Nero was just two years old when his father died, leaving the task of raising the boy to his mom, Agrippina, a great-granddaughter of Emperor Augustus. Agrippina was ruthless. After poisoning her second husband, Agrippina became the wife of her uncle, Emperor Claudius. Immediately, she used her womanly and wicked ways to entice Claudius to name Nero as his successor to the throne, leaving Claudius’s own son, Britannicus, in the cold. Eventually, the evil queen murdered Britannicus and his mother, and finally, Claudius himself. This allowed Agrippina to have Nero named emperor at the age of seventeen.
Nero was the fifth Roman emperor, reigning from 54 AD until his death in 68 AD. For the first few years of his reign, his mother used her significant influence over political matters. Having learned well, Nero ended her unwanted influence. Though accounts differ, it seems likely that he also ended her life.
In 64 AD fire broke out in Rome. Nero was accused of setting the blaze, and the story is told of the emperor playing his violin while he gleefully watched the city being destroyed. Guilty or not, he capitalized on the event by seizing the land and rebuilding his opulent and oversized palace. To deflect his accusers, Nero blamed Christians for starting the fire. Thus, widespread state-sponsored persecution ensued.
Christians were forced to face the coldblooded gladiators in the Roman coliseum as the bloodthirsty citizens cheered. Other Christians were fed to hungry lions, and still others were dipped in oil, then lit on fire to light Nero’s immaculate gardens... Roman candles!
Peter wrote in about 62 AD to encourage his contemporaries “living as exiles dispersed abroad” during Nero’s persecution (1 Peter 1:1), “you rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials” (1 Peter 1:6). “Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you, as if something unusual were happening to you. Instead, rejoice as you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may also rejoice with great joy when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12–13).
Peter’s execution in Rome can be dated to about 65 AD. Tradition says that the aging fisher-of-men, refused to be crucified like his Lord, and therefore requested to be hung on the cross upside-down. Whether Nero specifically order Peter’s death is unknown.
Paul’s death also came during the reign of Emperor Nero. It is likely that Paul was beheaded in Rome about 67 or 68 AD. Again, there is no evidence to support a claim that Nero specifically ordered the execution.
From his Roman jail, Paul wrote to his friends at Philippi. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4–7). Paul knew that Nero was on the Roman throne. He also knew that the King of kings, the Lord Jesus was, and will always be, Sovereign Ruler of all!