|The Empire was the territory of Western Europe and the Mediterranean that the city of Rome ruled from the first
century B.C. to the fith century A.C.
The Empire bound together a variety of peoples and cultures, maintaining itself not only by military power but by efficient and generally lenient provincial administration. Another unifying factor was the nearly universal use of the Greek language and a general acceptance of Greek culture and values. In addition, a complex of major land and sea routes linked major cities of the Empire, permitting the easy movement of people and goods as well as armies.
The Empire offered its population of some 54 million persons (of which probably 5 million were Jews) prosperity, security, and many freedoms in return for reasonable taxes and loyalty to the Roman emperor. For instance, through the first century there was little inflation. Bankers paid lenders 5 or 6 percent on investments, and the maximum interest rate on ordinary loans was set at 12 percent. Regarding freedom, while Roman law imposed harsh penalties for criminal acts and for any activity that might be considered treasonable, most national groups were permitted to follow their own customs and religions. Self-government by each national group, under its own laws and courts, was encouraged, although Roman laws and courts were supreme.
Religious toleration also characterized the Empire during the most of the first century. The austere official Roman cult had little spiritual appeal for the masses. Before Christianity exploded out of little Palestine in the A.D. 40s and 50s, many in the Empire had turned to Eastern mystery religions and to magic in an effort to satisfy their spiritual hunger. Foreign cults were, however, viewed as dangerous superstitions by the Romans themselves. By the end of the first century, Christianity was considered dangerous to the state, the Christians had begun to be persecuted.
The Empire, which gave the varied peoples of Europe and the Mediterrranean a common language and permitted free movement of persons and ideas, was essential to the spread of Christianity. Christians preached and wrote in Greek, the language understood by nearly everyone. Missionaries freely crossed borders that in later nationalistic ages would have blocked their passage. Everywhere Christians found a spiritual hunger unsatisfied by the existing philosophies, religions, superstitions, and belief in magic. The gradual expansion of Roman power, culminating in the establishment of a unified empire by Augustus, is evidence that God was at work, preparing the world for the birth of His Son and the spread of the gospel.
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