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By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD
Paul and Porcius Festus: He Appeals To Caesar
Felix was replaced by Porcius Festus, a well-intentioned man, but one who was unable to repair the damage done by Felix in Judaea. He was to be the last procurator to have any good intentions towards Palestine. He was in power for only two years before he then died, and during that time the trouble with the sicarii (the assassins) continued. And another Messianic aspirant arose who led many people into the wilderness promising redemption and deliverance from all evils, who had to be crushed by force. But at least Festus acted for what he thought was the best for all. His good intentions were, however, to Paul’s detriment, for while at first he would not consider Paul being tried in Jerusalem, eventually he was persuaded that it might be a good idea, which although he did not realise it, would have been as good as sentencing him to death. It was this that resulted in Paul’s appeal to Caesar.
The Jews Plan To Ambush Paul, An Attempt Which Is Thwarted By Festus’ Insistence On Trying Him In Caesarea (25.1-5).
Festus’ first aim on arrival in office was to put things to rights. The result was that almost as soon as he had arrived in Caesarea he went to Jerusalem to meet the men who under his authority had responsibility in Judaea, and whose religious authority stretched even further. It was a wise thing to do, although not so promising for Paul.
25.1-3 ‘Festus therefore, having come into the province, after three days went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. And the chief priests and the principal men of the Jews informed him against Paul, and they besought him, asking a favour against him, that he would send for him to Jerusalem, laying a plot to kill him on the way.’
Once Festus arrived in the province he almost immediately ‘went up’ to Jerusalem from Caesarea in order to bring matters under control there, for it was in Jerusalem that the main political body of the Jews, the Sanhedrin, operated. This resulted in the chief priests and other leaders of the Jews speaking to him of Paul, to Paul’s detriment, and requesting that Paul be sent for and brought to Jerusalem for trial. Time may have passed but they had not forgotten him. You did not call Ananias a ‘whited wall’ in public and get away with it, and while he had possibly by this time been replaced by Ishmael as High Priest, the insult to the High Priesthood still stung. (The expression ‘chief priests’ probably indicates that Ananias was still involved even though he had been deposed as High Priest, by Agrippa II).
This instant approach about Paul might serve to confirm that throughout his imprisonment his influence had continued to be felt throughout Judaea, and that he had thus been brought continually to their minds. Otherwise they would surely not have seen him as of such prime importance that it was one of the first things that they wanted dealt with.
But nor could they forgive the fact that he was a Christian Jew, who was prominent in winning people to the new faith, and for going to the Gentiles. Their continuing purpose was that Paul might be killed at some time while on the way to Jerusalem, for they recognised that really they could produce no case against him. They had already tried and failed. So things had not changed. The cessation of activity had not been due to their dropping their case, but due to their recognition that while Felix was in power they would get nowhere. They now hoped under the new procurator to resolve the matter by getting rid of Paul once and for all.
25.4 ‘Howbeit Festus answered, that Paul was kept in charge at Caesarea, and that he himself was about to depart there shortly.’
We do not know whether Festus was a little suspicious about this request or not. He did, however, decline it. He pointed out that Paul was being held in Caesarea, and that he himself would be going there shortly. Even if he did not know about it, God did. Luke wants us to realise that God was still in control. Festus’ reason might well have been that as a new arrival in the province he did not want to be away from Caesarea longer than was necessary in these first few days of his procuratorship. While the cat was away the mice could play. Or it may simply be that he resented being pushed around and wanted to establish his authority.
25.5 ‘Let those therefore, says he, who are of power among you go down with me, and if there is anything amiss in the man, let them accuse him.’
He pointed out that if they had any charge that they wished to bring against Paul then those in authority could go with him to Caesarea, and they could pursue their case there. If they considered that there was anything amiss with him, that was the place to accuse him of it. Possibly the chief captain, or some other officer, had hinted that all was not quite as it seemed.
Paul Appears Before Festus And Is Compelled To Appeal to Caesar. To Rome He Will Go (25.6-12).
25.6 ‘And when he had tarried among them not more than eight or ten days, he went down to Caesarea, and on the next day he sat on the judgment-seat, and commanded Paul to be brought.’
The matter having now been drawn to his attention Festus, having remained a few more days in Jerusalem, ‘went down’ to Caesarea, and the next day took his place on the seat of judgment and commanded that Paul be brought before him.
25.7 ‘And when he was come, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood round about him, bringing against him many and grievous charges which they could not prove,’
Present also in the court were the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem for the purpose, who stood around him bringing against Paul ‘many and grievous charges which they could not prove.’ It was, however, a maxim of Roman justice, as of Jewish justice, that a man could not be convicted on accusation alone. There must be evidence and a case must be proved. And Festus was a just man.
We note that this is the third opportunity that Paul has had to speak and witness before prominent Jews. We may assume that not all were proof against his testimony. Even among these men some were being won for Christ.
25.8 ‘While Paul said in his defence, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar, have I sinned at all.” ’
Paul was therefore given the opportunity to defend himself, and he declared that he was guilty of none of the charges, neither in respect of the Law of the Jews, nor in respect of the Temple, nor with regard to Caesar. Among other things he had clearly been charged with being a man who disregarded local law, who had violated the Temple, and who had been involved in activities against Caesar, none of which, as we know, were true.
25.9 ‘But Festus, desiring to gain favour with the Jews, answered Paul and said, “Will you go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these things before me?” ’
Festus, however, wished to conciliate the Jews and be seen by the local authorities in a good light, the better to enable him successfully to carry out his duties. Thus, no doubt under continued pressure from them (for after all who did Paul represent?), he suggested that he might consider ‘going up’ to Jerusalem to be tried there before him. He himself would be there to ensure that the trial was fair. This rather favourable treatment of being consulted was no doubt because he was a Roman citizen. Of course Festus was inevitably unaware of why this would cause real problems. He may well have summed up the Jewish leadership, but he probably never considered that they themselves would be involved in an assassination attempt. And he had probably not yet gathered how unscrupulous they were. A fair-minded man always has difficulty in understanding scoundrels.
25.10-11 ‘But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s judgment-seat, where I ought to be judged. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you also very well know. If then I am a wrongdoer, and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die, but if none of those things are true of which these accuse me, no man can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.” ’
Paul on the other hand was very well aware of what might happen to him once he was in the hands of his one time colleagues. He was under no illusions. He could remember back to what he had done and been himself. Nor did he see a Jerusalem court, even if he got that far, as being anything but set up to prevent justice as far as he was concerned. Every trick, every effort, would be put into proving what was undoubtedly untrue. Only Festus would stand between him and a whole nation which would set out to prove him guilty by any means whatsoever, both fair and foul. And he was not confident that Festus would be able to take the pressure. He had Pilate before him as an example of Roman justice in Jerusalem under pressure.
Indeed, having presented his case to Festus, which should have resulted in his release, he was aware that Festus also was prevaricating. He was clearly too eager to please those over whom he had responsibility, and whose cooperation he would require, and he was putting that before straightforward justice. It was not surprising that he should be like this. He had a province to run which was a political nightmare. But it was not hopeful for Paul or helpful to his confidence.
He pointed out to Festus that it must already be apparent to him that the Jews had nothing tangible against him. They had failed to produce any witnesses or any evidence. There was clearly no case to answer ‘as you also very well know’. His last comment demonstrated what he really thought about the situation. He did not want to be judged on the basis of expediency. He did not want to be ‘given up to them’, which was what Festus was doing. What he wanted was justice. And it seemed that Festus did not want to give him justice.
He had done nothing wrong against the Jews, as the lack of any tangible evidence proved. He had already been put on trial twice before the Jews with nothing having been decided against him. So why then should he once more be judged by a Jewish court? If he had done wrong he was quite willing to be punished for it, but what he wanted was a fair and unbiased trial. Why then could he not be judged where he should be judged, here in Caesarea before a properly set up Roman court? It was, however, apparent that this was not to be allowed to him. He therefore had no alternative but to appeal to Caesar, where he expected to be given the fair treatment that was being refused to him here. This was the implication of his words. From Luke’s point of view they had the advantage that they clearly and unequivocally emphasised Paul’s confidence in true Roman justice and in the emperor. They made clear that Christians were not against the authority of Rome.
25.12 ‘Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you shall go.” ’
Festus was probably relieved to be saved from a difficult dilemma. On the one had he wanted to be fair. On the other he did not want to offend the Jewish authorities, especially at the beginning of his term in office. But he was also probably a little annoyed. It would be quite clear to him that Paul was doubtful whether he would get justice here. But an appeal to Caesar by a Roman citizen was not something he could refuse. He then covered himself by calling his advisers together and seeking their opinion. A man could not be sent to Caesar unless the crime was serious enough. But there was only one conclusion that they could come to. The Jews were constantly seeking the death penalty, and that hinted at a capital crime. Thus whatever they thought of the idea they could not dismiss an appeal to Caesar.
Nevertheless it must be noted that Festus did have another alternative. He could have ordered Paul’s release. He was not quite as fairminded as he probably liked to think he was. He was too sensitive about offending the Jewish authorities on whom might depend the success of his procuratorship. Had he known that he was going to die within two years he might have made a different decision. We should always ask ourselves, what will my decision look like if I die tomorrow?
Then Festus called Paul in and gave him the decision that had been reached. “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you shall go.” Luke wants us to know that God’s will was going forward (23.11).
Festus Calls On Agrippa’s Assistance In Formulating a Case And Paul Gives His Testimony To Them Both (25.13-26.23).
Festus now condemns himself by admitting that he has no charge to bring against Paul. He is sending him to Caesar to be judged, but he does not know why. He has no case against Paul. This suits Luke’s apologetic purpose but it shows up Roman provincial justice (while exonerating the emperor).
25.13 ‘Now when certain days were passed, Agrippa the King and Bernice arrived at Caesarea, and saluted Festus.’
An event then occurred that helped to resolve his dilemma, the arrival in state of King Agrippa II with his sister Bernice (Berenice). Agrippa II, son of the Herod Agrippa mentioned in chapter 12, was by this time king over the territory previously ruled by the Tetrarch Philip (Batanaea, Trachonitis and Gaulanitis) together with the Tetrarchy of Lysanius (Abila), and territory in Lebanon which had been ruled by Varus. Further to this Nero had recently allotted to him Tiberius and Tarichea with their surrounding districts, and the city of Julius with fourteen neighbouring villages. In some ways more significantly from Luke’s point of view he was also given authority over the Jerusalem High Priesthood, he could appoint and remove them as he would, and charge over the Temple and its vestments. Thus as well as having a wide area of rule he bore responsibility both for the High Priesthood and the Temple. But he was a rather weak man. On Festus’ appointment he came to see him, bringing his sister Bernice, in order to congratulate him.
Bernice was Agrippa’s sister and very strong minded, but must have been very attractive to men, although not as beautiful as Drusilla her sister, Felix’ wife. She in fact had an incestuous relationship with Agrippa, who was a weak and indolent man, and later a firm relationship with Titus before he became emperor. She was clearly therefore sexually attractive, even to her own brother.
Agrippa was constantly faithful to Rome, but he also tried to keep in favour with the Jews. He insisted, for example, that the kings who wished to marry his sisters were circumcised. He did, however, offend the Jews by adding height to the palace of the Hasmoneans, in which he lived when in Jerusalem, so that he could see into the Temple area and watch the religious activities in the inner courts. There may have been some piety in this but the priests did not like it, and accordingly built a high wall to block his view. Agrippa appealed against this to Festus, but meanwhile the Jews had appealed to Rome, and they won their case. Agrippa was thwarted.
He did not hesitate to intervene in Temple affairs. He gave the Levites who sang the Psalms the right to wear the priestly linen garments, which again the priests did not like, and later at great expense was ready to strengthen the foundations of the Temple, a process only interrupted by its destruction. He also provided road-building work in Jerusalem once the building of the Temple had been completed in order to prevent unemployment. Thus in his own way he was a thoughtful king. He was also completely loyal to Rome. He was thus able at times to ensure that Jewish affairs, and the affairs of his kingdom, were properly looked after. He was a moderating influence at a time of high tension and sought vainly to prevent the final insurrection that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem.
25.14 ‘And as they tarried there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the King.’
Festus saw Agrippa as a Godsend. Agrippa was seen by the Romans as an expert on Jewish affairs. Who better then to sort out these problems about the charges brought against Paul?
So while Agrippa and Bernice were staying with him ‘many days’ he took the opportunity of laying the case before the king. His words to Agrippa reveal his puzzlement and the dilemma he found himself in. He wanted to behave justly but he could not understand either party. He had been left by his predecessor with a prisoner that he was finding it difficult to make anything of. On the one hand all the Jews could accuse Paul of were religious matters. On the other Paul, for some reason, did not want to be judged in Jerusalem, and thus had appealed to Caesar. And as he did not really understand what the charges were against the man, he did not know what on earth he was going to give Caesar as the reason why he had sent him to him.
We must appreciate that he had not been in his position long enough to understand all the intricacies of current Jewish politics, nor to understand their depth of religious feeling and bigotry. He was a plain, relatively honest man out of his depth.
25.15-16 ‘Saying, “There is a certain man left a prisoner by Felix, about whom, when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, asking for sentence against him. To whom I answered, that it is not the custom of the Romans to give up any man, before the accused has the accusers face to face, and has had opportunity to make his defence concerning the matter laid against him.”
The facts were these. He had found this prisoner whom Felix had left in chains, but who was a Roman citizen. This had to mean that he had done something wrong. And when he had gone to Jerusalem this had been confirmed by the fact that the Jewish leaders had laid a complaint about this prisoner and had asked that he be condemned, and presumably executed. They had asked ‘for sentence against him’ on capital charges (violating the Temple and disloyalty to Caesar).
He had not, however, been prepared to submit on their word alone and had pointed out that Roman judges did not condemn men without evidence, and without giving the person a fair say. Every man had a right to face his accusers and establish his own defence. All this was altogether admirable.
25.17 “When therefore they were come together here, I made no delay, but on the next day sat on the judgment-seat, and commanded the man to be brought.”
So acting on his own words, once these leaders had come to Caesarea he had not delayed but had taken his official seat as Judge, and commanded that the man be brought before him.
25.18-19 “Concerning whom, when the accusers stood up, they brought no charge of such evil things as I supposed, but had certain questions against him of their own religion, and of one Jesus, who was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.”
And that was when his dilemma had begun, for instead of charging the man with recognisable crimes and wrongdoing of the kind that he had expected, they had instead charged him with what they saw as religious misdemeanours. It had all been about ‘not observing the Law of Moses’, and ‘violating the Temple’ (although no specific example had been proved by witnesses) and about a man called Jesus, whom the Jews were quite certain was dead, while Paul claimed that He was alive. It was all very strange.
‘And of one Jesus, who was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.’ It is probable that he had not realised the significance of this, that is, that it indicated that He was alive because He had risen from the dead and ascended into heaven. (Paul’s testimony would make this clearer). But it went to the heart of the matter. For it was His resurrection and enthronement that declared Who He was and proved His ability to effectively work in the salvation of men and women. It proved His right to rule, and to call men now to come under the Kingly Rule of God, that is, to submit to His rule. And it proved that He had the power to give life, and to provide men with His Holy Spirit, and to forgive their sins.
It was this that Paul was willing to live and die for. It was this that the High Priest and his cronies were afraid of. For if it was true then they had brought about the crucifixion of the Son of God, of Israel’s Messiah, and had proved unfaithful to God, and were even now opposed to His will. If it was true then they had no right to be where they were, for it meant that they were in opposition to all that they were supposed to stand for..
25.20-21 “And I, being perplexed how to enquire concerning these things, asked whether he would go to Jerusalem and there be judged of these matters. But when Paul had appealed to be kept for the decision of the emperor, I commanded him to be kept till I should send him to Caesar.”
The result was that perplexed about how to deal with such matters he had asked Paul if he was willing to put himself in the hands of a Jewish court, with Festus himself presiding to ensure fairplay (verse 9), so that these matters could be decided by Jewish experts. This had seemed to him the best solution. Who better to decide such matters? (He was as yet unaware of the intricacies of the Jewish mind, nor of the make up and different beliefs of that court, and the deep divisions within it. Nor of how skilled the chief priests were at obtaining their own way. Nor was he yet aware of the strong national feeling and religious bigotry that existed among the Jews. Nor had he recognised that it would almost have been a case of the accusers also being the judges).
But Paul had not been happy with such a suggestion and had appealed to Caesar to decide the matter, which was his right. Thus he had commanded that he be kept in custody until he was able to send him to Caesar. But now he had the dilemma of what charges he was to ask Caesar to judge him on.
25.22 ‘And Agrippa said to Festus, “I also could wish to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” says he, ‘You will hear him.” ’
Agrippa, who probably discerned in all this a good deal more than Festus, knew the intricacies of the Jewish court and the perfidy of the chief priests, and knew also something about the Way (Christianity), and so he announced that he would like to hear Paul for himself.
25.23 ‘So on the next day, when Agrippa was come, and Bernice, with great pomp, and they were entered into the place of hearing with the chief captains and principal men of the city, at the command of Festus Paul was brought in.’
Festus was no doubt pleased to have a ‘Jewish expert’ look at the case who was not prejudiced against the prisoner, and decided to do the whole thing on the proper scale so that the prisoner would be overawed and would thus be more submissive. At the same time it would show full courtesy to the king for his visit. So he called together the principal men of the city, (a mixture of Syrians and Jews, with the Syrians more prominent as we have seen) and the leading military men, including the five chiliarchs (chief captains), and Agrippa and Bernice, all in great state. The examination of Paul was going to be somewhat of a spectacle. Then before that important assembly, in ‘the place of hearing’ (be it noted ostensibly to hear questions of Jewish law), he had Paul brought in. Surely, he must have thought, this would make the man think.
It would seem clear, however, that his concern here was firstly in order to determine on what charges Paul could be sent to Caesar, and secondly in order to demonstrate his own fairness in dealing with the case so that when Paul went to Caesar he would not be able to say that he had not had a fair deal. It may well, of course, be that the case had become something of a cause celebre, especially as local Christians may well have been presenting their own view of things.
We may note that since his first arrest not one word has been said about what the church had done. It is not fair to assume that they had done nothing. It is one of Luke’s silences. While Luke does not mention it, the reason for this may firstly have been because he knows that God’s will is going forward, and secondly possibly because he had had to recognise that it had achieved nothing except possibly better treatment for Paul and a recognition that not all were against him.
So Paul, came in, the chains still on his hands and feet, and stood before that august assembly. The representative of the King stood there a captive in chains, those who were the slaves of sin and under Satan sat in their splendour and caroused. And yet there was only one man in control.
25.24 ‘And Festus says, “King Agrippa, and all men who are here present with us, you behold this man, about whom all the multitude of the Jews made suit to me, both at Jerusalem and here, crying that he ought not to live any longer.” ’
Festus then presented Paul. He pointed out to Agrippa and all present that here was a man whom all the large numbers of Jews, both in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, had pleaded be put to death as someone who did not deserve to live any longer.
‘Crying that he ought not to live any longer.’ These may either have been professional crowds primed to do this, or crowds aroused by rabble-rousers whenever the case was put to Festus by the Jewish leaders.
25.25 “But I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death, and as he himself appealed to the emperor I determined to send him, of whom I have no certain thing to write to my lord. Wherefore I have brought him forth before you, and specially before you, king Agrippa, that, after examination had, I may have somewhat to write.”
On the other hand he, Festus, had found that Paul had committed nothing worthy of death. However, the man, as a Roman citizen, had appealed to Caesar, and he had therefore determined to send him. The trouble was that he did not know what to charge him with. So this assembly had been gathered together, especially having the expert on the Jews, Agrippa II in mind, so as to determine what should be included in the charge put before Caesar.
‘My lord.’ This is a unique use in Acts of this term by itself as referring to the emperor. It may indicate Festus’ reaction to the constant use in his presence of ‘the Lord’ as indicating Jesus. As far as he was concerned his lord was the emperor.
25.27 “For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not withal to signify the charges against him.”
Indeed Festus’ previous training had actually demonstrated to him that to send a prisoner to be judged against whom no charges have been made seemed a little unreasonable! (It is possible to think of another word for it).
We must not, however, criticise Festus too much. He had been sent as procurator to a country which was a hotbed of trouble, whose leaders were notorious for complaining to Caesar, whose complaints had contributed to the downfall of the previous procurator, and who were vociferously claiming that Paul was an evil troublemaker. And he was new to the job, and wanted to succeed and keep this hotbed under control. In the light of that we must recognise that he had shown the restraint of an honest, if somewhat wary, man, who found himself in an impasse. What he was looking for was backing and support so that he would be able later to excuse himself if necessary, and a reasonable charge to lay against Paul in sending him to Caesar. Feelings in Judaea were just too high for him to dare to release him.
26.1 ‘And Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched forth his hand, and made his defence.’
At this point Agrippa turned to Paul and gave him permission to put forward his defence against the charge that had not been made against him, and the accusations of the Jews.
We should pause and consider here the position in which Paul now found himself. Every notable person in Caesarea, both Jew and Gentile, was gathered there, together with King Agrippa II and the Roman procurator. We may ask how else could Paul have ever been able to face such a remarkable audience? Men whom the church would never ordinarily be able to reach were all gathered with instructions to listen carefully to the words of Paul. And it was not a trial. Everything was relaxed. What an opportunity it presented. God alone is aware of what fruit eventually came out of that hearing. For every now and again we learn of powerful men who had responded to Christ and become His own. And as he stood there Paul remembered the words of the Lord, ‘You shall be brought before kings and rulers for My sake’ (Luke 21.12) and ‘the Holy Spirit will teach you in the same hour what you ought to say’ (Luke 12.12).
Paul’s Presentation of His Defence and of the Good News.
This is the final brick in Luke’s presentation of the hope of the resurrection presented through the words of Paul. Not only does he give these speeches in order to demonstrate that Paul is innocent, but as evidence of the resurrection from one who saw Jesus alive and had spoken to Him. The first half of Acts bore constant witness to the resurrection by the Apostles. This last half bears constant witness to it through the words of Paul (13.30, 34-37; 17.18, 31; 22.7-10, 14; 23.6; 24.15; 26.6-8, 14-18).
The threefold repetition of Paul’s experience with the risen Christ on the way to Damascus, of which this is the third (compare 9.1-18; 22.6-16), reveals how important an evidence Luke saw this whole incident to be. It was further confirmation of the resurrection as originally described and evidenced, was itself evidence of the glory of Jesus Christ in His risen state, and in a sense spoke of what every Christians experience should be. It was also confirmation of Jesus Christ’s intended activity through His own, and of His worldwide purpose. His message was equally intended for the Gentiles. The threefoldness stressed completeness and would therefore draw special attention to the incident so that thoughts would be concentrated on it. And the later hearing audiences in the church, would, as Acts was read through, be impressed, on the second description of it, by how important it apparently was, and totally grasped by it on the third.
26.2 “I think myself happy, king Agrippa, that I am to make my defence before you this day touching all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, especially because you are expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews. Wherefore I beseech you to hear me patiently.”
Paul begins tactfully and carefully. Yet he states nothing that was not the opinion of all present, for Agrippa had the reputation of being such an expert. He therefore simply acknowledged what all present recognised. No doubt, however, it made the king more friendly disposed towards him. Then, in true oratorical style, he asked for a patient hearing. Paul was not inexperienced in such matters. The hope that he might be overawed by those gathered was not realised. He was far too experienced in awkward situations for that.
The speech begins and ends in a very similar way to his previous testimony before the Jews. This should not surprise us as its purpose is the same. Having said that, however it is different in stress, for in each case when giving his testimony Paul very much has a mind for his audience, and selects from the facts accordingly. Yet in both he begins by laying down the foundations of his Jewishness and ends by proclaiming that he was sent to the Gentiles. We may analyse the speech as follows:
As in the previous testimony he opened in ‘a’ with the declaration of his Jewish godliness and ends in the parallel with taking God’s light (as the Servant of God) to both Jew and Gentile. In ‘b’ he has stressed the truth and hope of the resurrection and in the parallel proclaims the resurrection of Jesus. In ‘c’ he had connived with the leaders of the Jews to put Christians to death, in the parallel he himself had been threatened with imminent death by the Jews. In ‘d’ he had seen the heavenly light above the brightness of the sun, and in the parallel he was to turn men from darkness to that light. In ‘e’ he had asked Who the Lord was and had been told that it was Jesus and that he was persecuting Him in what he was doing, and in the parallel he is being delivered from persecution by the Lord Jesus Who has sent him. In ‘f’ comes his central commission, to be a witness of all that he has seen, and has and will hear.
His Previous Manner of Life
26.4-5 “My manner of life then from my youth up, which was from the beginning among mine own nation and at Jerusalem, know all the Jews, having knowledge of me from the first, if they be willing to testify, that after the most strict sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.”
He first declares that all who knew him could testify of the fact that he had lived strictly and honestly as a Pharisee, that is (for the Gentiles among his hearers) as one of the strictest adherents of Judaism. This would impress any Caesarean Jews present, for all would know of the dedication of the Pharisees, and it would assure the Gentiles present that he had lived in a godly fashion. He was making all know the piety of his life up to that point. And the point was that what a man was he mostly remained. His views may change but not his approach to life.
The Hope of the Coming Messiah and of the Resurrection
26.6-8 And now I stand here to be judged for the hope of the promise made of God to our fathers, to which promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. And concerning this hope I am accused by the Jews, O king! Why is it judged incredible with you, if God does raise the dead?”
He then declared the hope which was his, and in which he believed. It was a very Jewish hope. He was being judged ‘for the hope of the promise made of God to our fathers’, that is, the hope of the coming Messiah Who would be raised from the dead (Isaiah 53.10-12; Psalm 16.8-11) and Who would raise others from the dead at the last day (Isaiah 26.19; Daniel 12.2; John 5.29). This was what all Israel (the twelve tribes) also hoped for, the coming of the Messiah and the resurrection from the dead, ‘Jesus and the resurrection’. Let them therefore be aware that he stands to be judged before them this day, because is a Jew and as a Jew he has a Jewish hope. Paul is not shamming here. He believed that the church was the true Israel, the true Vine (John 15.1-6), the Israel of God (Galatians 6.16), and that they were God’s true people.
Once again it is clear that Paul sees one of the main reasons why he is being so hounded as arising from the fact of his belief in the resurrection as especially revealed in the resurrection of Christ. It is this is that the chief priests are so bigoted against. And yet the promises of God concerning the Messiah and the coming resurrection are what all the people of Israel (the whole twelve tribes - apart from these few) hope to attain to by serving God faithfully. That indeed is why he himself is serving God faithfully! And this is the hope concerning which he is being accused. And then he challenges them as to why it should be thought so incredible that God can raise the dead. After all, if He is the living God, can He not do anything?
By facing them up with Christ and the resurrection he was bringing what was possibly a new message to the Gentiles among the audience, as he had in Athens (17.18, 31-32), but at the same time he was wooing the supporters of the Pharisees who taught the resurrection from the dead, and linking it with the Messianic hope. Let all recognise that the living God will do this. He will raise men from the dead, and He has demonstrated this by raising Jesus Christ from the dead. For in the end Paul’s purpose for both Jew and Gentile is eventually to introduce them to the fact that Jesus Christ, Whom all the trouble is about, did rise from the dead, and is now enthroned as Lord and Saviour.
His Wrongly Expressed Zeal in Serving the Lord In Which He Had Been Supported By His Accusers.
26.9-11 “I truly thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth, and this I also did in Jerusalem. And I both shut up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, and when they were put to death I gave my vote against them. And punishing them oftentimes in all the synagogues, I strove to make them blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.”
He then described how he himself had been a persecutor of Christians in the earliest days, having seen himself as an enemy of Jesus Christ. And in the course of this he had imprisoned men (like he was now imprisoned) and had received authority from the very chief priests (who are now trying to put him to death), to put others to death. Indeed he had been so incensed against Christians that he had beaten them in the synagogues and had tried to force them, by torture and threats of death for them and their families, to blaspheme the name of Christ, and had even followed them to foreign cities for that purpose. He wanted his listeners to know that, although he had been full of religious zeal, he now recognised that he had been totally in the wrong, as his change of life revealed (just as it would now be wrong for them to punish him in the same way, without any real justification). He also wanted them to recognise what a genuine person he was in whatever he did. Let them also consider what amazing thing would be required to alter the course of his life.
‘Gave my vote against them.’ Not as a member of the Sanhedrin, which he never claims to have been, but as one who in one way or another signified assent to the verdict reached, either by yelling his agreement from the crowd who observed the court, or possibly because he was co-opted onto a committee formed by the Sanhedrin to see to these matters. Possibly it includes when having arrested ‘blasphemers’ they discussed among themselves whether they should kill them discreetly in order to save the courts the trouble. But the point is that he was always ‘for’ their death. Such a man could surely never have changed unless something remarkable had taken place.
His Experience of the Glory of the Lord, and the Lord’s Voice From Heaven
26.12-14 “Whereupon as I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, at midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and those who journeyed with me, and when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goad.’ ”
And then it had happened. He describes how as he was travelling, with authority and commission from the highest in the land, an even higher Authority had intervened. He had seen a light from heaven at midday, a light brighter than the burning sun, and it had shone round him, and a voice had spoken to him, and all of those present had been humbled before this light, and they had fallen to the ground. All had had to fall before that glorious light. (This was not mentioned in the previous testimony, but there Paul was emphasising the personal nature of his experience as a Jew, and the Jewishness of the whole experience. He had not wanted to over-emphasise the actual experience as a spectacle. But here before this great crowd of notables he wants to bring out the glory and the worship and submission to the Lord of all, for he wants these people also to fall before Him.
And then the voice had asked why he was persecuting the One Who spoke, and declared that it was a hard thing that he was doing, kicking against the nails in the ox-yoke which were designed to prevent such kicking. For he was a man on whom the Lord had put His yoke, and to struggle in the light of this was foolish. Many of his listeners here had their slaves and their cattle. They would understand exactly what kicking against the goads meant.
Thus a Heavenly Authority had spoken to him, and had informed him that he was taking him for His servant, for His ox, so that he might serve Him. But the leading question then was, Who was this One Who made this demand?
‘In the Hebrew language’, probably meaning in Aramaic. He did not want his audience to think in terms of Greek or Roman gods.
26.15 “And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.’ ”
So he had asked for identification, for he could not conceive who this Lord was Who was speaking to him. For was he not himself obeying the voice of the Lord in persecuting the Christians? And the voice had then told him, that he was Jesus Whom He was persecuting. It had been the last thing that he had expected to hear. As far as he was concerned Jesus was just a rotting corpse.
This was then a clear testimony to the resurrection, for Jesus had been dead and buried, and yet here He was speaking from heaven and identifying Himself with Christians on earth. Indeed He was declaring that they were so precious to Him, that those who touched them, touched Him. This was the amazing thing that had changed the course of his life. He had been brought face to face with the risen Jesus Christ, and had had to face up to the fact that He was alive, and had recognised His love for, and unity with, His church, His own people.
His Commission Received From the Lord Himself
26.16 “But arise, and stand on your feet, for to this end have I appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness both of the things in which you have seen me, and of the things in which I will appear to you.”
It was then that he had been given his commission. Like Ezekiel of old he was told to stand on his feet (Ezekiel 22.3). For Jesus was in a position of total authority. And Jesus had told him that the reason why He had appeared to him was in order to appoint him as a minister/servant, and as a witness, both of what he had now seen of the Lord in His supernatural glory, and of the things concerning which He would appear to him in the future. He had been chosen by God to be a chosen messenger of Christ.
We should note that before this audience it was necessary to bring out what ‘the Lord’ had said to him. They would not recognise Ananias, but they could not fail to recognise a voice of such authority. When speaking to the Jews, however, he had been at pains to point out that his commission had been given to him by a pious and devout Jew. Here it was to be seen as from the Lord from Heaven Himself. Which then was true? We have no reason to doubt that both were true. While the commissions were similar they were not the same, and there is no reason why he should not have received one when Jesus was speaking to him, and a comparative one when his eyes were opened. Ananias had brought him confirmation of what he had already heard. Like many a testimony, each time Paul gave it, it was selective and concentrated on different aspects of his experience suited to the hearers. But in reality, psychologically the reminder and confirmation by Ananias would be necessary so as to enable him to be sure that he had remembered correctly what he had been told at a time when he was under great trauma. God had given him a second reading.
The Purpose behind The Commission
26.17-18 “Delivering you from the people, and from the Gentiles, to whom I send you, to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive remission of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
He had then learned that his commission was clearly to be one which would involve great dangers. For he would need to be ‘delivered’ from both Jews and Gentiles, (Agrippa and Festus please note), as he fulfilled his task of opening their eyes so that they would see the truth, of turning them from darkness to light, from the darkness of ignorance and unawareness, of sin and of idolatry, to the glorious light of Christ now revealed to him, so that they might receive the light of life, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and so that they might be delivered from the power and tyranny of Satan to God.
This commission is full of Old Testament significance.
To have the eyes closed is to be in a state of spiritual darkness (28.27 (Isaiah 6.10); compare Luke 19.42). To have them opened is to be brought into the light.
However, by New Testament times the idea of Satan had expanded to the idea of world as being in Satan’s control (Matthew 4.8-9; Luke 3.6) so that the whole world lay in the arms of the Evil One (1 John 5.19), with the result that in order to be saved men had to be delivered from the tyranny of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Colossians 1.13). This was the work that Paul was called on to accomplish, to bring men under the Kingly Rule of God. The idea was the same as in Zechariah, deliverance from Satan’s power by coming under God’s kingship, blessing and control; by being clothed in righteousness; and by being delivered from sin. For at the cross Jesus had broken the powers of darkness and had triumphed over them in it (Colossians 2.15 contrast Luke 22.53).
But all this, while apparent to Paul, and intrinsic in the words, would not be apparent to Paul’s listeners. Rather would they gather that light had come in the Messiah, and that men were to have their eyes opened and respond to it, and so be delivered from Satan and enjoy the certainty of the resurrection.
His Response to the Commission Which Has Resulted in His Present Dilemma .
26.19-21 “Wherefore, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared both to those of Damascus first and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the country of Judaea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple, and attempted to kill me.”
And it was because of this commission and the heavenly vision that accompanied it, that he had gone everywhere proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, and calling on men to have a complete change of mind and turn to God, and do the kind of works that will reveal it. And it was for this reason that the Jews had seized him in the Temple and had tried to kill him. Let those then who heard consider whether what he had done was worthy of death. He had called them to God and to works worthy of repentance. The words here echo those spoken about John the Baptiser (Luke 3.8; Matthew 3.8 compare Luke 6.43-45).
‘Throughout all the country of Judaea.’ He may have had in mind here the trip he made through Judaea on his way to Jerusalem when he first went there after his conversion, a trip which he no doubt took advantage of by preaching on the way (9.26), or it may refer to the trip at the time of 15.3-4 similarly, or even one of which we know nothing. He takes advantage of these here in order to bring out that he had not neglected the Jews in their own land, even though the work amongst them was incidental and not a full scale evangelistic effort, for it demonstrated that he was not against them.
His Ministry Which Has Resulted From the Receipt of His Commission
26.22-23 “Having therefore obtained the help that is from God, I stand, to this day, testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses did say should come, how that the Christ must suffer, and how that he first by the resurrection of the dead should proclaim light both to the people and to the Gentiles.”
And central to all this is Jesus the Christ and the resurrection (compare 17.18). That is why he has received help from God. It was in order that he might proclaim to both small and great the hope of Israel as revealed by Moses and the prophets, namely that the Messiah must come, and that He must suffer, and that through His resurrection He would proclaim light to both Jews and Gentiles. For it is finally His resurrection that is the proof of what God has done and which therefore brings light to all (compare 1 Corinthians 15.14; 2 Timothy 1.10).
And he wants them to recognise that in teaching these things he is saying nothing other than the prophets have already said. Scriptures he has in mind would included Deuteronomy 18.18, of the coming Prophet; Isaiah 53.10-12 which could only be fulfilled by the resurrection of the Servant; 52.13, where the One Who had been humiliated is exalted high; both halves of Psalm 22, expressing humiliation and triumph; the triumph of the Messiah in Psalm 16.8-11; 110.1; Moses teaching on the sacrifices which are fulfilled in Christ (1 Corinthians 5.7) and are for the forgiveness of sins; Isaiah 42.6; 49.6 where the Servant is shown to be for the light to the Gentiles.
Paul Is Declared To Have Done Nothing Worthy Of Death and Thus To Have Conformed to the Law, but King Herod Agrippa II Closes His Heart Against His Words (26.24-32).
26.24 ‘And as he thus made his defence, Festus says with a loud voice, “Paul, you are mad. Your great learning is turning you mad.” ’
This reaction of Festus was probably a reaction to the suggestion that Jesus had been raised from the dead in order to proclaim light to both Jews and Gentiles. Resurrection from the dead in the body was very much a Jewish idea. He could probably have accepted as reasonable the idea that the soul should live on. What he found difficult to stomach was a man coming back from the grave capable of activity through His body. To the Greek the body was evil, a cage to be released from. Thus the idea was madness. It just did not happen. He accepted that Paul was a man knowledgeable in the Scriptures, but argued that that learning was making him mad. The reaction is not so unusual. It has been known for modern Christians to be accused of being ‘touched in the head’, in other words of not thinking as the world thinks.
But the reaction also reveals how carefully Festus had been listening. It is only someone deeply involved with what is being said who reacts like this. His heart had been involved. Unfortunately there is no evidence that it ever went beyond this. Felix had been terrified when he heard Paul. Festus was moved to cry out. Neither could say that they had not had their opportunity.
26.25 ‘But Paul says, “I am not mad, most excellent Festus, but speak forth words of truth and soberness.”
Paul then replies politely that he is not mad and that his words are both true and within reason. The word used for soberness is often used elsewhere in contrast with the idea of madness, as its opposite. We might translate ‘reasonableness’.
26.26 “For the king knows of these things, to whom also I speak freely, for I am persuaded that none of these things is hidden from him, for this has not been done in a corner.”
Indeed, he asserts, King Agrippa knows of these things. He knows that the Scriptures clearly teach the resurrection of the body. And he knows of the claims that Jesus has risen from the dead, and of the evidences that have been put forward (as they have been again today). Thus he speaks freely. For none of these things were done in secret. They were well known by the Jews.
26.27 “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.”
Then he turns to challenge King Agrippa himself, and challenges him as to whether he believes the prophets. And he will not take no for an answer. He knows that the King believes the prophets. What then is going to be his response?
26.28 ‘And Agrippa said to Paul, “With but little persuasion you would fain make me a Christian.” ’
Agrippa was probably both taken aback (he was not expecting to be directly challenged) and amused. He could not believe that Paul really expected to win his response so quickly. And indeed the truth is that he was probably not as aware of the prophetic Scriptures Paul was referring to as Paul thought. He may have been an ‘expert’ compared with a Roman, and even compared with many Jews, but he did not even begin to come up to the level of an educated Pharisee. Furthermore he would be conscious of those who were listening. Yet he does not deny it. Thus he replies (no doubt in embarrassment in the presence of the audience), ‘Do you really expect to persuade me to be a Christian in such a short time and with such little persuasion?’
26.29 ‘And Paul said, “I would to God, that whether with little or with much, not you only, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these bonds.” ’
Paul’s reply was from the heart. Apart from the chains in which he was standing, he wished that both the King and all who had listened to him, whether with little persuasion or with much, were in the same position as he was, not as prisoners, but as prisoners of Christ.
26.30-31 ‘And the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they who sat with them, and when they had withdrawn, they spoke one to another, saying, “This man does nothing worthy of death or of bonds.” ’
Then the king stood up, the indication that the event was now at an end. And following his act the governor and Bernice stood along with him, followed by all the guests, and having left the room all agreed that Paul had done nothing worthy of either death or bonds. All had been gripped by his words, and all were satisfied as to his genuineness.
26.32 ‘And Agrippa said to Festus, “his man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed to Caesar.” ’
So much so that Agrippa said to Festus that Paul might have been immediately set free, if he had not appealed to Caesar. This verdict by the man who could appoint and remove the High Priests of Jerusalem was clearly seen by Luke as more than counteracting the verdicts of the High Priests themselves. The chief man in Judaism had declared Paul to be innocent. Let all take note.
So now Paul must go under escort to Rome. They could have released him. His appeal was only binding if there were grounds for it, and there were no grounds for an appeal from one who was innocent. But all recognised that political expediency prevented his release. They would not unjustly condemn him, but they dared not release him because of the impact on the Jews. To them he was a political pawn. Indeed had he not been a Roman citizen he would probably reluctantly have been handed over to the Jewish court with a helpless shrug of the shoulders, for them to determine ‘justice’, with a view to keeping the peace ‘for the good of the empire’. So the alternative of releasing him was not an option. It would have brought turmoil. He had become too much of a religious issue in a country gripped by religious ferment for that to be possible. They were responsible politicians.
A Series of Maritime Stages and Examples of Prophecy (verses 10, 21-26) On The Way To Rome (27.l-26).
This series of ‘maritime stages’ on a voyage parallels that in 21.1-16. That one led up to Jerusalem. This one takes Paul away from Jerusalem towards Rome. In both passages God’s active presence in what is happening is emphasised by the acts of prophecy which occur.
Again the detail is given of the detailed stages of the journey. This was partly because the writer was with them on it, but the paralleling suggests that in each case there is also the purpose of introducing into the narrative the idea of a slow and inexorable progression towards the fulfilment of God’s purpose. They (and his readers) have much time in which to consider their future before arrival at Rome.
In the parallel this journeying was interrupted by the gathering of the Ephesian elders at Miletus in order to consider the trials and troubles ahead for the church. Here it is interrupted by a storm and by shipwreck which almost sweep all away. Spiritual parallels are clearly intended to be drawn.
There is thus in this chapter a picture of the church. It commences with making fairly smooth headway, it then runs into storms, and it ends with those involved enduring to the end and being saved by the grace of God. This would also be the future of the church in Ephesus (20.17-38; compare Revelation 2.1-7) and of all churches. It is with much tribulation that we will enter the Kingly Rule of God (14.22).
There is also a message concerning Paul. The way ahead may at first seem smooth, but ahead lay storms. However, God is with him. Even when things seem hopeless God will deliver him and bring him safely through.
But finally, and most importantly in the context of the book, is that in this storm was to be seen the attempt of Satan to prevent Paul reaching Rome. He had at last caught on to the fact that God had outmanoeuvred him, and he tries to destroy Paul (compare Job 1.19). But he was too late. And his failure is symbolised in the snake which attaches itself to Paul and is cast into the fire without harming him (28.3-6). Luke’s readers would recognise the connection.
The Maritime Stages (27.1-13).
27.1 ‘And when it was determined that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners to a centurion named Julius, of the Augustan band.’
No time notice is given but in the end a determination was made to send Paul to Rome. We will never know what Festus finally put in his correspondence with Caesar as to the charge laid against Paul. But accompanying Paul was Luke (‘we’), together with Aristarchus (19.29; 20.4; Col 4.10; Philemon 1.24). Both accompanied him to Rome. We may surmise that Luke went along as his physician, and Aristarchus as his servant, which would give them official positions. There may possibly have been other companions, and there were some other fellow-prisoners. There may have been three or more. In charge of the prisoners was a centurion named Julius. The ‘Augustan band’ might have been a cohort of auxiliaries, as legionary cohorts were not usually given names. Alternately they may have been a special group used for this kind of work, possibly originally set up by Augustus.
27.2 ‘And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium, which was about to sail to the places on the coast of Asia, we put to sea, Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, being with us.’
They set sail in a ship from Adramyttium, a Mysian seaport opposite Lesbos, which was travelling from Caesarea up the coast towards Asia Minor.
27.3 ‘And the next day we touched at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly, and gave him leave to go to his friends and refresh himself.’
The next stop was Sidon, seventy miles up the coast, where they presumably stopped to unload or pick up cargo. This would leave a little time for going ashore. Julius, the centurion, appears to have struck up a rapport with Paul, and when they arrived at Sidon allowed him to visit friends there, no doubt accompanied by a guard, and to ‘refresh himself’, presumably both physically and spiritually. This may include the fact that they provided money and provisions for his journey. Festus may well have given orders that Paul was to be treated as befitted a Roman citizen on appeal. He had after all made the choice to go to Rome. He was going willingly.
27.4 ‘And putting to sea from there, we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were contrary.’
They then set sail again and because of the westerly winds sailed to the east of Cyprus, sailing in the lee of the island, the regular route at that time of year. But it is mentioned as the first indication that it was doubtful sailing weather.
27.5 ‘And when we had sailed across the sea which is off Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra, a city of Lycia.’
From there they sailed across to the Asian coast, to Myra, a city of Lycia, a small district on the south coast of Asia Minor with a varied history, and thoroughly hellenised. Its port was Andriaca, which was regularly used by grain ships from Egypt. There they left the ship they were on and sought another which would take them to Italy.
27.6 ‘And there the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy, and he put us in it.’
The ship they next boarded had come from Alexandria in Egypt and was a grain ship (compare verse 38) although also possibly carrying other freight (verse 18). It was bound for Italy. It would appear to have been a government ship, or at least under contract to the government, for final control of the ship seems to have been in the hands of the highest ranking person aboard, the centurion (verse 11). According to a contemporary description, these large ships were often 180 feet long, 50 feet wide, and 44 feet deep from the deck to the bottom of the hold.
27.7-8 ‘And when we had sailed slowly many days, and were come with difficulty over against Cnidus, the wind not further allowing us, we sailed under the lee of Crete, over against Salmone, and with difficulty coasting along it we came to a certain place called Fair Havens, near to which was the city of Lasea.’
The voyage was now slow and laborious, with difficult sailing conditions, until they came opposite Cnidus on the south west tip of Asia Minor. But the wind would not allow them to land there, so they made for Crete and sailed along the lee shore, over against Cape Salmone, the eastern tip of Crete. And the winds were such that they found difficulty in coasting along it. However, they managed to reach Fair Havens near the city of Lasea, five miles east of Cape Matala, which was a small open bay. But as its name indicated it was not a good place at which to shelter for the winter. It was a haven in fair weather.
27.9-10 ‘And when much time was spent, and the voyage was now dangerous, because the Fast was now already gone by, Paul admonished them, and said to them, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the lading and the ship, but also of our lives.” ’
This voyaging had take more time than they had wished, and they appear also to have had some delay at Fair Havens. Thus the Day of Atonement (the Jewish Fast on the tenth day of Tishri) had passed, and the dangerous season for sailing was on them. In the Mediterranean navigation was considered to be difficult from the middle of September and impossible after the middle of November, due to the limitations of their ships. This would probably be early October. Indeed Paul appears to have had at least a premonition, (he was a fairly experienced traveller), and possibly a word from the Lord (note his ‘I perceive’ and his note of confident certainty which go beyond just concern), that to continue the voyage would lead to much loss, not only of the ship and cargo, but also of human lives. Whether he was officially called on to give his opinion, or did so because he received a warning from the Lord we are not told.
27.11 ‘But the centurion gave more heed to the master and to the owner of the ship, than to those things which were spoken by Paul.’
However the shipmaster and the captain (or the captain and the owner if it was a contracted ship) were for pushing on. They had risked a last, late trip, and wanted to be in a place where, once the new sailing season began, they could be first in Italy. And the centurion quite naturally took their advice as against Paul’s. Luke, however, appears to be hinting that he might have done better to recognise that Paul possibly had a better Source of advice.
27.12 ‘And because the haven was not commodious to winter in, the more part advised to put to sea from there, if by any means they could reach Phoenix, and winter there; which is a haven of Crete, looking north-east and south-east.’
This decision to press on was partly because finding lodgings for the winter was not going to be easy, and the shelter that the bay provided was not fully satisfactory. So they decided that they would make for Phoenix and winter there. This was a haven of Crete that looked north east and south east, and would be a much safer haven (the description fits Phineka). But this necessitated crossing the Gulf of Messara which would leave them exposed to any violent winds that arose.
27.13 ‘And when the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close in shore.’
At first the weather seemed to favour them, for the south wind had begun to blow gently. So they weighed anchor and, leaving Fair Havens, they sailed along the coast of Crete close in shore. This was a sign of how nervous they were. And then, just as they were beginning to congratulate themselves that all was well, and that they would safely make harbour, disaster struck.
The Storm (27.14-20).
This magnificent picture of the storm sees the ship being driven slowly and helplessly as it drifts in the contrary elements, torn by the winds and battered by the waves, from Crete to Malta. All aboard are seen as helpless, savage nature is in total control, everything is jettisoned, and in the end all is seen to depend on the hand of God. It is a picture of life in the raw. And yet we know that Paul must survive for he has to appear before Caesar. Thus are we to have confidence that God is in control over the whole episode.
There are also in the passage a number of hints that we are to gather from it certain spiritual lessons. God gave His guarantee that as long as they endured all would be saved in the end (verse 22), ‘he who endures to the end will be saved’ (Mark 13.13). If the people were to be saved all must stay within the vessel (verse 31). Of those who faced the storm not a hair of their heads would perish (verse 34). In the midst of the storm they could partake of the blessed and broken bread (verse 35). And as we have already seen it is paralleled by Luke with the words to the elders of the Ephesian church as he warned them of troubles ahead.
Note the stages of the storm:
27.14-15 ‘But after no long time there beat down from it a tempestuous wind, which is called Euraquilo, and when the ship was caught, and could not face the wind, we gave way to it, and were driven.’
The tempestuous wind that suddenly struck the ship as it came round the cape into the gulf was infamous. It appeared suddenly, so that they were caught before they could face into the wind, and thus had to give way and allow it to drive them before it. The name by which such winds were known was Euraquilo (‘east wind-north wind’).
27.16-17 ‘And running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were able, with difficulty, to secure the boat, and when they had hoisted it up, they used helps, under-girding the ship, and, fearing lest they should be cast upon the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and so were driven.’
They were driven along for twenty three miles until they came into the lee of the isle of Cauda, and the slight abatement of wind that resulted from this enabled them with great difficulty to pull in the life boat that was being pulled along behind, and get it aboard. It might yet be their salvation. After which they took advantage of the slight slackening of the tempest caused by the shelter of the island to pull ropes underneath the ship with the purpose of holding it together. Then, fearful less the wind blow them onto the African coast, onto the feared sandbars of Syrtis, the graveyard of many a ship as underwater archaeology has revealed, they took down all sail and lowered the mast. Thus they were totally at the mercy of the howling wind and the waves, except possibly for a small storm sail.
27.18 ‘And as we laboured exceedingly with the storm, the next day they began to throw the freight overboard, and the third day they cast out with their own hands the tackling of the ship.’
But the storm continued to tear at the ship, and in order to prevent it foundering or being torn apart, various cargoes were thrown overboard, preserving only some of the wheat as ballast, and things became so bad that this was followed by the ships tackle. All efforts were now aimed at keeping the ship together and floating.
‘We laboured exceedingly.’ Luke remembers battling against the wind and the spray, as they fought for the survival of the vessel. The change to ‘they’ possibly refers to those in authority who had to make such decisions.
27.20 ‘And when neither sun nor stars shone on us for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was now taken away.’
The blackened sky prevented navigation, and there were no breaks in the clouds. They had no idea where they were. But as the next verses bring out, God knew. Meanwhile the howling winds and the great breakers continued to tear at the ship until all hope of survival was taken away. Not even the most experienced sailor had been through anything like this before.
27.21-22 ‘And when they had been long without food, then Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, “Sirs, you should have listened to me, and not have set sail from Crete, and have received this injury and loss. And now I exhort you to be of good cheer; for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.” ’
Such had been the efforts required, and the desperate strivings of all on board, that none had had time to eat properly. It was just a matter of fighting on, holding on and waiting for the end, and taking what they could. Then Paul fought his way through the howling wind, and finding a convenient place yelled, presumably to the shipmaster, the captain, and the centurion, but also to any within hearing, that had they listened to him this would not have happened. They should have listened to what God had shown him. He was saying this, not in order to gloat (there was little to gloat about), but in order to give them confidence in what he was going to say next. If he had been right once he could be right again. So then he assured them that they could cheer themselves with this thought, that although the ship would be lost, not a man would perish.
27.23 “For there stood by me this night an angel of the God whose I am, whom also I serve, saying, “Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand before Caesar, and lo, God has granted you all those who sail with you.”
Then he explained that an angel of God had stood by him that night and had told him not to be afraid, for it was God’s purpose that he stand before Caesar, and that he had given to him all those who sailed with him. This gives the solid impression that that was what he had been praying for. Why else the promise?
We are reminded here of 23.11 where the Lord Himself had stood by him, and had said a similar thing. That was when he had been rescued from the howling mob of the Sanhedrin and was facing up to an uncertain future. Now in a similar situation he faced a howling wind and faced an uncertain future. So he received the same promise. Whether from men or from the elements, God would protect him. For God was with him in all that was happening and would see him safely through to the end, and safely into Caesar’s presence.
27.25 “Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer, for I believe God, that it will be even so as it has been spoken to me.”
So he assures them that they can be of good cheer, because he is sure that God will do as He has promised.
27.26 “But we must be cast on a certain island.”
However it will ‘be necessary’ for them to be cast onto an unknown but determined island. In other words God has not just promised deliverance, He has filled in some of the detail. And He has a purpose for their landing on that island. Malta was awaiting the Good News. The calm assurance that in this wild and uncontrolled storm God had fixed on a particular island where He wanted to fulfil His purposes shines out through the narrative. Thus when the landing happens as God has described they will be able to know that it was the hand of God that has taken them there.
The Shipwreck (27.27-44)
In what follows we are given certain lessons for success in life, and which equally applied to the Ephesian elders. If they, and we, are to survive the storms there are certain principles that must be followed.
The first was obedience to what God told them to do. If the centurion had not obeyed God’s voice through Paul there would have been great loss of life (verse 31).
The second was to cut away the one hope that they seemed to have, the life boat. They must trust in nothing else but God and look to Him alone for deliverance.
The third was to trust Him and take food. This would strengthen them for their final ordeal. Christians would see in this the food of eternal life offered through the death of Christ. They would recognise that under every circumstance of life it is by partaking of Him that men can be saved and can endure.
And fourthly it was necessary to be observant and follow His instruction. He had said that they would be cast on a certain island. They had to look for that island and plan accordingly when it arrived.
And the guarantee was that all those who thus trusted Him would be saved. That this was to be seen as a parable as well as a reality comes out in the promise that not a hair of their head would perish (verse 34 compare Luke 21.18-19), that they were to eat bread as illustrated by Paul in such a way as to suggest the partaking of bread at the Lord’s Supper (verse 35), and by the numbering of the saved (verse 37).
There is no better picture of ‘he who will endure to the end will be saved’. These men were helpless and in a hopeless situation. Their endurance arose out of the necessities of the situation. But they did endure, for it was an essential part of their nature to fight for survival. They clung on and fought for life, even though they seemed to be all alone. But as they endured they discovered that God was with them, planning all that took place, keeping each one safe, and the result was that in the end all were saved. We too must sometimes hold on with gritted teeth, knowing that behind all is God, and if we are His He will see us safe through to the end. And those who are His will do so. It has become their nature.
27.27-29 “But when the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven to and fro in the sea of Adria, about midnight the sailors surmised that they were drawing near to some country, and they sounded, and found twenty fathoms, and after a little space, they sounded again, and found fifteen fathoms. And fearing lest haply we should be cast ashore on rocky ground, they let go four anchors from the stern, and wished for the day.”
They were under the control of that raging storm for fourteen days, arriving eventually in the sea of Adria, the central Mediterranean. Fourteen is twice seven, intensified divine perfection. Even the timing of the storm was planned. While to those in the ship all seemed lost, to God it was going according to plan. However, in the midst of the howling wind and the great breakers the experienced sailors then saw or heard something in those breakers that now gave them hope. Perhaps it was a lessening in their size, that suggested to them that they were approaching shallower water, which meant land somewhere ahead. Or they may have discerned the sound of surf, and breakers on a shoreline. Whatever it was they tossed out the lead and discovered a depth of twenty fathoms. And after a while they tossed it out again and the depth was now only fifteen fathoms. They were fast approaching land. But it was night. And they dared not approach unknown land at night. So they cast out four stern anchors and waited, and wished and prayed, for day. The purpose in using stern anchors was in order to keep the ship pointing in the same direction
27.30-31 “And as the sailors were seeking to flee out of the ship, and had lowered the boat into the sea, under colour as though they would lay out anchors from the foreship, Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, “Unless these abide in the ship, you cannot be saved.” ’
And as day approached the sailors pretended that they were about to drop the forward anchors. But their real intention was to lower the life boat while the light was still dim and desert the ship. They were like false shepherds who did not care for those for whom they had responsibility. They were abandoning the sheep. And sure enough they set about lowering the boat secretly. It is clear that there was only limited space in the lifeboat. But Paul, either through divine guidance or astuteness and suspicion (he knew men’s hearts) recognised what they were doing in the dim light and called to the centurion to stop them. He warned that without the sailors to steer the ship they would all be lost.
27.32 ‘Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the boat, and let her fall off.’
So the soldiers ran forward and cut the ropes which held fast the boat and it fell into the sea. Now the only hope of safety for them all lay in grounding the ship, something that they could not have done without the sailors.
27.33-34 ‘And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take some food, saying, “This day is the fourteenth day that you wait and continue fasting, having taken nothing. Wherefore I beseech you to take some food, for this is for your safety, for there will not a hair perish from the head of any of you.” ’
Then Paul pointed out that none of them had eaten properly for fourteen days. They had done all that was humanly possible. It was now time to take some food, which would strengthen them for the ordeal ahead. For he promised that not a hair of their heads would perish. This same promise had been given by Jesus when speaking of the tribulations that God’s people must face, where it had in mind the need for endurance (Luke 21.18), which again confirms that this story was intended by Luke to have a spiritual application.
27.35 ‘And when he had said this, and had taken bread, he gave thanks to God in the presence of all, and he broke it, and began to eat.’
Then he led by example and taking bread, deliberately and publicly gave thanks in the presence of them all, and breaking it, began to eat. This in itself was a kind of acted out prophecy. It was declaring the certainty that he, and they, would survive. Even in the midst of such extremity the habits of a lifetime persisted. He could not eat without remembering God and giving thanks. The likeness to the Lord’s Supper is striking. What he was doing symbolised to Luke’s readers that however severe the storms of life, by partaking of Christ men could be delivered from them and be saved.
27.36 ‘Then were they all of good cheer, and they themselves also took food.’
And the result of his practical example was that they all took heart and themselves also took food. Probably only Luke and Aristarchus had understood the significance of what he had been declaring by his act.
27.37 ‘And we were in all in the ship two hundred threescore and sixteen persons.’
The number aboard the ship is now given. (Josephus tells of a similar voyage where there were six hundred on board). The count may have been taken in handing round the food. Or it may have been a head count preparatory for their hoped for landing. Or it may simply have been taken in the beginning, and have been recorded. But it was important. The count when all this was over would prove that not one was lost. We are reminded here again of the counting of the ‘one hundred and forty four thousand out of every tribe of the sons of Israel’ (Revelation 7.4) who represented the whole people of God. Despite the tribulations to come, not one of them too would be lost, for they were sealed by God.
27.38 ‘And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea.’
Then when all had eaten sufficient, they lightened the ship by throwing all the grain that was left into the sea. The lighter the ship, the more likely to reach land
27.39 ‘And when it was day, they did not know the land, but they perceived a certain bay with a beach, and they discussed together whether they could drive the ship on it.’
And when day came they saw land. Many of them could hardly believe it. They had never expected to see land again. But they did not recognise the land. They did, however, observe a certain bay with a beach, and they discussed among themselves whether they would be able to drive the ship onto the beach.
27.40 ‘And casting off the anchors, they left them in the sea, at the same time loosing the bands of the rudders, and hoisting up the foresail to the wind, they made for the beach.’
Then casting off the anchors and leaving them to the sea so as to lighten the vessel as much as possible, they loosened the ropes that had been holding the two great paddles which acted as rudders in a fixed position, with the intention of preventing their breaking or flailing about, and hoisting up a foresail to the wind, made for the beach. But in verse 22 we have been told that the ship would not be saved, and so it was to prove. God would give them all their lives, but nothing of ship or cargo.
27.41 ‘But lighting upon a place where two seas met, they ran the vessel aground, and the foreship struck and remained unmoveable, but the stern began to break up by the violence of the waves.’
For coming across a sand bar where two seas met, they ran aground, and the bow embedded itself and became immovable. And the result was that the stern began to break up under the pounding of the waves.
27.42 ‘And the soldiers’ advice was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim out, and escape, but the centurion, desiring to save Paul, stayed them from their purpose, and commanded that they who could swim should cast themselves overboard, and get first to the land, and the rest, some on planks, and some on other things from the ship. And so it came about that they all escaped safe to the land.
The soldiers then advised their commander that the best thing would be to kill the prisoners in order to prevent them from escaping. They were aware that according to regulations to lose a prisoner could mean punishment for themselves of a type which would have been imposed on the prisoner. But the centurion, wanting to save Paul, stopped them from doing so, and commanded rather that all try to get to the shore. Those who could swim were to do so, and get ashore as quickly as possible, and those who could not were to use planks and other floating objects in order to float ashore. And the result was that all escaped to land as God had promised Paul (verse 22).
By this Luke lets us know that in spite of the storms God’s work goes forward. All whom He has enrolled/numbered will be saved and none can hinder it.
The Haven. God Reveals That He Is With Paul By Signs (28.1-10).
Having landed in what turned out to be Malta Paul had an encounter with a snake which emphasised that God was protecting him from Satan. This was then followed by signs and wonders. The danger now being passed God was confirming His servant’s status and revealing that His presence was still with him.
28.1 ‘And when we had escaped, then we knew that the island was called Melita.’
Once ashore having escaped the sea they learned that the island on which they had landed was Malta. Malta, also called Melita (meaning refuge) which it was for many a sailor, lies about 60 miles south of the island of Sicily, and about 500 miles west of Crete. It is 18 miles long and 8 miles wide. The people who inhabited it in Paul’s day were of Phoenician origin. Luke calls them "barbarians" (Gr. barbaroi - one who says ‘bar-bar-bar’) because of the difficulties that he had in understanding some of them because in the excitement they favoured their own native tongue. But there is no suggestion of their being uncivilised.
28.2 ‘And the barbarians showed us no common kindness, for they kindled a fire, and received us all, because of the present rain, and because of the cold.’
There the people of the island welcomed them with extraordinary kindness, coming out into the appalling weather and kindling a fire for them to gather round as an antidote to the rain and the cold. Many from the boat would be suffering from hypothermia. The fire was literally a lifesaver.
There can be no doubt that God had landed the passengers in the right place. On other beaches they might have found people waiting to kill them as they landed so as to collect their possessions, or people so eager to gather the wood coming in from the vessel that they had not time to care for the desperate. But here all was kindness. Even the hearts of the people had been prepared.
28.3 ‘But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out as a result of the heat, and fastened on his hand.’
The able ones among the rescued no doubt busied themselves in doing what they could for the others. And as usual Paul was busy seeking to serve, and he assisted by gathering a bundle of sticks, laying them on the fire. But then a snake came out as he tossed them on the fire. It had been comatose in the cold, but disturbed by the heat, fastened itself on Paul’s hand.
28.4 ‘And when the barbarians saw the venomous creature hanging from his hand, they said one to another, “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped from the sea, yet Justice (dike) has not allowed to live.” ’
It was of a type known to the islanders to be venomous, and the barbarian inhabitants of the island looked meaningfully at one another, and said that he must be a murderer who, even though he had escaped the sea, Justice (dike) would not allow to live. It would appear that the Maltese venerated the Greek god Dike.
There seems little doubt that Luke sees this incident as symbolic. To all Christians the snake represented Satan, and here was his representative seeking to destroy Paul, but failing (as he had in the storm). As Jesus Himself had said, ‘Behold, I give you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you’ (Luke 10.19). The Enemy had once again attacked, and had failed. Thus was indicated that the conqueror of Satan was on his way to Rome, to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God (26.18), and Satan was powerless to do anything about it.
Today there are no venomous snakes on the island of Malta, but that is no evidence that there were none in those days, for as men became more sophisticated they would seek to exterminate them and that would not be difficult on so small an island. Locals do not make mistakes about which snakes are poisonous.
28.5 ‘However that may be he shook off the creature into the fire, and took no harm.’
But whatever the barbarians thought he shook off the creature into the fire and took no harm. We note that he did not take it into his hand on the grounds that Jesus had said that believers could do so (Mark 16.18). He did not seek to do anything spectacular. He just shook it off. Not for him a showing off of his immunity against snakes.
28.6 ‘But they expected that he would have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly. But when they were long in expectation and beheld nothing amiss came to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.’
The barbarians, however, stood around watching him and waiting for the signs of the poison to reveal themselves, expecting him to swell up and die at any moment. But when after a goodly period nothing had happened, they changed their minds about him and decided that he was a god.
28.7 ‘Now in the neighbourhood of that place were lands belonging to the first man of the island, named Publius, who received us, and entertained us three days courteously.’
The title ‘first man of the island’ is known from archaeology to have been the title given to the Roman governor of Malta. His name was Publius. This may have been his official name as used of him by the islanders. He apparently had lands nearby and welcomed Paul and his companions, and no doubt the centurion, and the shipmaster and captain. (He may indeed have welcomed a number of others also). ‘Three days’ probably means ‘for some time’.
28.8 ‘And it was so, that the father of Publius lay sick of fevers and dysentery, to whom Paul entered in, and prayed, and laying his hands on him healed him.’
While they were there Paul learned that Publius’ father was ill with intermittent fevers (plural) and dysentery and he went to his sick room and prayed, laying his hands on him and healing him. The power of the name of Jesus has come to Malta.
The prayer before the laying on of hands is mentioned in 6.6. Here it was necessary so that a people who thought that Paul was a god would recognise the true source of healing power. The illness may have been Malta fever which in fact was passed on by the milk of Maltese goats.
28.9-10 ‘And when this was done, the rest also who had diseases in the island came, and were cured, who also honoured us with many honours, and when we sailed, they put on board such things as we needed.’
The natural result of this was that many people on the island brought their sick and they were all healed (a different word from verse 8 but used elsewhere in Acts of Peter’s healings (5.16)). And as a result the people honoured them with many honours. They were received with complete acceptance and treated with great respect.
There is an interesting parallel here with Luke 4.38-40. In both cases a relative of an associate is healed, followed by wholesale healings of the people who come to him. But we must not overpress this. There are significant differences.
As is often the case throughout Acts the Christian evangelism is simply assumed (we can compare Cyprus (13.6), Philippi, Caesarea). There were the large number of people saved from certain death who had already learned about God from Paul’s behaviour on board. It would be unusual indeed if some had not shown an interest. There were the people who observed the incident of the snake. They too would have been intrigued. There was the fact that they had seen Paul as a god. He could hardly leave things like that. There were those who were healed and their relatives who came from all around the island. They would be open to the Gospel. We cannot doubt that every opportunity was take to present the Good News and that many responded. Paul must have been very busy. Such a response is in fact what this behaviour of the people implies. ‘They honoured us with many honours, and when we sailed, they put on board such things as we needed.’ They were expressing their wholehearted gratitude. not only for healing of body, but also for healing of soul. But Luke’s emphasis here is not on that, but on reaching Rome.
Paul Meets With Disciples For Seven Days at Puteoli and Then At The Appii Forum (28.14-15).
Paul is now rapturously welcomed as he approaches Rome with the Christian’s equivalent of the emperor’s Triumph being granted to him. First at Puteoli, then at the Appii Forum and then at The Three Taverns he is greeted with joy before taking up residence in his own private residence. One of God’s Witnesses of the resurrection has come to Rome to establish the Kingly Rule of God (1.8).
28.11-13 ‘And after three months we set sail in a ship of Alexandria which had wintered in the island, whose figurehead was ‘The Sons of Zeus’ (The Twin Brothers). And touching at Syracuse, we tarried there three days. And from there we weighed anchor (or ‘took a circuitous route’), and arrived at Rhegium, and after one day a south wind sprang up.’
Three months were spent in Malta. No ship would put to sea over those three winter months. But there was a grain ship from Alexandria wintering in the island (how galling to the shipowner of the wrecked ship). Its figurehead was the Twin Brothers (Castor and Pollux). The word is ‘dioskurois’ - the ‘sons of Zeus’. Luke no doubt saw it as ironic that the sons of Zeus should carry to Rome the greatest opponent of Zeus in the Roman Empire. (How blind Zeus must have been). So they went aboard and set sail, arriving at Syracuse, on the east coast of Sicily, where they lingered a few days (‘three days’). This may have been because of the weather, or because of something needed aboard ship, or because of a small extra cargo being unloaded. There may be a contrast in this ‘three days’ here with the ‘seven days’ at Puteoli where there were Christians, the one a short wait, the other a period of heaven on earth.
‘Took a circuitous route and arrived at Rhegium.’ After this they had to take an indirect route (as with our modern tacking but without the same ability) to Rhegium on the toe of Italy, because of the weather, but then a south wind sprang up and they were able to sail for Puteoli, 180 miles up the coast. Alternately Alpha and B have ‘weighed anchor and arrived at Rhegium.’
28.14 ‘And on the second day we came to Puteoli, where we found brethren, and were entreated to tarry with them seven days. And so we came to Rome.’
Sailing time was good and on the second day they arrived at Puteoli which competed with Ostia as the main grain terminal for Rome. There they found a group of Christians and were heartily welcomed among them for ‘seven days’, a period of joy and bliss. This meant that they could spend with them both the Sabbath day and the first day of the week, celebrating together the Lord’s Supper. So having started off with a seven day stay at Troas so long ago (per the parallel) at the commencement of his ‘journey’ (to Rome via Jerusalem) he now experiences the same thing at the end. All is well. God has not changed. A recently discovered Christian chapel at nearby Herculaneum may well once have been a venue for some of these Christians who met Paul.
Luke does not explain how this seven days was managed, for after all Paul was a prisoner. But Paul was now the hero of the shipwreck and may well have been given some licence. It may, however, be that on arrival at his destination the centurion had some formalities to complete which necessitated a seven day wait. Possibly arrangements had to be made for the disposal of the prisoners. This was the Rome terminal. Or possibly their papers had been lost at sea, necessitating further instructions
‘And so we came to Rome.’ This is not a travel description, but a triumphant eulogy. ‘This is how we came to Rome, into the bosom of believers.’ They were in fact not quite there yet, but to these weary travellers it seemed like a homecoming at their first real landing on Italian soil. To them Puteoli in Italy spelt Rome. (To arrive at Ostia or Puteoli signified Rome to all sea travellers. They were Rome’s grain terminals). This would be how they would ever remember their arrival in ‘Rome’.
28.15 ‘And from there the brethren, when they heard of us, came to meet us as far as The Market of Appius and The Three Taverns, whom when Paul saw, he thanked God, and took courage.’
Even more joyous was it to be met on the last part of the journey, as they travelled along the Via Appia, by other brethren who came to meet them at the Market of Appius, a market town forty three miles from Rome, and at the Three Taverns, thirty three miles from Rome. They had received his treasured letter to the Romans three years before and now they could meet the famed apostle, who was the author, for themselves. Paul must have felt like a conquering emperor being welcomed into Rome. It was as though it was his ‘Triumph’. (One difference being that he had not staged it himself, or even expected it). It was a further reminder that God was there, and was with him (even Paul must have suffered some apprehension as the moment of meeting with Caesar drew closer). So ‘he thanked God and took courage.’
Paul Commences His Ministry in Rome Where, Living in Peace and Safety, He Has Clear Course to Proclaim the Kingly Rule of God (28.16-31).
28.16 ‘And when we entered into Rome, Paul was allowed to abide by himself with the soldier that guarded him.’
Thus entering Rome in humble triumph the King’s representative was allowed to live by himself (with his companions) with a soldier guarding him. The Apostolate had at last entered Rome, and was ‘free’ to carry out his ministry there. It was God’s first main step towards taking over Rome. It was from Rome that the Good News could flow out to all parts of the empire. Now were to be fulfilled Jesus’ words, ‘you shall be my witnesses --- to the uttermost parts of the earth’ (1.8).
28.17-18 ‘And it came about, that after three days he called together those who were the chief of the Jews, and when they were come together, he said to them, “I, brethren, though I had done nothing against the people, or the customs of our fathers, yet was delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans, who, when they had examined me, desired to set me at liberty, because there was no cause of death in me.” ’
After a few days of settling in Paul sent a message to the leading elders among the Jews and called them together, speaking as one Jew to others. They were still very much his people. He was concerned to know what charges had been sent against him, and how he was viewed among Jews here in Rome.
So once they had come together he introduced himself. He explained that although he was innocent of any fault against his people, or against their customs, they had delivered him up as a prisoner into the hands of the Romans. The Romans, however, had examined him and found that he did not deserve death, and wanted to set him free..
28.19 “But when the Jews spoke against it, I was constrained to appeal to Caesar; not that I had anything of which to accuse my nation.”
But, he added, the Jews in Jerusalem had spoken against it, with the result that he had had to appeal to Caesar. It was not because he wanted to bring a charge against the Jews, but simply that they had brought a charge against him and would not drop it. And that was why he was here under house arrest.
28.20 “This is the reason why I entreated you to see and to speak with me, for because of the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.”
And it was the reason why he had called them together to see him and speak to him. Because he wanted them to know that he was not an apostate. It was for the hope of Israel that he was bound within this chain that they saw on him. As we have already seen the hope of Israel was a twin hope, the coming of the Messiah and the resurrection of the body.
28.21 ‘And they said to him, “We have neither received letters from Judaea concerning you, nor did any of the brethren come here and report or speak any harm of you.” ’
They then informed him that no letters had arrived at the synagogues concerning him, nor had any visitors come and reported anything or in any way spoken evil of him. As far as they were concerned he was in the clear. Their words seem to suggest that that would be how they would like it to remain. They did not want any more trouble with the Roman authorities. They had had enough under Claudius. We should note that they are being wary and giving him the benefit of the doubt. They are only claiming not to have had any official complaints. They are not talking of private ‘rumours’. With regard to those they were ready to wait and see.
The news that no charges had come through must have quite surprised him, for he would have expected the Jews in Jerusalem to have made some efforts to bring charges against him in Rome. They had had sufficient time. Were they not to do so within eighteen months the charge against him would probably be dropped for lack of evidence.
Had we only had this to go by we may have surmised that there had simply been a delay in messengers getting through. After all it had taken him and his fellow travellers a good while to make the journey, although any accusations could have left Caesarea earlier than he did. But Luke then describes the passage of two years, and the impression we are given is that there were still no charges against him.
However, that should not necessarily surprise us. They had got rid of him from Palestine, and it was one thing to bring charges not backed by evidence to a provincial governor whom they could lean on, it was quite another to bring them before Caesar. That could bring them into disrepute where it mattered.
28.22 “ But we desire to hear from you what you think, for as concerning this sect, it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against.”
Meanwhile the Jewish leaders expressed their desire to hear his views, for they did know of the Christians and claimed that no one had any good to say about them. They are probably not being quite as vague as it might at first seem. Rather they have recognised Paul’s quality, have probably heard from him his background, and are saying, ‘while we look on Christians as having a bad reputation, as everyone knows, we are ready to listen to anything by which you can convince us otherwise. You may know what we do not know’. Their words suggest that at this time the Jews in Rome had little to do with the Christians, and avoided them in case there was trouble. There are grounds for believing that there had been such trouble in the time of Claudius so it is possible that they had agreed to an uneasy peace and avoided each other.
28.23 ‘And when they had appointed him a day, they came to him into his lodging in great number, to whom he expounded the matter, testifying the Kingly Rule of God, and persuading them concerning Jesus, both from the law of Moses and from the prophets, from morning until evening.’
Then having appointed a day on which they could meet him they came in even greater numbers. There was a keen interest in learning what he had to say. They were neither so bigoted nor so hidebound as the Jewish Christians. Nor did they have the same political power, nor probably were they so bound by tradition.
Paul then expounded to them his teaching on the present and future Kingly Rule of God, and on the call of God to His people to respond to it. This was then followed up by his introduction of Jesus as the King in question, as evidenced both through his own experience and through his studies in the Law of Moses and the prophets. For the sum of his teaching we may consult 13.26-41 and his letter to the Romans, together with his threefold testimony. This testifying and expounding continued ‘from morning until evening’, so that the subjects were thoroughly dealt with.
28.24 ‘And some believed the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved.’
As we might expect some believed what he spoke, and some disbelieved. Compare 13.42-43; 17.32-34. They were divided among themselves. .
28.25-27 ‘And when they did not agree among themselves, they departed after that Paul had spoken one word, “Well spoke the Holy Spirit through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, saying, Go you to this people, and say, ‘By hearing you will hear, and will in no wise understand, and seeing you will see, and will in no wise perceive, for this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest, haply they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should turn again, and I should heal them.” ’
Once he perceived that not all were in agreement with him, Paul, who thought the Scriptures involved crystal clear, reminded them of the words of Isaiah the prophet about the unwillingness of the ancient people of Israel to believe the truth. It had been true in the prophet’s case. It was sad if it was true this day.
For it was the Holy Spirit Himself Who had said to their fathers through the prophets, ‘Tell the people that their hearing, their seeing and their hearts are at fault. Because of this they will hear and not understand, they will see and will not perceive.’ And this in turn was because their hearts were fat with luxuries, their ears did not want to hear what did not please them, their eyes refused to believe what they did not want to see. And why was this? In the end it was because they loved their sin. They did not want to be healed and restored. Until that attitude was altered there could be no hope for them.
So now the choice was before them. They must decide if they wanted the truth, if they really wanted God’s will, or whether they were just saving face and pretending that they did. Their choice was as to whether they would continue as Jews under condemnation by their own Scriptures, or whether they would respond to those Scriptures and become true Jews.
As with Isaiah 6.9-11 this was not a rejection but a warning. Paul is speaking to them as the new Isaiah. He and those who followed him would go on preaching to them until the final day of judgment It was they who must take heed to the condition of their ears, eyes and hearts. Now, however, the message was to go to a wider audience than that of Isaiah. The Gentiles also would hear, as Isaiah had later declared. The Servant had come (Isaiah 42.6-7; 49.6).
28.28 “Be it known therefore to you, that this salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles. They will also hear.”
Meanwhile let them know, (and he wanted to provoke them to jealousy by this - Romans 11.11) that this salvation of God available through the Messiah is sent to the Gentiles who will hear it, just as many Jews do. True ‘Judaism’ is now open to the world.
‘They also.’ Also as well as the believing Jews. So it was now open to all Jews to consider their response, recognising that some Jews had already responded and that many Gentiles were also to receive God’s offer and would hear. He did not want them to be left behind. And on that note they departed, with some believing, some considering, and some saying, ‘No way!’.
The thing that stands out most strongly from these last few verses, and the lack of any reference to the church separately in this final passage is that Paul is still concerned that Christianity be seen and recognised as the true fulfilment of Judaism. To him the church is the Israel of God. It is not a question of choosing between being a Jew or a Christian, it is a matter of a Jewish Christian being the true Jew, and the Christ-rejecter not being a true Jew. Those who believe are engrafted. Those who do not believe are cut off (Romans 11.17-27). And while Gentile Christians may not practise all the customs of the Jews, they do become an essential part of Israel (Romans 11.17-27; Galatians 3.7, 28; 6.16; Ephesians 2.11-22; James 1.1; 1 Peter 1.1; Revelation 7.4-8). For as will be later pointed out they are circumcised with the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2.11). Their offerings are offered once for all through the sacrifice of Himself offered by their great High Priest (Hebrews 7-10). Thus the growth of the Kingly Rule of God is the growth of the true Israel as laid on the foundation of the Jewish Christian Apostles. Salvation is of the Jews (John 4.22; Isaiah 2.2-4)).
This general statement brings to a conclusion and stresses all that Acts has been aiming for, the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God, and of the risen Lord Who is responsible for that Kingly Rule, both in heaven and in earth. And it brings out that God has made it possible for this to occur in peace and safety, at the very heart of the Empire itself.
28.29-30 ‘And he abode two whole years in his own rented dwelling (or ‘at his own expense’), and received all that went in to him, preaching the Kingly Rule of God, and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness, none forbidding him.’
These final summaries have a twofold purpose. To bring to a summation the passage that they follow, and to summarise all that has happened throughout the preceding section. This one is no different from the others, except that it also brings the whole of Acts to summation.
Firstly it points out that throughout the section which speaks of his journey to Jerusalem and his imprisonment he had preached the Kingly Rule of God and taught the things concerning Jesus with all boldness (as indeed we have seen).
And secondly it points out that in perfect peace and safety, under the very eye of the emperor, he has continued to teach and proclaim it in Rome, and not as under Rome but at his own expense. And he has done this for two years, two representing the completeness of witness. ‘Two years’ is regularly a picture of a complete testimony. Compare in Ephesus (19.10) and in Caesarea (24.27)
In other words having entered Rome in triumph, he has, as it were, been enthroned in his own rented ‘palace’ (his home is in Heaven) and now declared Jesus’ Kingly Rule over both the Jews and the nations, no one preventing him. The initial stage of God’s triumph is complete, and the word of God goes forth freely, even in Rome, to both Jew and Gentile. All who will may come.
But, someone may say, is he not bound with a chain to a Roman soldier? Yes, Paul triumphantly declares, BUT THE WORD OF GOD IS NOT BOUND (2 Timothy 2.9). And it continues to go forth like an ever-flowing stream. And as the final word in the book proclaim, it was ‘unhindered’.
POSTSCRIPT TO ACTS: We have deliberately ceased the commentary where Luke ceased his writings. What follows is not a part of the Commentary. It is merely in order to assist those who are not sure what happened afterwards and are not sure where to look in order to find out. It is abstracted from McGarvey’s commentary on the book. (It must not be assumed that we agree with all his conclusions, but it does give the overall picture).
“A commentary on Acts, strictly confined to the subject-matter of the text, would here be brought to a close. But as it has been a part of our purpose to give somewhat more fullness to the biography of Paul, by introducing information derived from other inspired sources, we have yet a few paragraphs to pen. Fortunately, the intense curiosity awakened by the closing chapters in reference to the further career of the apostle may, in some degree, be gratified. This curiosity directs itself chiefly to two questions suggested by the later portion of the history: first, what were the results to the cause of his long-wished-for visit to Rome? second, what was the result of his appeal to Cæsar?”
“In reference to the first question, we have already remarked, that his entrance into Rome was far different from what he had fondly hoped, and he could not reasonably expect to accomplish much while confined with a chain, and resting under the suspicion of being deservedly in confinement. But we have already seen that he continued to preach and teach for two years, and we learn something of the extent and success of his labours from epistles which he wrote during this period. Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon were the earliest of these epistles, being written at one time, and forwarded, the former two by Tychicus (Ephesians 4.21; Colossians 4.7-9),} and the last by Onesimus (Philemon 1.10-12), the two messengers travelling together. In the two former there are indications of great anxiety in reference to the success of his efforts, and intimations of serious obstacles in the way. He exhorts the brethren to pray for him, that a door of utterance might be opened to him, and that he might have boldness to speak the gospel as it ought to be spoken. (Ephesians 6.18, 19; Colossians 4.2-4).”
“This request shows that there were some obstructions to the proclamation of the truth, and that they were such as were calculated to check the boldness of his utterance.”
“Notwithstanding these obstructions, the last of the three letters above named reveals some success which had already rewarded his labours. Out of the very dregs of the dissolute and corrupt society of the metropolis, a Greek slave, who had run away from his master, a convert of Paul's in Asia Minor (Philemon 1.19) had, by some means, been induced to visit the apostle and hear the gospel. It proved the power of God to free him from a bondage far worse than that from which he had fled. After he became a disciple, Paul found him profitable to him for the ministry (Philemon 1.11-13), being of service, no doubt, in bringing within the sound of the gospel many of his former companions. For this reason he had a strong desire to retain him as an assistant; but having no right to do so without the consent of Philemon, his master, and being unwilling to enjoin by authority upon the latter the obvious duty of liberating a slave capable of so great usefulness, he sent him home to his master, with an epistle, in which he delicately intimates his wishes in the premises, but leaves the whole subject to his own sense of propriety (Philemon 1.8-16). Sending him home without the means to recompense his master for any thing of which he had defrauded him, Paul promises to pay the sum, if any, out of his own purse (Philemon 1.18-19). Thus his preaching had begun to take effect upon the most hopeless class of the city population, at a time when he was urging distant congregations to pray that God would open to him a door of utterance.”
“But, eventually, in answer to these prayers, a door of utterance was thrown open far wider than he had reason to expect. In the Epistle to the Philippians, written at a later period, when he was expecting his trial and release (Philippians 1.19-27) he says: "I wish you to understand, brethren, that the things which have happened to me have fallen out rather to the furtherance of the gospel, so that my bonds in Christ are made manifest in all the palace, and in all other places, and many brethren in the Lord, growing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear" (Philippians 1.12-14).”
“ From his prison, the Lord had opened a door of utterance into the imperial palace itself; so that Paul the prisoner had an audience whose ears would have been wholly inaccessible to Paul the unfettered apostle. His discourse before the emperor, if we may judge by that before Agrippa, must have awakened new thoughts and emotions in the Roman court; and what awakened new interest there could not be long in spreading to "all other places." The Lord had led him by a strange method to Rome, and surrounded him with many discouragements; but his purpose was now unfolded, and Paul saw in the result, as it affected both the disciples and the community at large, a wisdom which before had been inscrutable. He had now demonstrated what he had once written to the Romans, that he was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, and was ready to preach it even in Rome; for he had preached it to both the proudest and the poorest of the population, and that with a chain upon his arm.”
“No two years of Paul's life were better filled with earnest labour than these two spent in his Roman prison. Besides the oral efforts just referred to, and the epistles to Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians, he is supposed, also, near the close of this period, to have written Hebrews, the most profound, next to Romans, of all his productions. He was not alone in his toil and danger, but was constantly surrounded by some of those noble brethren who were so ardently attached to his person. Timothy joins with him in the opening salutations of Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians. Aristarchus and Epaphras were his fellow-prisoners (Colossians 4.10; Philemon 1.23). Mark, who once forsook him and Barnabas, and went not with them to the work, was now with him (Colossians 4.10); Demas, who afterward forsook him, "having loved the present world" (2 Timothy 4.10) was as yet by his side (Colossians 4.14) and Luke, the beloved physician, who shared the perils of his voyage from Cæsarea, continued to relieve the dreariness of his imprisonment (Colossians 4.14) and wrote the last paragraph of Acts, as we conjecture, just as the two years expired.”
“The question as to the result of Paul's appeal to Cæsar is not settled by direct scriptural evidence, yet it is determined, to the satisfaction of nearly all the commentators, that he was released at the end of the two years mentioned by Luke. The evidence on which this conclusion is based consists partly in the unanimous testimony of the earliest Christian writers after the apostles, and partly in the difficulty of fixing a date for the epistles to Timothy and Titus without this supposition. There are events mentioned in these epistles, for which no place can be found in the preceding history; such as his leaving Timothy in Ephesus, to counteract the influence of false teachers, while he went into Macedonia (1 Timothy 1.3); his leaving Titus in Crete, to set in order the things that were wanting there, and to ordain elders (Titus 1.5); his visit to Miletus, when he left Trophimus there sick; (2 Timothy 4.20); and to Nicopolis, where he spent the winter (Titus 3.12).”
“On the supposition of his release, the subsequent known facts are best arranged as follows: He first fulfilled the purpose so confidently expressed of the Philippians of visiting them again (Philippians 2.24); and next took advantage of the lodging which he had directed Philemon to prepare for him at Colosse (Philemone 1.22). While in Asia, he would scarcely pass by the city of Ephesus; but it is after a short visit to Spain, that we locate that visit, at the conclusion of which he left Timothy there and went into Macedonia. It was contrary to the expectation once entertained by Paul, that he was once more greeted by the brethren in Ephesus; for he had bidden them farewell four years ago with the conviction that they would see his face no more (Acts 20.25). Leaving Timothy in Ephesus, and going to Macedonia, he wrote back to him the First Epistle to Timothy (2 Timothy 1.3) in which he expressed a hope of rejoining him soon at Ephesus (1 Timothy 3.14). This he most likely did, as he soon after visited Crete, in company with Titus; and the most usual route from Macedonia to this island was by way of Ephesus. Having made a short visit in Crete, he left Titus there, to "set in order the things which were wanting, and ordain elders in every city" (Titus 1.5).”
“Shortly after leaving the island, he wrote the Epistle to Titus. He was then on his way to Nicopolis, a city of Epirus, where he expected to spend the winter (Titus 3.12). On the way he had passed through Miletus, where he left Trophimus sick; and Corinth, where he left Erastus (2 Timothy 4.20). Whether he spent the whole winter in Nicopolis, or was imprisoned again before spring, is not certainly known; but the next that we know of him, he was a prisoner in Rome the second time, as is indicated in his Second Epistle to Timothy. From this epistle we learn several interesting particulars of his imprisonment, and of the beginning of his final trial. His situation was more alarming, and he was attended by fewer friends than before. Demas forsook him, through the love of this world, and went to Thessalonica; Crescens, for some reason unexplained, went to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia (2 Timothy 4.10). Tychicus he had sent to Ephesus (2 Timothy 4.12). Luke, alone, of all his former fellow-labourers, was with him, though he was expecting Timothy to soon rejoin him, and bring Mark with him (2 Timothy 4.11).”
“At the time of writing, he had passed through the first stages of his trial, and was awaiting the second. The want of human sympathy which he had felt in his prison was realised still more intensely during his trial. He says: "At my first answer, no man stood with me, but all forsook me. I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge" (2 Timothy 4.16). Even Luke, who dared to visit him in his prison, and remain with him when others fled, shrunk from the fearful position of standing by his side in the presence of Nero (Editors note. That is, of course, assuming Luke had not been despatched somewhere or was not ill). But the venerable man of God, though deserted in his most trying hour by human friends, was able to say, "Notwithstanding, the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me, that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion." (2 Timothy 4.17). Thus again had he fearlessly and fully vindicated his preaching in the presence of the imperial court, and passed, a second time, through the fiery ordeal, without personal injury. The declaration that he was delivered out of the mouth of the lion is an allusion to the case of Daniel, of which his own reminded him.”
“But there was another stage of his trial yet before him, and from this he had reason to anticipate the most fatal results. From all the indications in view, he was induced to write to Timothy, "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand." (2 Timothy 4.6). He had some years before declared, "I hold not my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the favour of God" (Acts 20.24). Now, he was about to yield up his life, and upon looking back over the course he had run, and the ministry with which he had been entrusted, the conditions specified were completely fulfilled. With all confidence he is able to say, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4.7). All who have followed his course with us in these pages can bear testimony to this declaration, and, after glancing back with him over the long series of stripes, imprisonment, and exhausting toil through which he had passed, can enter into the feeling of relief and joy with which he looked forward and exclaimed, "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me at that day; and not to me only, but to all them also who love his appearing" (2 Timothy 4.8).”
“Like a mariner on a long voyage, whose bark had been tossed by many waves, and shrouded in the gloom of many a storm, his soul was cheered, at last, by a view of the desired haven close at hand. He is still, however, buffeted by the storm, and one more dark billow is yet to roll over him, ere he rests upon the calm waters within the haven. Here the curtain of inspired history closes over him, and the last sound we hear is his own shout of triumph as he braces himself for the last struggle. It only remains for the earliest uninspired history of the Church to confirm his own anticipations, by testifying that his trial finally resulted in a sentence of death, and that he was beheaded outside the gates of Rome, in the last year of the reign of Nero, A. D. 68. We bid him adieu till the resurrection morning, well pleased that the course of the narrative on which we have commented has been so directed as to keep us for so long a time in his company.”
End of Postscript).
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