As we have seen in the closing chapters of Acts, Paul had been under house arrest for two years in Caesarea, falsely charged with desecrating the temple. Following a series of trials, he appealed to Caesar. We already have looked at his long and perilous trip to Rome as a prisoner, including a violent storm that ended in shipwreck and his being bitten by a viper on the Island of Malta. He finally landed at Puteoli, which was Rome's grain terminal. From this point, Paul and the others would travel by land, along the Great Appian Way.
When the Roman Christians got news of Paul's arrival in Italy, they came out from the capital to the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet Paul and to escort him into Rome. Paul must have felt like a conquering emperor being welcomed into Rome.
Three years earlier, while Paul was in Corinth, his plan had been to collect the contributions of the saints in Macedonia and Achaia, deliver them to the needy brothers and sisters in Jerusalem, and then go directly to Rome. From there Paul intended to be sent on to Spain:
but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you whenever I go to Spain--for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while-- but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things. Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain. I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ. Romans 15:23-29 NASB
Well Paul made it to Rome, not quite the way he had planned, but it was exactly the way God planned. We see his arrival in:
When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him. Acts 28:16 NASB
As a result of God's promise, Paul arrived in Rome. Rome was the largest and most important Gentile city in the world. The apostle to the Gentiles was now able to minister in the heart of the Gentile world.
An unusual courtesy was granted to Paul in that he was allowed to live under "house arrest" rather than in prison. It was probably the influence of Julius, the centurion, in his favor, which obtained for Paul the distinguished privilege of living in his own rented house with only a single guard. From other sources we learn that the praetorian guards of the Emperor became his jailers during that time.
After three days Paul called together those who were the leading men of the Jews, and when they came together, he began saying to them, "Brethren, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. 18 "And when they had examined me, they were willing to release me because there was no ground for putting me to death. 19 "But when the Jews objected, I was forced to appeal to Caesar, not that I had any accusation against my nation. Acts 28:17-19 NASB
Paul didn't waste any time. He has only been there three days and he is giving his testimony to the leaders of the Roman synagogues.
The Jewish community at Rome in mid-first century is estimated to have numbered forty to fifty thousand, most being slaves and freedmen. They inhabited "the great section of Rome on the other side of the Tiber" (Philo Legatio ad Gaium 155). The names of ten to thirteen synagogues have been recovered from inscriptions in the catacombs (Dunn 1988:xlvi).
If you remember, back in Acts 18, verse 2 tells us the Emperor Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. Apparently, since Nero was now emperor, that edict was no longer in effect.
There was a church in Rome, but the first thing Paul does is go to the Jews. He has always gone to the Jew first, and that is exactly what he does here at Rome. Paul was seeking to show Israel that her promises have been fulfilled, not suspended or transferred.
The Intervarsity Press Commentary on the Book of Acts says this, "And today Paul's initiative teaches us that centuries of Jewish rejection and Gentile anti-Semitism or neglect cannot erase the responsibility that all witnesses have to make sure the Gospel goes 'to the Jew first.'" This is ridiculous! For two reasons: First, there are no ethnic Jews today. Secondly, God was finished with ethnic Israel in A.D.70 when He destroyed their temple. We have no responsibility to preach to Jews first today.
Because Paul was under house arrest, he couldn't continue his ministry using the same methods he had used in the past. What did Paul generally do when he entered a city for the first time? He would go to the Synagogue to preach the Gospel, a Gospel that was the fulfillment of Judaism, not a competitor with it. He would preach that Jesus Christ was the long-awaited Messiah who would come and save His people. Paul could not do this in Rome, as much as he would have wanted to, so he did the next best thing: he called the leaders of the synagogues to his home. Paul was concerned to know what charges had been sent against him and how he was viewed among Jews here in Rome.
Paul's statement in 28:17-20 is a summary of the preceding trial narrative and imprisonment speeches in Acts 22--26.
The Romans had examined him and found that he did not deserve death and wanted to set him free. But 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. He made it clear that he did not intend to press charges against the Jews, but only to face the charges they had raised:
"For this reason, therefore, I requested to see you and to speak with you, for I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel." Acts 28:20 NASB
Paul makes it clear to them that it was for the hope of Israel that he was bound with a chain. This was calculated to enlist their sympathies; for it was no uncommon thing for Jews to be persecuted. It wasn't that long ago that all the Jews had been run out of Rome.
Paul is not a prisoner because he is preaching that God has cast out Israel? No, it is because he is preaching "the hope of Israel." In Acts 23 Paul said that he was on trial because of his hope in the resurrection. In Acts 25 & 26 Paul said that he preached nothing but the Law and Prophets; that there is about to be a resurrection from the dead. And now again he says he is bound for the hope of Israel.
What is the hope of Israel?
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us--for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE"-- in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Galatians 3:13-14 NASB
What is the blessing of Abraham? If the curse of the law is death, what is the blessing? Life! The blessing of Abraham is eternal life. The parallelism of the two phrases in verse 14 indicates that the blessing given to Abraham is equivalent to the promise of the Spirit. What is the promise of the Spirit? To answer that, look with me at:
"This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. 33 "Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. Acts 2:32-33 NASB
The promise of the Spirit is the resurrection, which is life! Resurrection is life in the presence of God. To be under the curse is to be separated from God, and to be blessed is to be in His presence. Resurrection life was the hope of Israel.
Paul is guilty of hoping and believing in the promise which God gave to the twelve tribes of Israel, and which they think they are still looking for as they go about their religious rituals of worship. Thus he affirms a continuity of his Gospel message with Jewish orthodoxy.
They said to him, "We have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren come here and reported or spoken anything bad about you. 22 "But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere." Acts 28:21-22 NASB
They claim not to have received any letters about Paul, nor had any brethren come from Jerusalem because of Paul. I think the reason the Jewish leaders in Rome had no report about Paul is that apparently the Sanhedrin was reluctant to pursue its case to Rome. They knew they didn't have a case. The Roman government looked harshly on anyone who prosecuted a case without strong evidence. It would have been difficult to prosecute Paul, a Roman citizen, in Rome when they didn't have a case.
While they had received no formal charges against Paul, they were aware of the Gospel and its impact, and at best they were skeptical. Before the Jews left Paul they made arrangements for a formal and deliberate hearing of what he thought:
When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening. Acts 28:23 NASB
Paul's rented house must have been a good size for a large number of the Jewish leaders to be there. For an entire day Paul spoke of the kingdom of God, showing how the Lord Jesus fulfilled the First Testament Scriptures. Everything that Paul preached came from the First Testament. Paul's eschatology was nothing but what the Prophets and Moses taught.
He probably took them to the texts in Moses that describe the Jewish sacrificial system, showing that these sacrifices pointed ahead to Jesus. He would have taken them to Leviticus 23 and shown them how Jesus was the fulfillment of the feast days. He would have taken them to Psalm 16, which both Peter and Paul used to show the truth of the resurrection (Acts 2:25-28; 13:34-37). He no doubt took them to Psalm 22,
which describes death by crucifixion, centuries before this was known as a means of execution. He would have taken them to Isaiah 53, which describes the death of Jesus with amazing detail.
Paul pointed out how the Lord Jesus Christ and his ministry is the fulfillment of the things that are spoken in the First Testament concerning the kingdom of God, because he says, "to persuade them concerning Jesus."
Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe. Acts 28:24 NASB
Both Greek verbs are in the imperfect tense, implying continuous, progressive action. This can be seen in Young's Literal Translation:
and, some, indeed, were believing the things spoken, and some were not believing. Acts 28:24 YLT
I'm not sure why the NASB uses the word "persuaded," but I think it is confusing. The simplicity of salvation is that it is reduced to this: A person either believes in Christ or he doesn't.
One commentator writes, "The scripture does reveal that some of these respected Jewish men were convinced by Paul of the truth of his doctrine. However, no indication is given that any actually turned their lives over to Christ." Where in the Bible does it say that we have to "turn our lives over to Christ" to be saved? I think the text is clear, some of these Jews believed Paul's Gospel and thus were saved. Others would not believe, they rejected Paul's message:
And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word, "The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, 26 saying, 'GO TO THIS PEOPLE AND SAY, "YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; AND YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE; 27 FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL, AND WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR, AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES; OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT SEE WITH THEIR EYES, AND HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN, AND I WOULD HEAL THEM."' Acts 28:25-27 NASB
Paul quotes Isaiah 6 and applies it to the unbelieving Jews of his day. Just after Isaiah's vision of God exalted on His throne and Isaiah's commission to preach, the Lord spoke these words to Isaiah, warning him of the hardness of heart of the people of Israel.
This important text is quoted six times in the New Testament. Jesus cited this text in every one of the four Gospels. In Matthew (13:14-15), Mark (4:12), and Luke (8:10), Jesus cited this text to explain why He had begun to teach the people in parables. In effect, Jesus said, "I am speaking to them in parables so that they won't understand Me, won't repent, and thus won't be saved":
in order that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE; AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND LEST THEY RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN." Mark 4:12 NASB
Something I think we all struggle with is when we have our view of God clear in our minds, and we think we understand how God operates, then we run across a verse in the Bible that seems to be contrary to that. What we often do is try to rework the verse so it ends up agreeing with our preconceived theology rather than letting the verse cause us to rethink our theology.
What causes all the trouble with this verse has to do with the very first word in the Greek sentence that's translated "in order that" (which is a statement of purpose), and also at the end where it says "lest." Those are the two words that are argued about, because as the NASB reflects, it's basically saying that Jesus' purpose was to teach in parables so that people would not understand, lest they come and seek forgiveness. And we say, "Well, now that doesn't sound like Jesus--that He doesn't want people to understand; that He doesn't want people to come seek forgiveness?"
So what do we do with that? If we change the "in order that" from a purpose statement to a result by using a word like "because," it would say: "So Jesus was teaching in parables because they were not listening." If we change the word "lest" to a word like "perhaps" it would say: "And He was hoping if He did that, maybe they would listen and perhaps come and seek forgiveness." Then we would say: "Well, now that feels better; that feels more consistent with what I understand about Jesus."
The only problem is, that is not what the text says. So commentators come back and they say: "Well, you know, we think that's probably what it means, and Mark just used the wrong word by mistake. Or the copiers just copied the wrong word by mistake." But there's no evidence of that; there's no proof of that. That's just trying to reconstruct the verse to fit a theology we're more comfortable with. What we really have to do is wrestle with the text as it's written.
There's no question Jesus was saying that the purpose, the reason why He's teaching in parables, is so that they won't understand--because He doesn't want them coming and seeking forgiveness.
How do we deal with that? Well, first we have to understand this is a quote from Isaiah, chapter 6. Isaiah had been commissioned by God to go forth and proclaim the Word of God (Isaiah 6:8), but it was not for the purpose of turning the nation back to God. It was rather to harden their hearts and to bring upon them the judgment of God.
Our Lord saw His teaching ministry not as one which would result in hearing and heeding, but in hardening. He, like Isaiah, was to prepare the nation for judgment.
Have you ever wondered why Acts ended not with Paul in front of Nero, but in front of the Jewish leaders? I think it is because before God could reject the nation Israel, the Old Covenant form, they had to reject God's offer so that God could justly remove the Old Covenant and fully bring in the New. The Old was a shadow and had to pass away before the New could be brought in. God had to judge and remove the Old.
Remember what Jesus taught them in Matthew 24:
"And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come. Matthew 24:14 NASB
The "end" was the end of the age, which meant the destruction of the temple and the full consummation of the Kingdom of God.
Luke ends his second volume with Paul in prison in Rome preaching to the Jewish leaders from Isaiah 6, which speaks of judgment on Israel. The Gospel went to the ends of the earth and then came the end. The Jews of Paul's day called Rome the "end of the earth."
Paul uses Isaiah 6 in exactly the same way that Jesus Himself had used it in His last encounter with the Jews in the twelfth chapter of John's Gospel:
"While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light." These things Jesus spoke, and He went away and hid Himself from them. But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: "LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT? AND TO WHOM HAS THE ARM OF THE LORD BEEN REVEALED?" For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, "HE HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART, SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT SEE WITH THEIR EYES AND PERCEIVE WITH THEIR HEART, AND BE CONVERTED AND I HEAL THEM." John 12:36-40 NASB
And then Lazarus adds this amazing word:
These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him. John 12:41 NASB
And if we read the sixth chapter of Isaiah, from which that quotation comes, we find that it is the passage in which Isaiah said:
In the year of King Uzziah's death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Isaiah 6:1 NASB
And one called out to another and said, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory." Isaiah 6:3 NASB
Lazarus says that Isaiah saw Jesus. Jesus is the Lord sitting on the throne, He is the Holy One. Isaiah saw Jesus' glory and spoke of Him. Jesus is God, and the Jews rejection of Jesus is a rejection of God. This is what Lazarus says:
Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. 1 John 2:22-23 NASB
This is the last time in the Scriptures in which you find the appeal of the Gospel officially set before the Jewish people.
"Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen." Acts 28:28 NASB
Now the message was to go to a wider audience than that of Isaiah. The Gentiles also would hear. It is sometimes thought that this is something of an accident; that is, by virtue of the unbelief of the nation Israel, it is thought that somewhat as a move uncontemplated, the Gospel goes out to the Gentiles. But this Gospel going to the Gentiles was included in the fundamental Abrahamic Promise, if you remember from Genesis 12:
And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed." Genesis 12:3 NASB
So the Abrahamic Promise is comprehended, not simply the blessing of God upon Abraham and his natural seed, but also blessing to the Gentiles, through Abraham's seed, Jesus Christ.
There is great significance in going to the Gentiles. The First Testament taught that the conversion of the Gentiles would follow the restoration of Israel. When all the tribes of Israel were once again united under Messiah, then God would call the Gentiles:
He says, "It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribe,s of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth." Isaiah 49:6 NASB
The Gospel going to the Gentiles was evidence that Israel had received her promise of restoration. Our salvation is dependant on God keeping His promises to Israel. There is no salvation for the nations unless Israel is given her salvation. So the significance of the calling to the Gentiles is that God has fulfilled His promises to Israel.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).
[When he had spoken these words, the Jews departed, having a great dispute among themselves.] Acts 28:29 NASB
This verse appears only in an ancient Greek copy of Acts that is called the "Western Text." A number of translations do not regard verse 29 as a part of the original text because it is missing in some key manuscripts. This verse simply reiterates Luke's statement in verse 25, even more emphatically.
And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered. Acts 28:30-31 NASB
For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and was welcoming (continuous imperfect) all who came (literally: "were coming"--present participle of continuous action) to see him.
In a city filled with Roman and Greek temples dedicated to a variety of gods and goddess, Paul was free to herald the Good News about Jesus, the King of kings, who could set people free from the darkness in which they walked.
"Unhindered" is literally Luke's last word in Acts. And that one adverb, acolutos, "unhindered," is a word that falls like a victor's cry. The Gospel has traveled from Jerusalem to Rome, and now in the concluding statement, Paul is pictured as, "Preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered."
Paul had asked the Ephesians to pray for him during this time:
and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. Ephesians 6:19-20 NASB
They prayed, he was bold, and the Gospel went forth unhindered in Rome. It was from Rome that the Good News could flow out to all parts of the empire. So wide was the spread of the Gospel, that the apostle, writing in the letter to the Colossians, which he wrote from prison during this time, said:
if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. Colossians 1:23 NASB
And thus Jesus' words are fulfilled:
but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." Acts 1:8 NASB
Jesus said that when this happen: "the Gospel goes to all the world," the end would come:
"This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14 NASB
By the end of Acts, in the spring of A.D. 62 the Gospel had been preached to all the nations, and eight years later the end came. Jerusalem was destroyed, bringing an end to the Old Covenant and consummating the New.
Acts ends pretty abruptly, which leaves us with many questions. What happens to Paul? Did he stand before Caesar? How did he die? We'll look at these question next week as we study [Acts 29].
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