Last week we finished the book of Acts. In our study we saw Paul finally make it to Rome. When he arrived at Rome he was allowed to rent his own place and stay by himself with a solider guarding him. The first thing Paul did was contact the Jewish leaders and share with them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When many rejected it, he quoted Isaiah 6, dealing with God's judgment, and applied it to them. He then told them that salvation was going to the Gentiles. Then Acts abruptly ends with these verses:
And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered. Acts 28:30-31 NASB
In verse 16 of chapter 28 Paul arrives in Rome and in verse 31 the book ends. Just 16 verses cover Paul's time in Rome. We have 59 verses covering his trip to Rome and only 16 verses that tell us what he did in Rome. And of those 16 verses, the apostle to the Gentiles is dealing with the Jews in 14 of them. I think from this we see what we said in the beginning of our study of Acts, that the theme of this book is the "Redemption of Israel." In Acts we see God redeem his elect from that Old Covenant body of Israel. We see God forming His Church, which is the true Israel of God.
So because Luke only gives us 16 verses, we really don't know much about Paul's two year stay in Rome. Did he ever stand before Caesar? Did he have a fruitful ministry in Rome. Did they release Paul or kill him?
In answer to the second question, we see in the last two verses of Acts that for two years he was, "Preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered." We can also learn something of the extent and success of his labors from the Epistles which he wrote during this two year period.
Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon were the earliest of these Epistles, being written about the same time. Colossians was delivered by Tychicus and Onesimus (Colossians 4:7-9); Ephesians was delivered by Tychicus, according to Ephesians 6:21; and Philemon was delivered by Onesimus (Philemon 1.10-12). In Ephesians and Colossians there are indications of anxiety in reference to the success of his efforts, and Paul exhorts the believers to pray for him (Ephesians 6.18-19):
praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. Colossians 4:3-4 NASB
This request shows that there were some obstacles to the proclamation of the Gospel.
Despite these obstacles, the letter of Philemon reveals a real success story that the apostle had already seen. A Greek slave, who had run away from his master, had visited the apostle and heard and believed in the Gospel. It freed him from a bondage far worse than that from which he had fled.
And in the Epistle to the Philippians, which was written at a later period from his Roman prison, we see an answer to his prayer request. A door of utterance was thrown wide open:
Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. Philippians 1:12-14 NASB
The Gospel was being advanced through Paul's adversity, and he wanted them to understand that. Paul wanted them to learn something from his experience.
Paul says, "My adverse circumstances have 'turned out'"--this is the Greek word erchomai, which means: "bring, come enter, to turn out." The word "for" is the Greek word mallon, which means: "to a greater degree, for a better reason." Paul is saying, "My circumstances have turned out for a better reason." They have turned out for a greater advancement of the Gospel. God had a better plan than Paul had. Paul planned to go to Rome as a preacher, but he was doing well as a prisoner. The Gospel was being advanced through his imprisonment.
The word "progress" is the Greek word prokope (prok-op-ay). It was used in extra-Biblical Greek of the progress of an army or an expedition. It has the idea of something moving along in spite of opposition. The verb form prokoptain means: "to cut down in advance." It pictures those who would go ahead of an army cutting down trees and underbrush to make a path for an army to follow. It pictures progress against opposition. Paul says, "The Gospel is still progressing against all opposition." Opposition never stopped Paul. Does it stop you? How little opposition does it take to discourage you?
In verse 12, there is a principle that we need to understand. Paul is saying here, "I desire that you understand this." Those circumstances, which, from a human perspective, seem to be obstacles of defeat are by divine providence instruments of victory. We need to stop looking at everything in life from a human viewpoint. Often from a human viewpoint, things don't look good. We have to constantly remind ourselves, God is in control.
The Lord made the whole Praetorian Guard captive to Paul. What do you think the topic of conversation was? I'm sure it was the Lord Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. Paul's message became well known and those of the Praetorian Guard were being converted.
All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household. Philippians 4:22 NASB
Those soldiers to whom Paul was chained heard the Gospel over and over. They stood by as Paul dictated his "Prison Epistles" (Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians), and, far from hindering Paul, they greatly helped by serving as his personal bodyguards. Isn't it amazing the way God works to accomplish His purposes and promises?
and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. Philippians 1:14 NASB
What is happening to him is causing other Christians to become bold in their faith. Has that ever happened to you? You saw some Christian take a bold stand for the Lord, and it gave you boldness.
Paul, the prisoner, had an audience whose ears would have been wholly inaccessible had he not been a prisoner. 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, the unsearchable wisdom of God. No two years of Paul's life were better served than these two spent in his Roman prison.
In Philippians 1:19-26, Paul speaks about his uncertain future in Rome. He could be granted his freedom, or he could be executed. How did Paul feel about this? He says that He has no disappointments in life, because his life is Christ and Christ will not disappoint him:
for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, Philippians 1:19 NASB
"This" refers to verses 12-18, his incarceration, and persecution, everything that has happened to him, all of it. The word "deliverance" is the Greek word soteria. The KJV translates it "salvation." How did Paul know that this will turn out for his deliverance?
As I'm sure you know by now the word soteria has many different meanings, it can mean: "rescue or safety, health or salvation." Which way is Paul using it here? Maybe all. Paul believes that his current distress is only temporary. That is the point. He will be delivered, it doesn't matter to him how.
Why is he so sure? This statement that he makes is a word for word quote of Job 13:16 in the LXX. Paul identified his life with Job, and he knew that Job was a righteous man whom God had tried for His glory. Job knew that what ever he went through, God would deliver him out of it, because he knew that God delivered the righteous. Job knew it even to the point of death. "Though worms destroy this body, yet out of my flesh shall I see God." He knew God would deliver him either temporarily or eternally.
It is a First Testament principle--God delivers the righteous. Job knew it and so did Paul. This cannot be isolated to his release from prison because he says, "By life or death." Paul is simply saying, "God delivers the righteous."
The word "prayer" here is deesis (day-ace-is). We often fail to realize that God has determined to provide His blessings upon the prayers of His people. This is not Arminian Theology. I'm not saying that we control God with our prayers. God, in his sovereignty and good pleasure, has ordained that his purposes be brought to pass in the concert with the prayers of His people.
Paul knew that God would provide all that he needed:
according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. Philippians 1:20 NASB
I think that Paul is saying, "I'm confident in the promise of Christ that if I'm faithful to Him, He'll be exalted in me." Facing a crisis which could result in his being beheaded, this servant of the Lord determined that in nothing he shall be disappointed (aischuno). He trusted in God, and he knew he wouldn't be disappointed.
Paul is saying, "I'll never be disappointed, even in death." Paul was always bold because his confidence was in Christ. "Exalted" is megaluno: "to make great, enlarge, exalt." It's not, "I will magnify Christ"--he uses the future passive, "Christ shall be magnified in me." The thought is not that the glory of Christ will be increased, but rather it will be manifested to others.
J. H. Pickford said, "The unseen life and love needs a screen upon which to reflect His image: that screen is your body." There are two kinds of magnification: Microscope, which makes little things seem big; and telescope, which makes the distant seem near. Christ is so distant to the world of our day. The body of each Christian must be as a mighty telescope, bringing to the world a sense of His real nearness. Does your life make Him great?
He doesn't know what it will be--life or death--but he is confident in it. In verse 23, he says he'd rather die. In verse 24, he feels he'll stay alive. By life--he will keep preaching, trusting, worshiping God. By death--he'll go with no disappointments. "I trust You," he says. Paul was so confident that God's will for him was perfect--that it was the best possible thing for him--that he was able to accept it willingly even if it meant death at the hands of a Roman executioner.
Do we have such confidence in God? When life is smooth, it is easy to say, as we often do, "All things work together for good to them that love God." It is easy when you have everything you want, when God blesses you materially and blesses your family. But it is not so easy at the grave. It is not so easy in the face of cancer, bitter disappointment, and pain. If you are to have confidence in God in such moments, you must learn to trust Him in the small disappointments of life. To Paul, disappointment was His appointment. The issue in life for Paul was God's glory, and he sums it up in:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21 NASB
Living is Christ, dying is gain--Paul lived only to serve Christ, commune with Christ, love Christ. He has no concept of life other than Christ. He is his reason for living.
This is not the testimony of a new convert. This is not the testimony of a carnal Christian. This is the testimony of a mature believer who lives in communion with Christ.
Paul says in effect, "Christ is all my life, so if the Gospel is preached, I'm happy, if God's kingdom is advanced, I'm happy. If the Lord is magnified in my body, I'm happy--no matter how it happens, by life or by death."
Dying is gain--not the act of dying, but the consequences of dying--death. For a Christian, physical death is gain; it is freedom from temptation and sin. No more enemies or fights, the battle is over. No more suffering or trials. Death brings uninterrupted fellowship with the Lord. In light of this, why would a Christian be afraid to die? Does a prisoner dread his release or a sick man dread his recovery?
This is a single minded man--that's why he wouldn't be disappointed--Christ was all that mattered to him. This is where every Christian ought to be! For me to live is Christ. Fill in the blank. For me to live is _____________. (wealth? prestige? fame? knowledge? power? possessions? me? self-pleasure?) You put anything but Christ in the blank, and dying is loss, and living is disappointment. Only Christ makes dying gain. "Gain" is kerdos, which means: "great profit."
How do we grow to this point of maturity where living is Christ? Purpose to know as much about Christ as it was possible to know. How do you do that? Study the Word of God, meditate upon it, learn it. You cannot know Christ apart from the Word of God.
When we can come to the point in our lives that we can say, "Living is Christ," then we'll also be able to say, "No disappointments." Believer, please remember this each time that you are disappointed. You are disappointed because something other than Christ is the focus of your life. Christ will never disappoint us!
But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. Philippians 1:22 NASB
The "if" here is a first class condition which means: "since." But since I live in the flesh, this will be the occasion of my bringing in the fruit of labor. Don't ever be confused, fruit comes from labor, spiritual discipline. You don't grow and produce fruit by accident. You must abide in Christ, and that takes effort.
Paul's desire is to stay in the flesh, not for selfish reasons, but for Christ's glory. He's not saying, "I want to stay here because I just bought a condo at the beach and I'd like to enjoy it." He only wants to stay in the flesh to bear fruit for God's glory.
Ask yourself these questions, "Why do I desire to continue to live? Why would I not want to leave this world right now?" Are your reasons selfish? Paul's reasons for staying in the body were not selfish, he wanted to stay so he could minister.
Have you ever had a strong desire to leave this life and go to heaven? Why? Trials? Death for the Christian is never pictured in the Bible as a gain over the worst in this life. It is portrayed as an improvement on the best.
To us, life and death often look like two evils of which we know not which is worse. To Paul, they look like two immense blessings, of which he knows not which is better. Most people would say, "I want to live!" Why? "We're getting a new house," or "I'm getting married," or "I'm going on a trip," or "I'm expecting a bonus." Paul wanted to live only to glorify God, and he wanted to die only to fellowship with Christ.
How many believers do you know who are as sold out as Paul to the point where death is gain? To the point where circumstances don't touch their joy? We live in a materialistic, self-centered day. People live for a lot of things, but mainly for themselves. Paul didn't care what others said or thought of him or even if he lived or died as long as Christ was glorified. This is a mature believer. If Paul reached this point of maturity in his life, so can we.
But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; Philippians 1:23 NASB
"Hard pressed" is a Greek idiom for dilemma. It means: "to be hemmed in on both sides." Paul is saying, "I want to live and minister, and yet, I want to die and be with the Lord." It is not a good and a bad desire, it's two good desires. This is a good dilemma. It's between Christ and Christ; Christ much and Christ more; Christ by faith and Christ by sight.
The word "depart" is analuo (an-al-oo'-o). This is an interesting word. The entomology of this word is to "untie" or "breakup." The background of this word is helpful. It is used of breaking camp. It is used of sailors weighing anchor and sailing out to sea; of freeing a prisoner; of solving a problem; of taking a heavy burden off of an animal. Why does Paul use it of death? Because this is how Paul sees death. He sees it as freeing a prisoner, solving a problem, removing a burden. To Paul, physical death will be great. That is not how most Christians see death. Paul wants to depart and "be with Christ." This is unhindered fellowship with Christ forever.
Paul, speaking of death, says in verse 23, "Very much better." This is a Greek idiom meaning: "It's better by far. There is no comparison." To be with Christ is by far the best. Do we believe this?
yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Philippians 1:24 NASB
This is a mature disciple. His needs and their needs create an equal desire. His personal desire is to be with Christ, which is better for him, but for them it's better that he stay. His desire for them is as great as his desire for Him, so he can't choose:
Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, Philippians 1:25 NASB
For Paul, to be with them meant that they would make spiritual progress in the faith.
To Paul there were only two things in life: Christ and His church. He loved Christ and demonstrated it by his life of service to the Church. Too often the dilemma in our lives is between Christ and the world, when it should be between Christ and the Church:
Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, Philippians 1:25 NASB
He says, "I'm going to remain and remain along side you." How did he know this? Revelation? I don't think so. This is a strong personal conviction based on the need of the Church.
so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again. Philippians 1:26 NASB
Paul is in effect saying, "When I come along side you and minister to you, and you grow, and your joy increases, your confidence will abound in Jesus Christ through me by reason of my personal presence with you again." So it seems that Paul expected to be released from prison and visit the Philippians again.
From examining other writings of Paul we learn that he was not alone during his imprisonment, but was constantly surrounded by his fellow laborers:
Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas's cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions; if he comes to you, welcome him); and also Jesus who is called Justus; these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision, and they have proved to be an encouragement to me. Colossians 4:10-11 NASB
Here we see that Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus were with him and were an encouragement to him. Timothy joins with him in the opening salutations of Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians. Epaphras was his fellow-prisoners (Philemon 1:23). 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 was with him in the storm on his voyage from Caesarea (along with Aristarchus), continued to be his faithful companion (Colossians 4:14) and most likely wrote the last paragraph of Acts just as the two years expired.
What about Paul's trial--did he appear before Nero? We don't have any direct Scriptural evidence, but it is believed, by nearly all 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 speculation. There are events mentioned in these Epistles, which don't fit anywhere else in the preceding history; such as his leaving Timothy in Ephesus to counteract the influence of false teachers, while he went into Macedonia:
As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, 1 Timothy 1:3 NASB
Further evidence is based on his leaving Titus in Crete to set in order the things that were wanting there, and to ordain elders (Titus 15); 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).
Here is the way I believe it happened: He first fulfilled the purpose so confidently expressed to the Philippians of visiting them again:
and I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly. Philippians 2:24 NASB
After this he took advantage of the lodging which he had directed Philemon to prepare for him at Colosse (Philemon 1:22). After a short visit to Spain, he again visits Ephesus, where he left Timothy and went into Macedonia. From Macedonia, he wrote back to Timothy 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, and soon after visited Crete with Titus; and the most usual route from Macedonia to this island was by way of Ephesus. After a short visit in Crete, he left Titus there:
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, Titus 1:5 NASB
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).
Eventually, Paul was arrested again in Rome. This time, instead of being allowed to live in a hired home, he was thrown into a dark dungeon. There he wrote his second letter to Timothy, which reflects the conditions of that confinement. From this Epistle we learn several interesting particulars of his imprisonment and of the beginning of his final trial. His situation was much different than his first imprisonment; he had fewer friends with him:
for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service. But Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. 2 Timothy 4:10-12 NASB
At the time of writing, he had passed through the first stages of his trial, and was awaiting the second:
At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. 2 Timothy 4:16 NASB
I don't know where Luke was at this time, but, obviously, he wasn't with Paul. But the apostle of God, though deserted in his most trying hour by human friends, was able to say:
But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion's mouth. 2 Timothy 4:17 NASB
So again he had fearlessly 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.
But as Paul awaited another stage of his trial, he had reason to believe the results would be fatal:
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 2 Timothy 4:6 NASB
Remember what Paul told the Ephesian elders at Miletus:
"But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. Acts 20:24 NASB
Now, he was about to lose his life; and looking back over the course he had run, and the ministry with which he had been entrusted, with all confidence, he is able to say:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 2 Timothy 4:7 NASB
Those of us who have been involved in this study of Acts can bear testimony to this declaration. 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:
in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing. 2 Timothy 4:8 NASB
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. Church history tells us that he was led out one day in the early spring and taken outside the walls of Rome. There he knelt down and a sword flashed in the sun. His head was cut off and the apostle went home to be with the Lord.
Clement of Rome, a bishop who ministered close to the end of the first century, reminded the Corinthian church how Paul, "...having preached in the east and west, attained the noble renown won for him by his faith, teaching righteousness to the whole world and reaching the farthest limit of the west, bore witness before rulers and thus passed from the world and went to the holy place..." (1 Clement 5:7). Tradition tells us that Paul was beheaded by the Romans on the Appian Way.
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