Deeds of God
95 A.D. : The Apostle John Provides Entertainment In Rome?
95 A.D.: The ‘Apostle Whom Jesus Loved’ Entertains At the Roman Coliseum Or nearby….?
First, here from the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks. He is among the Apostles after His crucifixion and then resurrection from the dead but before His final ascension. He is speaking to Peter about the man called ‘the disciple that Jesus loved’ who is John of Revelation according to most. It is from John Chapter 21:20-23. Jesus has just finished telling His Apostle Peter what sort of death Peter was destined to experience in His service at some future date.
“So Peter turned around and saw the disciple Jesus loved following them. That disciple was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and asked, “Lord, who is the one that is going to betray You?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord – what about him?”
“If I want him to to remain until I come,” Jesus answered, “what is that to you?”
“So, this report spread to the brothers that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not tell him that he would not die, but, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?” End Quote
Now let’s speak about Domitian, or at least begin to get there. As the second Roman Emperor who greatly persecuted Christians, Domition had a tough act to follow: Nero! The first severe Roman persecutor. A Bust of Roman Emperor Nero, who was Emperor for the first large scale persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire. Paul and Peter ended their earthly lives under his reign, likely at his command.
Nero was about as crazed of an emperor as Rome would ever know. And he caused much grief to the Christians, blaming a large fire in the city of Rome on them for one thing, though some say Nero had the fire started himself in order to clear off the land for some buildings he had in mind to construct. He did indeed clear off part of the burned land to build a palatial complex named the Domus Aurea. And as mentioned Nero is called – by some sources – the first Emperor to persecute Christians. He had them thrown to the dogs, at times. He even used Christians as human torches. He would sometimes order captured Christians to be covered with flammable material, crucified, and then be lit on fire to provide light in his garden at night. It was also under Nero that the war against the Jews was begun which eventually ended in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Nero even had a 30 meter tall statue of himself erected; it was known as the Collossus of Nero.
This notoriously corrupted and imbalanced Nero eventually killed himself in A.D. 68 at age 31 because he had become so very very unpopular with even his own subjects that there were open calls to execute him. The Roman Senate had him declared a public enemy, in fact. Nero’s death led to a short period of extreme political turmoil in the Roman Empire. First was the Year of the 4 Emperors. Roman General Vespasian was called back from the Holy Land wars against the Jews then to become Emperor and provide some stability. He ruled as Emperor until A.D. 79, when he died. Vespasian’s son Titus ruled then as Emperor until his premature death in 82 A.D. just a couple of years later. After Titus, Vespasius’ next oldest son, Domition, ruled as Emperor for an especially long tenure of 15 years. But…even given that his reign was long and somewhat stable compared to its predecessors…it can still be said that Domition, A.D. 81 to A.D. 96, was no slacker in the ‘crazy emperor’ category from a Christian perspective. He was miserably hard on Christians!!
He soon enough had himself declared a ‘god’ and demanded to be treated as such in various ways. And he was a somewhat paranoid ‘king’. So, when he became aware that the Christians, who were performing so many amazing miracles within the boundaries of the Roman Empire, were looking forward to the return of their great King he did what he could to keep that ‘great King’ from wrecking his own reign. He began a persecution against Christians throughout the Empire and killed a great many. In particular Domition sought relatives and close associates of Jesus to execute. For instance, according to some church traditions he found relatives of Jude, Jesus’ brother, and had them killed. In time he also heard that John – a close and well loved disciple of Jesus – was in Ephesus working with a church there. (This was the John who was destined to receive the vision recounted in the Book of Revelation.)
This event that I will now recount is not found in the Bible, but a church writer named Tertullian makes mention of it in the 36th chapter of a book that he authored called “The Prescription of the Heretics”. John Foxe in the 1583 edition of his ‘Book of Martyrs’ also mentions it, in the early church martyrs section. And early church father Jerome made reference to Tertullian saying it. So, according to certain of these just mentioned early church writers, and early church traditions, Domition had John seized and brought to him, and proposed to make a spectacle of him in the Collliseum as he murdered (or executed) John for his Christian related crimes. Other sources say this event occurred at what is called the Latin Gate, and not in the Colliseum. Those sources agree, however, that the crowd that saw what happened demanded that John be released when it became obvious that he was unharmed.
Emperor Domition decided to have a vat of oil heated up to boiling (actually, you heat oil up until it begins to ‘smoke’. If you get it much hotter, the vapors can ignite, and the surface of the oil catches fire) and then Domitian had John plunged into this hot vat of oil in front of the Colliseum or Latin Gate crowd. Christian persecution was quite a crowd pleaser back in those days of the not yet very converted Roman Empire, and Christians met many grisly ends within the Colliseum and in other various empire locations to entertain the on looking Roman spectators. Christians were painted as cannabalistic villains and disrespecters of the various Roman gods, among other villainies. We do not know which type of oil they boiled him in, but I looked into the properties of several types of oils. According to a Yahoo answers posting the different oils boil at quite varying temperatures. Safflower oil boils at 510 deg F., Peanut oil at about 440 deg F, and Olive oil at about 375 deg F. Water, as we know, boils at 212 deg F at sea level, so John could conceivably have been submerged in oil that was at twice the temperature of boiling water if it was a vegetable type oil that was used. But, when introduced into the boiling vat of oil John did not react as expected to the torturous heat. He was preaching as he was introduced to the oil and some sources say that as the crowd watched to see him begin screaming and struggling he instead went on preaching about Jesus. And as the seconds became more seconds and I suppose minutes it became clear that John was not in agony….or pain….or discomfort. He just preached.
And though there is not much surviving written detail about this event (that I have so far found) it is none the less claimed that, of those who were among the crowd of spectators in the Colliseum or the Latin Gate that day, many converted to Christianity because of what they saw.
***A chapel named ‘San Giovanni in Oleo’ still stands in Rome to commemorate the event. The gate you see behind it is the Latin Gate. Whether the attempted boiling of John in oil occurred at the Latin Gate or the Colliseum is hard to determine. The chapel standing today is not so ancient, but is definately at the Latin Gate. Yet it is unlikely that a chapel could have been built within the Colliseum, had this incident occurred there, though perhaps it could have been built just outside. ***
As for John, he was removed unharmed from the oil at some point, and Domition’s plan ‘B’ was to have John sent to the isle of Pathmos to work at hard labor. It was there that John eventually was given the vision that we know from the Book of Revelation. It is the great prophetic end times book that Christians have puzzled over for these many centuries. It is also different than other Bible books in that it specifically states that it offers a blessing to whichever churches read it aloud together.
A later Roman Emperor pardoned John and so he was allowed to leave Pathmos and return to work at the church of Ephesus. John is said by some sources to be the only Apostle of Jesus’ that experienced a natural death….the only who was not martyred. It is said that the John who received the vision of Revelation from Jesus died at an old age – some say 94 years old, and some say 99 years old, near the end of the first century A.D. His tomb is said to lie in a town named Selcuk near Ephesus. (There are some writings, though, that say that he was martyred, at the end of his long life, but they appear to be the minority.)
Tradition says that earlier on in his life John took care of Mary, Jesus mother, as Jesus had asked him to, living with her on the island of Cyprus until her death, and the Eastern Orthodox church believes that John, Mary the Mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene all died there on Cyprus. Catholic tradition differs. It has Mary Magdalene dying in a Christian community in France to which she traveled prior to her death. I have not researched these conflicting claims yet, and it appears that learning exactly what happened would be quite difficult, so ….?? Who knows?
But, it appears that Jesus had plans for the John that was placed into a vat of boiling oil, and when God decides that you will not die, then you simply will not die! Strong food for thought….since we are told that those who repent of their sins, ask Jesus to be their Lord, become baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and then follow Jesus’ teachings, telling others the good news of the Gospel as they go….we are told and believe that those of us who can manage to complete that task successfully shall never die! And if God says you won’t die…….well, you just will not, as John and Daniel, and Daniel’s three friends, and others have shown us from the pages of the Bible, and from the annals of history!