“for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:2 HCSB)
Having identified some of the elements of a healthy prayer life, Paul the Apostle will next move to identify some of those we should pray for: “kings and all those who are in authority.” We can gain a greater appreciation for this directive if we stop to consider the letter of 1 Timothy in the context of the political climate of that era.
You see, the Roman Emperor Nero served as head of state during this period. He initiated what has come to be known as “The Neronian Persecutions,” the first large scale governmental action against the first-century Christian community. We can trace the origin of these persecutions back to a specific date. That date was July 19th, A.D. 64, the day when a devastating fire first broke out within the city of Rome.
Ancient historians tell us that this fire destroyed large sections of the city over an extended period. While no one has ever been able to accurately determine the cause of this fire, some apparently believed that Nero had a role to play as part of a misguided attempt to initiate a large building program he had been planning.
Whatever the cause, the Great Fire Of Rome placed Nero in a politically difficult position. The Emperor responded by shifting responsibility for the fire to Jesus’ followers within the Roman Empire. In claiming that the Christian church had been responsible for this disaster, the Emperor effectively turned the general population against a minority group that was virtually defenseless.
The resulting persecutions were so horrific that one source says of Nero, “So prodigious a monster of nature of was he (more like a beast, yea, rather a devil than a man) that he seemed to be born to the destruction of man.” (1) Although the letter of 1 Timothy likely predates the Neronian Persecutions by a few years, this teaching from 1 Timothy 2:2 had undoubtedly begun to circulate among the members of the church by that time.
Therefore, the command to pray for kings and all who are in authority tells us that we should pray on behalf of bad governmental leaders as well as those who are good. Regardless of whether or not such leaders are favorably disposed to Christianity, the desired result remains the same: “…that we may live a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (AMP).
(1) John Foxe, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, First Ambassador Edition 2005 All Rights Reserved.