Corruption in the world of men? Who would have thought?
If only the Scriptures addressed this so we could know what to do.

At the time of the death and resurrection of Christ, Rome was ruled by Emperor Caligula. The only words we have recorded about him from Christ are found when Jesus was questioned on the legitimacy of paying taxes. The Pharisees were trying to trap Him into professing the need for rebellion to the wicked government of Rome which would have landed Him in trouble with local officials as a zealot.

The question asked was, “Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” Jesus replied, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money. Whose image and inscription is this?”

They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:18-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26).

Other than giving us the command to render to Caesar (the government) what is Caesars, we never find Jesus addressing Caligula directly recorded in the Scriptures.

As we follow history, in AD 41, a group of Praetorian Guards (the Emperors personal security detail) were involved in a conspiracy with several Senators and brutally murdered Caligula and his wife and child. They then swore allegiance to Caligula’s uncle, Claudius, and proclaimed that he was now Caesar.

He was not chosen or initially supported by the Senate and many determined that he was not the legitimate heir to the throne of Rome and should not ever have been so proclaimed. Although he was the grandson of Mark Antony on his mother’s side, the family had kept him out of politics and out of public view due to physical deformities and afflictions that historians believe may have been caused by Cerebral Palsy. His name was even left off of monuments in Rome (although it was added later after he began to rule).

His rule was quite effective, broadening the Roman Empire to include lands as far away as England, and he was a brilliant legal and historical scholar, but there were always questions about whether he ever should have been Emperor in the first place. He died in AD 54 and was succeeded by Nero, his step-son by his fourth wife. Claudius was actually Nero’s grand-uncle.

Nero reigned from AD 54 until AD 68, elevated to the position of Caesar at age 17. He was deposed at age 31, his cause of death being “assisted suicide.” Known as a mad emperor because of his neglect of official duties at the expense of pursuing pleasure, he is also noted in history for his brutal persecution of Christians. Paul and Peter were both executed as part of Nero’s persecution.

Nero, like Claudius, was never expected to rise to the position of Augustus (first citizen). It was only through infighting, assassinations, exiles, and the power of the Senate that found it quite easy to manipulate Nero (the youngest ever Emperor) making him in the early part of his rule a figurehead, ruling in name only.

In the midst of the political corruption, religious persecution including the execution of two Apostles, questions of legitimacy, abuse of power by the Senate, crimes of the Praetorian Guards, and the blatant violation of the laws of the Republic, we find that during the time of Nero’s rule, the following books of the New Testament were written and delivered by the Apostles and their aids to the local churches throughout the Roman Empire:  

So what do the writers of the New Testament, living in a time of political corruption and religious persecution, tell us about the rulers of Rome? Was there a theme in their message and letters about rebellion against illegitimate rule? Was there a petition for their removal from office? Were there plots for assassinations and overthrow?

Here is all that the New Testament writers tell us about Nero:

1. There were believers in Nero’s household – Phil. 4:22 All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar’s household.

2. Pray for kings and those in authority, leading a quiet and peaceable life – 1 Tim. 2:1 Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.

3. Submit to governmental authority (as long as the command does not contradict God’s Word) – 1 Peter 2:13 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme.

Romans 13:1 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

See also Acts 5:29 We ought to obey God rather than men.

4. Honor the king – 1 Peter 2:17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.

Submit to, pray for, honor, lead a quiet and peaceable life. That’s it. Under the rule of Caesars who were thought to be illegitimate, who murdered Apostles and Christians all over their kingdom, who were so wicked even the other wicked citizens of their nation revolted against them and sought to overthrow them. Why? How could this be all that the Bible tells us about life under brutal, wicked rule?

When questioned by Pontius Pilate about why His disciples did not fight for Jesus and His Kingdom, the reply from Christ was, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36).

The disciples followed Christ in this regard – knowing that the church is comprised completely of pilgrims and sojourners who are merely passing through this world (Heb. 11:13; 1 Peter 1:1). Our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20) and God will raise and demote the nations of this world according to His will and for His purposes alone (Isaiah 45:18; 46:9-10; Psalm 22:8; Rev. 19:15).

The governments and nations of this world are put in place by God, used for His purposes, and disposed of as He sees fit. If we are commanded to violate Scripture, then we should gladly bear the consequences of standing in obedience to Christ in defiance of the world. But that defiance is not against perceived or actual illegitimacy in the government – for any that rise to a position of authority, even if they rise to that position by seemingly illegal means (assassinations, conspiracy, overthrow), they rise because ultimately God has put them there. If not, they would not be there.

If this is not the case, then the mission of the church would be devoted wholly to the overthrown of wicked and illegitimate governments around the world and our cause would be a never-ending crusade against human government, because on their own, no human government is or can be considered legitimate. The history of human government is a history of corruption, a hunger for power, abuse of the poor, and wars without end both against other nations and against their very own citizens.

In the days ahead, we must be very careful in the church to continue to pursue GOSPEL PRIORITIES and KINGDOM ETHICS in the midst of a fallen, cursed, dying world and nation. Our Kingdom is not of this world and we must be discerning and wise. What we see unfolding in our nation is nothing less than the judgment of God upon us. This judgment is not new, recent, or novel. You may ask, “Judgment, for what?” If you have to ask, you have not been paying attention. Why should God desire to preserve a nation that has murdered over 60 million babies in the womb and participated in other wickedness and abominations that make Sodom and Gomorrah blush?

The bottom line is that we are not put here to preserve a way of life other than the Way of Jesus Christ. And that WAY will persevere no matter who rules and reigns in the realm of men and nations, for at the end of the day and the end of the age, we see that all along it has been GOD who alone sits on the throne.

What do we do? We trust Our Sovereign God and continue to live and preach the gospel while we have breath. With Paul, we press on and strive to finish the course. “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you (Phil. 3:13-15). “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

Maranatha! Even so, come, Lord Jesus (Rev. 22:20).

Peter and Paul, Martyrs under Nero for the Glory of Christ