By Sam E. Stone
Paul’s long-desired opportunity to preach in Rome was becomming a reality. Last week we learned how he and others from the ship wintered in Malta, awaiting better weather to complete their journey. With spring, navigation was considered safe and they resumed their voyage (Acts 28:11-14).
Luke notes that when they met brethren in Puteoli, Paul remained there for a week. W. R. Walker suggests that this makes it “more than probable” that the centurion transporting Paul had become a Christian, and was now using all the liberty he had to assist in spreading the gospel message! As they walked on the Appian Way toward Rome, two groups of Christian brothers from the city came out to meet the travelers.
Arrival in Rome
Acts 28:16, 17
Once in Rome Paul was allowed to live by himself, with just a soldier to guard him. Ever since his conversion, the apostle had attempted to preach the gospel “first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles” (Romans 1:16). He did the same in Rome. Calling together the local Jewish leaders, Paul explained how he had come to be brought as a captive to their city.
Meeting with Jewish Leaders
Acts 28:23, 24
The Jews came in large numbers to meet him and hear him. Wouldn’t you like to have listened as he witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God? Filled with his knowledge of Scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and with a heart abounding in love for his brethren, Paul tried to persuade them about Jesus. Some were convinced . . . but others would not believe. F. F. Bruce notes, “The debate must have been keen and impassioned.”
Responding to Rejection
The group began to leave when Paul gave this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet. . . .” Paul then used the same quotations from Isaiah 6 that Jesus had used when rebuking the Jewish leaders for not listening to him (Matthew 13:14, 15). The text was also cited by the apostle John in explaining the unbelief of those who heard Jesus in Jerusalem (John 12:40).
J. W. McGarvey points out, “It furnishes the true explanation of the failure of the gospel to win some who hear it fully proclaimed.” This passage clearly points out that every person has a personal responsibility to accept or reject the message of the gospel. God is no respecter of persons. Every individual must exercise his or her free will in deciding how to respond to the invitation of Jesus. The Lord does not force anyone.
The apostle went on to tell the Jewish leaders, “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” Hearing this, the Jews left. Luke adds that they were arguing vigorously among themselves.
Preaching to All
Acts 28:30, 31
The book of Acts concludes with Paul still a prisoner (v. 16), a soldier chained to him day and night (v. 20). Since soldiers normally changed their shift every three hours, the apostle might have five or six different soldiers by his side during a 24-hour day. Talk about a captive audience! We can imagine how each one of them heard his testimony and listened to his preaching and teaching throughout the day.
Since this continued for two whole years, it is not surprising that Paul wrote later to the Philippians, “It has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ” (Philippians 1:13). This in itself had encouraged other believers to speak the Word of God more courageously and fearlessly (v. 14).
The fact that Paul welcomed all who came to see him suggests a steady stream of people, both Christians and non-Christians, who came to meet and talk with him. He was living in “his own rented house.” Some Bible teachers suggest Paul might have continued using his tent-making skills to support himself during this period. With all of the visitors, however, he probably wouldn’t have had time to do too much tent making!
Luke concludes this history of the early church with these powerful words: He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance!
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.