While Christianity was viewed by Rome as a sect of the Jews, it did not draw their attention since Judaism had legal status in the empire. But as Christianity increasingly became separate from the synagogues and spread throughout the Roman world, it was recognized to be an illegal religion and persecution broke out.

Persecution moved in ten waves from the time of Nero in 64 AD to Diocletian in 303 AD. The first was fairly localized in the immediate area of Rome. That of the last was enforced throughout the empire. Between times there were periods of relative peace for the church, sometimes only a few years and at one time nearly forty.

The real reasons behind the persecutions was hatred of the light [Jn.3:19,20] and the fact that Christians had an absolute standard in the Scriptures which judged the empire. No authoritarian rule can tolerate citizens who have a reference point other than itself.

But to justify their cruel assault upon the law-abiding Christians, Rome accused them of four crimes:

[1] ATHEISM because they refused to worship the Emperor as Lord. This, Rome claimed, was treason against the state.

[2] HATRED of mankind because they despised their games, amusements, and theatre.

The theatre portrayed drunkenness and shameless immorality in the most graphic scenes, often literally performed before the admiring and lustful audience.

At the games, 180,000 spectators would crowd the Circus Maximus [The Greatest Stadium] to witness the day-long chariot races. There they foolishly gambled away their earnings and frequented the legalized booths of harlots surrounding the arena.

Emperors had huge man-made lakes constructed for multitudes to witness re-enactments of famous naval battles where thousands of live combatants slaughtered themselves before cheering audiences. In the Colosseum [another large stadium], elephants, tigers, lions, apes, crocodiles and other wild beasts were made to fight to the death before the delighted crowds.

Captives of war, condemned criminals [including Christians] or disobedient slaves were thrown before ravenous beasts or compelled to engage in deadly combat as gladiators. Blond-haired Germans, blacks from Africa, even dwarfs and women entertained the populace by their brutality and slaughter.

Nero himself would join in the bloody battles for the morbid delight that murder brought to his demented soul. The public applauded this inhumane cruelty and reveled in their fellow humans’ flow of blood that one Roman historian called, “a cannibal banquet for the soul.�

It is of little wonder that Christians who attended the games and the theatre were excommunicated from the church. Tertullian [c.200] wrote, “With such dainties, let the devil’s guests be feasted.�

[3] IMMORALITY and cannibalism because they had no temples, priests, or ritual ceremonies. Therefore they were viewed as an immoral secret cult society that they imagined fed on the flesh of Jesus.

[4] CALAMITY. The image makers, who were losing money [Acts 19:24-27] along with the pagan priests and occultists, incited the popular prejudice against the Christians. They blamed the Christians for all calamities, wars, tempest, and pestilence which plagued mankind, saying that the gods were angry because the people had left off the old ways.