Right now in Come Follow Me, we are reading Romans, a Pauline epistle (formal letter) to the Christians in Rome. Paul had received revelations while he was in Greece, Asia, and Corinth that he would preach in Rome but would first need to go to Jerusalem.
Paul could sense that the end of his mission was near. He appealed to Caesar after facing certain death in Jerusalem. He was imprisoned in Caesarea in Israel and then put under house arrest in Rome.
Christian persecution in Rome
During his travels, Paul had met Aquila and Priscilla who were dedicated to the faith but who had been expelled from Rome. They weren’t expelled because they were Christians, but because they were Jews. Although Jews had been expelled twice before for proselyting to the pagan Romans, this time it was because they were causing unrest, probably rebelling against the growing sect that followed Jesus. They were expelled by Claudius Caesar, one of Rome’s wisest leaders to that point.
After Claudius, however, Nero became emperor. Nero was narcissistic, selfish, and childish. Not a good combination of traits for someone with so much power. Until then, there had been no organized persecution of Christians, though sometimes local governors gave them problems.
However, Christians were bothersome. They worshipped in private and wouldn’t join state or religious festivities. They denied the beliefs of Rome and the divinity of the emperors. And they had some beliefs and practices that were horrific to the Romans—they ate the flesh and drank the blood of their god.
In 64 A.D. Nero had been making plans to build a palace more superb than any monarch before him. In fact, when it was finally completed, it covered 100 to 300 acres and included a “countryside in the city”—groves of trees, pastures with flocks, vineyards and an artificial lake.
For his palace, he commissioned a 120′ bronze statue of himself and a “golden house” for entertainments of 300 rooms. Walls were polished white marble, there were many pools and fountains, mosaics on the ceilings and not just the floors, domes, and gold leaf. Frescoes covered every surface that was not more richly finished. His architects “created an ingenious mechanism, cranked by slaves, that made the ceiling underneath the dome revolve like the heavens, while perfume was sprayed and rose petals were dropped on the assembled diners” (Wikipedia).
Nero built this palace in the center of Rome, but not before the city was destroyed by fire in 64 A.D. Nero wasn’t in town at the time, and rumors flew that he had grabbed his lyre and sung a dirge when he saw the distant flames. Nero’s emergency care of displaced citizens was pretty impressive, but then the accusations began: Nero set the fire himself to clear the city for his palace.
Nero deflected blame to the Christians. Many were tortured and martyred, some set alight as human torches. Nero beheaded Paul because he was a Roman citizen, but Peter he crucified. Peter, wanting to show humility towards the Savior’s death, requested to be crucified upside down.
Nero hadn’t ruled very long before the elite people of Rome wanted him dead. Fleeing from them, Nero wanted to kill himself but had to enlist help because he couldn’t bring himself to do it.
The Christians feared and hated Nero so much, they fully expected him to return from the dead to persecute them. That fear followed them as long as persecutions lasted. They expected Christ’s Second Coming very soon, by the way, and these seemed like last days tribulations. Persecutions continued until Constantine of Rome legalized Christianity around 312 A.D.
The prophecy of the Anti-Christ
We believe the Book of Revelation was written by John the Beloved, who had been exiled to the Isle of Patmos. John saw a vision of a beast rising out of the sea with seven heads and ten horns, each horn bearing a crown. A mark of blasphemy adorned each head. The dragon gave the beast his power and authority.
One of the heads is wounded and healed causing the world to wonder. The world then worships both the dragon and the beast. Given the power to utter great blasphemies, the beast is upheld for 42 months. The beast, with power over all nations and kindreds, makes war against the saints of God. Those whose names are NOT written in the lamb’s book of life worship the beast.
Another beast with two horns rises up and causes people to worship the first beast. This beast kills those who won’t follow along. He makes all people of all classes receive a mark on their hand or on their foreheads. Without this mark, no person can buy or sell. The mark is the name of the beast or the numerical value of his name, which calculates to six hundred sixty-six. In Revelation 14 we read that those who have the mark are destroyed at the Second Coming of Christ.
Egypt, Babylon, and Rome have all been symbols of anti-Christ as they typify materialism and carnality, the opposite of relying upon the Spirit and having an eye single to God. Certainly, Nero was a prime example of these two traits.
Both Hebrew and Greek use letters of the alphabet to write numbers, so each letter is assigned a numerical value. However, only the Jews ascribe spiritual import to the numerical values of words. Written in both Hebrew and Greek Nero’s name (Neron Caesar) has a value of 666. For older scriptural records that use the number 616, dropping the final ‘n’ in ‘Neron’ takes care of the discrepancy.
The way the Book of Revelation is written, it indeed sounds like the numerical value stands for the name of the anti-Christ and not some other entity. Some people now look at the three sixes. “Waw” (or “vav”) is the Hebrew letter for six, and it just looks like a stick. So three waws in a row would look much like three sticks: lll. To some that looks like a bar code (and many bar codes use sixes at the beginning, middle, and end). Others cite the three W’s in a row as the beginning of an internet URL. But in Hebrew, the number six hundred sixty-six is not written as three waws, but is written as Nero’s name: נרון קסר.
Oh yeah, but identity theft
Because of dishonesty and identity theft, we now have no safe way to make monetary transactions. Facial recognition and implanted microchips are quickly-advancing technologies meant to solve the problem. It’s easy to see how these technologies could be easily accepted if security eludes us and how someday we could become completely dependent on these technologies for commerce.
Is the anti-Christ yet to come? If an early Christian were standing in front of you, he would be struck with fear at the mention of Nero’s name. He’d assure you Nero is coming back from the dead someday and the first thing he’ll do is murder the Saints. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.