Paul Preaches in Rome Under Guard
Acts chapter 28, verses 17-31
Last week when we left off at verse 16, the apostle Paul, together with the apostle Luke plus some other Christians who were traveling under guard, had shipwrecked in an exceptionally severe storm along with 260 additional souls. It turns out they had landed on the island of Malta, which was approximately 900 nautical miles from Rome, their original destination. Having spent the winter there, they had embarked on the last part of their journey, having arrived in Rome after some stops in several ports on the west coast of what is modern Italy today. Paul and the other Christian believers along with him, combined with a sizable group of onlookers, was about to give their testimony, along with Paul, who by this time had become the unofficial spokesman for the group. So let’s begin this week’s study of part 2 of Acts 28, starting at verse 17.
“17) Three days later he called together the local Jewish leaders. When they had assembled, Paul said to them: ‘My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. 18) They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. 19) The Jews objected, so I was compelled to make an appeal to Caesar. I certainly did not intend to bring any charge against my own people. 20) For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.’ 21) They replied, ‘We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. 22) But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.‘” (Acts 28, verses 17-22)
“He” in verse 17 is Paul the apostle calling a meeting with his accusers just prior to his giving his testimony before Caesar Augustus, the Roman emperor of that time. Paul then reiterates his innocence of the charges against him, citing the Roman governor Festus as one one who expressed a willingness to release Paul immediately, as it is written: “18) They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. 19) The Jews objected, so I was compelled to make an appeal to Caesar…..” And so there he was, standing before his own blood relatives, pleading his case. He finishes by stating that, “20) For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.”
Paul is there to testify on behalf of Christ the Lord and Savior. Moreover, he considered his accusers back in Jerusalem to be unworthy of his testimony, and said as much to the all-Jewish audience he was talking to. “21) They replied, ‘We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. 22) But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.’” Owing to the fact that news traveled at a snail’s pace compared to today, many of those present were hearing about the apostle Paul and his testimony for Christ for the first time, just as it’s written: ““We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. 22) But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.”
So Paul and his compatriots found themselves confronted with what must have seemed to be a deep mystery to the Jewish leaders who were present. They wanted to know why Christianity – or The Way, as it was known during the days of the early Church – was so controversial and reviled. The answer was, as Paul spelled it out to them that fateful morning, was that pure Christianity posed a major threat to the bases of power by presenting a much better alternative to governing and management. Up until then, these persons in charge were the deity who was also the president, and those he or she appointed to keep things running smoothly. But due in large part to there being only 1 true God, the early Church presented a viable alternative to worship of the king or queen. That part is what his audience had already concluded, and now Paul lets them have the rest of it, starting at verse 23.
“23) They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus. 24) Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. 25) They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: ‘The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet: 26) ‘Go to this people and say, ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.’ 27) For this people’s hearts has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ 28) ‘Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!’ 29) After he said this, the Jews left, arguing vigorously among themselves. 30) For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31) He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ – with all boldness and without hindrance!”
The apostle Paul, “….witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus.” So Paul was using examples from what we now call the “Old Testament” as a way to motivate his audience to embrace Christ as Lord and Savior. He used something they could relate to as a means of persuasion because he already knew that is what would have worked best. “24) Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. 25) They disagreed among themselves and began to leave….”
The rest of verses 25 and 26 are of Paul quoting Isaiah chapter 6, verses 9-10. To paraphrase Paul, ‘You have had the Word of the Lord and of the prophets for at least 1,000 years. You have read it and studied it half to death, and you have had it before you for all this time, and yet you still do not see that Jesus Christ was the Son of Almighty God?’ Paul then finishes up with, “28) ‘Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!’ 29) After he said this, the Jews left, arguing vigorously among themselves”. They were arguing, all right, but there was something even more basic than that.
Many of the Jewish accusers who were there had followed Paul in one way or another so they could refute him at every turn. It’s because they were all guilty by association of being accessories to murder in the crucifixion and death of Christ the Lord. By this time the name of Jesus had surpassed the relatively small following he had attained during the course of his life. By this time, the name of Christ was a name held sacred by untold multitudes of people, easily in the 100,000 plus range at this point, and maybe hundreds of thousands more. In short, Christianity had become – and remains – unstoppable. “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God ….with all boldness and without hindrance!”
The Book of Acts, as far as we know, ends right here. At the very least, the above passages are all we have, nor do we possess a sequel of any kind. The book ends with the main character, the apostle Paul, under house arrest in Rome, awaiting a trial before the Emperor Nero. It is not known why Paul’s companion Luke, the author of Acts, chose to end the book at this point without revealing the results of the trial. However, there is strong biblical and historical evidence that Paul was acquitted at his trial and had an additional “season” of adventures before his eventual martyrdom. For some additional background about this topic, click here.
Several lines of reasoning support the conclusion that Paul was acquitted at his trial in Rome. First of all, the case against Paul, as described in Acts, was not very strong. When Paul was initially tried before the procurator Felix in Caesarea a few years earlier, three charges had been made (Acts 24:5-6):
- · Paul had been the cause of riots all over the (Greco-Roman) world.
- · Paul was the ringleader of a dangerous Jewish sect.
- · Paul had brought Gentiles closer to the Jerusalem Temple than was permitted, thereby desecrating the Temple (Acts 21:28).
Roman courts tended to show little interest in charges like the second one, figuring that the Jews could best sort out their own sectarian arguments. In Corinth, the proconsul Gallio had dismissed similar charges against Paul (see Acts 18:12-16).
The third charge had been made by some Jews from Asia Minor, who did not bother to come to Caesarea to make their case (Acts 24:19). There were also no witnesses in Caesarea to support the first charge. Paul was only kept in custody after this trial because Felix hoped to receive a bribe from him (Acts 24:26). When Paul presented his case before Agrippa II two years later, Agrippa observed, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar” (Acts 26:32). After Paul arrived in Rome, he found that Jewish leaders there were unfamiliar with this case (Acts 28:17-21). This suggests that no one, as yet, had come from Jerusalem to present the accusations against Paul. If the case was not seriously prosecuted, then chances are it would have been dismissed.