Acts Chapter Twenty – Eight

 

Read Acts 28:1-10

 

v.1  AND WHEN THEY WERE ESCAPED, THEN THEY KNEW THAT THE ISLAND WAS CALLED MELITA.”

 

            Paul and his shipmates have run aground, the ship destroyed by the waves and cast up on an island.  This island of Melita or Malta, as it is known today, lies about sixty-five or seventy miles south of Sicily.  It’s not very big, only about 9 miles by 17 miles, so we see the providence of God working again as had the ship missed Melita, it could have come to grief on the North African coast or even missed land completely until it reached the straits of Gibraltar.  It was on the normal route from Crete to Rome but they obviously didn’t make landfall at the normal place or port, so they didn’t recognize it.

 

v.2 “AND THE BARBAROUS PEOPLE SHEWED US NO LITTLE KINDNESS: FOR THEY KINDLED A FIRE, AND RECEIVED US EVERY ONE, BECAUSE OF THE PRESENT RAIN, AND BECAUSE OF THE COLD.”

 

            The people of Melita are called barbarians here by Luke simply because this was the common terminology used during that period of history by the Greeks for anyone who did not speak Greek.  Those shipwrecked were wet from their need to swim or make their way to shore on debris from the ship; it was cold and can be so during a winter storm, even in the Mediterranean.  The native people took care of those shipwrecked making no distinction between those who were sailors, those who were soldiers or those who were prisoners, or those who were in authority vs those who were not.  The exhibited the Christians attitude that the Holy Spirit demands of all who would be “Christian:”

 

Colossians 3:11 “WHERE THERE IS NEITHER [cannot be] GREEK NOR JEW, CIRCUMCISION NOR UNCIRCUMCISION, BARBARIAN, SCYTHIAN, BOND nor FREE: BUT CHRIST IS ALL, AND IN ALL.”

 

v.3 “AND WHEN PAUL HAD GATHERED A BUNDLE OF STICKS, AND LAID them ON THE FIRE, THERE CAME A VIPER OUT OF THE HEAT, AND FASTENED ON HIS HAND.”

 

            In their situation, we see Paul making himself useful, just as many of us might do but; in his case there are consequences.  It’s winter, it’s raining and comparatively cold and a snake would be somewhat lethargic in this situation until he felt the heat of the fire.  This poisonous snake strikes out of the bundle of wood and fastens itself on Paul’s hand.  We are not told what kind of snake it was and can only speculate as Malta, today, no longer has snakes.

 

v.4 “AND WHEN THE BARBARIANS SAW THE venomous BEAST HANG ON HIS HAND, THEY SAID AMONG THEMSELVES, NO DOUBT THIS MAN IS A MURDERER, WHOM, THOUGH HE HATH ESCAPED THE SEA, YET VENGEANCE [Justice] SUFFERTH NOT TO LIVE.”

 

            The people who see the snake bite Paul jump to the same conclusion that anyone would who believes that all things happen for a purpose.  Here is this man who has escaped the shipwreck but before he can even get warm and dry is bitten by a poisonous snake and is expected to drop dead in just a manner of moments.  They believe that this is a result of “Justice” being served.  But that isn’t what happens.

 

v.5  AND HE SHOOK OFF THE BEAST INTO THE FIRE, AND FELT NO HARM.”

 

            Just as Jesus had promised his disciples, perhaps even with this incident in mind:

 

Mark 16:18 “THEY SHALL TAKE UP SERPENTS; AND IF THEY DRINK ANY DEADLY THING, IT SHALL NOT HURT THEM; THEY SHALL LAY THEIR HANDS ON THE SICK, AND THEY SHALL RECOVER.”

 

v.6 “HOWBEIT THEY LOOKED WHEN HE SHOULD HAVE SWOLLEN, OR FALLEN DOWN DEAD SUDDENLY: BUT AFTER THEY HAD LOOKED A GREAT WHILE, AND SAW NO HARM COME TO HIM, THEY CHANGED THEIR MINDS, AND SAID THAT HE WAS A GOD.”

 

            Things just aren’t happening the way these people expect.  Paul exhibits no harm, illness or effect of the snake bite at all.  They wait, probably discussing this phenomena among themselves, but nothing happens.  They change their minds and become just like those people at Lycaonia when Paul healed the crippled man:

 

Acts 14:11 “AND WHEN THE PEOPLE SAW WHAT PAUL HAD DONE, THEY LIFTED UP THEIR VOICES, SAYING IN THE SPEECH OF LYCAONIA, THE GODS ARE COME DOWN TO US IN THE LIKENESS OF MEN.”

 

v.7 “IN THE SAME QUARTERS WERE POSSESSIONS OF THE CHIEF MAN OF THE ISLAND, WHOSE NAME WAS PUBLIUS; WHO RECEIVED US, AND LODGED US THREE DAYS COURTEOUSLY.”

 

            Their shipwreck occurred near the headquarters of the ruler of the island, a man named Publius.  Publius accepts them as guests and provides for them for three days.

 

v.8 “AND IT CAME TO PASS, THAT THE FATHER OF PUBLIUS LAY SICK OF A FEVER AND OF A BLOODY FLUX [dysentery]: TO WHOM PAUL ENTERED IN, AND PRAYED, AND LAID HIS HANDS ON HIM, AND HEALED HIM.”

 

            The father of the ruler of this island is sick with a fever and a bloody flux or dysentery, as it is translated in other versions.  Paul is provided the opportunity to repay Publius for his hospitality and does so, exercising his power as an apostle of God just as he did in the province of Asia:

 

Acts 19:11 “AND GOD WROUGHT SPECIAL MIRACLES BY THE HANDS OF PAUL.”

 

            We also note that Paul healed this man even though Luke, who is a physician, a doctor is present as well.

 

v.9-10 “SO WHEN THIS WAS DONE, OTHERS ALSO, WHICH HAD DISEASES IN THE ISLAND, CAME, AND WERE HEALED: WHO ALSO HONOURED US WITH MANY HONOURS; AND WHEN WE DEPARTED, THEY LADED US WITH SUCH THINGS AS WERE NECESSARY.”

 

            As was common throughout the ministry of Jesus, when the people see that Paul has power over sickness and can heal their diseases they bring him everyone on the island that has this need.  They are very appreciative of his work and when it comes time for them to leave they provide Paul and his shipmates with everything that they need.  Of course, they had been left with nothing more than the clothes they had on their backs when they went overboard from their ship.

 

Read Acts 28:11-16

 

v.11 “AND AFTER THREE MONTHS WE DEPARTED IN A SHIP OF ALEXANDRIA, WHICH HAD WINTERED IN THE ISLE, WHOSE SIGN WAS CASTOR AND POLLUX [The Twin Brothers].”

 

            They stay on Melita for three months.  Time has passed since their departure until it is now about late February or early March.  Still not the best time to be sailing in the Mediterranean but perhaps they were anxious to get to Italy.  They take another ship from Alexandria that has wintered in Melita; a ship named for the gods of the Greek sailors, Castor and Pollux.

 

v.12 “AND LANDING AT SYRACUSE, WE TARRIED there THREE DAYS.”

 

            Syracuse was the chief seaport on the east side of the island of Sicily, about eighty miles north of Melita, or Malta and a normal stopping place for ships sailing that route to Italy.

 

v.13 “AND FROM THENCE WE FETCHED A COMPASS [made a circuit], AND CAME TO RHEGIUM: AND AFTER ONE DAY THE SOUTH WIND BLEW, AND WE CAME THE NEXT DAY TO PUTEOLI:”

 

            They “made a circuit”, went around as would be the literal translation of the Greek.  They apparently didn’t get the south wind that they needed and had to work their way from Syracuse on Sicily to Rhegium at the bottom of the boot of Italy.  They waited there one day and with a favorable wind sailed the 180 miles from Rhegium to the seaport of Puteoli, which is near Naples.  This was the common destination of the grain ships sailing from Alexandria to Italy.

 

v.14 “WHERE WE FOUND BRETHREN, AND WERE DESIRED TO TARRY WITH THEM SEVEN DAYS: AND SO WE WENT TOWARD ROME.”

 

            At the seaport of Puteoli they found brethren, a situation not unexpected as there had been Christians in Rome as early as before Paul’s second missionary journey.  We see here the latitude given Paul by the centurion, even though he was a prisoner.  They stay seven days, perhaps to worship as they did at Troas or in Tyre.

 

v.15 “AND FROM THENCE, WHEN THE BRETHREN HEARD OF US, THEY CAME TO MEET US AS FAR AS APPII FORUM, AND THE THREE TAVERNS: WHOM WHEN PAUL SAW, HE THANKED GOD, AND TOOK COURAGE.

 

            Paul is treated as a celebrity.  One group of brethren come 43 miles from Rome to Appii Forum and others come 30 miles to a place called Three Taverns to meet Paul.  This is a great encouragement to him and he was thankful for their support.

 

v.16 “AND WHEN WE CAME TO ROME, THE CENTURION DELIVERED THE PRISONERS TO THE CAPTAIN OF THE GUARD: BUT PAUL WAS SUFFERED TO DWELL BY HIMSELF WITH A SOLDIER THAT KEPT HIM.”

 

            Luke and the others are still with Paul.  Julius, the centurion, completes his mission and turns the prisoners over to what is called here the “CAPTAIN OF THE GUARD”.  Scholars speculate about who this was, some say it was the captain of the Imperial Guard who protected the Caesars, others that it was a man that today would be called the chief of police for Rome.  He was allowed the freedom to dwell by himself rather than being kept in a common prison but a soldier was assigned to him and if we remember the three levels of security used by the Romans, he was probably chained to Paul.  As a result Paul came to know and probably taught the gospel to most, if not all, of the Imperial or Praetorian Guard as he, himself tells us:

 

Philippians 1:12-13 “BUT I WOULD YE SHOULD UNDERSTAND, BRETHREN, THAT THE THINGS which happened UNTO ME HAVE FALLEN OUT RATHER UNTO THE FOREMOST OF THE GOSPEL; SO THAT MY BONDS IN CHRIST ARE MANIFEST IN ALL THE PALACE [throughout the whole praetorian guard] AND IN ALL OTHER places

 

Read Acts 28:17-29

 

v.17 “AND IT CAME TO PASS, THAT AFTER THREE DAYS PAUL CALLED THE CHIEF OF THE JEWS TOGETHER; AND WHEN THEY WERE COME TOGETHER HE SAID UNTO THEM, MEN AND BRETHREN, THOUGH I HAVE COMMITTED NOTHING AGAINST THE PEOPLE, OR CUSTOMS OF OUR FATHERS, YET WAS I DELIVERED PRISONER FROM JERUSALEM INTO THE HANDS OF THE ROMANS.”

 

            Paul doesn’t waste much time.  After three days, probably the amount of time required for Paul to find a place to live, he calls together what is called the chief of the Jews.  This would include the rulers of the synagogues and any elders or heads of prominent families that lived in Rome.  History tells us that there were seven Jewish synagogues in Rome at this time; so this is a fairly large number of people.  Straight out he tells them that he has not committed an offense either against the Jews or the Law of Moses that would warrant his being a prisoner.  However, he has been sent from Jerusalem to Rome to stand trial, having become a prisoner of the Romans.  Even though Paul is a Roman prisoner; we remember that this status was actually for his protection as without the intervention of the Romans Paul would be dead.

 

v.18 “WHO, WHEN THEY HAD EXAMINED ME, WOULD HAVE LET me GO, BECAUSE THERE WAS NO CAUSE OF DEATH IN ME.

 

            He rehearses the occurrences that we studied in Acts chapters 22, 25 and 26.  He was tried and the Romans could find no reason to put him to death.

 

v.19 “BUT WHEN THE JEWS SPAKE AGAINST it, I WAS CONSTRAINED TO APPEAL UNTO CAESAR; NOT THAT I OUGHT [aught] TO ACCUSE MY NATION OF.”

 

            Even though the Romans could find no reason to hold him he was forced by the circumstances to appeal to Caesar.  He assures them that he has no intention of bringing any kind of charges against his countrymen or Judea as a result of his mistreatment.  With some of the Roman rulers, such as Nero, very little excuse would be needed to condemn, persecute, and even execute the Jewish residents of their principle city.

 

v.20 “FOR THIS CAUSE THEREFORE HAVE I CALLED FOR YOU, TO SEE you, AND TO SPEAK WITH you; BECAUSE THAT FOR THE HOPE OF ISRAEL I AM BOUND WITH THIS CHAIN.”

 

            Just as Paul had presented before Herod Agrippa, the reason that he has been accused of all these terrible crimes, the reason that the Jewish rulers have tried to condemn him is because of his hope of glory.  The Hope of Israel, the Messiah that was promised, has come and it is because of Paul’s dedication to Him that he has been brought him to this state of affairs.  Just as Paul wrote to the Ephesian brethren:

 

Ephesians 3:1 “FOR THIS CAUSE I PAUL, THE PRISONER OF JESUS CHRIST FOR YOU GENTILES.”

 

v.21 “AND THEY SAID UNTO HIM, WE NEITHER RECEIVED LETTERS OUT OF JUDAEA CONCERNING THEE, NEITHER ANY OF THE BRETHREN THAT CAME SHEWED OR SPAKE ANY HARM OF THEE.”

 

            They say that they have not heard anything about Paul.  There has been no letters of condemnation, no communication concerning his charges; no one has come to them speaking anything against him at all.  Of course, we’re told of no plan for the Jews to pursue Paul to Rome, no plan beyond trying to get him convicted of something and executed in Jerusalem or put in a position where they could catch and kill him so the ignorance of the Roman Jews of him shouldn’t be a surprise.  No one has come to Rome talking about him or bringing any news of his situation.

 

v.22  BUT WE DESIRE TO HEAR OF THEE WHAT THOU THINKEST; FOR AS CONCERNING THIS SECT, WE KNOW THAT EVERY WHERE IT IS SPOKEN AGAINST.”

 

            These Jews had not heard anything about Paul but they had heard about the church; but nothing that was good.  They call it a sect.  In the Greek the word translated sect is the same source word from which we get the word heresy.  The number of Christians in Rome was small; we remember from our earlier study that they had all been removed by Claudius:

 

Acts 18:2 “AND FOUND A CERTAIN JEW NAMED AQUILA, BORN IN PONTUS, LATELY COME FROM ITALY, WITH HIS WIFE PRISCILLA; BECAUSE THAT CLAUDIUS HAD COMMANDED ALL JEWS TO DEPART FROM ROME:) AND CAME UNTO THEM.”

 

            These Jews wanted to hear what Paul knew and thought about Jesus of Nazareth and this sect and this gives him the opportunity to bring the gospel to them.  Of course, this was not a sect at all but rather the natural progression of God’s plan for the redemption of mankind.  It was replacement for the covenant given only to a single nation with a covenant that is now extended to all men, everywhere for all time (Hebrews 8:6-7).

 

v.23 “AND WHEN THEY HAD APPOINTED HIM A DAY, THERE CAME MANY TO HIM INTO his LODGING; TO WHOM HE EXPOUNDED AND TESTIFIED THE KINGDOM OF GOD, PERSUADING THEM CONCERNING JESUS, BOTH OUT OF THE LAW OF MOSES AND out of THE PROPHETS, FROM MORNING TILL EVENING.”

 

            Paul takes full advantage of his opportunity.  Working from the Mosaic Law and the writings of the prophets, common ground that they all understood, he expounds, (that means to explain and convince) them of Jesus Christ.  He testifies concerning the kingdom of God, something that many denominations and many people do not believe has come.  They apparently listen patiently and he extends his presentation from morning all the way until evening.

 

v.24  AND SOME BELIEVED THE THINGS WHICH WERE SPOKEN, AND SOME BELIEVED NOT.”

 

            Just as in all other places, some accepted what Paul was teaching them, some did not.  Just as we encounter today, some will believe but many will not.

 

v.25 “AND WHEN THEY AGREED NOT AMONG THEMSELVES, THEY DEPARTED, AFTER THAT PAUL HAD SPOKEN ONE WORD, WELL SPAKE THE HOLY GHOST BY ESAIAS THE PROPHET UNTO OUR FATHERS,”

 

            These people were not in agreement, not in harmony.  We could possibly even read into this some emotion, they were like a group of people trying to sing together when they were all off key but not together.  Even though they heard all of the things prophesied of Jesus the Messiah there were those who would not believe.  Paul then tells them of the prophesy of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:9-10) concerning their refusal, a prophesy that we encounter other times in the New Testament as Jesus used it in Matthew 13:15 and it was recorded in all four gospels.

 

v.26-27 “SAYING, TO UNTO THIS PEOPLE, AND SAY, HEARING YE SHALL HEAR, AND SHALL NOT UNDERSTAND; AND SEEING YE SHALL SEE, AND NOT PERCEIVE; FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE IS WAXED GROSS, AND THEIR EARS ARE DULL OF HEARING, AND THEIR EYES HAVE THEY CLOSED; LEST THEY SHOULD SEE WITH their EYES, AND HEAR WITH their EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH their HEART, AND SHOULD BE CONVERTED, AND I SHOULD HEAL THEM.”

 

            A literal translation would be that their hearts have become fat, they were dull, unfeeling, unimpressionable; they could not be touched.  They were satisfied with their situation as it was and saw no reason to change.  This would describe the vast majority of the people in the world today, both those that are not religious and most who claim to be such.  They do not want to hear, they do not want to see, they refuse to understand anything except what they have already perceived as being right for them whether it is right with God or not.

 

v.28BE IT KNOWN THEREFORE UNTO YOU, THAT THE SALVATION OF GOD IS SENT UNTO THE GENTILES, AND that THEY WILL HEAR IT.”

 

            Just as Paul and Barnabas told the Jews at Antioch of Pisidia:

 

Acts 13:46 “THEN PAUL AND BARNABAS WAXED BOLD AND SAID, IT WAS NECESSARY THAT THE WORD OF GOD SHOULD FIRST HAVE BEEN SPOKEN TO YOU: BUT SEEING YE PUT IT FROM YOU, AND JUDGE YOURSELVES UNWORTHY OF EVERLASTING LIFE, LO, WE TURN TO THE GENTILES.”

 

            He now tells the Jews in Rome basically the same thing.  They have rejected the Messiah promised and sent to them.  Consequently he will take that good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles in that city.  In Romans 11:11 he writes that through their fall (that is the Jews); through their failure salvation came to the Gentiles.

 

v.29 “AND WHEN HE HAD SAID THESE WORDS, THE JEWS DEPARTED, AND HAD GREAT REASONING AMONG THEMSELVES.”

 

            This verse is missing from the American Standard Version.  Some scholars think that it was a margin note that has been added to the text, others include it as part of the original manuscript.  Regardless, it would be the logical result of their meeting with Paul.  Some believed, some didn’t and it would be natural for them to debate their positions as they leave the meeting place.

 

Read Acts 28:30-31

 

v.30-31 “AND PAUL DWELT TWO WHOLE YEARS IN HIS OWN HIRED HOUSE, AND RECEIVED ALL THAT CAME IN UNTO HIM, PREACHING THE KINGDOM OF GOD, AND TEACHING THOSE THINGS WHICH CONCERN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, WITH ALL CONFIDENCE, NO MAN FORBIDDING HIM.”

 

            Thus we have the end of the history of the first century church and the spread of the gospel to the world known to man at that time.  Paul was allowed to maintain his own house, hired or rented for a price.  We know that the epistles to the Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and the letter of Philemon were written during this two year period.  We know that Luke, Timothy, Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus and Tychicus were with him at various times but we don’t know much more than that.  He continued to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to any and all that would come to him and listen.  He was not allowed the opportunity to travel and we don’t know whether there was any restriction keeping him from moving about the city or not, the scripture just doesn’t tell us.  Luke records that none stopped or restrained him from his teaching and preaching.  Luke has completed his purpose in writing to Theophilus; he has completed the purpose given by the Holy Spirit and so ends his writing.  Paul’s history does not end here, however.

            History and other writers tell us of his being released, preaching the gospel for a number of years, even going as Clemens records “to the boundary of the West”.  In the Roman Empire this could have included Spain and even England as it was under Roman rule near that time.  It would be during his second imprisonment that he wrote the second letter to Timothy.  Some scholars deny this, citing the silence of the scripture concerning such matters, and refuse to accept other records.  However, Luke seems to indicate in his wording about Paul living there two years that he left Rome in his body, not due to leaving this life.  In Philippians and in Philemon he tells us that he expected to be released and quite probably he was.  However, nothing can hide from us or mask the tremendous work that this man did after being converted from being the arch enemy of the church in Judea.