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President Barack Obama (right) with former President Bill Clinton
Associated Press/Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais
President Barack Obama (right) with former President Bill Clinton

Answers to a biblical-theological-ethical question

Abortion | How do pro-life Christians obey God’s command to honor a president when he supports the right to kill the unborn?

Pastor and author John Piper preached the following sermon on Jan. 17, 1993, but not much has changed since then: Abortion kills more than 1 million babies each year, a president who calls himself a Christian presides over the rampage, and a revered reverend’s advice as to how Bible-believing Christians should respond still rings true. —Marvin Olasky

Being pro-life Christians under a pro-choice president

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bond-slaves of God. Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:13-17).

Nero’s rise to power and his reign 

In A.D. 37 a boy was born in Italy named Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus. His mother’s name was Agrippina the Younger. She married the Roman Emperor Claudius who adopted her little boy and changed his name to Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus. The adoption and the name change were all part of his mother’s plotting to see him, instead of Claudius’ biological son Britannicus, become emperor of Rome.

In A.D. 54 when Nero was 17 years old, his mother arranged for Claudius to be poisoned to death, and the boy was proclaimed emperor of Rome. His reign would last 14 years, until he committed suicide at age 31.

In the first half of his reign there was relatively good government because as a youth he received good counsel from Burrus, the head of the Praetorian Guard, and from Seneca, the famous stoic philosopher.

Nero was selfish and calculating and incapable of ruling well on his own. He became paranoid of all the rumors about plots to kill him. In 55 he had his stepbrother Britannicus killed. In 59 he had his mother executed. And in 62 his first wife was executed. And Seneca his former counselor was forced to commit suicide.

The time of Peter’s arrival in Rome 

The apostle Peter probably arrived in Rome sometime around A.D. 63. The city had already become known as “Babylon”—the code word among Christians for the great urban embodiment of anti-Christian power and evil (cf. Revelation 16:19; 17:5; 18:2), because the ancient Eastern Babylon had been the place where the people of God were taken captive far from their true home. So Peter is in Rome when he writes his first letter: “She [the church] who is at Babylon sends you greetings” (1 Peter 5:13).

The great fire of Rome 

On the night of July 19, 64, a fire broke out in the southern part of the city. It raged for six days, spreading far and wide. When it was about to die out, it suddenly broke out again in the northern part of the city and burned three more days. Ten of the 14 wards of the city were destroyed. The frenzy in the city was indescribable.

Rumors began to spread that Nero himself had started the fire because of his delirious craving for magnificence and desire to embellish and rebuild the city. To divert attention from himself, the historian Tacitus says, Nero blamed the Christians for the fire, who were hated anyway, and so were good scapegoats.

The effect was horrendous. There had been no persecution like it since the Lord had risen 30 years before. In the gardens of Nero the Christians were crucified, sewn into wild beast skins, and fed to dogs, drenched in flammable oil and lifted on poles to burn as torches in the night.

Eusebius tells us that Peter was crucified “because he had demanded to suffer” (E.H. 3.1.2–3).

Peter’s letter was probably written sometime shortly before this terrible persecution. Christians were being slandered and mistreated (2:12, 15) as he wrote, but this was typical all over the empire he says in 5:9. The great persecution was not there yet. But it seems that Peter could see it on the horizon with prophetic accuracy. For example, he said in 4:12, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.”

Peter was well-acquainted with corrupted leaders 

Nero was not the only ruler Peter had known. He had known of Pilate, the governor in Judea, who washed his hands of Jesus’ murder, had Him beaten, and turned Him over to be crucified with no grounds. He had known of Herod Antipas who executed John the Baptist as a dancing prize and later put his purple robe on Jesus and mocked Him with his soldiers. Peter was probably a boy in Galilee when he heard that Herod the Great had killed all the children in Bethlehem.

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