Paul Before Nero
WHEN Paul was summoned to appear before the emperor Nero for trial, it
was with the near prospect of certain death. The serious nature of the
crime charged against him, and the prevailing animosity toward Christians,
left little ground for hope of a favorable issue.
Among the Greeks and Romans it was customary to allow an accused person
the privilege of employing an advocate to plead in his behalf before
courts of justice. By force of argument, by impassioned eloquence, or by
entreaties, prayers, and tears, such an advocate often secured a decision
in favor of the prisoner or, failing in this, succeeded in mitigating the
severity of the sentence. But when Paul was summoned before Nero, no man
ventured to act as his counsel or advocate; no friend was at hand even to
preserve a record of the charges brought against him, or of the arguments
that he urged in his own defense. Among the
Christians at Rome there was not one who came forward to stand by him
in that trying hour.
The only reliable record of the occasion is given by Paul himself, in
his second letter to Timothy. "At my first answer," the apostle
wrote, "no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that
it may not be laid to their charge. Notwithstanding the Lord stood with
me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known,
and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth
of the lion." 2 Timothy 4:16, 17.
Paul before Nero--how striking the contrast! The haughty monarch before
whom the man of God was to answer for his faith, had reached the height of
earthly power, authority, and wealth, as well as the lowest depths of
crime and iniquity. In power and greatness he stood unrivaled. There were
none to question his authority, none to resist his will. Kings laid their
crowns at his feet. Powerful armies marched at his command, and the
ensigns of his navies betokened victory. His statue was set up in the
halls of justice, and the decrees of senators and the decisions of judges
were but the echo of his will. Millions bowed in obedience to his
mandates. The name of Nero made the world tremble. To incur his
displeasure was to lose property, liberty, life; and his frown was more to
be dreaded than a pestilence.
Without money, without friends, without counsel, the aged prisoner
stood before Nero--the countenance of the emperor bearing the shameful
record of the passions that raged within; the face of the accused telling
of a heart at peace
with God. Paul's experience had been one of poverty, self-denial, and
suffering. Notwithstanding constant misrepresentation, reproach, and
abuse, by which his enemies had endeavored to intimidate him, he had
fearlessly held aloft the standard of the cross. Like his Master, he had
been a homeless wanderer, and like Him, he had lived to bless humanity.
How could Nero, a capricious, passionate, licentious tyrant, understand or
appreciate the character and motives of this son of God?
The vast hall was thronged by an eager, restless crowd that surged and
pressed to the front to see and hear all that should take place. The high
and the low were there, the rich and the poor, the learned and the
ignorant, the proud and the humble, all alike destitute of a true
knowledge of the way of life and salvation.
The Jews brought against Paul the old charges of sedition and heresy,
and both Jews and Romans accused him of instigating the burning of the
city. While these accusations were urged against him, Paul preserved an
unbroken serenity. The people and the judges looked at him in surprise.
They had been present at many trials and had looked upon many a criminal,
but never had they seen a man wear a look of such holy calmness as did the
prisoner before them. The keen eyes of the judges, accustomed to read the
countenances of prisoners, searched Paul's face in vain for some evidence
of guilt. When he was permitted to speak in his own behalf, all listened
with eager interest.
Once more Paul has an opportunity to uplift before a
wondering multitude the banner of the cross. As he gazes upon the
throng before him,--Jews, Greeks, Romans, with strangers from many
lands,--his soul is stirred with an intense desire for their salvation. He
loses sight of the occasion, of the perils surrounding him, of the
terrible fate that seems so near. He sees only Jesus, the Intercessor,
pleading before God in behalf of sinful men. With more than human
eloquence and power, Paul presents the truths of the gospel. He points his
hearers to the sacrifice made for the fallen race. He declares that an
infinite price has been paid for man's redemption. Provision has been made
for him to share the throne of God. By angel messengers, earth is
connected with heaven, and all the deeds of men, whether good or evil, are
open to the eye of Infinite Justice.
Thus pleads the advocate of truth. Faithful among the faithless, loyal
among the disloyal, he stands as God's representative, and his voice is as
a voice from heaven. There is no fear, no sadness, no discouragement in
word or look. Strong in a consciousness of innocence, clothed in the
panoply of truth, he rejoices that he is a son of God. His words are as a
shout of victory above the roar of battle. He declares the cause to which
he has devoted his life, to be the only cause that can never fail. Though
he may perish, the gospel will not perish. God lives, and His truth will
Many who that day looked upon him "saw his face as it had been the
face of an angel." Acts 6:15.
Never before had that company listened to words like these. They struck
a cord that vibrated in the hearts of even
the most hardened. Truth, clear and convincing, overthrew error. Light
shone into the minds of many who afterward gladly followed its rays. The
truths spoken on that day were destined to shake nations and to live
through all time, influencing the hearts of men when the lips that had
uttered them should be silent in a martyr's grave.
Never before had Nero heard the truth as he heard it on this occasion.
Never before had the enormous guilt of his own life been so revealed to
him. The light of heaven pierced the sin-polluted chambers of his soul,
and he trembled with terror at the thought of a tribunal before which he,
the ruler of the world, would finally be arraigned, and his deeds receive
their just award. He feared the apostle's God, and he dared not pass
sentence upon Paul, against whom no accusation had been sustained. A sense
of awe restrained for a time his bloodthirsty spirit.
For a moment, heaven was opened to the guilty and hardened Nero, and
its peace and purity seemed desirable. That moment the invitation of mercy
was extended even to him. But only for a moment was the thought of pardon
welcomed. Then the command was issued that Paul be taken back to his
dungeon; and as the door closed upon the messenger of God, the door of
repentance closed forever against the emperor of Rome. No ray of light
from heaven was ever again to penetrate the darkness that enveloped him.
Soon he was to suffer the retributive judgments of God.
Not long after this, Nero sailed on his infamous expedition to Greece,
where he disgraced himself and his kingdom
by contemptible and debasing frivolity. Returning to Rome with great
pomp, he surrounded himself with his courtiers and engaged in scenes of
revolting debauchery. In the midst of this revelry a voice of tumult in
the streets was heard. A messenger dispatched to learn the cause, returned
with the appalling news that Galba, at the head of an army, was marching
rapidly upon Rome, that insurrection had already broken out in the city,
and that the streets were filled with an enraged mob, which, threatening
death to the emperor and all his supporters, was rapidly approaching the
In this time of peril, Nero had not, like the faithful Paul, a powerful
and compassionate God on whom to rely. Fearful of the suffering and
possible torture he might be compelled to endure at the hands of the mob,
the wretched tyrant thought to end his life by his own hand, but at the
critical moment his courage failed. Completely unmanned, he fled
ignominiously from the city and sought shelter at a countryseat a few
miles distant, but to no avail. His hiding place was soon discovered, and
as the pursuing horsemen drew near, he summoned a slave to his aid and
inflicted on himself a mortal wound. Thus perished the tyrant Nero, at the
early age of thirty-two.
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