Roman Emperors During the Gospels and Acts

April 7, 2010

The book of Daniel foretold of four successive world powers.  Beginning with Babylon, which would be succeeded by Medo-Perisa, there would then be the Grecian Empire, and fourthly the Roman Empire, during which time the Messiah and His kingdom rule would be ushered in (Dan. 2,7).

Accordingly, when the New Testment record begins, Luke informs us, “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1).  It turns out that this is how it happened that though Mary and Joseph were residents of Nazareth in Galilee, that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea.  Everyone was to be registered in “his own city” (Luke 2:3), that is, in ones ancestral town, which for Mary and Joseph, of the family of David, meant Bethlehem.  Caesar Augustus had no idea he was helping to fulfill the eighth century B.C. prophecy of Micah, who foretold the birthplace of Jesus (Micah 5:2). Augustus reigned 31 B.C. – A.D 14.

Caesar Augustus.  Istanbul Archaeology Museum.  Photo by Leon Mauldin

Caesar Augustus. Istanbul Archaeology Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Later, the political and religious setting of the biblical world when Jesus began His ministry is recorded in Luke 3:1:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene…

Here is a bust of Tiberius Caesar, who reigned A.D. 14-37.  He would have been the emperor in power when Jesus said, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). He would have still been in power when the events of Pentecost transpired (Acts 2), and the church was established and began to spread.

Tiberius Caesar. Istanbul Archaeology Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

We learn in Acts 18 that when Paul arrived at Corinth, he stayed with Aquilla and Priscilla and worked with them.  Luke explains why this couple was in Corinth:

And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them.

Claudius reigned A.D. 41-54.

Caesar Claudius. Istanbul Archaeology Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

As the book of Acts continues, we come to the reign of Nero (reigned A.D. 54-68). He would have been in power when at Caesarea Paul appealed unto Caesar (Acts 25:11). Nero would have been the emperor when later Paul was executed (as anticipated in his 2 Timothy letter). In our photo below we see Nero and his mother Agrippina (wife of Claudius).

Caesar Nero and Agrippina. Aphrodisias Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The info provided with this relief states:

Agrippina crowns her young son Nero with a laurel wreath. She carries a cornucopia, symbol of Fortune and Plenty, and he wears the armour and cloak of a Roman commander, with a helmet on the ground at his feet. The scene refers to Nero’s accession as emperor in AD 54, and belongs before AD 59  when Nero had Agrippina murdered.

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