Romans In Revelation

By Michael E. Day


Knowing some history about the first century Roman world is helpful in order to properly understand the book of Revelation. To begin with, Rome had been a Republic for about 500 years. During the Republic, the Senate ruled. Then, Julius Caesar led the transition from Republic to Empire. His nephew, Octavian, succeeded him as the second emperor, and changed his name to Augustus. Luke 2:1 reads:


“And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the Roman world should be registered.”


Please note that the same Greek word, Oikoumene, used in Luke 2:1 as the Roman world is also used in Matthew 24:14 and Mark 13:10. The first century fulfillment of these verses is verified in the scriptures at Romans 1:8, 10:18, 16:26, and at Colossians 1:5-6, and 1:23.


The third emperor was Tiberius Caesar. Then after him came Gaius Caesar, who was nicknamed and better known as little boots (Caligula). After Caligula came Claudius, who hoped to restore the Republic. He believed the best strategy was to have Nero succeed him. Claudius hoped that Nero would be such a terrible emperor that the Roman citizens would rebel, overthrow him, and restore the Republic. Sadly, Claudius’ plan failed to materialize.


The sixth emperor (Rev 17:10) Nero Caesar reigned from 54 to 68 A.D. According to the Roman historians Tacticus and Suetonius, Nero’s nickname was “the Beast;” and his reign was far worse than that of Domitian. For three and a half years Nero tried to eliminate the early church. He had the Apostles Paul and Peter murdered, and after boiling the Apostle John in hot oil, exiled him to the island of Patmos (Rev 1:9). People could not buy or sell in the marketplaces without collaborating (right hand = acting / Rev 13:16-17 / forehead = thoughts) with the Beast, by declaring “Caesar is Lord.”


Nero declared himself god incarnate. He ordered all statues in the empire to have their heads cut off, and that a sculpture of his head should be put on in all their places. Nero also wanted an idol of himself to be set up in the Holy Place of the Jerusalem Temple. He married his sister, and when she was nine months pregnant, murdered her and their baby. Nero sometimes dressed in nothing but animal hides, and practiced cannibalism. He burnt the city of Rome, blamed the Christians, and fed them to the lions at the Coliseum. He also made living candles out of them. Furthermore, a cryptogram of Caesar Nero’s name (Rev 13:18) yields a numeric value of 666 in the Hebrew.


After attacking the early church for 3 ½ years, Nero then initiated the Judeo-Roman War which lasted another 3 ½ years from 67-70 A.D. Flavius Josephus records a detailed account of this ongoing tribulation (Matt 24:21) in his book; The War of the Jews. In 70 A.D., Titus and three legions sieged and destroyed the Holy City (Matt 22:7), making it and the Holy Land utterly desolate (Matt 23:38 and Rev 17:16). The casualties for the Jewish people in Judea and throughout the Roman empire were enormous.




Rome was a city which sat on seven hills (Rev 17:7,9) and had ten provinces (Rev 17:7,12,16). The eagle (Matt 24:28) was the symbol of the Roman war god Mars. It was also the idol of the legions, and was frequently sacrificed to before and after battle. 69 AD was the “Year of the Three Caesars;” Galba, Otho, and Vitellius. They fought it out to see who would become the seventh Caesar. Was this the beginning of the end for the civilized world? A Roman civil war and simultaneous revolts in the provinces with their ensuing deaths, diseases, and famines made it appear so. Was this the beginning of the Dark Ages? The leadership (head) of the Roman empire had received a fatal wound (Rev 13:3), or had it? In 70 A.D., Vespasian healed that seemingly fatal wound by providing stability and by becoming the eighth emperor (Rev 17:11). He established a new line of Caesars; the Flavian dynasty. As a result, Rome, in that form, survived for about another 500 years.


A basic understanding of the historical facts in the first century Roman world helps illuminate the book of Revelation. For a more in-depth study of this important time period the following books are highly recommended.


When Will These Things Be by Douglas Enick.  


Before Jerusalem Fell by Kenneth Gentry


The Days of Vengeance by David Chilton


The Beast of Revelation by Kenneth Gentry


The War of the Jews by Flavius Josephus

By Michael E. Day