Paul Before Caesar
November 16th, 1958 @ 7:30 PM
2 Timothy 4:6-18
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Timothy 4:6-18
11-16-58 7:30 p.m.
We turn now to the second letter of Timothy, the fourth chapter, the last chapter of 2 Timothy; beginning at the sixth verse, reading through the eighteenth, in the middle of the chapter, 2 Timothy 4:6-18. Second Timothy 4, the fourth chapter of 2 Timothy, beginning at the sixth verse, reading through the eighteenth verse. We all have it, 2Timothy, almost toward the end of your Bible, 2 Timothy 4; 2 Timothy 4? If your neighbor does not have his Bible, share [yours] with him. All of us read this passage of Scripture, all of us. Second Timothy 4, the sixth verse through the eighteenth: now let us everybody read it together:
For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give my at that Day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.
Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me:
For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.
Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.
And Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus.
The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.
Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works:
Of whom be thou ware also; for he hath greatly withstood our words.
At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.
Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.
And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen
[2 Timothy 4:6-18]
In Acts 27:23-24, “For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar.” And in some translations you will find the name of the Caesar used, “Fear not Paul, thou must be brought before Nero.” In the fourth chapter of 2 Timothy, Paul describes that occasion and refers to it as in his first trial, as he stood before the Roman emperor; he “was delivered by the power of the Lord out of the mouth of the lion” [2 Timothy 4:17].
Since that first interview, since that first trial, he was brought again, sentence was passed, and Paul became a martyr to the faith. However it is, we know that those two men, Nero Caesar and Paul, Saul, stood at one time and one day face to face. It was a God-ordained day; it was at a God-appointed time. “Paul, thou shalt stand before Nero,” I could not think of a more dramatic occasion or one that affords a deeper spiritual contrast than to envisage that hour when Paul, the preacher and prisoner of Christ, stood before Nero, the emperor of the ancient Roman Empire [Acts 27:24].
We know a great deal about Nero. He was the last of the Caesars: Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, Tiberius Caesar, Caligula Caesar, Claudius Caesar, and Nero Caesar. The bloodline stopped in him; he was descended from Augustus on both sides of his family. When Nero Caesar ceased to be emperor of the Roman Empire, Galba was declared head of the empire by the army; Galba was soon murdered. Then you have the Flavian line—Vespasian, Titus, Domitian—the last of the Caesars was Nero.
Nero has many ancient biographers and many modern biographers. You could know Nero better than you could know the president of the United States or the queen of England. Tacitus wrote of him, Suetonius wrote of him, Theophrastus wrote of him, Zonaras wrote of him. Many of those ancient historians wrote at length a biography of the last of the Caesars.
I say, “comes from the line of Caesars from Augustus”: Augustus Caesar had a daughter named Julia, and the great minister of the empire in the days of Augustus was Agrippa. And Agrippa—for whom Herod Agrippa was named—Agrippa was married to Augustus Caesar’s daughter, to Julia. And they had a daughter whom they named Agrippina I. Agrippina was married to the great and famous Germanicus. Agrippina and Germanicus had a daughter named Agrippina II. Agrippina was married to a nobleman of the household of Augustus, and their son they named Nero Caesar. In the days of Tiberius, nine months after Tiberius had died, this young boy, this baby Caesar Nero, was born in 37 AD. And his mother, Agrippina II, was a very able and ambitious woman, and according to the astrologers, her son was someday to rule the Roman Empire.
Now, following Tiberius and Caligula’s rule for just a while, Claudius became Caesar. Claudius was a weak and vacillating man, but he had an extremely able and gifted wife by the name of Messalina. And she had a son by the name of Britannicus who was one of the ablest and most gifted and popular of all the Romans who were ever born. But nothing stopped Agrippina II, and her unstoppable ambition to make her son Caesar of the Roman Empire. She engineered, she engineered the divorce and the murder of Messalina, the wife of Claudius Caesar, and then she married Claudius Caesar—her uncle—herself and became the queen of the empire. After she was married to Claudius Caesar in 48 AD, in 54 AD she poisoned her husband, Claudius, and Nero became emperor. And in order to assure the throne to her son Nero, she poisoned Britannicus as he sat at the table. So Nero her son, Agrippina II, her son becomes the Caesar and the ruler of the Roman Empire.
This Caesar, this Nero before whom Paul appears [Acts 27:24], is now about thirty years of age; he has been emperor for fourteen years. And when the two men stand face to face, Paul the prisoner looks upon the emperor of the empire. Wonder what he saw when he looked upon the Caesar? He looked upon a young man who as a child was one of the most exquisitely beautiful of all the children of Rome, and yet at thirty years of age, he is definitely dissipated, and it is written in every lineament and line and feature of his countenance. His hair is chestnut colored and arrayed in curls around his head. His eyes are a dull gray, his neck is very thick, and his lips are cruelly curled.
Wonder what Nero saw when he looked onto the face of the apostle Paul? Here was an aged man, premature beyond his years, stooped through the heavy burdens he had borne for many years. He is of slight stature. Even Nero, who was below medium height, looks upon a prisoner who is of less height than himself. His eyes are very bad. When he writes a letter, he can hardly see to write his name. And he stands there, this prisoner of Christ, in the presence of the highest tribunal and the most absolute despot in the world.
Let’s compare the two as they stand and look into one another’s eyes. Let’s contrast them first in their position. Paul is a prisoner in prisons oft; he had spent years and years in cold, damp dungeons hewn out of the solid rock. Standing there beat by Roman rods, beat by the lashes of Jewish persecutors, stoned with the great livid marks in his face and on his body [2 Corinthians 11:23-25; Galatians 6:17], Paul, the prisoner, stands before Nero [Acts 27:24].
Where did Nero live? Nero lived in his golden palace, made possible because of the burning of Rome, to which he attributed to the Christians. That golden palace of Nero had three porticos which were a mile long. That golden palace was so tall and so high that it easily housed the golden statue of himself, one hundred twenty feet in height.
Paul, the prisoner, fared there on prisoner’s food, bread and water. The delicacies of Nero’s table were brought from the ends of the empire. They crushed pearls in order to adorn the costly desserts that were served. Paul the prisoner, stood there in, I suppose, travel-stained garments, the only clothing that he possessed, begging here in this letter that Timothy bring him a cloak that he had left with Carpus in Troas [2 Timothy 4:13].
Nero, Nero never wore a garment but one time; wherever he went, there was carried for him one thousand carts of baggage. Nero would gamble at one throw of the dice four hundred thousand sesterces. Even his mules were shod in silver; Nero the prince of the empire, and Paul the prisoner of Christ.
Let us contrast them in their nature, in their affections, in their hearts, in their feelings. Paul was a soft-hearted, tender-hearted man. He was a man of great sensitiveness. He was a man capable of great, great love. He would weep over his churches. And when he’d write letters to his churches, he would list two, three, sometimes two dozen friends.
When he bowed down and prayed with a church, they would weep, fall on his neck and kiss him [Acts 20:36-37]. They would accompany him miles and miles when he was forced to flee. They’d send him gifts seven hundred miles; the churches loved the apostle Paul, and Paul loved the people of his churches [2 Corinthians 11:28].
Nero also demanded love. When he offered his affections to a girl, if she refused him, that day he signed her death warrant. When a man looked melancholy in his presence, as though to be in his presence was not better than to be in paradise, if he looked melancholy, he was slain on the spot. When Burrus, the great and famous captain of the Praetorian Guard, complained of having a sore throat, Nero said, “I can cure that with a sure remedy.” Sent him a potion of poison and commanded him to die. When Seneca, the great philosopher and his teacher came to be more loved by the scholars of Rome than the emperor himself, Nero sent Seneca a polite note telling him, asking him, to commit suicide. Seneca obeyed, for not to have obeyed would have been to face a horrible death.
His sick aunt, who loved the boy very much, said to Nero as she stroked his smooth, unshaven face, “If God will only grant me to live to see thy face first shaved, I will be content.” And Nero replied, “Then I will have my face shaved at once.” He did so and commanded his physicians to send her a death potion. And while the breath was still in her body, he seized her estates. He divorced his wife Octavia and murdered her. Twelve days after he married his second wife, “He kicked her to death for no other reason,” said Suetonius,” than that she remonstrated with him when he came in late from driving his chariot.” Three times he tried to poison his mother and failed. Then he made a mechanical contraption above her bed that while she was asleep, it might—the roof might fall upon her and crush her. When she escaped that, he contrived a ship and put his mother on a ship to send her away. And when the ship left the harbor, it fell to pieces. The queen mother miraculously escaped that, and then it was that Nero hired assassins who with daggers slew his own mother in her bedroom. What a contrast between the affections of Paul the prisoner of Christ, and Nero the Roman emperor!
Let us contrast their ambitions. Nero had a great ambition: he had an ambition to be a player, and a singer, and an actor, and a charioteer. When Nero would drive in the races and he’d fall off, they were quickly and hastily commanded to raise him up, put him back in his seat, hold him there, and he always won. He ever was crowned victor. When Nero sometime would drive in the races incognito, the senator who beat him, not knowing whom he had excelled, would be that night beheaded. When Nero stood up to sing in the theater or to play on the Greek stage, he had with him five thousand robust young men, richly dressed, who were hired to applaud him and to mark anyone in the congregation, anyone in the audience, who had the bad taste not to applaud. It was a capital crime to call Nero a bad charioteer or a bad singer or a bad actor.
Paul also had a great ambition: his ambition was to make the gospel of Christ known in the world. His ambition was to say glorious things about Jesus. He had no ambition to be an actor as such; yet the tragedy of his life made him a spectacle to angels and to men. He had no ambition to write poetry and songs as such, but the most beautiful poem and song to love that has ever been written is his from the thirteenth [chapter] of 1 Corinthians [1 Corinthians 13:1-13]. Paul had no ambition to be idolized and adored by men, and yet of those who knew and loved him, there was none more affectionately, tenderly regarded than Paul the prisoner of Christ [Ephesians 3:1, 4:1; 2 Timothy 1:8; Philemon 1:9].
What a strange contrast! Nero wanted to be popular; everybody hated him. Nero wanted to be happy, and he was miserable. He wanted to live a royal life, and he failed ingloriously. The apostle Paul scorned the praise of men and won it from them and from God. The apostle Paul gave his life for the saving of the lost and won for himself an imperishable crown and a marvelous happiness [2 Timothy 4:8]. What a difference between the two; Nero and the apostle Paul.
May we contrast them in one other way, in their spiritual commitment? Nero was an infidel; Nero claimed himself to be a god. Altars were erected to him and sacrifices offered in his name. Nero contemptuously spurned the idea that there was any higher power than himself. Nero was a typical product of the pagan world. He was taught by the greatest moralist of all times, the philosopher Seneca. He was reared in the greatest empire of the ancient day. He was brought up in the most splendid court. He embodied all of the ideas and thoughts and characteristics of a pagan world. Nero is a product of infidelity, of materialism, of sensuality, and pleasure. It is no accident that he was the first Caesar to persecute the Christians.
When Rome was aflame and the populous began to believe that he set the fire in order to clear away for the building of his golden palace, in order to avert the suspicion from himself, he said the Christians did it. In the persecution of the Christian, he did not do it ordinarily; he did it extraordinarily. He wrapped them, he clothed them in skins of animals and turned famished dogs upon them for the merriment and the entertainment of the populace. And he would cover them with pitch and tie them on posts up and down the streets, and in the light of their writhing, suffering bodies, he would drive his chariot madly through the streets of Rome. No God, no heaven, no afterlife, no supreme power, no anything but Nero and the sensual, material world around him.
How different the spiritual persuasion of the apostle Paul: there is a God to whom someday we are answerable [Romans 2:2-16]. There is a Savior, our Prince, Advocate in that great and final hour [Romans 3:22; Philippians 3:9]. There is a commandment to keep [Romans 6:17]. There is a trust to receive [1 Corinthians 9:17]. There is a word to obey [Romans 6:17]. There is a God to worship, to love, to adore, and to follow [Acts 17:23-31].
How different, Nero Caesar on the throne of the empire and that lowly prisoner of Christ, Paul the apostle [Ephesians 3:1].
And the time came, as inevitably it comes, the time came to die. And strange to think they died within a few weeks of each other, Paul first and Nero soon thereafter. How did Nero die? He was just in the thirty-first year of his life, beginning the fifteenth year of his reign, over in Greece trying to think of every new way of sensual delight and pleasure. And while he was there sporting, acting, singing, dancing, a messenger came, “A province has rebelled.” He laughed, and he danced, and he played, and he sang, more of everything. And a messenger came, “Another province has rebelled and another.”
Nero hastens back to Rome, and when he returns to Rome, his army has been proved faithless, and his generals have betrayed him. And he hears the sound of the populous as they cry, “Galba is emperor!” He faints; when he awakens, the cry from his lips, “What shall I do, and where shall I turn? I shall appear before the populace and plead for their support.” He dare not, they would tear him to shreds! “I’ll drown myself,” a heroic thing to do; hasn’t the courage. There is the sound of the great marching; treading footsteps of the whole empire, and Nero flees! Four miles outside Rome, crawls into the home of one of his slaves. He’s barefoot, so hasty has been his flight; his eyes are bloodshot. There is given to him two daggers. He unsheathes them both. He theatrically raises them up; he hasn’t the courage. They’re sheathed again; he falls down, he cries convulsively. Outside in the distance are heard the hoof beats of the horsemen who are come to drag him back to Rome to flay him alive. He takes one of the daggers; he raises it to the throat. He can’t strike it home. He begs one of the slaves; and to deliver him from his torment, the slave pushes it home. When the horsemen force the door and come inside, there they find him in the agonies of his own suicide, his eyes so distended, a horror in death: all of that written by contemporaries who looked upon it. That’s the end, and the price, and the penalty, and the reward, and the ultimate of paganism, and materialism, and infidelity, and sensuality, and godlesses. How typical a product in Nero, the Roman Caesar.
Paul is sentenced to die; how different a death:
I am now ready to be offered, and the time of weighing anchor is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.
[2 Timothy 4:6-8]
“O Timothy, keep that which I have committed unto thee” [1 Timothy 6:20], and the executioner sharpened his ax, and the preacher and prisoner of Christ laid his head on the block, and in a moment it was over. Wonder where they are today? Wonder where they are today?
And the influence they have left behind: if you have a boy that you love, some of you will name him Paul. If there’s a great preacher arises, somebody will always say, “the greatest preacher of Christ since Paul.” If you have a dog to name, you name him Nero. These things are not by accident, nor are they fortuitous circumstance. The product of infidelity and sensualism and materialism always is manifest in the look out of the eye, in the markings of the face, in the word and tone of the voice, in the very manner of walking and speaking. And the servant of Christ, humble, sweet, trusting, looking up to Jesus; if it is His will, we walk through the day. If He gives us the week, may it be to His glory. And when the time comes and the Lord says it’s enough, he answers, “And I am ready. Even so, come, Lord Jesus” [Revelation 22:20].
Oh, I don’t see how a man could hesitate as he makes his choice. I don’t see why a man would even war about the decision that he’d make. As for me, it’s God. As for me, it’s the Lord. As for me, it’s the Savior. Won’t you? And make it now. Somebody you to give your heart to Jesus, come and stand by me, “Today, this night, this hour, I take Christ as my Savior in faith, in trust, looking up to Him, here I am, and here I come.” Somebody to put his life with us in the fellowship of the church, would you come and stand by me? A family of you, one somebody you, as God shall say the word, open the door, make the appeal, would you come and make it now? While all of us stand and sing.
PAUL BEFORE NERO
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Timothy 4:6-18, Acts 27:23-24
A. Both texts refer to same incident
B. These two men once faced each other – Nero, sovereign of the world and Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ
C. A God-ordained dayII. Paul looks upon Nero
A. About thirty years of age; been emperor for fourteen years
1. At 30 his face marred by dissipation
2. Chestnut hair, dull gray eyes, thick neck, terrible curled lips
B. The last of the Caesars – bloodline stopped in him
C. Has many ancient biographers and modern biographers
D. Comes from the line of Caesars from Augustus
1. His mother Agrippina II engineered his rise to the throne by murderIII. Nero looks upon Paul
A. Sees a man of like stature with himself, or smaller
B. His eyes bad; premature beyond his years, stooped through heavy burdens he has borne for yearsIV. Contrast between the two men
1. Paul a prisoner often – Nero sits on a throne in a golden palace
2. Paul accustomed to prison fare of bread and water – delicacies of Nero’s able were brought from ends of the empire
3. Paul wore travel-stained garments, all he had – Nero never wore a garment more than once (2 Timothy 4:13)
B. Nature – their hearts, affections, feelings
1. Paul a wealth of tenderness, feeling, great sensitivity
a. Churches loved him, and he them
2. Nero demanded love – killing those who denied him, or those who crossed him, or those who stood in his way
1. Nero had an ambition to be a player, singer, actor and charioteer
a. Capital crime to call him bad charioteer, or singer or actor
2. Paul’s ambition was to make the gospel known in the world
3. Nero wanted to be popular; everybody hated him
4. Paul scorned the praise of men and won it from them and from God(2 Timothy 4:8)
D. Spiritual commitment
1. Nero was an infidel; claimed himself to be a god
a. A product of infidelity, materialism, sensuality, pleasure – no accident he was first Caesar to persecute the Christians
2. Paul believed there is a God to whom we are answerable, a Savior
E. Death – they died within a few weeks of each other; Paul first, then Nero
1. Nero, in Greece sporting, dancing, playing when he receives word of provinces rebelling
a. Hastens back to Rome, finding he is betrayed and flees
b. Four miles outside Rome he crawls into home of one of his slaves
c. Without the courage to commit suicide himself, he begs for help