...choose you this day whom ye will serve; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. Joshua 24:15
A Roman emperor was declared divine when witnesses claimed to have seen the emperor’s father ascend to heaven, thus making the emperor the “Son of God.” This process was called apotheosis. The emperor’s diety stood on the validity of these witnesses.
Augustus, for example declared his father, Julius, divine in 29 BC and a statue of Julius was placed in a temple in Ephesus. Augustus then declared himself “Son of God” and the Senate affirmed the declaration.
Emperor worship was increasingly a fact of life in the Roman Empire from the reign of Augustus Caesar onward. As the empire became more and more diverse with multitudes of gods and religions, worship of the emperor as god became a vital form of unification. The people could worship their respective gods freely as long as they would also publicly declare that “Caesar is Lord.” The citizens were also required to bring frequent “sacrificial offerings” of livestock or money to enrich the country’s treasury.
This created a dilemma for Jews and Christians alike who would not worship or sacrifice to any other gods. Knowing that the Jews would never acclaim the diety of the Roman emperor, Herod had persuaded Caesar Augustus to grant the Jews an exemption from the emperor worship requirement. The community of Jesus did not have such an exemption, however, and the early Christians experienced great pressure to participate in processions, festivals and games to acclaim the emperor as god and affirm their loyalty to him.
Many of them, including nearly all of Jesus’ disciples, had to make the ultimate choice—to sacrifice their lives, or to deny Jesus as their Lord and live.