Christianity was born in the Roman Empire. The book of Acts tells about how the message of Christ spread throughout the Roman world by way, not only of missionary journeys, but also by word of mouth from people whose lives had been transformed by the gospel.
The message of Christ spread quickly, and the number of those who believed grew to a size that caught Rome’s attention. Early on, the Roman Empire regarded Christianity as a sect of Judaism, which explains why Rome tended to treat conflicts between Jews and Christians in Acts as internal matters (Acts 18:12-17).
Early Christians did not oppose Roman authority. Jesus taught His followers to pay their taxes (Mark 12:17). Paul and the other apostles taught that Christians should honor the government so long as Roman authorities didn’t forbid them from following Christ (1 Tim. 2:1-2, 1 Pet. 2:17). Because of this, early Roman persecution of Christians was more the exception than the rule.
There were, however, a few notable tumultuous periods. For example, shortly after Jesus’ birth, Herod the Great, in his zeal to kill the one born “King of the Jews,” slaughtered all Hebrew male children under age two (Matt. 2:13-16). Later, in 64 AD, Emperor Nero blamed the great fire of Rome on Christians. It may have been during Nero’s persecution when both Paul and Peter lost their lives.
Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire and, according to Romans 15:28, a Christian church existed in the city of Rome itself as early as 50 AD—less than 20 years after the death and resurrection of Christ. It is fascinating to consider how the Roman occupation of Israel—something most Israelites viewed as an unfortunate hardship—would end up setting the table for the gospel to spread from Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria to the ends of the earth.