I’m writing some small group discussion guides from the gospel of Mark. And, in doing so, am doing some research on the gospel itself.
Today, I read Tacitus’ Annals, in which he described how the Roman emperor Nero actually pitted the Roman Christians against the entire city, when he blamed them for the destructive fire during his reign. It was to these survivors, then, that the gospel was probably written.
I’ve read Tacitus, before, but I wanted to share this with you. Today, for some reason, it was a bit more intense. Here is the quote from Tacitus:
Neither human resources, nor imperial munificence, nor appeasement of the gods, eliminated sinister suspicions that the fire had been instigated. To suppress this rumor, Nero fabricated scapegoats — and punished with every refinement the notoriously depraved Christians (as they were popularly called ) …. First, Nero had self-acknowledged Christians arrested. Then, on their information, large numbers of others were condemned — not so much for incendiarism as for their anti-social tendencies. Their deaths were made farcical. Dressed in wild animals’ skins, they were torn to pieces by dogs, or crucified, or made into torches to be ignited after dark as substitutes for daylight. Nero provided his Gardens for the spectacle, and exhibited displays in the Circus [Maximus], at which he mingled in the crowd — or stood in a chariot, dressed as a charioteer. Despite their guilt as Christians, and the ruthless punishment it deserved, the victims were pitied. For it was felt that they were being sacrificed to one man’s brutality rather than to the national interest.
These people were believers. It’s a moment in time, but it makes our own personal bad days seem a bit better. And it reminds us that the call of Christ is never, ever meant to be one of leisure.