Approximately 30 years after the death and resurrection of Christ and following the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD, an open and systematic persecution against Christians was commenced by Nero under the pretext that Christians set the fire.
This was the first official and systematic effort against Christians by the Romans, and it resulted in many executions and entertainment-type deaths of believers. Apostle Peter is believed to have been executed by crucifixion immediately in the aftermath of the Rome fire.
Christianity was no longer an entity under the umbrella of Judaism, and to be openly Christian was essentially a death mark. Paul states that “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them.” 2 Timothy 4:16
Apostle Paul is believed to have been martyred in this first wave of Roman persecution around age 66, but his death is not as well documented in early writings as Peter’s. One thing seems certain: Paul was not crucified because he was a Roman citizen, and his “death-row” process was prolonged compared to those of Jewish descend. He probably spend most of 64-68 A. D. in prison and/or house arrest with one or two releases in that time period.
Third century church historian Eusebius wrote:
“After defending himself the Apostle was again set on the ministry of preaching… coming a second time to the same city [Paul] suffered martyrdom under Nero. During this imprisonment he wrote the second Epistle to Timothy.” (Eccl Hist. 2.22.2)
The Bible tells us that Paul was expecting martyrdom:
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time for my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim. 4: 6-7)
Martyrology commentary says:
“Dionysius, bishop of Corinth (A. D. 170), says that Peter and Paul went to Italy and taught there together, and suffered martyrdom about the same time. This, like most of the statements relating to the death of St. Paul, is mixed up with the tradition…” (Smith’s Bible Dictionary)
“The tradition is, for now Paul fails us, that Paul, as a Roman citizen, was beheaded on the Ostian Road just outside of Rome. Nero died June, 68 A.D., so that Paul was executed before that date, perhaps in the late spring of that year (or 67). Perhaps Luke and Timothy were with him. It is fitting, as Findlay suggests, to let Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 4:6-8 serve for his own epitaph. He was ready to go to be with Jesus, as he had long wished to be (Philippians 1:23)” (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, First Edition, article “Paul the Apostle”)
To be a Christian in the first 3 centuries in the extensive Roman Empire was a reason to be killed just like it is today in many places in Africa and Asia.
These martyrs will sure have a special place in heaven.