Praying for the Emperor Who Exiled John to Patmos
How did the early church pray for those in the authority, including rulers they probably disliked? Paul refers to one of his fellow workers named Clement (Philippians 4:3). It is unknown if this is the same individual who later became a Bishop in the Empire’s capital city, but Clement of Rome prayed the following for “our rulers and governors upon the earth” toward the end of the first century:
You, Master, have given the power of the kingdom to them through your magnificent and indescribable power, so that we may know the glory and honor given to them by you, and be subject to them, in no way opposing your will. To whom, Lord, give health, peace, harmony, and good disposition so that they may administer the government given by you to them without stumbling. For you, heavenly Master, King of the ages, have given to the sons of men glory and honor and power over the things which belong upon the earth. You, Lord, direct their plan according to what is good and pleasing in your presence, so that, piously administering with peace and gentleness, the authority given by you to them, they may experience your mercy. The only one able to do these things and even better things for us, to you we give praise through the high priest and defender of our souls, Jesus Christ, through whom be glory and majesty to you, both now and for all generations and forever, amen.
Incidentally, at the time Clement wrote this prayer, Domitian—the one who exiled John to Patmos—was ruling as the Emperor.
Clement’s prayer is a dynamic reminder that we are not just to pray for leaders because we appreciate their politics or agree with their policies. In the midst of Paul’s admonition for Timothy to pray is a vital truth that should govern all we do, that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4, NKJV). Never forget and never underestimate the power of prayer!
When Paul wrote Timothy, he admonished him to make prayer a primary and integral part of his life and ministry and to make it central in the life of the church as well.
1 TIMOTHY 2:1-4, 8 (NLT)
1 I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.
2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.
3 This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.
8 In every place of worship, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God, free from anger and controversy.
These prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks were initially directed toward “all people,” but then Paul specifies the inclusion of “kings and all who are in authority.”
No doubt that many have found praying for earthly rulers to be challenging, as there has been no shortage of corrupt leaders throughout history, with numbers of them opposing the people and the work of God. Perhaps no one personified the grace to pray more than William Tyndale (1494-1536). Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament into the English language drew the wrath of both secular and religious officials. Before Tyndale was strangled to death and his body burnt at the stake, his final words were, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!”
Concerning Paul’s admonition to Timothy, Rick Renner writes, “If anyone needed prayer, it was the unsaved kings who possessed lofty positions of power and authority in the First Century AD!” Renner continues:
Most believers in New Testament times had no option to vote, so they did what they could do… I’m sure if they had been given the right to vote, they would have rushed to the polling booths to cast their votes. But the only vote they could cast was in prayer — so they prayed! Since their governmental leaders were entrenched in power and there was nothing they could do to change it, these early believers took their role in prayer very seriously.
This is a great reminder that none of our political views or preferences negate God’s word which teaches us that we are to pray for all people, including those in authority.
Along these same lines, it is important to remember Jesus’ very clear directives:
MATTHEW 5:43-48 (NLT)
43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.
44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!
45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.
46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much.
47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.
48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Perhaps we have read that so many times that we fail to absorb the meaning and impact that Jesus intended for it to have. Try putting yourself into the shoes of those who first heard these words. In addition to whatever personal enemies the different individuals might have had, Jesus was speaking to Jewish people who had known many enemies on a national level.
They had been held captive by the Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians, and were currently under Roman occupation and oppression. They had struggled against Canaanites, Amalekites, Edomites, Moabites, Syrians, Ammonites, Midianites, and Philistines, just to name a few. The Israelites had struggled for survival for so long, and now Jesus comes along and tells them, “Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”
Richard Halverson, who served as the Chaplain of the United States Senate for fourteen years said:
Intercession is truly universal work for the Christian. No place is closed to intercessory prayer. No continent – no nation – no organization – no city – no office. There is no power on earth that can keep intercession out.
May there arise a generation of believers who will take the call to prayer seriously and may all that we do be saturated with God’s very presence. Prayer not only brings us into alignment with God, but it also enables us to partner with him as He carries out his will in the earth.
 Rick Brannan, translator, The Apostolic Fathers in English (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012).
 Rick Renner, “Praying for Those in Authority” in Sparkling Gems from the Greek, Vol. II (Shippensburg, PA: Harrison House, 2016), 614.
 Ibid., 615.