IV. Paul’s Arrest, Trial, and Kingdom Witness in Rome (Acts 21:1–28:31)
IV. Paul’s Arrest, Trial, and Kingdom Witness in Rome (21:1–28:31)
21:1-6 Paul and his companions journeyed by ship from port to port until they finally arrived in Tyre on the Mediterranean Coast (21:1-3). There they visited with the local believers for seven days. The Spirit had revealed to them what was awaiting Paul in Jerusalem, so out of fear they kept telling him not to go (21:4). Yet when it was time for him to depart, they all went outside the city and prayed with him (21:5). There was no stopping Paul. He was “compelled by the Spirit” to go to Jerusalem (20:22).
21:7-9 From Tyre they sailed to Ptolemais and then to Caesarea, where they stayed with Philip the evangelist (21:7-8) who had zeal for spreading the gospel (see 8:4-8, 26-40). Philip was one of the Seven—that is, one of the first seven deacons appointed by the church (see 6:1-6)—and he shared the gospel with the Ethiopian eunuch (see 8:26-40). He had four virgin daughters who prophesied (21:9).
Notice that the gift of prophecy was bestowed by the Spirit without gender distinction. Though women are restricted from the office of elder / overseer / pastor (see 1 Tim 2:11-13), the Spirit makes no gender distinction in the distribution of spiritual gifts.
21:10-13 A prophet named Agabus visited them and let Paul know what he could expect in Jerusalem. They would bind his hands and feet and deliver him over to the Gentiles (21:10-11). When Paul’s companions and the local believers heard this, they pleaded with him not to go (21:12). This was too much for Paul; it was a very emotional moment. They were breaking his heart. Nevertheless, he was determined to go to Jerusalem, ready . . . to be bound and even to die . . . for the name of the Lord Jesus (21:13).
When eternity is that real in your heart, whether you live or die doesn’t make a difference as long as the Lord is glorified. As Paul told the Philippians, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21).
21:14 Since they couldn’t change his mind, they concluded, The Lord’s will be done. We will frequently be unable to understand the reason God allows certain circumstances in our lives. Nevertheless, like Paul and the Lord Jesus himself (see Luke 22:42), we must have hearts that submit to our King’s will for our lives.
21:15-21 Arriving in Jerusalem, Paul and his companions were greeted warmly by the Christian brothers and sisters (21:15-17). When he met with James (the Lord’s brother) and the elders, they were overjoyed to hear about what God had done among the Gentiles through the ministry of this former persecutor of the church (21:18-20). However, some had been reporting to the Jewish believers in Jerusalem that Paul was telling Jews who lived among the Gentiles . . . not to circumcise their children or follow Jewish customs (21:21).
In other words, some were saying Paul was telling Jews to forget about their Jewish heritage when they came to Christ. But that wasn’t true. Though Paul clearly told all people (Jew and Gentile) that salvation came through faith in Christ alone, he didn’t argue that Jewish customs couldn’t be practiced. After all, Paul had Timothy circumcised to make it easier for the two of them to conduct ministry among the Jews (see 16:1-3). Circumcision is not a problem as long as one doesn’t rely on it for salvation or sanctification (see Gal 5:1-6).
21:22-25 To deal with this problem, the Christian elders encouraged Paul to pay for four men who had taken a vow to have their heads shaved (21:23-24). This was probably a reference to the Nazirite vow (see Num 6:1-21), something Paul had done himself (see Acts 18:18). Once the other Jews saw Paul do this, they would realize that the rumors they had heard about him rejecting Jewish customs amounted to nothing (21:24). Then they reminded Paul of the letter to the Gentiles that had been written as a result of the Jerusalem council (21:25; see 15:22-29). As long as the gospel message wasn’t compromised, they didn’t want anything to unnecessarily offend Jews and hinder them from believing in Christ.
21:26-30 Paul did as the elders recommended, but when some Jews saw him in the temple, they flew into a rage, grabbing Paul and telling everyone that he was guilty of speaking against the Jewish people, the law, and temple (21:26-28). To top it off, they accused him of bringing Greeks into the temple because they had seen Paul walking around the city with a Gentile man from Ephesus and assumed he had brought him inside it (21:28-29). So the whole city was upset and dragged Paul out of the temple (21:30).
Thus, the warnings and prophecies from the Holy Spirit were coming true (see 20:23; 21:4, 10). But Paul had prepared himself. The Spirit had compelled him to go, and he was determined to follow through in obedience (see 20:22; 21:13).
21:31-36 Paul was rescued from death by a Roman commander and his soldiers. They ended the chaos, stopped the people from beating Paul, and chained him up—assuming he was some kind of criminal (21:31-33). Unable to get to the bottom of things, the commander had his soldiers carry Paul (because the crowd wouldn’t stop attacking him!) to the barracks (21:34-36).
21:37-40 The average person would have left well enough alone and allowed himself to be carried off safe from harm! But not Paul. He wanted to speak (21:37). The Roman commander had misidentified the apostle, thinking he was an Egyptian who started a revolt some time ago (21:38). But once Paul informed him of his true identity as a citizen of an important city in the Roman Empire, he was given permission to address the crowd (21:39-40).
When we read Paul’s letters, we might be tempted to think that he was just a heady theologian. But actually Paul wrote from an incredible Christian experience that included genuine love for people, intense emotional and physical suffering, and active pursuit of his King’s agenda.
22:1-5 Paul began to address the crowd that only moments before had been beating him to a pulp. They had become angry with him based on false pretenses, so Paul wanted to clarify who he was and what he had been doing. He began by explaining how much they had in common. He was a Jew, spoke Aramaic, had been educated by the great Pharisee Gamaliel, and had been zealous for the law (22:2-3). How zealous? He had persecuted this Way to the death (22:4), “the Way” being an early title given to Christianity (see 9:2; 19:9, 23; 24:14, 22). He had been concerned with nothing other than arresting, punishing, and jailing believers (21:4-5). If anyone had wanted to destroy the Christian faith, it was Paul. If they doubted him, the Jewish high priest and council of elders could verify it all (21:5).
22:6-16 One day, though, while he was pursuing the followers of Jesus, Paul ran right into Jesus himself! The risen and glorified Lord asked Paul, Why are you persecuting me? (21:7; see commentary on 9:1-19; 26:12-18). To persecute Christ’s people, then, is to persecute Christ because the church is his body. Yet Jesus hadn’t come to punish Paul; he had come to draft him into service to take his gospel message throughout the empire. Paul didn’t learn this, though, until he obeyed God and went to Damascus to meet a believer named Ananias who healed him and gave him his marching orders to be a witness for [Christ] to all people (21:11-15).
Paul was saved for a purpose, and the same is true of all believers. Christians are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do” (Eph 2:10). The Lord didn’t inform Paul about his purpose until he went to Damascus as commanded. Many Christians want to know God’s purposes for their lives, but they’re unwilling to obey the clear commands that he’s already given. But God hits a moving target. Follow God in faith; do what you already know you’re supposed to do. By doing so, you’ll show him that you’re serious about pursuing him so that he can begin guiding, directing, and ordering your steps.
22:17-21 Upon Paul’s return to Jerusalem, God commanded Paul to leave because he knew the Jews there wouldn’t accept his testimony (22:17-18). In fact, they would seek to kill him (see 9:28-30). But Paul thought he had a compelling testimony to share, since he had formerly imprisoned believers and approved of Stephen’s death (22:19-20; see 7:54–8:3). Nevertheless, God had other plans for Paul: He would take the gospel to the Gentiles (22:21).
What Paul said about the Ephesian church was also once true of most of us: “Remember that at one time you were Gentiles . . . without Christ, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:11-12). But praise God for his grace to Gentiles and for Paul’s faithfulness to his Gentile mission.
22:22-24 When the Jewish listeners heard Paul mention “Gentiles,” they’d had enough. They wanted him dead (22:22). So the Roman commander ordered Paul to be taken to the barracks—not to protect him—but to whip him with the scourge to discover why everyone was so angry with him (22:24). Clearly, then, the commander wasn’t concerned with justice.
22:25-29 As they stretched him out for the lash, Paul asked, Is it legal for you to scourge a man who is a Roman citizen and is uncondemned? (22:25). The clear answer was “No.” Paul, therefore, was shrewd. He used his citizenship to his advantage. He had legal protection, and he utilized it. When the commander learned that Paul had been born a Roman citizen (and had not purchased his citizenship like he had), he and those with him became alarmed (22:28-29). If they punished a Roman citizen without a trial, they’d be in for severe punishment themselves.
Paul wasn’t afraid to be beaten for Christ. But he also wasn’t afraid to exercise his legal rights to escape illegitimate punishment and to take his case and message to a higher governmental authority—ultimately to Caesar (see 25:11-12).
22:30–23:5 The Roman commander released Paul and had the chief priests and the Jewish Sanhedrin gather together so that he could try to find out what they were accusing him of (22:30). So Paul began speaking, testifying that he had lived . . . before God in all good conscience, yet the high priest had him slapped to shut him up (23:1-2). In response to this unjust treatment, Paul called the high priest a whitewashed wall (that is, a thing made to look clean on the outside though it is actually dirty on the inside) and condemned his unlawful actions (23:3).
When challenged for daring to revile the high priest, Paul said he did not know Ananias was the high priest (23:4-5). Some interpreters think Paul truly didn’t know to whom he was speaking. Others think Paul’s eyesight was bad. But more likely, Paul considered him an illegitimate high priest because of his unjust actions in conducting the trial (see Lev 19:15). In other words, he took this stance: “He may be your high priest, but he’s not my high priest.” In any case, by quoting Exodus 22:28, Paul was acknowledging respect for the leader’s office but saying, “This is a fake leader.”
23:6-9 It was clear to Paul that he wasn’t going to get a fair hearing. So when he realized that some of those gathered were Sadducees (a group that denied the resurrection of the dead) and some were Pharisees (a group that believed in the resurrection of the dead), he told them he was a Pharisee on trial because of the hope of the resurrection (23:6, 8). That was another shrewd move because technically, he was right. His message was the proclamation that Jesus was the Messiah who had risen from the dead. But he used that truth to highlight the theological conflict that existed between the two groups, winning sympathy for himself from the Pharisees. Eventually they declared, We find nothing evil in this man (23:9). Mission accomplished. The Jewish Sanhedrin wouldn’t be condemning Paul that day.
23:10-11 As fists started flying, the commander had his troops whisk Paul away to the barracks again (23:10). The following night, the Lord appeared to Paul to encourage him. Just as Paul had testified about Jesus in Jerusalem, it was the Lord’s will that he testify in Rome (23:11). It wouldn’t be a smooth ride, but God would ultimately take Paul to the heart of the Roman Empire. Sometimes, in his providence, God will take you on a long and difficult road to get you where he wants you. Trust God, maintain your kingdom perspective, and (as the Lord told Paul) have courage (23:11).
23:12-22 The Jews who hated Paul weren’t going to give up that easily. Forty of them had vowed not to eat or drink until they had killed him (23:12-13). So they told the religious leaders to ask the Roman commander to have Paul appear before him again so he could be questioned. But as he was being delivered, they would lie in wait to kill him (23:14-15). Somehow, however, Paul’s nephew heard about the ambush and reported it to Uncle Paul! So Paul had a centurion take his nephew to the commander and inform him of the secret plot (23:17-22). God’s providence had intervened again. The Lord knows how to have a nephew at the right place at the right time to foil the plans of a band of killers.
23:23-30 The commander took word of this plot very seriously. He was under obligation to look after this Roman citizen in his charge. Nothing was going to happen to Paul on his watch. So he gathered two hundred soldiers . . . with seventy cavalry and two hundred spearmen (470 armed Romans against 40 fasting Jews sound like pretty good odds!) to transport Paul by night to Felix the governor in Caesarea (23:23-24). Not only was Paul being delivered safely from the hands of those who wanted to kill him, he was getting a massive, armed escort. The commander also sent a letter to the governor, explaining the circumstances and making it clear that he had been doing his job well (23:25-30).
23:31-35 Paul was taken to Caesarea on the Mediterranean Coast to see Marcus Antonius Felix, the Roman governor (or procurator) of Judea from AD 52–58. According to historical sources, Felix was a lousy and brutal ruler. He learned that Paul was from Cilicia, a Roman province (23:34) on the coast of modern day Turkey. That’s where Paul’s home city of Tarsus was located (see 9:11; 21:39; 22:3). Then Felix agreed to give Paul a hearing when his accusers arrived from Jerusalem. Though Paul was kept under guard (23:35), Luke makes it clear throughout the narrative that Paul is ultimately in God’s hands—not in the hands of Rome.
24:1-9 In a few days, Ananias the high priest and some elders showed up with a lawyer named Tertullus (24:1). They were determined to have Paul legally condemned to death. Tertullus thus began by flattering Felix and then getting down to business, arguing that Paul was an agitator and ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes—a reference to the fact that Jesus grew up in Nazareth (24:2-5). Then he accused Paul of trying to desecrate the temple (24:6). This was plainly untrue, but they knew they had to make Paul guilty of something that would concern a Roman ruler. If Paul were disturbing the peace and causing riots, Rome would need to do something.
24:10-15 When given opportunity to respond, Paul did not hesitate to speak the truth and seek to address his illegitimate incarceration through the legal means available to him. He agreed that he had been in Jerusalem but denied the accusation that he had caused a disturbance, whether in the temple or anywhere in the city (24:11-12). None of the charges they made could be proved (24:13). The only thing to which Paul would admit was being a worshiper of God according to the Way—that is, Christianity (see 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4), which these Jews rejected as a sect but which was nonetheless a fulfillment of the law and the prophets (24:14). Paul pointed out the hope that he had in common with these men: a belief in the resurrection of the dead, which had happened in Jesus Christ (24:15).
24:16-21 Paul also highlighted the fact that he had brought charitable gifts to his fellow Jews (24:17)—hardly something he’d do if he despised them. It was while he was delivering this offering that some hostile Jews from Asia found Paul in the temple, but he had been without a crowd and without any uproar (24:18). Then he raised a significant point: Where were those men who had seized him in the temple and accused him of wrongdoing? They hadn’t even shown up for his trial! (24:19). Moreover, the men who were there couldn’t explain what Paul had done wrong when he had stood before the Sanhedrin, except that he affirmed the resurrection of the dead (24:20-21)—something which the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin agreed with (see 23:6-8).
24:22-27 Felix refused to render a judgment until Lysias the commander—the one who had sent Paul to Felix—arrived in Caesarea (24:22; see 23:23-30). Then he had Paul kept under guard but allowed his friends to visit and provide for him (24:23). Later, Felix and his Jewish wife Drusilla . . . listened to Paul talk about faith in Christ Jesus (24:24). But when Paul spoke about the subjects of righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix became afraid (24:25). Why? Because someone who is unrighteous and lacking self-control doesn’t want to hear how divine judgment will be poured out. Felix was well informed about Christianity (24:22). He was apparently interested in religious matters. But when the conversation turned to his own sins and his accountability before God, Felix squirmed in his seat.
Therefore, Felix sent Paul away, but regularly invited him back to talk, always hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe to let him go (24:25-26). It’s clear Felix knew that Paul was innocent of all charges, but he was unwilling to upset the Jews by setting him free. So to do the Jews a favor, he left Paul in prison for two years until he was succeeded by the new governor, Porcius Festus (24:27). Paul was unjustly imprisoned. But God providentially used this injustice to move him toward the goal of proclaiming the gospel in Rome, the center of earthly power in Paul’s day.
25:1-5 When the new governor arrived in Jerusalem, the Jewish religious leaders appealed to Festus to grant them a favor: transfer Paul to Jerusalem (25:1-3). Their secret plan was to ambush and kill Paul when he was moved—a plot they had devised two years ago that had resulted in Paul being transferred to Caesarea in the first place (see 23:12-30). But Festus denied their request and told them to send representatives to accompany him to Caesarea to accuse Paul of any wrongdoing (25:4-5).
Once again, then, God was working behind the scenes to protect Paul from the murderous plans of the Jewish leaders. They were scheming to have Paul returned to Jerusalem. But God was working to take Paul far from their grasp—to stand before Caesar. No matter how grim your circumstances appear, do not forget the glorious truth that God is in control, whether directly or indirectly. Submit to his kingdom agenda in Scripture and trust him to accomplish his will for your life as he sovereignly directs your path.
25:6-9 In Caesarea Festus had Paul brought before him (25:6). The Jews also came forward and accused Paul of serious charges that they were not able to prove (25:7). As he had been in the habit of doing, Paul denied the unsubstantiated charges. He was not guilty of anything against the Jewish law, the Jewish temple, or Caesar (25:8). Like his predecessor, Festus could find no reason to condemn Paul. Nevertheless, he had a province to run, and he wanted his constituents to be peaceable citizens. So as a favor to the Jews, he asked Paul if he’d be willing to stand trial in Jerusalem (25:9).
25:10-12 But Paul had had enough. He had not wronged the Jews, so he argued that he shouldn’t be given over to them (25:10-11). The question before Festus was, “Is Paul guilty of wrongdoing against Rome?” Although Paul was standing at Caesar’s tribunal, being tried before Caesar’s representative, Felix was unwilling to render a verdict (25:10). As a Roman citizen, Paul had the full right of appeal, so he declared, I appeal to Caesar, and Festus consented (25:11-12).
Paul had been exercising every legal right available to him. He wanted to make it clear to all that neither he nor Christianity was guilty of subverting the empire. Moreover, he wanted to go to Rome, the highest level of earthly authority, with a message from the supreme authority: Believe in the Lord Jesus and submit to his kingdom agenda.
25:13-14 King Agrippa (Herod Agrippa II) was the son of Herod Agrippa I (see 12:1-5, 20-23) and the last member of the Herodian dynasty to rule. (The Romans had put him in charge of a few territories that did not include Judea). When he paid a visit to Festus, the Roman governor presented Paul’s case to the king. Since Agrippa was Jewish, Festus hoped he could help him make sense of Paul’s case so that he would know what to communicate to Caesar when he sent him.
25:15-22 Festus laid out the sequence of events for Agrippa. The governor had expected accusations of horrific evils against Paul, but instead the case against him turned out to be one of religious disagreement about a certain Jesus, a dead man Paul claimed to be alive (25:18-19). Not being familiar with Jewish religious teachings, Festus confessed, I was at a loss (25:20). But when he asked Paul if he wanted to be tried in Jerusalem, he instead appealed to Caesar (25:20-21). After listening to the explanation, Agrippa said, I would like to hear the man myself (25:22). Paul was about to have an opportunity to talk to a human king about King Jesus.
25:23-27 The next day, Paul appeared before Festus, Agrippa, and Bernice (25:23). (Bernice was Agrippa’s sister, with whom he was rumored to be in an incestuous relationship.) Festus explained that the Jewish community wanted Paul dead, that he (Festus) had not found him guilty of anything, and that Paul had appealed to the Emperor (25:24-25). Then Festus described his dilemma: I have nothing definite to write to my lord (Caesar) about him. That’s why he wanted Agrippa to listen to Paul and to offer some advice (25:26). Festus was understandably embarrassed to send a prisoner to Caesar without indicating the charges against him (25:27). Doing so was no small matter. In essence Festus was saying, “Help me out, Agrippa. Don’t let me look like a fool in front of the emperor!”
26:1-3 When given a chance to speak, Paul stretched out his hand as a show of respect and expressed his gratefulness for the opportunity to address King Agrippa. In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul writes, “Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God” (Rom 13:1). Paul knew that a government office is to be respected—even if the person holding the office isn’t worthy of respect—because such governmental authorities were established by the Lord.
26:4-8 Paul began by telling the king what none of the Jews could deny—that from [his] youth he had been zealous for the Jewish religion and lived as a Pharisee (26:4-5). The reason he was on trial, though, was for believing in something that had been promised to the Jewish people in the Old Testament Scriptures: the hope of the resurrection of the dead (26:6-7). Paul knew he wasn’t merely bearing witness to his own innocence; ultimately he was bearing witness to Christ. Having raised the topic of resurrection, he wanted his listeners to consider the reality of Jesus’s resurrection and press it on their consciences: Why do any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead? (26:8).
26:9-11 Paul confessed that he had opposed Christianity vigorously. He had sought to have Christians locked up and put to death. So, what was his point? Paul wanted Agrippa to know that if anything could transform him from being the chief persecutor of Christianity to its chief advocate, it would have to be miraculous. And it was.
26:12-18 Paul recounted his conversion on the Damascus road when the Lord Jesus appeared to him (see commentary on 9:1-19; 22:6-16). At the moment when he encountered the supernatural vision, he had been on his way—with no intentions of repenting—to arrest believers (26:12). The light from heaven that struck him at midday was brighter than the sun, and then the crucified one whom Paul thought was dead spoke to him (26:13-15)!
Jesus brought both salvation and a purpose to Paul. His mission would be to serve as a witness of what he [had] seen and [would] see of the Lord (26:16). In particular he would take the gospel to the Gentiles, turning them from the power of Satan to God (26:17-18).
Formerly, Paul was an aggressive opponent of Christ; he’d become an aggressive soldier for Christ. Instead of keeping people from the kingdom, Paul’s energies would be redirected toward bringing them into the kingdom.
26:19-23 So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision (28:19). In other words, Paul said, “What did you expect me to do? Say ‘No’ to God?” Paul immediately began preaching, wherever he was, that the Gentiles should repent and turn to God, and do works worthy of repentance (26:20). That’s why the Jews seized him and tried to kill him (26:21). They were outraged by his message of salvation for the Gentiles, but Paul hadn’t invented it or pulled it out of thin air. Everything he had preached was consistent with and in fulfillment of what the prophets and Moses said would take place (26:22; see Ps 16:10; Isa 52:13–53:12). Then Paul highlighted the heart of the gospel: the suffering of the Messiah, his resurrection from the dead, and the proclamation in his name of light and forgiveness to Jews and Gentiles alike (26:23).
26:24-25 Divine visions? A voice from heaven? A dead man raised to life? This was too much for Festus, who thought Paul had gone crazy: Too much study is driving you mad (26:24). But Paul was unfazed by Festus’s insult. Far from being out of [his] mind, Paul was speaking words of truth and good judgment (26:25). He would have been crazy not to submit to King Jesus.
26:26-29 Then Paul turned his attention to the king, knowing that none of this had escaped his notice (26:26). Agrippa was well aware of both the message about Jesus and the fact that Paul had been publicly vocal about it. Putting the Jewish king on the spot, Paul asked, Do you believe the prophets? I know you believe (26:27). So although Paul was the one on trial, he turned the tables on Agrippa and played the prosecutor.
The king wondered if Paul thought he could persuade him to become a Christian so easily, and the apostle admitted that he wanted everyone to be saved (26:28-29). Whether someone came to know Jesus easily or with difficulty, it was worth it as far as Paul was concerned. The only thing he didn’t want them to experience was the chains that he had endured (26:29).
To Paul, no one was beyond the reach of the gospel. He was willing to talk to anyone about Jesus, regardless of their social status: government officials (13:7, 12), the lame (14:8-10), women (16:13-15), a jailer (16:25-34), and intellectuals (17:16-34). What about you? Are you willing to step outside of your comfort zone to share the good news with those whom others might avoid?
26:30-32 When Agrippa, Festus, and Bernice conferred privately afterward, they concluded that Paul was innocent (26:30-31). He had certainly committed no crime against Rome. If not for his appeal to Caesar, Paul could have been released (26:32). Yet, more than his freedom, Paul wanted to testify about Jesus to the Roman emperor. And God was going to give him that opportunity.
27:1-8 Eventually, Paul and some other prisoners were placed into the custody of a centurion named Julius, and they set sail for Italy. The use of the first person plural (we) once again indicates that the author, Luke, and a believer from Thessalonica named Aristarchus were with Paul (27:1-2; see 16:8-10; 20:1-6). Julius was kind to Paul and allowed his friends to tend to his needs (27:3). From Caesarea, they sailed north to Sidon, then around the island of Cyprus to land at Myra in Asia Minor. There they transferred to another ship (27:2-6). They had great difficulty reaching the island of Crete, eventually stopping at a port called Fair Havens (27:7-8).
27:9-12 The sailing had been slow going due to the winds, and the voyage had become dangerous. The Day of Atonement was already over, meaning it was late in the year (27:9). So Paul thought it advisable to spend the winter there, foreseeing disaster if they continued—loss of the cargo, the ship, and their lives (27:10). But the centurion listened to the counsel of the captain and the owner of the ship instead of Paul (27:11). They preferred to winter in Phoenix, a harbor that was further west on the coast of Crete (27:12). But listening to the “professional” rather than the man with a connection to God would prove costly.
Notice that Paul was not outside of God’s will. He had been obedient to the Lord, seeking to take his case to Rome, which was exactly where God wanted him to go (see 23:11). Paul gave good advice to the centurion, but it was rejected. As a result, the crew and passengers of the ship were about to enter a terrible storm. So, clearly, being in a storm does not mean you’re out of God’s will. Sometimes, it’s exactly where he wants you to be so that he can accomplish his purposes in you and through you (see commentary on Mark 4:35-37).
27:13-20 Although they set out with a gentle south wind, soon they encountered a fierce wind and were driven along (27:13-15). Having difficulty controlling the heavy ship, the crew tried everything to keep it from running aground (27:16-17). Eventually, they started tossing the cargo and the ship’s tackle (the rigging and equipment) overboard to lighten the load (27:18-19). The storm raged for many days, and finally all hope was fading (27:20).
27:21-26 In the midst of this bleak situation, Paul told them, You men should have followed my advice (27:21)—that is, “I told you so!” But after this slap on the wrist, he urged them to take courage because no lives would be lost, only the ship (27:22). How did he know? God had sent an angel to assure Paul of two things (27:23). First, it was necessary for the apostle to appear before Caesar. God had a mission for Paul, and he wouldn’t die before that mission was accomplished. Second, all of those sailing with Paul would be divinely protected (27:24). They needed no better assurance than that. Paul exhorted them again to have courage because God is faithful to keep his promises (27:25).
27:27-32 During the night, the sailors feared that they were approaching land and might crash on the rocks (27:27-29). So they dropped four anchors to try and keep the ship from running aground (27:29). Panicking, some sailors pretended to let down a smaller boat in order to drop more anchors. But actually they were planning to flee (27:30). When Paul realized what was happening, he warned the centurion that the way to be saved was to remain in the ship, not to abandon it (27:31). So the centurion and his soldiers put a stop to the sailors’ escape plans (27:32). They had finally learned to start listening to Paul.
27:33-38 Two weeks into their ordeal, Paul urged them to eat something, promising them that no one would be harmed (27:33-34). Then he set an example for them by eating some bread himself. Notice that in the midst of their affliction Paul gave thanks to God for the bread in the presence of all of them (27:35). Then they were all encouraged to eat as well (27:36).
When times are hard and you don’t know what God is up to, do you continue to thank him for his provision in your life (see Phil 4:6-7)? Not only will you remind yourself of the goodness of God, but you may also be a witness to those around you that God is worthy of our trust in difficult times. This is why Jesus could give thanks in spite of insufficiency when he fed the five thousand (see John 6:1-14).
27:39-44 At daybreak, they saw a beach, cut loose the anchors, and ran aground on a sandbar (27:39-41). Unfortunately, the stern of the ship began to break up because of the waves, so they would have to swim for shore (27:41). When they realized this, the soldiers wanted to kill the prisoners so that they couldn’t swim away and escape (27:42). After all, a soldier or guard who allowed a prisoner to get away would forfeit his own life (see 12:6-10, 18-19; 16:26-27). But God providentially protected Paul through the centurion who wanted to save him (27:43). So everyone made it to land safely, either by swimming or floating on debris (27:43-44).
28:1-10 They learned that they had arrived on Malta, an island south of Sicily (28:1). The locals were kind and cared for the castaways (28:2). But when they saw a venomous snake bite Paul, the superstitious people were convinced that he must be a murderer because, although he had escaped the sea, Justice (a Greek goddess) had not allowed him to live (28:3-4). However, when Paul didn’t become sick or die, they changed their minds and said he was a god (28:5-6). (How fickle is the human heart!) When Paul miraculously healed the father of the leading man of the island, everyone started bringing those with sickness and disease so that Paul might heal them (28:7-9). As a result, when their visitors sailed away, the natives heaped many honors on them and gave them all the supplies they needed (28:10).
God provided for all of the men’s needs through the island’s inhabitants. Don’t overlook the fact, though, that their admiration for Paul began when he was bitten by a snake. God’s providence sometimes requires that we pass through painful experiences so that he can give us—and even others—his blessing.
28:11-16 From Malta they climbed aboard a ship that took them to Syracuse on the island of Sicily (28:11-12). From there they reached the Italian coast, stopping first at Rhegium and then at Puteoli (28:13). After spending some time with Christian brothers and sisters, they eventually arrived in Rome where Paul was allowed to live by himself with a soldier who guarded him (28:14-16).
28:17-22 Paul gathered the local Jewish leaders and explained all of the events surrounding the circumstances of his case. He wanted them to know that he bore no animosity against his fellow Jews in Jerusalem but instead wanted to talk to the Jews in Rome about why he was in chains (28:17-20). He had been imprisoned because of his belief in the hope of Israel, the resurrection of the dead (28:20; see 23:6; 24:15; 26:23). Although the Jewish leaders hadn’t received any letters from Jerusalem about Paul, they were willing to listen to him because everyone everywhere was talking about this new sect called Christianity (28:21-22).
28:23-24 When the Jewish leaders met with him, Paul talked to them from dawn to dusk, testifying about the kingdom of God and seeking to persuade them that Jesus is the Messiah in fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (28:23). The Old Testament anticipated Jesus and pointed to him. Rightly interpreted, it leads people to the King who came to establish God’s kingdom. Some of the Jews believed, but others did not (28:24).
28:25-28 Those who refused to believe departed in anger when they heard Paul say that the Holy Spirit was right about their ancestors when he chastised them through the prophet Isaiah for failing to believe the Word of God (28:25-27; see Isa 6:6-19). In other words, Paul was telling them, “Don’t be like your foolish forefathers. Believe the Scriptures—all of which point to Jesus as the Messiah.” But since they were unwilling to repent of their stubborn unbelief, the apostle told them that God had sent this message of salvation to the Gentiles, who would listen (28:28). God’s gift of grace will not go unappreciated. If some reject it, there are others who will gladly accept it.
28:30-31 Paul remained in Rome for two whole years in his own rented house, receiving visitors. During that time he engaged in proclaiming (preaching) the kingdom of God and teaching people about the Lord Jesus Christ. Biblical preaching focuses on persuading people with kingdom truth in order to bring about an obedient response. Biblical teaching focuses on delivering a clear understanding of the King. This dual emphasis of the kingdom and its King should dominate every pulpit of every church that truly understands, accepts, and is committed to fulfilling its kingdom calling.
Thus, the book of Acts closes as it opened (see 1:3)—with the proclamation of “the kingdom of God.” Though Paul was a prisoner, the Word of God was unhindered and flourishing through his ministry (see 2 Tim 2:9). Throughout Acts, we have seen the fulfillment of Jesus’s promise that the Holy Spirit would enable his servants to be his “witnesses” to all people everywhere (1:8).
The Holy Spirit will do his greatest work in your life when you bear witness to Jesus Christ and live in submission to his kingdom rule. When you live under the umbrella of God’s kingdom agenda, the Holy Spirit is free to take you on your own life’s journey—sometimes it will be frustrating; sometimes it will prove frightening; but God will always fulfill his purposes for you.