• Profiles in Missions Comments Off on DEMAS: Lover of this Present World

    By Gordon Franz

    Our society tends to blame adverse behavior on our environment, or on circumstances and events around us, but we seldom, if ever, take personal responsibility for our own actions.  One of the most haunting passages of Scripture in Paul’s epistles, and one that probably caused him to weep over as he wrote, is found in II Tim. 4:10: “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica.”

    The apostle Paul was a “people person.”  He ministered to people, he trained people, he prayed for people.  When one of those people, whom he had poured his life into, deserted him, he must have felt devastated and alone.  This seems to be reflected in the next verse when he wrote, “Only Luke is with me” (4:11).  Let us examine the life of Demas and see what lessons we can learn from his failure.

    His Hometown
    The Scriptures do not explicitly state where Demas was from.  Some have inferred from the desertion passage that his departure to Thessalonica implies that he was returning to his hometown.  If that is the case, he was originally from Thessalonica.

    In the excavations at Thessaloniki, inscriptions were discovered with the names of the politarchs of the city on them (the “rulers of the city” in Acts 17:6, 8).  Two different inscriptions had the name Demetrius on them.  W. F. Boyd tries to make an association with Demas and one of the two politarchs named Demetrius found on inscriptions.  He admits it is not a certainty, but he thinks it is a possibility (1916: 1: 286, 287).

    If Demas is from Thessaloniki, it would be interesting to compare his life with that of Aristarchus.  Both of these men were from Thessaloniki, both may have been from the aristocracy and probably had some wealth, both were trained by the Apostle Paul, yet both men went in different spiritual directions.  Why?  It is not because of environment, circumstances, or even teaching: it’s because the individual chose to go in the spiritual direction that he wanted and would bear the consequence of his decision.

    His Spiritual Activities
    Demas first appears in the Bible when he was in Rome during the Apostle Paul’s first imprisonment (AD 60-62).  Paul is under house arrest in his rented house and is allowed visitors (Acts 28:30, 31).  In the last chapter of the Book of Colossians there are at least eight believers with Paul at this time who are known by the saints in the Lycus Valley where Colossae is located.  Six of them send their greetings to the churches in the valley (Col. 4:10-14), five of them will send their personal greetings to Philemon at Colossae as well (Philemon 23, 24).  Justus, apparently was not known by Philemon.  Two other brothers, Tychicus and Onesimus, will take the letters back to the valley (Col. 4:7-9).
    The two lists of greetings provide small details about Demas.  In Colossians, he is listed with Dr. Luke and Epaphras (4:12-14), where they are set in contrast with the three Jewish believers, Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus – called Justus, mentioned previously (4:10, 11).  This passage seems to indicate that Demas was a Gentile.

    In the greetings to Philemon, Demas is included in the statement that he is a fellow laborer with Paul (Philemon 24).  The word “fellow-laborer” (sunergos) has the idea of a co-worker.  W. D. Thomas pointed out that the “word implies that two people are working closely together as partners, sharing work and responsibility.  There is even the suggestion of equality in the word co-worker.”  He goes on to say that Demas was a “close confidant of Paul, sharing the Apostle’s vision of winning the world for God” (1983-84: 179).  Apparently Demas was a visiting missionary to the Lycus Valley at one time because they knew him, thus his greetings to them.  He was not a local brother like Epaphras (4:12).  As for the timing of his visit to the Lycus Valley, the Scriptures are silent.

    His Forsaking of Paul
    The Apostle Paul wrote that Demas “forsook him.”  (II Tim. 4:10).  The Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest states: “The Greek word ‘forsaken’ (egkataleipo) means ‘to abandon, desert, leave in straits, leave helpless, leave in the lurch, let one down’” (1966:2: 164).

    One noted preacher suggests that Demas “may not have been a true believer at all” (MacAuthur 1995:206).  A word of caution is in order at this point.  Demas was a fellow laborer with Paul and at a point in time, he forsook Paul.  We have no Scriptural record of what happened to Demas after he got to Thessalonica.  Perhaps he abandoned his love for this present world and started to love the appearing of Christ and began to set his affection on things above.
    Even if, in addition to forsaking Paul, he forsook the Lord, the Lord would remain faithful to him because He can not deny Himself because the promise of eternal life is for eternity and the Father and the Son held on to Demas (II Tim. 2:11-13; John 6:35-40, 47; 10:25-30).

    His Love for this Present World
    Paul does not tell us what aspect of the present world system Demas loved.  He does not say if it is fame, fortune, or the gratification of the flesh.  I believe the reason that the Apostle Paul does not tell us any details as to what Demas did “loving this present world” was two-fold.  First, he did not want to embarrass his fellow laborer any further, saying that he forsook Paul was bad enough.  But second, Demas’ life could be instructive to other believers and also serve as a warning to potential wayward believers.  When a Bible teacher expounds on the life of Demas, broad applications could be made to his love for this present world system, and not limit it to a single example, or sin.

    The Apostle John wrote to believers in Asia Minor: “Do not love the world or the things of the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world.  And the world is passing away, and the lust of it, but he who does the will of God abides forever” (I John 2:15-17).

    John uses the same word for “love” (agape) that Paul uses in II Tim. 4:10.  However, he uses a different Greek word for world.  In the epistle to Timothy, Paul uses “aiona” (the concept of “eons of time” comes from this word), while John uses “kosmos.”  Richard Trench, in his book Synonyms of the New Testament sees a subtle difference between these two words.  “Kosmos” is the “world contemplated under aspects of space” while “aiona” is the “same contemplated under aspects of time” (1973: 214).  The questions that should be raised from this distinction are: “Are believers in the Lord Jesus living for time, or eternity?”  And, “are Christians living for this world, or Thy Kingdom to come?”

    The Christian should view the “world” as often used in the New Testament, as a moral and spiritual system, in both time and space, which is designed to draw the believer in the Lord Jesus away from his or her love for the Lord and any service that might be rendered to Him (Gal 1:4; I Tim. 6:17; Tit. 2:12).

    This world system has only three allurements to draw the believer away from his or her love for the Lord.  First, there is the lust of the flesh, second, the lust of the eyes, and finally, the pride of life.  The first, the lust of the flesh, has to do with the gratification of the flesh (what makes me feel good physically).  Included within this allurement would be sexual sins, gluttony, drug use and drunkenness.  If it’s gluttony, perhaps he did not like the cheese-less pizza in Rome and wanted to devour the chicken gyros in Thessalonica!  The second category is the lust of the eyes (what possessions I want to make me happy).  These sins would be what we see and desire to have, but the object we want is not ours to have because it belongs to someone else.  This is known as covetousness.  The final category is pride of life (what I want to be).  This is the arrogance that one has when they boast about themselves, their accomplishments, or their possessions.  Whatever Demas’ love for the world was, it fell into at least one of these three categories.

    Interestingly, Adam and Eve were tempted to disobey the Lord God in the Garden of Eden by these same three tactics.  In the most perfect conditions humans ever lived, Satan came to Eve, disguised as a serpent,  and cast doubt on the Word of God (Gen. 3:1), and then he blatantly challenged the Word of God (3:4, 5).  So when Eve “saw that the tree was good for food (lust of the flesh), that it was pleasant to the eyes (lust of the eyes), and a tree desirable to make one wise (pride of life), she took of its fruit and ate.  She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate” (Gen. 3:6).

    On the other hand, the Lord Jesus, after He was baptized, was tested by the Devil in the most imperfect conditions for forty days (Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13).  In the Gospel of Luke, the Lord Jesus is presented as the Perfect Man, thus the Last Adam (I Cor. 15:45).  Luke records the genealogy of Mary where her line is traced all the way back to Adam (Luke 3:38).

    The first testing by Satan was to challenge the Lord Jesus to turn the stone into bread (Luke 4:2-4).  Here was the lust of the flesh, the desire to have physical food while He was fasting.  But, Jesus answered Satan from the Word of God saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.”  He was quoting Deut. 8:3.

    In the second testing, Satan takes the Lord Jesus to a high mountain and shows Him all the kingdom of the world and says they could all be the Lord’s if only He would bow down and worship Satan (Luke 4:5-8).  Satan tested Him with the lust of the eyes because there was the desire to see and covet that which was not His.  This world system was under the dominion of Satan (John 12:31; 14:30; II Cor. 4:4).  Yet again, Jesus quotes from the Word of God: “You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve” (Deut. 6:13; 10:20).

    The final testing, Satan takes the Lord Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple and says: “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here” and then he proceeds to misquote Psalm 91:11, 12.  Here was an attack on the deity of the Lord Jesus.  He was the Son of God.  Yet Satan was attacking with the “pride of life.”

    Interestingly, Jesus passed the same three tests, in the most imperfect conditions, that Adam and Eve failed, in the most perfect conditions in the Garden of Eden.  What was the secret of His victory?  First, Luke tells us that the Lord Jesus was filled with the Spirit (4:1, 14; see also Eph. 5:18).  Second, He knew and used the word of God against Satan each time He was tested (4:4, 8, 12; see also Eph. 6:17).  This should be an encouragement for every believer to be filled with the Spirit and to put on the whole armor of God, which includes the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph. 5:18-6:20).

    His Departure to Thessalonica
    Why Demas went to Thessalonica, and what he did there is not revealed in the Scriptures.  Hanson gives a tantalizing note in his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles.  He said: “A copyist in a manuscript preserved in the Medici Library in Florence adds in the margin the information that Demas became a priest of a pagan temple at Thessalonica.  On what authority he says this we do not know” (1966: 100).  If this footnote is true, the allurement that Demas fell for was the pride of life.

    “Golden-mouth” John Chrysostom, the eloquent preacher who lived about AD 400 suggests that “having loved his own ease and security from danger, he has chosen rather to live luxuriously at home, than to suffer hardships” apparently with Paul (quoted in Oden 1989:176).  If this is the case, the allurement that Demas fell for was the lust of the flesh because he wanted the easy life.

    W. F. Boyd conjectures: “In this case the prospect of civil honors may have been the reason which led him to abandon the hardships and dangers of the Apostle’s life and return to Thessalonica, where his family may have help positions of influence” (1916: 287).  If this is the case, the allurement that enticed Demas was again the pride of life.

    Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, in the first half of the 2nd century AD, wrote an epistle to the church at Philippi.  In the ninth chapter of his epistle, he listed some of the martyrs of the early church: Ignatius, Zosimus, Rufus, Paul and other apostles, and said that all these had not “run in vain” because they did not “love this present world” (Polycarp to the Philippians 9:1, 2; LCL I: 295).  Polycarp hints at the fact that he is referring to Demas when he lists the martyrs and said they did not love this present world.  The implication was that Demas did not want to be a martyr so he abandoned Paul in Rome just before he was executed.  If this is the case, the allurement that enticed Demas was the pride of life.  He valued his earthy life more than receiving the crown of life (James 1:12; Rev. 2:10).

    What Would Jesus Say about Demas?
    Jesus gives a series of parables during the fall of AD 28 from a boat in a cove of the Sea of Galilee.  While speaking to the multitude that is seated in the natural amphitheater to the west of Capernaum, He spots a farmer sowing seeds on the hillside.  He says, “Let me tell you about the four different types of soil that the seed is falling onto.  The first soil was actually the road that runs along the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Here, the birds of the air ate the seeds.  The second soil was the stony ground.  The seeds spouted for a short while until the heat of the sun scorched the plant and it withered away.  The third soil that the seeds fell on was the thorny ground.  Here the thorns eventually choked the plants.  The final soil that the seeds fell on was good soil and the plants produced 30, 60 and 100 fold” (Matt. 13:3-9; Mark 4:1-8; Luke 8:4-8).  Later, when Jesus interpreted this parable to His disciples, He said of the second soil, that when tribulation and persecution came, the believer would stumble.  Of the third soil, He said that because of the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches, the word of God is choked in the life of the believer and he becomes unfruitful (Matt. 13:18-23; Mark 4:13-20; Luke 8:11-15; for a full discussion of the Parable of the Four Soils, see Quick 1977).  Demas “loving this present world” would fall in either the second or third soils.  This was not the normal Christian life, but rather, the sub-normal Christian Life.  The fourth soil was the normal Christian life, producing fruit in the life of the believer.

    His Place at the Judgment Seat of Christ
    All believers in the Lord Jesus and only believers in the Lord Jesus will be at the Judgment Seat of Christ (II Cor. 5:10).  The unbeliever will appear at the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15).  These two judgments are separated by 1,007 years.  At the Judgment Seat of Christ, the believers works are made manifest (I Cor. 3:12-15).  Sin is not the question at this judgment because the Lord Jesus paid for all our sins on Calvary’s cross.

    In the context of Paul’s statement of Demas abandoning him, Paul declares his impending martyrdom (II Tim. 4:6-8).  Paul contrasts his, and others, who love the appearing of the Lord Jesus and will eventually receive the crown of righteousness, with Demas who was living for this present world and not looking for the appearing of the Lord Jesus.  Demas will be at the Judgment Seat of Christ, but when his works are manifested, they will be like wood, hay and straw and will be burned up and he suffers loss, yet Paul says he will be saved, yet through the fire (I Cor. 3:12, 15).  The Apostle John would describe him as being ashamed at the coming of the Lord Jesus (I John 2:28).  Earlier in Paul’s epistle to Timothy he says of those believers who deny the Lord, that they will be denied the privilege of reigning with Christ for 1,000 years (II Tim. 2:11-13, for a full discussion of this passage, see McCoy 1988).

    Demas was with Paul when he wrote the epistle to the church at Colossae (Col. 4:14).  He should have recalled the words that Paul penned when he wrote: “If (or, since) then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.  For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:1-4).  The promise and hope of the Lord’s return should be a purifying hope (cf. I John 3:3).  In fact, Paul goes on to say, “Therefore, put to death your members” (Col. 3:4) and then lists various sins that would fit into the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” categories.

    Believers in the Lord Jesus should not emulate the life of Demas.  Yet there are at least three things we can learn from the life of this wayward believer.

    First, we should have an eternal perspective on life and not love this present world system that is out to trip us up and draw us away from our love for the Lord and His Word.  This world system is passing away, so this should encourage us to live for the Kingdom to come and eternal rewards.

    The second thing we can learn from Demas is that no Christian is immune from loving this present world and leaving the Lord’s work and the Lord’s people.  Paul wrote and admonished the Corinthian believers: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Cor. 10:12).  The allurement of this world falls into three categories: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.  The Lord Jesus was tested the same way, yet He passed the tests with flying colors because He was filled with the Spirit and used the Word of God when Satan attacked.  Paul went on to tell the Corinthian believers: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way to escape, that you may be able to bear it” (I Cor. 10:13).  We should be looking for that escape hatch when temptation comes.  Believers should also realize that the grace of God teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lust, and that we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world (Tit. 2:12).

    The third lesson we can learn from the life of Demas is that the hope of the Lord’s return should change the way we live now.  If Demas continued in his love for the world, he would eventually be ashamed at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ because he would stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ and his works would be made manifest.  At this point, he would have his new, sin-free body, and would say to himself: “Why did I waste my life?  I was living for time, but not eternity, living for this world and not the Kingdom to come!”  On the other hand, if Demas had lived in light of the return of Christ, this would have provided a purifying hope for him because he knew that one day he would be just like the Lord Jesus.  He would begin to live now in light of eternity, and for rewards in the Kingdom to come (I John 2:28-3:3).  As the little ditty goes: “Only one life, so soon shall past, only what’s done for Christ shall last.”  We are to live in light of the Judgment Seat of Christ and let this sobering truth change the way we live today.


    Boyd, W. F.
    1916    Demas.  Pp. 286, 287 in Dictionary of the Apostolic Church.  Vol. 1.  J. Hastins, ed.  New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

    Hanson, Anthony
    1966    The Pastoral Letters.  Cambridge: At the University.

    Hiebert, D. Edmond
    1992    In Paul’s Shadows.  Friends and Foes of the Great Apostle.  Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University.

    MacArthur, John
    1995    The MacArthur New Testament Commentary.  2 Timothy.  Chicago: Moody.

    McCoy, Brad
    1988    Secure Yet Scrutinized.  2 Timothy 2:11-13.  Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 1/1.

    Oden, Thomas
    1989    First and Second Timothy and Titus.  Interpretation.  Louisville, KY: John Knox.

    1912    The Epistle to the Philippians of Saint Polycarp.  Pp. 282-301 in Apostolic Fathers.  Vol. 1.  Trans. by K. Lake.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.  Loeb Classical Library 24.  Reprinted 1985.

    Quick, Kenneth
    1977    An Exegetical and Soteriological Examination of the Parable of the Four Soils.  Unpublished Master of Theology thesis.  Dallas Theological Seminary.

    Thomas, W. D.
    1983-1984    Demas the Deserter.  Expository Times 95: 179-180.

    Trench, Richard
    1973    Synonyms of the New Testament.  Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.

    Wuest, Kenneth
    1966    Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament.  Vol. 2.  Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.


    By Gordon Franz

    In 1987, I was participating in the “Who is the Pharaoh of the Exodus?” conference in Memphis, TN.  During one of our lunch breaks, a group of us, who were alumni of the Institute of Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem, went to a local eatery.  Sitting opposite me was Bishop Mesrob Mutafyan, a bishop of the Armenian Church in Istanbul, Turkey.  (He has since been elevated to one of five Patriarchs in the Armenian Church).  During our conversation, the subject of liturgy and creeds came up.  Since I was from a non-liturgical church I asked him why they repeated the liturgy and creeds over and over again.  His answer was very helpful.  He said that historically, many people in the churches had never learned to read.  When they repeated the liturgy (which is mostly Scripture verses) over and over again, it helped them memorize the Word of God.  By repeating the creeds, the participants became grounded in the doctrinal truths of their faith.

    One creed that the Western Church recites is the so-called Apostle’s Creed.  While it was not composed by the early apostles, one church historian described it as “by far the best popular summary of the Christian faith ever made within so brief a space,” and went on to say “It is not a word of God to men, but a word of men to God, in response to His revelation” (Schaff 1990:1:15, 16).  It is solid theology in a concise creed.  I believe that Romans 1:3-4 was one of the original creeds concerning the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Literary Structure
    The creed in Romans 1:3-4 is composed of two lines with three clauses in each line and a summary statement at the end.  It was formulated by either the Apostolic Church in Jerusalem, or by the great Hebraic minds of the apostle’s Peter (cf. Matt. 16:16) or Paul, based on the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures (Romans 1:2).

    “Concerning His Son:
    A. Who was born
    B. of the seed of David
    C. according to the flesh,
    A’. and declared
    B’. to be the Son of God (with power)
    C’. according to the Spirit of holiness, (by the resurrection from the
    Jesus Christ our Lord.”

    In the literary structure of this creed, the central thought of each line is the Person of the Lord Jesus in His role as the “Seed of David” (His humanity) and the “Son of God” (His deity).  In order to appreciate these two roles, we must understand the world of the First Century church in Rome, the church that Paul addressed in this letter.  They, more than any other church in the Roman Empire, would understand the imperial cult and emperor worship and the sharp contrast Paul was making in these verses between the Lord Jesus and all the Roman emperors.

    The “son of God” in the First Century Roman World
    On March 14, 44 BC the tyrannical dictator, Julius Caesar was assassinated by a group of men, lead by Brutus and Cassius, who identified themselves as the “liberators.”  Brutus commemorated this event by issuing a coin with a liberty cap, flanked by two daggers and the Latin words EID MAR [“Eids of March”] (Vagi 1999:2:198, coin 95).  After Caesar’s death, the Roman senate “voted to give Caesar divine honors” (Plutarch, Caesar 67:4; LCL 7:603; see also Suetonius, Deified Julius 88; LCL 1:119).  In other words, they added him to the Roman pantheon as a god!  This was the first time in Roman history that a mortal was deified.  This Roman Senate decision would significantly affect the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ in the years to come.

    Plutarch, a Greek writer who wrote a series of books about the lives of famous Greek and Roman personalities, recounted events of “divine ordering” (his words) surrounding the death of Julius Caesar.  Among other things, he states there was a “great comet, which showed itself in great splendor for seven nights after Caesar’s murder” (Caesar 69:3; LCL 7:605-607).  This was interpreted as a sign that Julius Caesar was taken up to the heavens to join the Roman gods.  His adopted son, Octavian, minted coins with the comet on it and the Latin words DIVVS IVLIVS [“divine Julius”]! (Kreitzer 1990:213; Vagi 1999:2:221, coin 278).
    Octavian (reigned from 27 BC to AD 14), the grand-nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar, and known to us from the New Testament as Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1), minted coins with the title DIVI F [“son of God”] on them in Latin (Vagi 1999:2:217-231).  He considered himself the son of the divine Julius Caesar.  Some consider that Caesar Augustus was Satan’s puppet and counterfeit “messiah” to distract people from the real Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Suetonius (AD 75-140), a Roman historian, reports that after Augustus died and was cremated, an ex-praetor took an oath that he had seen the form of the Emperor on his way to heaven (Deified Augustus 100:4; LCL 1:283-285).
    The next emperor was Tiberius (reigned from AD 14-37).  He was the son of Livia, the stepson, son-in-law and heir of Augustus.  Thus began the Julian dynasty.  People married so they were somehow related to by blood or adoption to Augustus and thus by adoption to Julius Caesar, and would consider themselves the “seed of Julius.’  When Tiberius died, however, he was not deified by the Roman Senate.
    Caligula (reigned from AD 37-41), the adopted grandson and heir of Tiberius, could not wait to die so he deified himself.  He ordered statues of himself placed in temples, shrines and synagogues so people could worship him.  After he was assassinated, the Roman Senate cursed him and had his name erased from all inscriptions and his statues smashed.

    Claudius (reigned from AD 41-54) was the grandson of Livia (wife of Octavian), Mark Antony and Octavia (grand niece of Julius Caesar).  He was the nephew of Tiberius and the granduncle and adoptive father of Nero.  Claudius was also an uncle of Emperor Caligula and was made emperor by the Praetorian guards after Caligula was assassinated.  He had physical disabilities, but was an effective administrator, however brutal at times.  Suetonius states that after Claudius died, he was “buried with regal pomp and enrolled among the gods, an honor neglected and finally annulled by Nero, but later restored to him by Vespasian (Deified Claudius 45: LCL 2:81).  Seneca (4 BC – AD 65), on the other hand, wrote a religio-political satire that dripped with sarcasm, entitled Pumpkinfication.  (LCL 15:437-483).  The title of this book was a slam on emperor worship.  The word “pumpkinfication” was chosen instead of deification.  In Seneca’s satire, Claudius is considered a pumpkin instead of a god!

    Permit me to use my sanctified imagination for a minute.  I would like to think the book made the International Herald Tribune best seller list for AD 55 when it was published.  Perhaps it was a hot item in the bookstores of the Roman colony of Corinth when the Apostle Paul was there in the winter of AD 57-58.  Since he wanted to improve his Latin before he went to Rome, he bought a copy of the book and read it in order to get a sense of the imperial cult.  When he penned the letter to the church in Rome, he began with the creed concerning God’s Son: “Born of the Seed of David according to the flesh, declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.”  What a contrast to the recently deified Emperor Claudius!

    Nero (reigned from AD 54-68), the adopted son of Claudius, and some say his natural born son (Burns 1996: 6-11), was not deified by the Roman Senate when he died, but in fact, was cursed by them.  Following his death there was civil war which saw three emperors in quick succession: Galba, Otho and Vitellius (from June AD 68 to December AD 69), until General Vespasian was hailed emperor by the Senate.

    Emperor Vespasian (reigned from AD 69-79) was born a common man and not related by blood or adoption to the Julio-Claudian dynasty.  In other words, he was not of the “seed of Julius”!  He came to realize that emperor worship and the imperial cult was a scam.  Suetonius reports that Vespasian “did not cease his jokes even when in apprehension of death and in extreme danger; for when among other portents … a comet appeared in the heavens, he declared that [the comet was an omen about] the king of the Parthians, who wore his hair long, whereas I am bald.”  When he finally realized his number was up, he said: “Woe’s me.  Me think I am turning into a god” (Vespasian 23:4; LCL 2:319; and also Dio Cassius, Roman History 66:3; LCL 8:295).  If he was going to become a god, what did he have to worry about?!

    After his death, he was cremated and his ashes put in an urn and the urn placed in the family mausoleum in Rome.  A coin was minted by his son Titus with Vespasian’s urn on the reverse side, flanked by two laurel branches (Mattingly and Sydenham 1926:123, coin 62; Vagi 1999:2:311, coin 958).  This coin might have been Vespasian’s last joke from the grave.  Whereas there was a posthumous coin of Julius Caesar being taken to heaven on a comet to join the gods, Vespasian knew he would be relegated to ashes in an urn!  The Roman Senate, however, did deify him.

    Vespasian’s two sons, Titus (reigned from AD 79-81) and Domitian (reigned from AD 81-96), were very much into the imperial cult.  When Titus died, his brother Domitian constructed an arch in his brother’s honor that commemorated the victory of the Romans over the Jewish people and the destruction of Herod’s Temple.  The tops of each side of the arch contained the inscription: F. DIVI [“the son of the god”].  In the center of the interior of the arch, Titus is on the back of an eagle being taken to heaven (Kreitzer 1990: 210).  When Domitian became emperor, he, like Caligula, could not wait to die in order to become a god, so he deified himself in AD 86.  And Domitian, like Caligula, was cursed by the Roman Senate after he died.  The Emperor worship of Domitian is the background to the book of Revelation (Franz 2006:73-87).

    By sharp contrast, Paul writes that the Lord Jesus was “born of the Seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.”  It was the covenant promise of God to David and the bodily resurrection that set Him apart from all the Roman emperors.
    One other aspect of the Person of Christ that set Him apart from the Roman emperors is bringing peace with God to the individual.  Some of the emperors could boast that they brought peace to the Roman world “on land and sea”, but one thing they lacked was the ability to bring peace to the hearts of men and women.  That, only God manifest in the flesh – the Lord Jesus, could do.  Later in the epistle to the Romans, Paul wrote: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1).

    The bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated that the payment for sins on Calvary’s cross had been paid in full and accepted by God the Father.  It also demonstrated that Satan had been defeated and death vanquished.  When people put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior, they are justified, or declared righteous, by a Holy God.  Have you trusted the Lord Jesus as your Savior?


    Burns, Jasper
    1996    Was Nero the Natural Son of Claudius?  The Celator 10/12: 6-11.

    Dio Cassius
    1995    Roman History.  Books 61-70.  Vol. 8.  Trans. by E. Cary.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.  Loeb Classical Library 176.

    Franz, Gordon
    2006    Propaganda, Power and the Perversion of Biblical Truths: Coins Illustrating the Book of Revelation.  Bible and Spade 19/3: 73-87.

    Kreitzer, Larry
    1990    Apotheosis of the Roman Emperor.  Biblical Archaeologist 53/4: 210-217.

    Mattingly, Harold; and Sydenham, Edward
    1926    The Roman Imperial Coinage.  Vespasian to Hadrian.  Vol. 2.  London: Spink and Sons.  Reprinted 1997.

    1994    Lives. Alexander and Caesar.  Vol. 7.  Trans. by B. Perrin.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.  Loeb Classical Library 99.

    Schaff, Philip
    1990    The Creeds of Christendom with a History and Critical Notes.  Vol. 1.  Sixth edition.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.  Reprint of 1931 edition.

    1997    Apocolocyntosis.  Pp. 432-483.  Trans. by W. H. D. House.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.  Loeb Classical Library 15.

    1989    Lives of the Caesars.  Vol. 1.  Trans. by J. C. Rolfe.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.  Loeb Classical Library 31.

    1992    Lives of the Caesars.  Vol. 2.  Trans. by J. C. Rolfe.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.  Loeb Classical Library 38.

    Vagi, David
    1999    Coinage and History of the Roman Empire.  2 vols.  Sidney, OH: Coin World.


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