The Christians of the first century were rebels with a cause. They weren’t the hair-spray-addicted, religious sponges of pop culture and oppressive governments looking to be ogled by an Oprah-addled crowd. Oh, no, senorita. The primitive church was out to change the world.
After Jerusalem fell in AD 70, the church, birthed by the Holy Spirit during Rome’s heyday, exploded with growth in Asia Minor — which happened to be Ground Zero for Caesar worship.
The punch-drunk citizens of Roman rule thought the various Caesars, their laws, and their government were God. They built temples to these men and minted coins with their mugs stamped on them. The poor dupes of Rome believed their leaders’ poop didn’t stink and they could do no wrong. They even gave their human leaders godlike reverence, proclaiming Caesar as Savior and Healer, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Yep, to the serfs of Caesarland, their heads of state were just dreamy, and as they were divine everyone was expected to toe their line. Because of this blind faith in Caesar, the Roman government found it a piece of cake to tax the plebes to death, snatch their kids or their houses, and create crises that ginned up even more robust control of Rome’s citizens. I’m talkin’ Caesar had them on a short leash because of their faith in the state.
The early church, however, made it clear amidst this crapola that their allegiance was to Christ and not the edicts of Caesar — especially when Caesar’s dictates conflicted with the Word of God. Yep, it was the church’s disdain for Caesar’s unrighteous decrees (the decrees that required their obedience at the expense of their convictions) that got them killed.
Get it right, folks: It wasn’t the church’s belief that Jesus is God, or their love of covered dish dinners, or their Christian rock music that got them the ax; it was their holy defiance to the demonic edicts that Caesar attempted to slap them with. Rome didn’t give a rat’s backside whom or what they believed in just as long as that belief didn’t rock the boat of the Roman state. And that’s exactly what first-century Christianity did: It adhered to God’s laws versus Rome’s. The Church believed that Christ was Lord and therefore, respectfully of course, Caesar could kiss their fish sticker. Indeed, following the teachings of Jesus, the initial Ichthus crowd was cantankerous when it came to an oppressive state.
I’m sure the church tried to be nice about their obstinacy toward Rome’s odious laws, but when push came to legislative shove and it became clear that punk Caesar was requiring them to walk his way versus God’s, the first-century church defied the state instead of denying their God.