By Lawrence Butler, The Bridge Church, Pembroke.
There are reasons to suggest the Apostle Paul as the author of the book of Hebrews, just as there are other reasons that point to someone else as the author. In either case, the writer is clear that intensified persecution appears to be approaching. “But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; Partly, whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used” (Heb.10:32-33). There had already been clashes with Jews who resented the converts to Christianity, even when they held to the form of Temple worship that was threatened with being replaced.
These converts had endured imprisonment and ostracism from their own people, and were now about to face persecution from the government.
Listen to the warning from the anointed minister sending this message from the Lord. “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin” (Heb. 12:4). There seems to be a palpable warning that more strife and persecution were coming. A new emperor came to the throne in Rome who was about to make a name for himself that would live in infamy. At sixteen years of age, through the cunning plot of his mother, Nero ascended to the throne.
His mother, Agrippina, poisoned her husband, the emperor Claudius, clearing the way for her son to become the sole leader of the Roman Empire in the year 54 AD. Ultimately he put to death his own mother when she withstood his desire to divorce his wife and marry another.
Following this period of his life, Nero began to struggle in Rome and became involved in questionable matters ranging from arts to religion. When the city of Rome burned in the year 64, he ultimately needed someone to blame so he chose the Christians.
Thus began the somewhat sporadic persecution of the Christians.
The stories are many, and often tell of horrific deaths brought about in the famous Coliseum of Rome. Men and women were placed in the confines and forced to face wild animals.
Their deaths were bloody and traumatic, but still greatly enjoyed by large, boisterous crowds.
John Foxe tells us there were some ten general persecutions fostered by the Romans upon Christians. The people of God were warned that they had “not yet resisted unto blood,” but much suffering awaited them on their journey through life. However, they must not be discouraged, but be as Moses. “Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God… Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt…” (Heb. 11:25-26).