Most straw polls indicate that a Democrat has a good chance of being elected President of the U.S. in 2008. And other opinion polls indicate that the next President might be Hillary Clinton. I’m not voting for Hillary, but how should Christians respond if our nation’s leader is a liberal Democrat? Read Peter’s words again found in I Peter 2:13-17: Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.
When Peter wrote these words, Nero was the Emperor. Maybe a little background will help you understand the radical nature of Peter’s admonition to submit to the government. The setting is Rome and the year is 44 A.D. Claudius was the Roman Emperor. His niece, named Agrippina seduced her uncle and he agreed to marry her and to adopt her son - he gave his adopted son the name NERO.
Agrippina was an ambitious woman who had poisoned her two previous husbands, including Nero’s biological father. Claudius already had a biological son named Brittanicus who was in line to the throne. But through the crafty scheming of Agrippina, she convinced Claudius to name Nero as the next in line to the throne - and he finally agreed.
Soon after, Agrippina arranged for Claudius to be poisoned to death. (After her first two husbands died of poisoning, you’d think the third husband wouldn’t eat the soup!) So at the tender age of 17 Nero became the fifth Roman Emperor. Nero earned a reputation as one of the most wicked, depraved rulers of history.
According to the Roman historian Seutonius, Nero and his mother then plotted the death of Brittanicus so that he couldn’t pose a threat to the throne. What goes around comes around, because by the time Nero was 21 he hated his mother. He made four attempts to kill her, three times with poison and once with a boat that was especially designed to break apart and sink. Agrippina avoided the poisons (she was the expert) and when the boat sank, she swam ashore. Soon after Nero sent an assassin who clubbed and stabbed her to death.
Nero fancied himself to be a great singer. He had little talent, but he loved to dress up in costumes and perform on stage in front of an audience who were forbidden to leave while he performed.
In the summer of 64 a terrible fire broke out in Rome. It raged out of control for nine days and two thirds of the city were destroyed. Although it was rumored that Nero set the fire, most historians agree that he wasn’t in the city when it started, but upon hearing about the fire he returned. The notion that Nero fiddled while Rome burned is a fable of history - fiddles or violins weren’t created until the 17th Century. But Tacitus reported “At the very time that Rome burned, he mounted his private stage and sang about the destruction of Troy.”
Because of the rumor that he has set the fire, Nero quickly looked for a group to blame. He found the perfect scapegoat in an obscure sect of people called Christians. At his direction, Believers were arrested and executed. Tacitus wrote: “Besides being put to death, they were made to serve as objects of amusement; they were covered with wild beasts’ skins and torn to death by dogs. Others were set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed .... covered by inflammable matter, they were set on fire to serve as torches during the night. Or they were tied to stakes in Nero’s gardens while he drove around in his chariot, naked, indulging himself in his midnight revels, gloating over the dying agonies of his victims.”
After a few more years of perverse behavior, there were plots to remove Nero. In 68 the Senate voted to have him flogged to death. As they were coming to take him, Nero committed suicide. His last words were “Qualis artifex pereo.” (What an artist the world loses in me.) Nero was 31 years old when he was executed.
If Peter exhorted Christians in the first Century to submit to government authorities, and that authority was Nero, we shouldn’t have any trouble submitting to our government if it is led by Hillary, Obama, or even a Mormon!