the Roman Empire & the NT (3)

By the first century, an important set of theological ideas was at work that expressed and legitimated Rome’s empire and power.

  • The gods have chosen Rome.
  • Rome and its emperor are agents of the gods’ rule, will, and presence among human beings.
  • Rome manifests the gods’ blessings – security, peace, justice, faithfulness, fertility – among those that submit to Rome’s rule.

Rome and its elite allies in the empire’s provinces actively promoted these claims. They expressed their understanding that Rome’s dominating place in the world was the will of the gods. …

[However], despite claims of “eternal Rome” that will rule its empire forever, the cross [of Christ] reveals the limits of Roman power. Rome cannot keep Jesus dead. God gives “life to the dead” (Rom. 4:17). Jesus’ resurrection anticipates the destruction of the ruling powers (1 Cor. 2:8), the general resurrection, and the establishment of God’s empire over all (1 Cor. 15:20-28). God will end this unjust and idolatrous imperial system at the final “coming” of Jesus (1 Thes. 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 1 Cor. 15:23). Paul again takes an imperial term, parousia, which commonly referred to the arrival of an imperial official, general, or emperor …, and applies it to Jesus and the establishment of God’s purposes.

Paul identifies “the Lord Jesus Christ,” who will come from heaven to accomplish these purposes, as the “savior” (Phil. 3:20). Again he uses a term “savior” (soter) that was widely used for the emperor … By using it for Jesus, Paul indicates that he does not think Rome and its emperors have saved the world from anything. Rome’s claim to have brought security and safety, to have affected deliverance from danger (soteria), is false. Rather, God saves the world from Rome and its false claims. At Jesus’ coming, in a vision that imitates imperial triumphs, “every ruler and every authority and power” are destroyed; “all his enemies” are put “under his feet” and subjected to God’s reign (1 Cor. 15:23-28; Phil. 2:5-11).

The Roman Empire and the New Testament: An Essential Guide by Warren Carter (Abingdon Press, 2006), pp.83,88-89