Pestilence :”A contagious or infectious epidemic

disease that is virulent and devastating.”

(Webster’s Dictionary)

During the reign of Nero a fire destroyed much of the city of Rome. Many Romans believed the emperor himself was responsible. The Roman historian Tacitus said that Nero used Christians as a scapegoat to score political points:

“…to scotch the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits, and punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men, loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled Christians. Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentences of the procurator Pontius Pilatus, and the pernicious superstition was checked for a moment, only to break out once more, not merely in Judea, the home of the disease, but in the capital itself, where all things horrible or shameful in the world collect and find a vogue. First, then, the confessed members of the sect were arrested; next on their disclosures vast numbers were convicted, not so much on the count of arson as for hatred of the human race. And derision accompanied their end: they were covered with wild beasts’ skins and torn to death by dogs; or they were fastened on crosses, and, when daylight failed were burned to serve as lamps by night.” (Annals, 15.44)

This madman was emperor of the Roman Empire from 54-68 A.D. Given what Tacitus says he did to Christians, it is no wonder that the New Testament so often encourages persecuted saints to endure. To Nero, Christianity was an infectious disease that had to be stopped from spreading. His mission was to eradicate it with fire—literally.

When Paul appeared before the high priest Ananias, an orator named Tertullus accused the great apostle of being “a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ring leader of the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5). To the Jews the church was a dangerous virus and Paul was the main superspreader.

Today those who hate God and His Son look at us in the same way. To them we are a dangerous disease that must be stopped. In their eyes we are the cause of the world’s problems, and yet we continue to survive and grow just like an unwanted stubborn disease that resists treatments. That is what angers the enemies of the cross most. In spite of all they do to get rid of us, the church is here to stay. They can ridicule us, slander us, arrest us, fine us, beat us, or kill us, but they will never be rid of us.

It is ironic that Christians in the first century were considered to be a fatal disease to society and yet they actually brought healing to the world. The church healed the racial tension between Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:14-15). Jesus’ blood is the cure for the worst sickness of all—sin (I Jn. 2:2). And, the gospel is the only message that can lead us to a place that knows of no illness—heaven (I Cor. 15:53).

Kerry Duke