For example, in speaking of his concern about false teachers who had worked their way into the Corinthian church, Paul gives us a little insight into what life was like for him…
“They say they serve Christ? But I have served him far more! (Have I gone mad to boast like this?) I have worked harder, been put in jail more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again and again.
Five different times the Jews gave me their terrible thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I was in the open sea all night and the whole next day. I have traveled many weary miles and have been often in great danger from flooded rivers and from robbers and from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the hands of the Gentiles.
I have faced grave dangers from mobs in the cities and from death in the deserts and in the stormy seas and from men who claim to be brothers in Christ but are not. I have lived with weariness and pain and sleepless nights. Often I have been hungry and thirsty and have gone without food; often I have shivered with cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.
Then, besides all this, I have the constant worry of how the churches are getting along: Who makes a mistake and I do not feel his sadness? Who falls without my longing to help him? Who is spiritually hurt without my fury rising against the one who hurt him? But if I must brag, I would rather brag about the things that show how weak I am” (2 Corinthians 11:23-30).
Upon his return from his third missionary trip, Paul was arrested and tried before the Sanhedrin (the Jewish High Court) and two Roman governors. Paul’s case dragged on for over two years until he finally exercised his right as a Roman citizen and appealed his case to Caesar, the Roman Emperor. The Roman governor presiding over his case told him, “Very well!! You have appealed to Caesar, and to Caesar you shall go!” (Acts 25:12). And so Paul was shipped off to Rome to appeal his case before the Emperor.
This trip to Rome marked Paul’s fourth and final missionary journey. This round-about trip (which included a shipwreck off the island of Malta) took two years to finish and covered over 2000 miles (3219k). Paul finally arrived at his destination sometime around AD 62 and when we last see Paul in the book of Acts, we find him preaching in Rome and living in his own rented place while apparently waiting to go to trial (Acts 28:30-31).
Now this might be how the Book of Acts ends but it was not the end of the story for Paul, for he was about to enter a period of persecution that was far worse than any he had seen before.
You see, when Paul exercised his right of appeal before Caesar, he was demanding his right as a citizen to stand in Rome before the Emperor. The Emperor at the time was a man named Nero and he ruled from about A.D. 54 until A.D. 68. When Paul appealed his case, there was no natural way that he could have known that Nero was about to begin the first large scale persecution ever experienced by the church. Scholar-types refer to this period as “The Neronian Persecutions” and beginning in AD 64, it started to get pretty tough to be a Christian.
Here’s what happened: On the night of July 14th A.D. 64, a tremendous fire broke out in Rome. Ancient historians tell us that the fire burned out of control within the city for five days. It then stopped for a time but later broke out again in other areas and destroyed large sections of the city.
To this day, no one has been able to really determine how this fire got started although some believe that Nero himself started the fire in order to clear the way for a large building program that he was planning. This has never been proven but nevertheless, the people seemed to be convinced that Nero was responsible.
Obviously, this put Nero in a really bad position and made it necessary for him to pin the responsibility for the fire on some other individual or group. So in order to take the responsibility off himself, the Emperor made the decision to shift the responsibility for the fire to the Christian community. By falsely claiming that the Christians were really the ones who were at fault for this disaster, the Emperor knowingly chose a group of people that had very few resources to defend themselves.
As you might expect, the results were both horrible and tragic. According to the ancient historian Tacitus, those who admitted to being Christians during this period were forced to wear animal skins so they could be torn apart by ravenous dogs. Others were crucified. Still others were burned to death and at night time, their burning bodies served as torches to light up Nero’s gardens. Tradition tells us that the Apostle Peter also met his death during this time by being crucified upside-down.
But the question for us is, what happened to Paul?
Before we try to answer that question, let’s make an observation first. Most of you probably know that whenever a tragedy involving a large aircraft occurs, investigators will immediately look for that aircraft’s “black box.” In that “box” investigators will find recordings of cockpit conversations, flight data information and environmental conditions that help provide insights into the plane’s condition before any problems occurred.
Well in a similar way, there are a few verses in the Biblical book of 2 Timothy (which is actually a letter written by Paul to Timothy around A.D. 64-66) that also serve as a kind of “black box” and help give us some insight into Paul’s mindset during this time.
For example, Paul seemed to sense his impending death when he wrote in 2 Timothy 4:6-7…“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (NIV). Perhaps suspecting that his time may be short, Paul also adds in verses 9 and 20: “Do your best to come to me quickly…” and “Do your best to get here before winter” (NIV).
Did Timothy make it to Rome in time? Well, we really don’t know for sure and the Bible doesn’t tell us. However, a book called Foxe’s Book of Martyrs tells us the traditional belief concerning Paul’s death at this time…
“Paul, the Apostle, who was before called Saul, after his great travail and unspeakable labours in promoting the Gospel of Christ, suffered also in this persecution under Nero… the soldiers came and led him out of the city to the place of execution, where he, after his prayers were made, gave his neck to the sword.”
And so ends the earthly history of Paul the Apostle. Even though Paul has been gone now for so many years, he still lives on through the example that he set for Christians of every generation, even to this day. It’s impossible to overestimate the effect of Paul’s life and work and the more you read his letters and the accounts of his life in the Bible, the more impressed you become with what God can do with one man’s (or woman’s) life.