence of the Book itself, if we take it to be the inspired Word of God, should be determinative. The witness of the writing itself is that it was written by the Apostle John, the writer of the Gospel and the Epistles of John. (See my article “I, John.” **)

Blood Guilt: Jewish or Roman? The Identity of Mystery Babylon

The internal evidence is also that Babylon the Great was not Rome but rather the wicked city of Jerusalem which had been persecuting the Church of Jesus Christ and whose destruction had been predicted by Christ to be within the generation that heard Him.***

The identity of Babylon must be seen in relationship to the referent in Matthew 23:34-35. In the context of His condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees and His description of the predicted destruction of Jerusalem, Christ said: “Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them you shall kill and crucify, and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zecharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.”

The fact that it was the fallen Jerusalem who was to bear the guilt of “all the righteous blood shed on earth,” and the fact that it is Mystery Babylon in whom is found the blood of “all who have been slain on earth,” conclusively shows that Mystery Babylon symbolizes the fallen Jerusalem. Mystery Babylon is clearly said to have slain “the saints and martyrs of Jesus,” (Revelation 17:6). In the context of the Scriptures, then, Mystery Babylon can be none other than the fallen Jerusalem.

If Mystery Babylon is Jerusalem, then the Book would have been written prior to70 AD.

Jewish Persecution, Not Roman:

The entire New Testament witnesses to the fact that it was the Pharisaical sect of the Jews that persecuted and killed Christ and His Church, the Christian branch of the Jewish race. On the other hand, there are no references in the Scriptures to Roman persecution of Christians as such. Although the Romans did get involved in the legal disputes, that should not be called persecution. Secular historians show that the Roman government did not recognize that there was a difference between the Christians and other “Jews” until after the great fire in approximately 64 AD.

The Jewish nation as a politico/religious state was ruled by a class of priests, Pharisees, and scribes who curried the favor of Roman power in a love/hate relationship. On one hand, they coveted the power and economic gain from Rome; on the other hand, their conscience forbade them to neglect halakhah, the law of their religious traditions. Therefore, the people who observed the traditions, the Pharisees, were in rebellion, either overtly or covertly, against Rome throughout the New Testament era.

Although the Pharisaic Jews considered themselves persecuted by Rome, they were not persecuted as followers of Christ. Neither were the Christians persecuted by Rome as followers of Christ. Persecution of Christians by Rome was because they were perceived to be Jews who were in rebellion against Rome, not because they were followers of Christ. If the persecutor of the saints was Jerusalem, not Rome, then the Book of Revelation was written prior to 70 AD.

External Evidence:

The Book of 2 Esdras has many parallels to the Book of Revelation and is believed to have been written very near the same time, i.e., near the close of the first century AD. In 2 Esdras 12:18, some theologians believe a reference is made to the time following the death of Nero, 68 AD. The writer of 2 Esdras, however, is recounting a vision he has seen revealing events which were to come. If this is indeed a reference to the time following Nero’s death, then 2 Esdras would have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The parallels to the Book of Revelation would serve as a second witness that the Revelation was written prior to 70 AD.

It is clear from these facts that the dating of the Book, as well as the attribution of authorship, depend upon the interpretation of the symbols of the Book; and the interpretation of the symbols depend upon the dating of the writing, a circular process. However, I believe the overwhelming evidence is for the earlier date. 

[This lesson is an edited excerpt from my book, Revelation In Contest, pages 11-13. For further discussion of historical, literary, and theological sources, please see the footnotes at that location.]

*See my book: Commentary at 17:10 “Roman Appointed Kings of Judea.“ p. 304-305.

** See my book, page 97.

***See my book, pages 74-94.