by Roger McCay
25 July 2021
Sermon Passage: Revelation 4:6-11
Link to Audio Version
Nero Claudius Caesar was set up for failure early on. From the time of Augustus, emperors were proclaimed as deities in Rome, and the emperor cult had made its way through the empire. As a child, Nero was encouraged and convinced by his tutor, Seneca, that he would become “the very revelation of the divine Augustus and of the god Apollo.” Later, once he was crowned emperor, Nero was proclaimed a god, over time compared with Apollo and Jupiter. The senate raised a huge statue of him the size of Mars’ image in Mars’ own temple (about 110 to 120 feet tall). He was deified by the Greeks as “Zeus, Our Liberator.” At Ephesus, there are inscriptions declaring him as “Almighty God” and “Savior.” At Salamis, Cyprus he is hailed as “God and Savior.” And his image was printed upon various coins in the realm emphasizing his deity.
Dio Cassius, the Roman Historian, records several incidents concerning worship of Nero in the empire, including one case where a Roman Senator was executed for refusing to worship him. Another incident the historian relates is particularly disturbing. In AD 66, around the time of John’s writing Revelation, Tiridates, the King of Armenia, came to Nero to show his devout worship. Dio Cassius writes,
Indeed, the proceedings of the conference were not limited to mere conversations, but a lofty platform had been erected on which were set images of Nero, and in the presence of the Armenians, Parthians, and Romans Tiridates approached and paid them reverence; then, after sacrificing to them and calling them by laudatory names, he took off the diadem from his head and set it upon them.
Continuing the account, Dio Cassius says,
Tiridates publicly fell before Nero seated upon the rostra in the Forum: “Master, I am the descendant of Arsaces, brother of the kings Vologaesus and Pacorus, and thy slave. And I have come to thee, my god, to worship thee as I do Mithras. The destiny thou spinnest for me shall be mine; for thou art my Fortune and my Fate.”
At odds with such worshipful professions was Nero’s character. He was a cruel tyrant, and a monstrous madman well-known for his evil. Kenneth Gentry gives some examples:
He killed his own mother, brother, aunt, and wife – as well as many prominent citizens of Rome. He was known to tie slaves to stakes, dress in a lion skin, and attack and molest them. He was feared and hated by his own people. A perusal of the ancient literature demonstrates that Nero “was of a cruel and unrestrained brutality. … In the first century, Apollonius of Tyana even calls Nero a “beast.”
In AD 68, only two years after Tiridates worshipped this beast, Nero committed suicide. So much for that god. He was proved unworthy.
Now, while Nero was uniquely him, there are all sorts of people and things that draw the worship of the masses, tempting even Christians. Idols are all around us, seeking our devotion. But whatever the idols of our day that hunger for our worship, they are not worthy. They cannot be worthy. There is only one who is worthy: the triune Lord God Almighty, Yahweh; the one who reveals himself through his creation and by his Word and Spirit. Who or what can compare to him? The worship of anyone or anything else is ludicrous and foolish. Like the worship of Nero, it is an abomination, robbing the Lord God of worship that belongs to him alone.
But why is the Lord God alone worthy of worship? The Bible tells us through and through. Our meditations on his Word through God’s Spirit reveal the answer to us. In our faith, we come to grasp the truth, knowing there is so much more reason, all which we cannot grasp even after a lifetime of following Jesus. Yet the triune God, the Lord, condescends to give us some clear, distinct reasons, which can only be applied to him and are found in our passage today. He is holy, eternal, all-powerful, the creator of all things, and Lord of all things, who sovereignly reigns on his throne over all things, in glory.
Last week we looked at the description of the throne-room of God with God’s glory and presence (full of thunder and lightning and brilliant lights across the spectrum of the rainbow, surrounding the throne) then at the 24 elders, the heavenly court of God, who sit on thrones around the throne of God.