Christians had been persecuted in the Roman Empire since the Apostles, but the persecution under Emperors Decius and Valerian was more widespread and severe than before. Simply for bearing the name of Jesus, Christians faced loss of position, confiscation of property, rejection by pagan family members, and even death. Many Christians stood strong in the faith, but many lost their courage under the pressure, denied Christ, and even sacrificed to idols. The Plague of Cyprian, most likely caused by smallpox, created further suffering and confusion. After the death of Decius in 251 the persecution slackened and people who denied Christ expected to be restored to fellowship.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is truly the Pearl of Great Price. Nothing in the universe is as valuable as what the Lord has given those who love Him. People who denied Christ under threat of persecution, and Cyprian suggested that many rushed to deny Him, even without being personally confronted, showed painful contempt for the treasure bought at the highest price, His blood. Their sin was great, and they should not have been easily restored to the church.