Rome starts to crack down on the Christians.
The church grew in spite of losing many of its early leaders to martyrdom. For a significant number of years, the followers of Jesus were simply known as members of a Jewish sect called the Word. They were mostly ignored by Rome, but not by the Scribes and Pharisees. Many of the leaders of the more traditional Jewish groups began to view the followers of Jesus as heretics. This was especially true as they sect grew in popularity.
The first of the leaders of the organized group to fall was James the brother of Jesus, the leader of the church in Jerusalem, martyred in AD 62. According to early Church historian Eusebius, Hegesippus who lived immediately after the apostles, in his fifth book of memoirs wrote the most accurate account of James’ martyrdom. “ The aforesaid Scribes and Pharisees therefore placed James upon the pinnacle of the temple, and cried out to him and said: ‘Thou just one, in whom we ought all to have confidence, forasmuch as the people are led astray after Jesus, the crucified one, declare to us, what is the gate of Jesus.’ And he answered with a loud voice, ‘Why do ye ask me concerning Jesus, the Son of Man? He himself sitteth in heaven at the right hand of the great Power, and is about to come upon the clouds of heaven.’….
So they went up and threw down the just man, and said to each other, ‘Let us stone James the Just.’ And they began to stone him, for he was not killed by the fall; but he turned and knelt down and said, ‘I entreat thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’…
And one of them, who was a fuller, took the club with which he beat out clothes and struck the just man on the head. And thus he suffered martyrdom.”
‘James the Just’ was not the only leader of the church to be martyred. In the summer of 64 AD, during the reign of the Emperor Nero, the city of Rome burned. According to the Roman historian, Tacitus this event spurred the first mass persecution of the followers of Christ.
“But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called “Chrestians” by the populace.
Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.
Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.”
Tradition holds that it was during this persecution that the crucifixion of the Apostle Peter took place. Tradition also holds that Peter insisted on being crucified upside down since he felt he was not worthy of being crucified in the same manner as Jesus.
Peter would not be the last of the leaders to die in Rome.
There are conflicting theories as to whether The “Apostle to the Gentiles” Saul (Paul) was in Rome during the first Nero persecution. As a Roman citizen, he had certain privileges and rights that those from Palestine did not have, one of those privileges was to be able to select his own method of death. Tradition holds that he preached the Gospel in Rome until his martyrdom around AD 67 when the Emperor Nero ordered him beheaded.
For the next 300 years, the church continued to grow and communities of believers sprang up in Greece, Crete, Sicily, Asia (Turkey), France, as far west as Britain. It grew in spite of frequent persecutions of the believers by the authorities. Persecutions that often ended with the accused put to death, often after hours and days of the most violent torture. Death was by crucifixion, burned at the stake, beheading, or torn apart by wild animals. Regardless of the consequence, the early Christians stood firm in their convictions and refused to deny Christ.
In the book ‘A New Eusebius – Documents Illustrating the History of The Church To AD 337” J. Stevenson collected primary texts from the first century up to the time of the death of Emperor Constantine. It recounts the stories of persecutions of the early Church leaders, including the empire wide persecution by the Emperor Domitian in AD 96, martyrdom of Ignatius of Antioch in AD 108, Polycarp in AD 156, Ptolemy and Lucius AD 160, Justin AD 165, the martyrs of Lyonne and Vienne AD 177, and many more who sacrificed their lives rather than deny Jesus.
In addition to the persecutions there were multiple controversies; false teachers, heresies, and scandals between and among members of the family of believers and Christianity still grew.