John Fox(e) [I put it this way because both spellings are extant.], in his classic work, Fox(e)’s Book of Martyrs, which was written in the midst of the terrible suffering by Protestants in the Reformation of the sixteenth century, identifies ten ancient Roman persecutions of the church. These are:
- Persecution under Nero (c. 64-68). Traditional martyrdoms of Peter and Paul. Burning of Rome blamed on Christians.
- Persecution under Domitian (c. 81-96). Book of Revelation written.
- Persecution under Trajan (112-117). Christianity is outlawed, but Christians are not sought out.
- Persecution under Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180). Martyrdom of Polycarp.
- Persecution under Septimus Severus (202-210). Martyrdom of Perpetua.
- Persecution under Decius (250-251). Christians are actively sought out by requiring public sacrifice. Could buy certificates (libelli) instead of sacrificing. Martyrdoms of bishops of Rome, Jerusalem, and Antioch.
- Persecution under Valerian (257-59). Martyrdoms of Cyprian of Carthage and Sixtus II of Rome.
- Persecution under Maximinus the Thracian (235-38).
- Persecution under Aurelian (r. 270–275).
- Severe persecution under Diocletian (303-312).
Official persecution of Christians ended with the Edict of Milan, signed by the (Christian convert) emporer Constantine (and his co-emperor Licinius). This did not yet make Christianity the official religion of the empire (that happened under Emperor Theodosius in 381 A.D.), but did grant it legal status in c. 313 A.D.
The seven churches to whom the Apostle John is writing are identified in Revelation 1:11 as: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. The remains of these cities are all located in modern day Turkey. There were no actual church buildings (for there to be remains of) as the believers met in secret to worship, for the Christians in these seven churches were all facing severe persecution.
Fox(e) gives us some detail as to what they were up against. It is well worth the time for we modern Christians in America to do a little reading and allow ourselves to be reminded thereby of just how blessed we are to live in the time and place that we do. Please take the time to familiarize yourself with what all these early Christians faced by clicking at this site: http://www.ccel.org/f/foxe/martyrs/home.html.
As you do, remember to thank God for His blessings on your life. You will understand why I say this after you have read a little bit of Fox(e)’s history of their persecution.
Also, for those within the church family here at First Baptist, Lenoir City who asked for the link to the video with which I concluded with on Wednesday night, it can be found at the following location: http://wn.com/Christian_Persecution_in_Ancient_Rome_--_Prevail_by_Freddy_Hayler#. It is the third video on the right side of the page and is titled: With All I Am (Quo Vadis). Note: it is over six and a half minutes in length.