Just a reminder: This is the last class of our Acts study. It has been a pleasure and a great personal blessing working through this wonderful book with you all…….Kathy
Paul is now leaving Caesarea. He has been in prison, remember, in Caesarea for two long years. He has seen both Felix come and go, and now Governor Festus, and more recently we’ve seen him give his defense, or his apologia, before King Agrippa and his sister Bernice. And at the end of the twenty-sixth chapter, King Agrippa had come to this conclusion: that this man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.
The use of the term “we” here shows that the author of this book, Luke, was with Paul. He had been his traveling companion, and though he had not been accused, yet it was resolved that he should still accompany him. Whether he went at his own expense, or whether he was sent at the expense of the Roman government, does not appear.
Festus and Agrippa have agreed that Paul could have been set free, had he not appealed to Caesar. He is put now in charge of a centurion, a man by the name of Julius. He is of the Augustine cohort, the imperial regiment stationed in Caesarea. With them on board is a man that we’ve met before, Aristarchus. He was one of those that came from Thessalonica when Paul made his journey to Jerusalem, with the offering of money, two years before…just before Paul’s arrest. Here is Aristarchus, Paul’s friend.
They reconnoiter a ship that’s heading from Caesarea up towards the coast towards Sidon, and then will make its way along the top (if you looked at the map) on the leeward side of Cyprus, trying to take advantage of the prevailing westerly winds. We learn that in Sidon, Julius shows kindness to the Apostle Paul, allowing him to go on shore and to be with his friends and to minister and be ministered to — no doubt with a guard present, of course. Perhaps at Paul’s own request…probably at Paul’s own request…that even now, even as a prisoner on board this ship he’s ministering to the church in Sidon, bringing words of comfort and exhortation to the church at Sidon.
And then the next day they set sail, taking advantage of the leeward side of Cyprus, making their way slowly with some difficulty against the prevailing winds this time, towards this port of Myra. In Lasea, they change ships. They now have a ship that has come from North Africa, from Alexandria. It’s a food supply ship. It’s a wheat-bearing ship, heading towards imperial Rome, and the prisoners are now put on this ship. They head out of Myra, along the part of the peninsula, as you can see, that juts out into the sea. Then they meet with the prevailing northerly winds, and they are driven south, to the southern side now of Crete.
Luke describes the way in which they tie ropes around the ship, maybe around above the water, but more probably around and under the water to hold this ship together as it’s in danger of just splitting apart. One giant wave and this boat is done for, and the 276 souls on board. It’s being driven along (verse 15).
You notice in verse 24, Paul says…and this time he has a vision, this time he has a voice, this time he hears those wonderful words…and how many times in Scripture does God come to His servants and say, “Do not be afraid.”’ God is going to keep His word. And you notice in verse 24, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.” The intent seems to be that God is saying to the Apostle Paul, ‘I’ve heard your prayer, Paul, and it’s being granted to you.’ In the midst of this storm, what has Paul been doing? Praying for his passengers. Praying for these 276 persons who are on board this ship, and God has heard that prayer.
There’s an attempt now as they hear the sound of the shore. They hear the surf. You see, they have no idea…they can’t see it. They have no idea where they are. It’s still night time. For all they know, it’s just rocks. So they drop four anchors. The soldiers try to take this dinghy, this little boat that they have, and they try to escape. And Paul intervenes again. He says to the captain (and this time the captain listens), “If these soldiers escape, there is no possibility of this ship making it to land. We need all of these men.” And then…and then…just sublimity itself, because in the calm of the morning as apparently the storm begins to subside, Paul urges them to eat.
Paul has now made his way to the island of Malta. The captain of the ship had given orders as the ship broke up on the reef barrier off the shore of Malta that those who could swim should make it to the shore, and others should lay hold of whatever pieces of wood or flotsam they could find, and it was every man to himself. The astonishing thing is that as Paul comes to the island of Malta, an island it’s about 18 miles wide and about eight miles in depth. It lies, of course, immediately south of the island of Sicily on the Massena Straits, off the shore of the “toe” of Italy. Malta was a barren island, by and large, apart from its principal port. It had been occupied by the Carthaginians before the Romans occupied it. Later, in the third or fourth century A.D., we know that there was a thriving Christian community on the island of Malta. At one time it became a colony of the British, though today it is an independent nation.
There are catacombs that you can visit to this day, with engravings on the walls that indicate a thriving Christian community. Somewhere around the seventh or eighth century A.D., Malta was taken over, as that part of the world north of Africa largely was by the Arabs.
St. Paul’s Catacombs, once part of a big cemetery, are evidence of the religious diversity of Malta during the Roman period. They were used by the various religious communities in Malta. In total, the site consists of 24 catacombs, of which only two are open to the public and are pretty much intact. They represent the earliest archaeological evidence of Christianity in the Maltese islands. An entrance hall leads to various tomb galleries.
Malta received its name from the Phoenicians a long time before Paul ever set foot on the island, and in the Phoenician language, and as it so happens in the Hebrew phonetically, the word Malta means refuge.
Paul’s rented accommodations must have been rather spacious to accommodate the large groups that came to hear him.14 This seemingly insignificant detail is God’s providential provision of a place for Paul to entertain and teach people without hindrance.
This was a whole-day sermon from the Apostle Paul. “From morning to evening, he expounded to them…” [notice the verbs] “…he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God, and trying to convince…” [or, in some versions, persuading] “…them about Jesus, both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.”
As usual, some were convinced by Paul’s teaching, but others “refused to believe.” This is an interesting choice of words on Luke’s part. He does not say that they were not convinced, as though Paul’s presentation had its weaknesses. What he says strongly implies that Paul’s arguments were compelling, but in spite of the overwhelming evidence in support of Paul’s faith, they refused to believe it. The problem was not with Paul’s presentation; the problem was with the hardened hearts of those who heard
Paul did not come to Rome to preach the gospel to Gentiles for the first time. There was already a church there, a church to which Paul had already written the Book of Romans several years earlier. It would seem that Paul was divinely sent to Rome in order to proclaim the gospel to Caesar and his household. Paul was sent to Rome to preach the gospel to the Jews in clarity and power, so that they would be without excuse for rejecting it. Now they have heard, and they have reacted to the gospel. They have responded just like those in Jerusalem and elsewhere: a few have believed, but most have rejected the offer of salvation in Jesus, the promised Messiah. Because the nation has not turned, the sentence of judicial blindness has been imposed on the Jews.
The blindness of the Jews could only be removed through faith in Jesus. Jesus has now been powerfully proclaimed to the Jewish leaders, and by and large they did not believe. The blindness remains, and it will only be removed through faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah. It is interesting, is it not, that Paul’s Epistle to the Romans focused on the relationship of the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles. Jewish unbelief is explained by Paul in his letter to the Romans: (a) they were not chosen (Romans 9:6-29); and (b) they did not believe in Jesus, but sought to merit God’s favor by law-keeping (Romans 9:30—10:4).
Paul, having come to Rome at last — by a way that he could never have thought or planned, or even desired — is now allowed to live by himself, with a soldier chained at all times to him. Probably sixteen or so soldiers, taking it in turns of four-hour watches, something of that nature, over a period of a couple of days rotate, and spend this 24/7 chained to the Apostle Paul. At the end of the passage we learn that this will be Paul’s condition for two years. He is there at his own expense. He rents a house for this purpose. He has a measure of freedom…freedom with chains, he writes to Philippi from this period in his life…and you remember you hear the clanking of those chains in the opening chapter of Philippians. Julian, the soldier who had come with him from Caesarea, no doubt reported that Paul was no threat and was no flight risk; he wasn’t a violent man, and he’s given this minimum security detail.
Now two things to which we have no answer, and to which Luke does not give us any help: There’s no mention of the church in Rome. Where are the brothers? They came to meet him, to be sure, along the way, but that’s all that we know — that there were brothers in the city of Rome. Three years earlier, of course, Paul had written the magisterial Epistle to the Romans. (Where would we be without Romans?) But Luke doesn’t mention the church in Rome at all. After his release from this house arrest, which presumably takes place at the end of verse 31, Paul engages in further missionary endeavors. Perhaps he went to Spain; more likely, he went to Macedonia and Achaia, visiting the churches in Thessalonica and Berea and Corinth and so on. He certainly went to Crete. We know from Titus that he left Crete…he left Titus behind in Crete. He must then have been re-arrested, and following the fire in Rome in A.D. 64, under the Neronian persecution that broke out three, four, possibly five years down the line from where we are now, Paul would be re-arrested, taken to the Muratorian Prison in Rome — a difficult prison to find — and from there would be taken out, and somewhere along the Appian Way would be, according to tradition, beheaded.
What of his defense before Caesar? He’d appealed to Caesar. He was now going to make his case before Caesar–or before one of Caesar’s delegates, more than likely, since Nero refused to hear any of these cases himself personally. Luke doesn’t tell us because that’s not where he wants us to focus. But Paul has appealed to Caesar, and evidently the appeal was a long procrastinated event…knowing at least this much, that it took two years of Paul’s life.
The Prison Epistles refer to four letters in the New Testament written by the apostle Paul during his time under house arrest in Rome between approximately 60—63 AD. They include Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Together they comprise four of the New Testament’s 27 books and 15 of its 260 chapters.
The apostle writes his last epistle, a heartfelt letter to Timothy (2Timothy), while he awaits his verdict. He is kept a prisoner until around May or June of 68 when he is martyred (which he expected, (2Timothy 2:9, 4:6-8) by the Roman Empire.
2Ti 4:6-7 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Paul was martyred in Rome at the conclusion of what most believe was a second imprisonment postdating the book of Acts, between which he traveled to Spain and Crete (Titus 1:5).
Of this period, the 3rd century church historian Eusebius wrote: “After defending himself the Apostle was again set on the ministry of preaching…coming a second time to the same city [Paul] suffered martyrdom (Rome) under Nero. During this imprisonment he wrote the second Epistle to Timothy.” (Eccl Hist. 2.22.2)
Eusebius goes on to report “that in his [Nero’s] time Paul was beheaded in Rome itself and that Peter was likewise crucified. (Eccl Hist. 2.25.5) Paul’s execution took place at the end of Nero’s reign, c. A.D. 65-68. His legal status as a Roman citizen protected him from the ignominious sentence of crucifixion suffered by Peter.