Acts Lesson Fifty-six: Acts 28:11-31 – Paul in Rome

11 After three months we set sail in an Alexandrian ship that had wintered at the island, with the Twin Brothers as its figurehead. 12 Putting in at Syracuse, we stayed three days. 13 From there, after making a circuit along the coast, we reached Rhegium. After one day a south wind sprang up, and the second day we came to Puteoli. 14 There we found believers and were invited to stay with them for seven days. 

And so we came to Rome. 15 Now the believers from there had heard the news about us and had come to meet us as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage. 16 When we entered Rome, Paul was permitted to stay by himself with the soldier who guarded him. 

17 After three days he called together the leaders of the Jews. When they had gathered he said to them: “Brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors, I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. 18 After they examined me, they wanted to release me, since I had not committed a capital offense.  19 Because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar; it was not as though I had any accusation against my nation. 20 For this reason I’ve asked to see you and speak to you. In fact, it is for the hope of Israel that I’m wearing this chain.” 

21 Then they said to him, “We haven’t received any letters about you from Judea. None of the brothers has come and reported or spoken anything evil about you. 22 But we would like to hear from you what you think. For concerning this sect, we are aware that it is spoken against everywhere.” 

23 After arranging a day with him, many came to him at his lodging. From dawn to dusk he expounded and witnessed about the kingdom of God. He tried to persuade them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets. 24 Some were persuaded by what he said, but others did not believe. 

25 Disagreeing among themselves, they began to leave after Paul made one statement: “The Holy Spirit correctly spoke through the prophet Isaiah to your  ancestors 26 when He said, 

Go to these people and say: 

You will listen and listen, 

yet never understand; 

and you will look and look, 

yet never perceive. 

27 For the hearts of these people 

have grown callous, 

their ears are hard of hearing, 

and they have shut their eyes; 

otherwise they might see with their eyes 

and hear with their ears, 

understand with their heart, 

and be converted, 

and I would heal them. 

28 Therefore, let it be known to you that this saving work of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen!” [29 After he said these things, the Jews departed, while engaging in a prolonged debate among themselves.] 

30 Then he stayed two whole years in his own rented house. And he welcomed all who visited him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with full boldness and without hindrance. (HCSB)

I’m going to split this lesson into three parts.

  • Sailing to Rome – verses 11-16.
  • Paul’s first meeting with the Roman Jews – verses 17-22.
  • The Jew’s reaction to the Gospel – verses 23-31.

Sailing to Rome

The group spent three months in Malta before continuing their journey to Rome. Based on standard sailing times in the Mediterranean, they likely left around the beginning of February. Let’s look at some details from this section.

  • The twin brothers were tied to Greek mythology. Their names were Castor and Pollux, the sons of Zeus.
    • They were considered protectors of sailors.
    • They were a common feature of Roman ships as a plea for safety on the seas.
    • When their constellation was visible in the sky, it was considered a favorable omen for a smooth voyage.
  • Luke doesn’t specify if all 276 people continued on this ship or not. In the end, it doesn’t matter since the narrative is about Paul going to Rome.
  • The first stop on the voyage was at Syracuse, about 80 miles away.
    • Syracuse is located in the eastern section of southern Sicily.
    • There were two harbors there.
    • During the Roman period, it was the capital of the island.
    • Luke doesn’t give details for the three-day delay. It is possible the ship was doing business, or the winds were not favorable during that time.
  • The second stop was at Rhenium, 70 miles from Syracuse.
    • Rhenium is located at the southern tip of the boot of Italy, opposite Sicily and at the entrance to the straits of Messina.
    • It’s possible this leg didn’t go as planned as Luke says they “sailed around,” which may indicate the ship needed to tack against the wind.
  • The next stop was at Puteoli, about 210 miles from Rhenium through the straits of Messina. 
    • They encountered a favorable wind as the ship made very good time between the stops.
    • In Paul’s day, Puteoli was likely the main port in Italy for the grain fleet.
    • It is now known as Pozzuoli.
    • It was located about eight miles northwest of Naples and 130 miles by foot to Rome.
  • In their final stop before Rome, the party met a group of Christians who invited them to stay for seven days.
    • We shouldn’t be surprised that a Christian community was already established in Puteoli when Paul arrived.
      • The edict of Claudius, which Luke referred to in Acts 18:2, dealt with a dispute in the Jewish community in Rome.
      • The dispute appears to have involved Christ and is evidence the Gospel had reached Italy by a.d. 49.
      • Paul’s letter to the Romans is possibly the best evidence for a Christian church being established well before Paul’s arrival.
    • We might also marvel at the amount of freedom Paul enjoyed while being in custody. The freedom he enjoyed speaks to the level of trust Paul had established with his Roman guards.
  • The group now completed the journey to Rome on foot. The journey was about 130 miles and would have taken five days by foot.
    • On the Appian Way, about forty-three miles south of Rome, was the stopping place known as the Forum of Appius. It was here that Paul first encountered Christians living in Rome.
    • The group continued on, and about ten miles later, they were met by more believers at a way station known as Three Taverns.
    • It’s possible the two groups of Christians were from different house churches within the capital. Only here are Roman Christians mentioned in Acts. They would serve as a constant source of encouragement to Paul during his time in Rome.
  • Verse sixteen acts as a bridge between the travel narrative and Paul’s witness in Rome. Although Paul was given quite a bit of freedom, he was still under the supervision of a guard. Paul was a witness in chains.

Paul’s First Meeting With the Roman Jews

It’s interesting to note that as Luke begins to wind down the events in Acts, Paul’s witness is focused primarily on the Jews living in Rome. The reason for Paul’s journey to Rome was his appeal to Caesar. However, Luke doesn’t include anything regarding that meeting. Maybe the reader shouldn’t be surprised after all. A familiar pattern is repeated here; Paul’s initial preaching to the Jews, which is initially received in a favorable manner, followed by resistance, and finally, Paul turning to the Gentiles. Luke has emphasized this theme, Jewish rejection and Gentile acceptance of the Gospel, throughout Acts. Now, let’s take a closer look at Paul’s meeting with the Roman Jews.

  • Paul initiated the first conversation with the Jews.
  • Looking back at verse seventeen, it was a meeting with the Jewish leaders in Rome.
  • Rome had a large Jewish community, but it wasn’t a homogenous and seamless community. From the context of the passage, it appears there were several synagogues since “many” leaders came to him.
  • Paul then gives an abridged version of the circumstances that brought him to Rome. 
    • He hadn’t done anything against his fellow Jews or their customs.
    • He had been arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans.
    • The Romans found no substance to the charges against Paul and wanted to release him.
    • However, at every step the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem objected to Paul’s release.
    • Paul had no accusation against Israel.
      • He was a loyal Jew.
      • He was not guilty of any crime against the Jews.
      • He was innocent of any ill intent toward them.
      • He only wanted their commitment to Christ.
    • As stated in previous lessons, the real point of contention between Paul and the Jews was Paul’s belief in the resurrection of Jesus, that Jesus is both Messiah and Lord.
  • The Jewish leaders in Rome told Paul they hadn’t heard anything about him, either in official correspondence or by word-of-mouth. Although this may surprise us, we must also remember that Paul had left for Rome as late fall was setting in and, as evidenced by the storm they encountered, winter wasn’t far behind. 
    • The most likely reason for the Roman Jews not to have about Paul is because of winter and the delay in correspondence.
    • The other possible, albeit less likely reason, is that the Roman Jews were making a conscious effort to dissociate themselves from Paul and escape any fallout from the result of Paul’s trial.
  • Their second response, to hear about the Christian “sect,” indicates a lack of knowledge about the movement. This may seem puzzling since there was a well-established Christian community in Rome. It’s possible this lack of knowledge was due to the edict of Claudius.
    • The edict was issued about ten years prior to Paul’s arrival in Rome.
    • It involved a dispute within the Jewish synagogue over Christ.
    • If the Jewish leaders really didn’t know much about the Christians, it would seem the edict caused the synagogues to isolate themselves from the Christians completely.
    • It’s also possible the Roman Jews were being diplomatic and were keeping as much space as possible from the situation involving Paul.
  • From the Roman Jew’s actions, we deduce they found nothing wrong with Paul and had no accusation against him.
  • The first encounter with the Roman Jews focused on Paul’s innocence.
    • Paul didn’t have a martyr’s complex.
    • He didn’t come to Rome to die.
    • From the context of the last few chapters in Acts, it’s clear Paul expected to be released.
    • After his release, he likely felt he would evangelize Rome and then move west towards Spain.

The Jew’s Reaction to the Gospel 

In contrast to verse seventeen, it appears that a significantly larger contingent of Jews visited Paul in this section. Let’s take a deeper look at the final section of Acts.

  • Luke mentions that “many” came to see Paul. In Paul’s first meeting with the Roman Jews, he only met with the leaders. Now, it would appear that others joined in the meeting with Paul.
  • Since Paul was under guard, the Jews were required to visit him in his quarters. 
  • Paul spent the entire day presenting the Gospel to them.
  • Paul’s presentation focused on two terms.
    • The kingdom of God.
      • The Jews always looked to the coming of the Messiah.
      • When the Messiah came, God’s kingdom would be restored in a renewed Israel.
    • Jesus.
      • Jesus is at the center of God’s sovereign rule.
      • God’s people are gathered around Jesus.
  • The message throughout Acts had been this had already occurred with the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
  • Paul presented the same message to the Roman Jews.
    • The Law of Moses.
    • The words of the Prophets.
    • Luke doesn’t specify which texts were used, but it’s safe to conclude they would have spoken about the Messiah’s suffering and resurrection.
    • Jesus also used the Law of Moses and the Prophets to speak about himself in Luke 24:27, 44-47.
    • Peter did the same in Acts 2:17-36 and 3:12-26.
    • Paul had previously spoken the same message in Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13:32-39.
  • The result was a sharp division between the Roman Jews.
    • Some were persuaded by Paul’s message.
    • Others refused to believe Paul.
    • However, the synagogue as a whole didn’t believe Paul’s message.
  • As the Jews were arguing or discussing Paul’s message, Paul put in one final shot by quoting Old Testament Scripture. Paul’s use of this passage prompted the Jews to leave en masse.
    • Paul uses a passage talking about future unbelief among the Jews and not a passage about the Messiah.
    • The term “correctly” in the original Greek means “the truth.”
    • The Holy Spirit spoke the truth through the prophet Isaiah about the unbelief in Israel.
    • Paul also begins to create “space” between himself and the unbelieving Jews.
      • In verse seventeen, he addressed them as brothers.
      • Now he addresses them with the term “your ancestors.”
      • Paul hadn’t stopped being a Jew, but his faith in Jesus separated him from the Roman Jews who refused to believe.
      • Paul wasn’t one of the hardhearted Jewish ancestors who rejected the Gospel.
  • The section from Isaiah that Paul quotes is from the Septuagint.
    • The Greek version of the prophecy focuses on the people’s stubbornness in refusing to accept the message.
    • Three types of perception are highlighted in the text.
      • Their eyes are closed to seeing the truth.
      • Their ears are closed to hearing the truth.
      • Their hearts are closed to accepting the truth.
    • An understanding of the message would have resulted in repentance and receiving God’s forgiveness and healing.
    • The Roman Jews matched the prophecy in Isaiah.
      • They heard Paul preach the Gospel, yet the hardness of their heart caused them to reject it.
      • In Paul’s message to the Jews, the Greek verb “to hear” occurs five times at key points.
      • The quote from Isaiah refers to hearing three times.
      • The point is hearing isn’t really hearing if there is no response to the message.
      • The final time Paul uses the Greek verb “to hear” is when he is talking about the Gentiles.
      • The Gentiles would hear with receptive hearts and repent.
  • As the Roman Jews left Paul, he declared the Gentiles would be the recipients of the Gospel.
    • However, we shouldn’t interpret this as meaning Paul had finally given up on the Jews.
    • Paul was always able to reach at least some Jews in his missionary journeys, including here in Rome. 
    • As Acts concludes, Luke writes that Paul welcomed all who visited him. This likely included some Jews.
    • The statement about the Gentiles responding to the message is not a declaration about Jewish exclusion from God’s Kingdom; it’s about the inclusion of Gentiles into God’s Kingdom.
  • Paul spent two years in Rome preaching the Gospel to all who visited him.
    • Although Paul was, in essence, under house arrest, he was still given the freedom to entertain visitors. 
    • Paul preached with boldness.
    • Paul preached without hindrance. This likely means the Romans allowed him to speak freely, seeing nothing dangerous or subversive in his message.
    • During this time, Paul was also busy writing epistles.
      • Ephesians.
      • Philippians.
      • Colossians.
      • Philemon.
    • Most believe Paul was released after this two-ear period, around a.d. 63.
      • Paul likely continued his evangelism in the eastern portion of the empire.
      • It’s also possible Paul fulfilled his desire to reach Spain with the Gospel.
      • In 2 Timothy 4:16-18, we read of a second trial containing a tone of resignation over Paul’s future.
      • Paul was beheaded in Rome by order of Emperor Nero around a.d. 67.
  • At the end of Acts, we see a Gospel that is without chains, victorious over every barrier of superstition and human prejudice.
  • Although Luke ends Acts rather abruptly, it wasn’t meant as a biography of Peter or Paul. Acts is a narrative about the early church’s expansion and influence on the world.
  • However, Acts is not a finished book. Chapter 29 is still being written. It is the longest chapter containing the largest amount of people involved in evangelism. Chapter 29 is being written by us, by every believer from the time of Paul until Christ’s return. The question posed to every follower of Christ is, “what will your contribution be?”

Applications

  • We need to have patience as we encounter storms and see things through to the end. Paul’s life was an endless series of storms, some more severe than others. Yet, Paul never lost sight of the commission he was given, taking the message of the Gospel wherever Christ sent him. Do our lives exhibit the same traits? Or do we put into the nearest port and call off our journey as soon as things get rough? 
  • Don’t be afraid to preach the Gospel. Fear was never an issue with Paul; it shouldn’t be with us, either. However, some people feel they aren’t qualified or are just uneasy talking about the Gospel. If your church has any classes on evangelism, join the class. If you aren’t in a small group, join one and bring up the topic of evangelism. You could even ask who is actively involved in evangelism and your desire to participate with them and learn. There are numerous good books about sharing your faith. A couple that I have read are Share Jesus Without Fear and Evangelism Is…How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence.
  • Don’t limit yourself to evangelizing only a specific group of people. Paul always had a heart for his fellow Jews, yet he only had marginal success with that group. Instead, the Holy Spirit led him to evangelize the Gentiles, and the results were amazing. There’s a lesson for us here. Don’t be dogmatic in your evangelism. You may have a preference but go where the Spirit leads you and watch an amazing harvest unfold. 

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