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Review: The Flames of Rome by Paul L. Maier

Publisher: 3rd edition, Kregel, March 12, 2014.
Genre: Historical fiction, early Christian church, persecution under Nero.
Format: Paperback.
Pages: 456.
Rating: 5 Stars for excellent.
Source: Free copy from Kregel in exchange for a review.
This review first appeared at The Christian Manifesto.

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When Claudius Caesar married Agrippina, her son from a previous marriage moves into position to become the next Caesar. Domitius Ahenobarbus, later known as Nero, is a son after his mother's own cold heart. The two children of Claudius are in a dangerous position, as Agrippina does not let anyone stop her from reaching the power she craves.
From the opening pages of The Flames of Rome, I was ushered into the first century Roman world of carnal lust and power. There is one family which navigates through Roman culture and Caesar's family with trepidation, the Sabinus family. On one hand they are loyal to Rome, on the other hand they are people of integrity. One family member has already chosen another life by converting to Christianity.
The Flames of Rome, follows the later half of the career of Claudius Caesar, through to Nero's rise to power and demise.
The burning of Rome, and the round-up, torture, and slaughter, of Christians during this period is emotionally difficult to read. Nero is bloodthirsty, he's believed to be mentally incompetent; however, he is Caesar, and has the power to let someone live or die. The order of death in the arena was always gruesome and violent, and the extent of the murderous rampage is horrifying.
The Christian community of Aquila and Priscilla, Peter, and Paul, encourage Christians to remain faithful. Their humility and faith in action is remarkable, it can only be explained by the Holy Spirit.
The Flames of Rome, is an excellent portrayal of the early Christian's plight to worship Jesus, and spread the gospel message in a hostile Roman world. They were not shocked to be abused, because Jesus had told them they would suffer in his name. They are people of whom “the world was not worthy.”
The Flames of Rome, is rich and diverse in characters. Nero and Agrippina, represent the evil nature of humanity. Peter, Paul, Aquila and Priscilla, depict Christian leaders. They are the teachers, mentors, and encouragers, of the new Christian community.  The innocent Christians who are victimized and murdered by Nero, loose their earthly life, but they gained eternal life in Jesus Christ.
The family of Flavius Sabinus, is a intimate view from the perspective of a Roman family. They had lived in Roman culture and worshiped idols. Then they were told the story of Jesus Christ, and they were faced with a choice. They cannot sit idle and watch what Nero was doing. However, they fear for their existence. Throughout the story I became invested in their outcome. The Sabinus family is an important influence on the whole of the book, because I cared for them and their story drew me in.
While reading The Flames of Rome, I could not help but think about the horrifying murders happening in northern Iraq. I'm grieved by what is happening. I'm more grieved by those who do not “know” Jesus.
The Flames of Rome, has an additional theme which can be overlooked. A “living hope.” This life is not all there is, as believer’s in Jesus Christ, we have eternal life through Him, and this cannot be extinguished.