Daniel, the Disciple Jesus Loved, and the Great Fire of Rome

[Article tied to this piece: “The Roman-Jewish Wars, Part One: Nero Caesar and the Zealot Revolt, 54 AD – 73 AD”.]

The final two lines from Chapter 12 of the Book of Daniel reveal a man described as “the (blessed) one who waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days.” Daniel is informed of the miracles of ‘the Anointed One’ history would record to be Jesus beginning “On the twenty-fourth day of the first month” while “standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris” (Daniel 9). At this time, the all-important ‘70 weeks’ counting down to the destruction of Jerusalem’s Second Temple were prophesied to be fulfilled “When the power of the holy people has been finally broken” — 1,290 days “From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination that causes desolation is set up.”

Yet the real mystery for most scholars is identifying “the (blessed) one who waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days.” After Jesus explained to a curious Peter prior to the Last Supper that he was washing his disciples’ feet because “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one” (John 13:10), we are introduced to the individual who was ‘the disciple Jesus loved’, and the enigma behind his identity. Most importantly in John 19:26 near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene ― and nearby, ‘the disciple who he loved.” Jesus said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother,” and from that moment on, ‘this disciple’ ― ‘the disciple Jesus loved’ ― took her into his home, presumably to care for her the rest of her days.

A bewildered Peter, perhaps confused or even jealous after Jesus revealed his fate (presumably by crucifixion on orders of Nero Caesar as one of ‘the two lampstands’), asked about the end for ‘the disciple Jesus loved’, to which an angry Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”  And because of this, “the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die, even though Jesus did not say that he would or would not” (John 21:23).

The writings of John the Apostle in the Book of Revelation under the title ‘John of Patmos’ transpire over several decades: mostly as a historical account of the time leading to the destruction of the Second Temple and the Neronic persecution of the early Church, but also as the account of ‘Babylon the Great: Mother of Prostitutes and of the Abominations of the Earth’ in Revelation 17:5. According to John, “The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place,” was sent by his angel to him (John), “who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” We here learn John was identified in Daniel 12:12 because when comparing the two verses, John prefaced his testimony with “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” 

John the Apostle

Icon of John the Apostle.

In Chapter 24 of the Book of Matthew, a distraught Jesus walked away from the Second Temple. Only moments before recorded, the Son of Man had condemned “the teachers of the law and the Pharisees’ presiding over the landmark for their failure to listen to his warnings” and testifying “against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets,” before he dared them to “Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!” (Matthew 23:31-32) At that point, Jesus warned his disciples, “Do you see all these things?… Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2).

Prior to this, within his detailed (and disturbing) prophesies of the dark times ahead, Christ condemned the Sanhedrin to hell (“You snakes! You brood of vipers!”), while still pledging to send “prophets and sages and teachers” to Jerusalem ― the city whose children he’d often “longed to gather… together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings,” and yet remained willing ― acknowledging that “Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town” (Matthew 23:33-34). Reminding the Pharisees that, in their rejection of “all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar,” Jesus continued beseeching them to “Look” at how “your house is left to you desolate,” before warning they “will not see me again until (they) say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matthew 23:37-39).

All these things Jesus prophesied would “come on this generation” (Matthew 23:36) ― the last generation of the Second Temple: for a generation in the Bible lasts 40 years; and the Romans, on order of its commander, Titus, crushed the bloody Zealot Revolt inside the Old City in 70 AD before enslaving and exiling many of the surviving Jews.  


THE RISE OF NERO

Nero Caesar Bust

Bust of Nero at the Capitoline Museum, Rome

Nero Caesar, Roman emperor from 54-68 AD, was the last of the Julio-Claudians to reign. His 14-year reign is said to have represented everything decadent about the first century period in Roman history: self-indulgent, cruel, violent, as well as a cross-dressing homosexual exhibitionist whose lavish parties combined with his burning Rome itself. His vices exacerbated the economic chaos plaguing Roman citizens since the days of Tiberius (r. 14-37 AD), the emperor at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. 

Nero’s mother was the daughter of Agrippina the Elder and great-granddaughter of Augustus (her grandmother was his daughter Julia), while her youngest brother was the late emperor Caligula. Both women were starved to death, as well as Agrippina’s older brothers by the order of Tiberius, before Caligula’s reign violently ended when his own Praetorian Guard murdered him, allowing for her uncle Claudius (41-54 AD) to succeed to the imperial throne. After the death of her husband, Agrippina, like any lay gold-diggin black widow, set her sights on Claudius, whose third wife Messalina had been murdered on his orders for, among other reasons, adultery and attempted treason. After a short courtship, they married; and soon thereafter, Nero (at his mother’s insistence) was adopted in 50 AD, around the age of 12.

Claudius died in 54 AD likely after eating poisoned mushrooms ― a plate which Nero himself called the ‘food of the gods’. Fearful he might be passed over in favor of Britannicus (Claudius’s legitimate son), according to Suetonius, Nero considered poisoning him, “afraid that the common people might be less attached to Claudius’s adopted son than to his real one.” But Nero’s fears soon abated (at least, temporarily) upon being selected the new emperor in 54 AD. With his ascent to the imperial throne, his treacherous mother became the true power behind the imperial crown, but only temporarily: for he ordered her to be stabbed to death due to her manipulative influence.

The emperor’s reign drifted from one catastrophe to next. First, the Piso Conspiracy: an unsuccessful plot to kill Nero involving at least 19 senators as well as other leading citizens, resulted in the executions of 41 individuals, and contributed to Nero’s descent into paranoia. Next, there was the failed Boudicca rebellion in Britain and numerous other insurrections in many outlying provinces, including both Judea and Gaul; the latter two being reactions in part to increased taxes.


THE DEATHS OF PETER AND PAUL AND THE GREAT FIRE OF ROME

For the early Church, history had arrived at the most critical point during the mid-1st century. It was then that the forces of Nero Caesar ― the personification of the Greco-Roman pagan god Apollo (Apollyon) which had emerged from the Abyss (Revelation 11) ― overpowered and executed the two lampstands (Apostles Peter and Paul) after completing ‘their testimony’ of Jesus.

The number of the Beast, ‘666’ (with ‘6’ symbolizing ‘the number of man’ in Judaism) coincides with the Jewish tradition that Nero converted to Judaism according to the Babylonian Talmud, and has, ever since, been commonly attributed to him. The ‘legs of fiery pillars’ likely refer to the Great Fire in Rome in July 64 AD possibly on Nero’s orders for the purpose of arresting and the mass slaughter of early Christians, with the roaring lion representing one of the most popular forms of execution featuring feeding Christian slaves to lions (and other beasts of the earth) during sporting events. Near the height of the Neronic persecution in Rome, “in the public square of the great city” ― which the Bible ‘figuratively called Sodom and Egypt’ (Rev. 11:8) ― did their bodies (presumably Peter and Paul, the ‘two landstands’) lie.” And “after three and a half days the breath of life from God entered them,” at which time the Bible claims “they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them,” before ascending to “heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on” (Rev. 11:12).

Around February 5, 62 AD, Peter and Paul were likely executed. We know that, according to historical record, it was ‘at that very hour’ (which in biblical terms, is applied generically and can mean ‘day’ or ‘week’) a violent earthquake damaged the cities of Pompeii (not to be confused with the better-known volcanic destruction 17 years later), Herculaneum, and other towns in Campania. Most importantly, according to the Bible, it was at “that very hour… a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city (Rome) collapsed,” with “Seven thousand people” killed, “and the survivors (Christians in the vicinity of Rome) were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.” We are then told by John that “The second woe had passed. The third woe is soon to come” (Rev. 11:14). 


The Great Fire of Rome Portrait

‘Fire in Rome’ by Hubert Robert. A painting of the fire burning through Rome.


The greatest threat to Nero’s reign, however, was the Great Fire, which began on July 19, 64 AD and lasted for six days. It should be pointed out that by this time, Peter and Paul had likely been dead for over two years. Save for some minor sketchy details, the Great Fire of Rome is fairly well chronicled. Ten of the 14 districts of the city were destroyed, hundreds died, thousands were left homeless, and looters ravaged the city. Whether Nero was inside Rome playing his lyre or he actually started the fire has been debated by historians ad nauseum for years. The Roman historian Suetonius wrote that “Nero watched the conflagration from the Tower of Maecenas enrapt by what he called ‘the beauty of the flames’; then put on his tragedian’s costume and sang.” Tacitus seemed more neutral when he wrote that “A disaster followed, whether accidental or treacherously contrived by the emperor, is uncertain, as authors have given both accounts.” What isn’t debated is that the blame was laid on the persecuted Christians who had always viewed the dissolute Nero as the Antichrist. 

The end came almost like a flood for Nero. The fire, the conspiracy, the numerous insurrections, and the empty treasury just proved too much for the Senate, which finally declared Nero an enemy of the public before naming Galba as the new emperor. Realizing his days as emperor were over, the official record states that Nero attempted suicide while in the villa of one of his freedman Phaon, but he failed and needed help to take his own life. His last words were allegedly: “What an artist dies in me.” The Jews, meanwhile, suggest something different entirely: that in 68 AD, after being declared a ‘public enemy’ by the Roman Senate, Nero Caesar, “now hateful even to himself from a consciousness of his crimes,” disappeared ‘from among 355 men’, his fate, according to Severus, uncertain, given ‘his body was never found’ ― perhaps a reference to what Revelation 13:3 reveals that “One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed.” Given Nero Caesar may not have died at all since the Babylonian Talmud suggests that Nero, who as Roman emperor held the title of ‘Pontifex Maximus’ and thus a ‘living god’, lived out his days as a Jewish convert in search of redemption, there appears to be a parallel to the last portion of the verse that “The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast.”

Oracles prophesying Nero’s return from beyond the Euphrates were current among the Jews. In both chapters 9 and 12 of the Book of Revelation, John reveals that “It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, ‘Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates’” (Revelation 9:12), while “The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East” (Revelation 16:12). In Christian teachings, Nero has been personified as the Antichrist, with John describing this beastly man in Revelation 13:11-17 thusly: 

11 Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon. 12 And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. 13 He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. 14 And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived. 15 He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. (Revelation 13:11-17)

Ironically, the last words of Nero, reportedly “What an artist in me dies,” translates to the spirit of the patron deity of Delphi, Pythian Apollo: an oracular god—the prophetic deity of the Delphic Oracle. Compare this to Revelation 12:9, where we are told that during the war in Heaven, the angels of the Lord led by Michael cast out “that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world,” before ‘the inhabitants of the earth and the sea’ are warned “the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time” (Revelation 12:12). Since Satan is a spiritual being, he must take on a human as his host: and after the fifth trumpet sounded, John reported he “saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth. To him was given the key to the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace,” causing both ‘the sun and the air’ to be “darkened because of the smoke of the pit. Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth.”

Henceforth, we draw the conclusion that Nero Caesar is the Beast of the Earth, the god emperor of the Roman Empire (Beast of the Sea during the forthcoming Flavian Dynasty post-Year of the Four Emperors) who Judea acknowledged “as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, but in Greek he has the name Apollyon.” It is noteworthy too that Nero Caesar perceived himself as the personification of the Greco-Roman god Apollo: the national divinity of the Greeks, recognized as a god of archery, music and dance, truth and prophecy, healing and diseases, the Sun and light, poetry, and more. Seen as the most beautiful god and the ideal of the kouros (a beardless, athletic youth), Apollo is considered to be the most Greek of all the gods and, unlike his fellow contemporaries within the Greco-Roman pantheon, his name never changed, despite the obvious language difference. Furthermore, as Apollo is often referred to as the ‘averter of evil’, he was also viewed as the god who affords help and wards off evil, the provider of medicine and healing, the deliverer of men from epidemics, and yet was characterized as a god who could bring ill-health and deadly plague with his arrows as the penalty of his wrath in cases of infidelity from his cult.

The connection of Apollyon/Apollo/Abaddon to Nero Caesar and the Beast of the Earth (representing the Roman Empire post-Year of the Four Emperors through the run of the Flavian Dynasty from 69-96 AD with the death of Domition) to ‘the star’ which fell to the earth with the key to ‘the Abyss’ is understood to directly refer to Isaiah 14:12-15: 

“How you are fallen from heaven,

O morning star (Vulganate: Lucifer), son of the morning!

How you are cut down to the ground,

You who weakened the nations!

For you have said in your heart:

‘I will ascend into heaven,

I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;

I will also sit on the mount of the congregation

On the farthest sides of the north;

I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,

I will be like the Most High.’

Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol,

To the lowest depths of the Pit.” 


THE LAST PROPHESIES OF DANIEL AND JOHN

Indeed, it is John the Apostle who lasts to the end of the 1,335 days described in Daniel 12 to record that Eden was restored once ‘the power of the holy people’ had been broken in 70 AD by the Romans (Daniel 12:7). In the last chapter of Revelation (Revelation 22), we learn from the angel of the Lord that “These words (shared with John) are trustworthy and true,” for “The Lord, the God who inspires the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place” before relaying a message from Jesus himself: “Look, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written in this scroll.”

The last prophesy John recorded was during the reign of Vespasian, ‘The Destroyer’ of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, in 70 AD. The prior five, including Nero Caesar (‘The Beast of the Earth’), are described as ‘The Beast of the Sea’, or the Roman Empire itself, during the chaos of ‘The Year of the Four Emperors’ (68-69 AD). They were the five to have fallen (Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, and Vitellius), one who is (Vespasian), one who is not (Trajan, the seventh head who destroyed the Second Temple during the Siege of Jerusalem while a general, who ruled just two years, from 79-81 AD). Finally, there was Domitian: the youngest brother of Trajan and self-proclaimed ‘god emperor’ destined to be recorded as the last emperor of the Flavian Dynasty from 79-96 AD, according to John. As the Roman Empire itself is “The beast which once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction,” Domitian may actually be ‘Babylon the Great, the Prostitute Riding the Beast’ due to his choice of Minerva as his patron goddess — and who, according to John, “belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction” (Revelation 17:9-11). The Roman Empire itself would not fall until the Ottoman Empire’s sack of Constantinople in 1453 knocked out the last iron leg from Nebuchadnezzar’s statue featured in Daniel’s dream.


Daniel in the Lion's Den

Engraving of ‘Daniel in the Lions Den’ by Gustave Dove, 1880.


Of all the parallels between Daniel and John, there exists one notable difference: the scrolls in which they recorded what was revealed to them. For example, in Revelation 10, John writes of a mighty angel descending from Heaven with a little scroll, robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head. Yet this was no ordinary angel; and the details of his appearance grow increasingly apocalyptic: possessing “a face like the sun” (referring to the Antichrist in 1 John 2:22 in conflict with Jesus, whose face ‘shone like the sun’ during his transfiguration in Matthew 17:2, and who held ‘seven stars’ in Revelation 1:16; and Revelation 10:1), he also placed his “right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land,” and “gave a loud shout like the roar of a lion” (referring to “like a roaring lion” in 1 Peter 5:8, Proverbs 28:15, Ezekiel 22:25). What we are told here is that as he yelled, ‘the seven thunders spoke’. Beyond this point, a voice from Heaven instructed John to “Seal up what the thunders have said and do not write it down” (Rev. 10:1-4) prior to that angel cursing at the Lord that “There will be no more delay!” in expressing his every intention to rid the world of the disciples of Christ who would populate “the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it.” This angel, Satan himself, had announced to the world through his pride, defiance, and full knowledge of his own mortality that it would be he, and not the Son of Man, to see “that the mystery of God will be accomplished” by subverting the authority of the Messiah as the true ‘iron scepter’ of the Most High. This is a direct reference to 1 Kings 13:11-32, where Satan, fashioning himself as ‘the old prophet living in Bethel’, deceived ‘the man of God from Judah’ into traveling to his house to eat bread and drink water against God’s command because he thought him to be ‘the Messiah’. After burying the bones of ‘the old prophet’ beside those of the man of God from Judah, Satan mocked the Lord: defiantly declaring that ‘the message’ he declared — “by the word of the Lord against the altar in Bethel and against all the shrines on the high places in the towns of Samaria — will certainly come true.”

There is abundant reasoning to suggest that ‘the prince of this world’ has indeed been hard at work, and that most of his work not only has been completed, but in fact ended in failure just as the Bible prophesied. From the time Nero Caesar was crowned Emperor of Rome in 54 AD — the year Satan was laid low, chained to the earth for a thousand years by the angel of the Lord (Revelation 20:1) — to the Schism between the Latin and Greek churches in 1054 AD, is 1,000 years; and given Satan and his angels were cast out of Heaven by Michael and the angels of the Lord according to Revelation 12:9, and that John wrote, “But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short” (Revelation 12:12) — we can imply the 1,000 year reign where the saints “came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years,” because “They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands,” occurred during that period (Revelation 20:4).

The two books (Daniel and Revelation) end in the same setting: for Daniel, who looked and there before him “stood two others, one on this bank of the river and one on the opposite bank” (Daniel 12: 5-6); and for John, what the angel revealed as “the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city,” and standing on each side of the river, “the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month,” and whose “leaves… are for the healing of the nations.” Likewise, both men are told that those whose names are found “by that time in the book” (Daniel 12:1) will be in the presence of “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him,” and “They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads” (Revelation 22: 3-5).  As it was in Eden before the sins of Adam and Eve, so it will be again: “No longer will there be any curse… There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 22: 3-6).

Like was prophesied to Daniel, so too was the same to John: “At the time (of the end) Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise” (Daniel 12:1). This is where John describes the time “war broke out in heaven,” where “Michael and his angels fought against the dragon… and his angels” and defeated them, for “the dragon was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven” (Revelation 12: 7-8). “The great dragon — that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray… and his (four) angels with him,” was (as he current is) “filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.” After listening to the seven thunders speak, John was instructed from heaven to instead, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.” And there was something else peculiar: the voice John heard from Heaven (presumably the Lord) spoke to him once more: “Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So he did; and the prideful angel, Satan, asked him to “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but ‘in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey’” (Revelation 10: 9-10). It was in Satan’s scroll where his dark plans for Jesus’ disciples were revealed: for after his failure to destroy ‘The woman’ ― the personification of the Church of Jesus Christ after she “was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach” ― “the dragon was enraged at the women and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring — those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus” (Revelation 12:14-17).

And ironically, John is instructed with something else by the angel: “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near.” The reasoning for the two divergent commands to Daniel and John with respect to the scrolls appears the same: to John, he is told to “Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy” (Revelation 22:10-11) ― and for Daniel, “Many will go here and there to increase knowledge… Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand” (Daniel 12:10).

Daniel is told that ‘the blessed one’ will reach the end of 1,335 days (“Blessed is the one who waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days,” to be exact, in Daniel 12:12), before he is finally instructed to “roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end” (Daniel 12:4). But John is never informed: indeed, John the Baptist/John of Patmos never speaks of himself in the first person until he proclaimed, perhaps because of undue pride, that “I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things.” Ironically, here he mistakenly prostrates before the angel of the Lord disclosing the words of the scroll (Revelation 22:9). For a single moment, John forgot that it was God who revealed himself to Moses as ‘I AM, THAT I AM’ in Exodus 3:14; or that Christ declared “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:12) — and therefore, “that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36).

Finally, after Jesus instructed Daniel to “Go your way to the end… because the words are rolled up and sealed until the time of the end,” he is told he “will rest, and then at the end of the days,” he “will rise to receive (his) allotted inheritance” as one of the 144,000 sealed in Revelation 7:1-8. But John, ‘the disciple Jesus loved’, warns if anyone adds ‘anything’ to “the words of the prophecy of this scroll… God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll”; while for those who take “words away from this scroll  of prophecy… which are described in this scroll of prophecy,” He will take away “any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City” (Revelation 22:18-19).

Otherwise, the price for his disciples’ share in the tree of life and in the Holy City was paid by Jesus on the cross.

 

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