Paul At Rome

INTRODUCTION: After wintering for three months on the island provided by the Lord for the entire 276 persons who escaped the shipwreck with Paul, another vessel was available for those making the remainder of the journey to Rome, and all necessary provisions were supplied by the islanders out of gratitude for healings by Paul. When Paul arrives in Rome he has special accommodations as a Roman citizen, even though still a prisoner, and he was unhindered in ministering there for two years. That is how the book of Acts closed.

NOTE: Scripture passages are from the World English Bible.


A - WINTERING ON THE ISLAND OF MALTA

Acts 28 "1 When we had escaped, then they learned that the island was called Malta. 2 The natives showed us uncommon kindness; for they kindled a fire, and received us all, because of the present rain, and because of the cold. 3 But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand. 4 When the natives saw the 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 has not allowed to live." 5 However he shook off the creature into the fire, and wasn't harmed. 6 But they expected that he would have swollen or fallen down dead suddenly, but when they watched for a long time and saw nothing bad happen to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god."

COMMENTS: The inhabitants of Malta were hospitable to all from the shipwreck, and helped the survivors by starting a fire in the cold and rain. In Paul's time Malta was called Melita. It is an island in the Mediterranean, lying between Africa and the island of Sicily. Paul was bitten on his hand by a poisonous snake when he added to the fire some wood he had gathered. The islanders expected that he would drop dead, thinking that this must have been a judgment against him for some dreadful deed he had committed. After observing him for some time with no apparent effect on him, they decided that he must be a god. These reactions demonstrated their belief in so-called gods with special powers beyond normal human qualities. In the World English Bible, Justice is capitalized, and one of the possible meanings of the original term could be the name of an avenging goddess. Some other translations use the word vengeance instead of Justice. When the islanders first thought the poisonous snake bite was somehow a deserved death sentence for Paul, this was perhaps an expression of their belief in retribution by a goddess of their belief. When Paul did not die from what they believed was certain death, then they thought he must himself be a god. There is no record that Paul tried to convince them otherwise, but he had not traveled to Malta to preach the gospel, and the people had not declared him as a god by offering him a sacrifice even later as he healed many on the island.

Many years earlier on a missionary journey we have the following record. Acts 14 "8 At Lystra a certain man sat, impotent in his feet, a cripple from his mother's womb, who never had walked. 9 He was listening to Paul speaking, who, fastening eyes on him, and seeing that he had faith to be made whole, 10 said with a loud voice, "Stand upright on your feet!" He leaped up and walked. 11 When the multitude saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voice, saying in the language of Lycaonia, "The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!" 12 They called Barnabas "Jupiter," and Paul "Mercury," because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Jupiter, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and would have made a sacrifice along with the multitudes. 14 But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of it, they tore their clothes, and sprang into the multitude, crying out, 15 "Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to the living God, who made the sky and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them; 16 who in the generations gone by allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he didn't leave himself without witness, in that he did good and gave you rains from the sky and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness." 18 Even saying these things, they hardly stopped the multitudes from making a sacrifice to them."


B - THE CHIEF MAN OF THE ISLAND WAS COURTEUS TO THE GROUP

Acts 28 "7 Now in the neighbourhood of that place were lands belonging to the chief man of the island, named Publius, who received us, and courteously entertained us for three days. 8 It happened that the father of Publius lay sick of fever and dysentery. Paul entered in to him, prayed, and laying his hands on him, healed him. 9 Then when this was done, the rest also who had diseases in the island came, and were cured. 10 They also honoured us with many honours, and when we sailed, they put on board the things that we needed."

COMMENTS: The author does not give detail about the size of the group included in his statements about the courteous treatment by the most important man on the island. Publius owned land in that area, and his father was there with him, and was very ill. This presented another opportunity for Paul to demonstrate the power of the one true God that he served, as he prayed and laid hands on the man who was then healed. Others who heard of this came to be healed of their illnesses, and Paul healed many. There is no evidence in the text that a gospel message was part of these miraculous signs, but the author states that the islanders honored "us" in many ways. the author then wrote that when "we" sailed, they put on board the things that "we" needed. At that time, a centurion in Roman controlled territory would have had authority to allow him to carry out his assignment even if he had lost all monetary resources. If Paul's companions had needed to cover their cost to continue with him, it had been provided there by the Lord.


C - THE VOYAGE TO ROME RESUMED

Acts 28 "11 After three months, we set sail in a ship of Alexandria which had wintered in the island, whose sign was "The Twin Brothers." 12 Touching at Syracuse, we stayed there three days. 13 From there we circled around and arrived at Rhegium. After one day, a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli, 14 where we found brothers, and were entreated to stay with them for seven days. So we came to Rome."

COMMENTS: Another Alexandrian ship that had safely wintered at a port on Malta apparently had enough passenger space available for the soldiers, the prisoners, and Paul's companions to resume the voyage to Rome. There is no detail of any of the inhabitants hearing or accepting the gospel message during the three months on the island. Paul had consistently used the Jewish scriptures to prove that Jesus is the Christ, and there is no indication of any Jewish presence or influence on Malta when he was there. The ship that they boarded to continue toward Rome was referred to as Alexandrian, and the "twin brothers" were symbols of Castor and Pollux. these twin sons of Jupiter and Leda were regarded as the protective divinities of sailors. This was another evidence of the widespread presence of belief in false gods. As they became passengers on this ship, the next port was Syracuse. That was located on the southeast side of Sicily, which is the largest island in the Mediterranean. After three days, they sailed to the port city of Rhegium on "the toe" of Italy. From there they sailed north to the west coast port at Puteoli, where they met other believers, and they stayed there for seven days, with no explanation of why the centurion permitted the extra time. From that point the remainder of the trip was over land to Rome, which was more than 150 miles.


D - ARRIVAL AT ROME

Acts 28 "15 From there the brothers, when they heard of us, came to meet us as far as The Market of Appius and The Three Taverns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God, and took courage. 16 When we entered into Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard, but Paul was allowed to stay by himself with the soldier who guarded him."

COMMENTS: Paul had expressed a strong desire to be with the Christians at Rome when he had previously written his letter to them. Since some Christians warmly greeted him well outside of Rome, apparently word had gotten to them while he was in Puteoli for seven days. There greeting was a great encouragement to Paul even before he arrived, and he gave thanks to God. The author again stated that "we" entered into Rome, without identifying himself or making any more reference to Aristarchus. The centurion delivered the other prisoners to the captain of the guard, but Paul alone was permitted to stay by himself with the soldier who guarded him. The fact that Paul was a Roman citizen not yet found guilty by the judicial system, afforded him better treatment than the other prisoners.


E - PAUL CALLED FOR A MEETING WITH THE LEADERS OF THE JEWS

Acts "17 It happened that after three days Paul called together those who were the leaders of the Jews. When they had come together, he said to them, "I, brothers, though I had done nothing against the people, or the customs of our fathers, still was delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans, 18 who, when they had examined me, desired to set me free, because there was no cause of death in me. 19 But when the Jews spoke against it, I was constrained to appeal to Caesar, not that I had anything about which to accuse my nation. 20 For this cause therefore I asked to see you and to speak with you. For because of the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain." 21 They said to him, "We neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor did any of the brothers come here and report or speak any evil of you. 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.""

COMMENTS: Many of the Christians in Rome, who would have been both Jew and Gentile based on Paul's letter to the Romans, knew Paul was there since he had even been greeted outside Rome by a contingent of them. The text tells us that Paul did not contact the Jewish leaders until he had been in Rome for three days. Peter and the other apostles had been able to remain in Jerusalem for many years without violent opposition from the unconverted Jews there, because Christianity had become passively tolerated as a sect of the Jewish faith. But sect was mostly used in a pejorative connotation, referring to a group or movement with heretical beliefs or practices that deviated from Jewish orthodoxy. Circumcision was the major issue that caused the attack on Paul at Jerusalem, because those Jews falsely believed he was teaching Jews that they should not be circumcised.

When the leaders of the Jews had come together with Paul, he spoke as a Jew and gave a much abbreviated version about his custody by the Romans. At the same time he emphasized that he had done nothing against their people or the customs of their fathers. He told them the Romans found no cause for death in him, but he had to appeal to Caesar because the Jews had spoken against him. Paul wanted the Jewish leaders in Rome to know that he had nothing against his Jewish nation, and that is why he had requested the meeting with them. When he said, "For because of the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain," he used a very carefully considered phrase to open the discussion. He was making a reference to the hope of all Israel in the awaited Messiah, without clearly declaring at that point that Jesus had fulfilled that hope. The response from the leaders was that they had not received by letter or personal messenger anything to specifically accuse Paul. They did want to hear more from Paul about the "sect" because there was much being spoken everywhere against it.

Though Paul was known as the apostle to the Gentiles, he never lost his great love for his Jewish brethren as he had stated in his letter to the Romans. Romans 9 "1 I tell the truth in Christ. I am not lying, my conscience testifying with me in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing pain in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brothers' sake, my relatives according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites; whose is the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service, and the promises; 5 of whom are the fathers, and from whom is Christ as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God, blessed forever. Amen."


F - A MEETING OF A LARGER GROUP WAS ARRANGED

Acts 28 "23 When they had appointed him a day, many people came to him at his lodging. He explained to them, testifying about the Kingdom of God, and persuading them concerning Jesus, both from the law of Moses and from the prophets, from morning until evening. 24 Some believed the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved. 25 When they didn't agree among themselves, they departed after Paul had spoken one word, "The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah, the prophet, to our fathers, 26 saying, 'Go to this people, and say, in hearing, you will hear, but will in no way understand. In seeing, you will see, but will in no way perceive. 27 For this people's heart has grown callous. Their ears are dull of hearing. Their eyes they have closed. Lest they should see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their heart, and would turn again, and I would heal them.' 28 "Be it known therefore to you, that the salvation of God is sent to the nations. They will also listen." 29 When he had said these words, the Jews departed, having a great dispute among themselves."

COMMENTS: It is interesting to note that Paul had the freedom to meet with so many people, and they came to his lodging on a day they had selected, even though he was still a prisoner. Since they had asked to hear from him about the "sect," he spoke to them from morning to evening using the law of Moses and the writing of the prophets to explain about the kingdom of God, and to proclaim the truth about Jesus. When the group could not agree among themselves because some believed and some did not, they left Paul after he quoted from Isaiah chapter 6, a passage relevant to their response of unbelief. This passage emphasized that those things seen and heard about the Lord had to be understood with the heart to be received. Therefore, Paul told these yet unconverted Jews, that the salvation of God will go out to all nations, because they will listen. As the Jews then left Paul they were disputing with each other over what they had heard.


G - THE CLOSE OF THE BOOK OF ACTS

Acts 28 "30 Paul stayed two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who were coming to him, 31 preaching the Kingdom of God, and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness, without hindrance."

COMMENTS: Though the text states that Paul stayed two full years in his own rented house, there are several items which are not addressed in the text. We do not know how he financed his expenses there, but we do know that he was able to receive all who came to visit him. He preached about the Kingdom of God, and he taught the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul was able to preach and teach openly with complete boldness, and this brought no manner of obstruction or hindrance upon him. Although the author somehow knew that Paul was there for two full years, the book ends on that point. Therefore we do not know whether Paul gained his freedom after that, or whether the author of Acts was then separated from Paul and thus concluded this book.


--- REFLECTIONS IN PRAYER ---

Lord, I pray that I will remember how the author of Acts remained in the background as he allowed the storyline to highlight the events around the Apostle Paul. May I be willing to be supportive in such a quiet manner when you have placed others to be actively leading in your work. The kindness of the centurion responsible for Paul as a prisoner continued to be shown from the very first stop at Sidon as recorded in chapter eight. This was a blessing to Paul throughout the long journey over many months. You, Lord, provided safety on the island during that winter, and even provided provisions needed as they continued toward Rome on another ship. At Puteoli the centurion allowed Paul to spend seven days with believers before continuing toward Rome, and Paul also had a very warm greeting by more believers outside of Rome. Even though traveling as a prisoner, Paul rejoiced when greeted by that second group of believers. May I praise you for every small blessing along my road to where ever you are leading. Though Paul was a prisoner for two years, he had much contact with many people over that time, as he preached the Kingdom of God, and taught about Christ Jesus. Though he could not travel to establish churches or visit in other areas, we know from some of his letters that he wrote Holy Spirit inspired instruction and encouragement while he was a prisoner. Lord, guide me to find a ministry in those times when I might otherwise feel that I have been set aside. Amen.

Published 28 February 2014