Saturday, April 22, 2017

Frying Pan to Fire--by Linden Malki

Some of St Paul's most life-filled letters were written from prison.  The one we are reading these few weeks, 2 Timothy, is probably his last letter.  What is amazing is that is no indication of frustration or depression; it includes one of the most inspiring verses in all his many letters:  "But I am not ashamed, for I know him in whom I have believed. and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I've committed unto Him against that Day."  There is one disappointment that we do see: how many people who claimed to follow Christ ignored what happened to him.

The prison he is in is Rome, but was Jews who put him there.  It started with his visit to Jerusalem about 57 AD when a mob of Jews  started a riot against him. It took a cohort of Roman soldiers to rescue Paul. (Acts 21+) The final upshot of the situation was that for several years the Romans didn't know what to do with him, and Paul, not wanting to be turned over to the mobs, appealed to Caesar, his right as a Roman citizen, and was sent to Rome. This was about 61-62 AD, and  Jerusalem was approaching disaster. The Jerusalem church saw their leader James thrown off the highest point in the Temple and clubbed to death at the bottom--they recognized Jesus' warning prophecies  and they moved to Pella, on the other side of the Jordan. Paul arrived in Rome probably around 62 AD; the Roman authorities put him under a mild house arrest.  He may have been released  able to make another missionary journey, possibly to Spain?  We do know that he wound up back in a Roman prison, probably about 64 AD.  The problem with appealing to Caesar was that the reigning Caesar was Nero.

Nero had become Emperor in 57 AD, but was not a nice person. He believed himself to be a talented singer and harp player.  In April of 64, there was a major fire in the city of Rome; raged for days and demolished
or damaged a good part of the city. Nero was out of town when it started, but returned quickly.  There were rumors that he had been seen on a place overlooking the fire, singing a ballad about the destruction of Troy in ancient Greece. ("Fiddles" were still in the future.) He did provide aid to fire victims, but cleared most of the area to build an enormous palace The rumor began to spread through the city that Nero had been behind the fire for his own plans. He countered by scapegoating a small cult with no political clout, the "Christians"; this was the first official persecution of Christians outside of Judea. Church tradition is that both Peter and Paul were executed during this time; Peter by crucifixion and Paul by beheading.  I think this is a very probable dating; the obsession with creative ways to kill Christians faded as Nero had other problems.  Judea blew up in 65, and Rome sent troops.  The legions in Germany and Britain revolted; Nero spent much of 65-67 in Greece, was called home and suicided under threat of execution in 68.

There were those in Jerusalem who thought that killing Jesus and Paul would wipe out the threat to their established power; Nero saw this little band of Christians as expendable. Paul and the church were caught between the frying pan of Judea and the fire of Rome; and yet God's people survived, as Paul told Timothy they would.

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