Acts 28 – Paul Arrives In Rome
A. Paul’s ministry on the island of Malta.
1. (1-2) The islanders of Malta are impressed when Paul is miraculously unharmed by a snake-bite.
Now when they had escaped, they then found out that the island was called Malta. And the natives showed us unusual kindness; for they kindled a fire and made us all welcome, because of the rain that was falling and because of the cold.
a. They then found out that the island was called Malta: These experienced sailors would certainly have known the island of Malta, but not this side of the island. Almost all the traffic to Malta came to the main port, on the other side; they didn’t recognize this side of the island.
b. Made us all welcome, because of the rain that was falling and because of the cold: Luke wrote as someone who experienced this, both the kindness of the Malta natives and the cold and wet of the storm. Malta means refuge, a fitting name.
2. (3-6) Paul and the snakebite.
But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand. So when the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice does not allow to live.” But he shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. However, they were expecting that he would swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had looked for a long time and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.
a. When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks: The great apostle gathered wood for the fire, even though there were probably scores of people among the 276 passengers and crew far more suited for the job. Paul’s servant heart was always evident.
b. A viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand: Paul was faithful to God and living as a true servant. But this did not keep him from this trial. His humble service brought out a viper, and the viper didn’t just nibble on Paul – it fastened on his hand.
i. Paul didn’t let it bother him. He didn’t scream, “Why God? I can’t take any more of this!” or “Can’t You see I’m serving You?” Paul didn’t look at those sitting by the fire and say, “You lazy people! If you gathered wood instead of me, this wouldn’t have happened to me!”
ii. Paul’s reaction seemed calm and unconcerned: He shook off the creature into the fire.
c. No doubt this man is a murderer…yet justice does not allow to live: The natives were convinced that justice had finally caught up with this prisoner. Justice is actually a reference to the Greek goddess of justice, Dikee. The natives, knowing Paul was a prisoner, assumed he committed a great crime, and the goddess of justice would not permit Paul to escape unpunished.
d. And suffered no harm: God didn’t preserve Paul from the storm just to let him perish by a snake. Paul was protected. It was promised he would go to Rome (you must also bear witness at Rome, Acts 23:11), and Paul wasn’t to Rome yet. It wasn’t so much that nothing would stop Paul as it was that nothing would stop God’s promise from being fulfilled.
i. Paul could take God’s past faithfulness as a promise of future blessing and protection.
ii. By extension, we also see that “Divine Justice” had no more claim against Paul – it had all been satisfied by Jesus’ work on the cross. God’s justice could never harm Paul, nor anyone who has had all his or her sins paid for by the work of Jesus on the cross.
e. Said that he was a god: This is a typically human reaction. For these natives, Paul had to be seen in extremes. Either he was terribly evil or considered a god. In truth, Paul was neither a criminal deserving punishment nor a god. This is all the more reason we must be cautious about what others think of us, either for good or bad.
2. (7-10) Paul heals the father of Publius, and many others.
In that region there was an estate of the leading citizen of the island, whose name was Publius, who received us and entertained us courteously for three days. And it happened that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and dysentery. Paul went in to him and prayed, and he laid his hands on him and healed him. So when this was done, the rest of those on the island who had diseases also came and were healed. They also honored us in many ways; and when we departed, they provided such things as were necessary.
a. The leading citizen of the island…who received us and entertained us courteously for three days: This was a great blessing and a strong contrast to the misery of the previous two weeks at sea. God gave Paul, Luke, and Aristarchus a season of relief and replenishment.
i. Leading citizen of the island: This “is the exact technical term for the person who represented Rome in that place; it is another example of Luke’s extraordinary accuracy.” (Boice)
b. The father of Publius lay sick of fever and dysentery: Some think this was a malady known as Malta fever, which comes from a microorganism found in the milk of Maltese goats. Its symptoms usually last about four months.
c. Paul went in to him and prayed, and he laid his hands on him and healed him: God healed this man; yet it happened through the willingness and activity of Paul. God did the work, but Paul made himself ready and available for the work.
d. The rest of those on the island who had diseases also came and were healed: Soon, the work Paul did went to many others. This word for healed is not the customary word for a miraculous healing. The word more literally means, “to receive medical attention.” It may be that Luke (who was a physician according to Colossians 4:14) served as a medical missionary on Malta.
B. Paul at Rome.
1. (11-15) The final part of Paul’s journey towards Rome.
After three months we sailed in an Alexandrian ship whose figurehead was the Twin Brothers, which had wintered at the island. And landing at Syracuse, we stayed three days. From there we circled round and reached Rhegium. And after one day the south wind blew; and the next day we came to Puteoli, where we found brethren, and were invited to stay with them seven days. And so we went toward Rome. And from there, when the brethren heard about us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum and Three Inns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.
a. After three months: They spent three months on Malta, gathering strength and waiting for the winter to end.
b. Landing at Syracuse: This was the first stop from Malta. Syracuse was a famous city in the ancient world, being the capital city of the island of Sicily.
i. Archimedes, the famous mathematician, had lived at Syracuse. When the Romans conquered the island, a solider put a dagger to his throat as he worked on a math problem, drawing in the dirt. Archimedes said, “Stop, you’re disturbing up my equation!” and the solider killed him.
c. Rhegium…Puteoli…and so we went toward Rome: As Paul and the others made their way northward up the Italian peninsula, they spent time with fellow followers of Jesus they met along the way (we found brethren, and were invited to stay with them seven days).
d. When the brethren heard about us, they came to meet us as far as the Appii Forum and Three Inns: Eventually they were greeted outside Rome by Christians from city who came to meet them. They honored Paul by greeting him as the emperors were greeted when they arrived at Rome: they went out to meet him as he came into the city, traveling a full day’s journey to the Appii Forum to do it (about 43 miles or 69 kilometers).
i. They had received Paul’s famous letter to the Romans a few years before, so they probably felt like they knew him already – and they certainly wanted to honor him. In light of the love and honor behind this greeting, no wonder that Paul thanked God and took courage.
ii. “Luke is far from giving the impression that Paul was the first person to bring the gospel to Rome…the presence of those Christians – the brothers, as Luke calls them – provides evidence enough that the gospel had reached Rome already.” (Bruce) There were Jewish people from Rome present at Peter’s preaching on Pentecost many years before (Acts 2:10), so there had probably been Christians from and in Rome from the beginning.
iii. One could say that they treated Paul as if he were a king. “It was a custom when an emperor visited a city for the people to go out and meet him and escort him back into the city.” (Horton)
iv. Yet, during his second Roman imprisonment, Paul was left alone and forgotten (2 Timothy 4:9-16), meaning that in some sense, the Christians at Rome didn’t (or perhaps couldn’t) maintain their love and honor of Paul.
2. (16) Paul’s status as a prisoner in Rome.
Now when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him.
a. When we came to Rome: Finally, the promise of Jesus was fulfilled. Paul determined that he would go to Rome as early as his third missionary journey (Acts 19:21, Romans 1:15). At Jerusalem, Jesus promised Paul he would make it to Rome (Acts 23:11) and repeated the promise during the two weeks of storm at sea (Acts 27:23-25).
i. “Now, at the very end of the book, the apostle comes to Rome. Thus Jesus’ prophecy that his disciples would be his witnesses ‘to the ends of the earth’ is fulfilled.” (Boice)
ii. When Paul came to Rome, the city had existed for almost 800 years. The famous Coliseum was not yet built; but the prominent buildings were the temple of Jupiter, the palaces of Caesar, and a temple to Mars (the god of war). At the time, Rome had a population of about two million – a million slaves, and a million free. Society was divided into roughly three classes: A small upper class, a large class of the poor, and slaves.
b. The centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard: This was a happy moment for Julius the centurion, who fulfilled his duty and successfully brought all the prisoners from Caesarea (Acts 27:1) to Rome – with much help from Paul.
c. The soldier who guarded him: Paul wasn’t in a normal prison. He was allowed to dwell by himself and provide his own living space (a rented house according to Acts 28:30). Yet he was constantly under the supervision of a Roman guard, and often chained. The rotation of the guards gave him a constant supply of people to talk to.
i. “To this soldier he would be lightly chained by the wrist…the soldier would be relieved every four hours or so, but for Paul there was no comparable relief.” (Bruce)
ii. In Philippians 1:13, written from this Roman custody, Paul told of how his message reached the palace guards of Rome. Though he was the prisoner, he had a genuinely captive audience.
3. (17-20) Paul appeals to the Jewish community of Rome.
And it came to pass after three days that Paul called the leaders of the Jews together. So when they had come together, he said to them: “Men and brethren, though I have 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, who, when they had examined me, wanted to let me go, because there was no cause for putting me to death. But when the Jews spoke against it, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar, not that I had anything of which to accuse my nation. For this reason therefore I have called for you, to see you and speak with you, because for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.”
a. Paul called the leaders of the Jews together: Paul followed his consistent practice of going to the Jews first in every city he came to as an evangelist. It took him only three days to have a meeting with the leaders of the Jews in Rome.
b. Men and brethren: Paul wanted them to know that he had not forsaken Israel and that they were still brethren to him. As Paul explained to the crowd on the temple mount at the beginning of this ordeal, I am a indeed a Jew (Acts 22:3).
c. I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers: Paul wanted them to know that he was innocent of any crime against the law or the Jewish people.
d. When they had examined me, wanted to let me go: Paul wanted them to know that the Romans were ready and willing to release him.
e. Not that I had anything of which to accuse my nation: Paul wanted them to know that he did not make a counter-suit or accusation against the Jewish leadership that had accused him.
f. Because for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain: Paul wanted them to know that he was a prisoner because of his belief in Israel’s Messiah, the hope of Israel.
i. As the year a.d. 70 approached, time was running out before an unparalleled national calamity struck a Jesus-rejecting Israel. In 10 years or so it would be clear that Jesus was the hope of Israel, yet a hope that many of them rejected.
4. (21-22) The Jewish leaders respond to Paul.
Then they said to him, “We neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren who came reported or spoken any evil of you. But we desire to hear from you what you think; for concerning this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere.”
a. We neither received letters from Judea concerning you: This demonstrates that the religious leaders who accused Paul in Jerusalem and Caesarea knew their case was hopeless. They made no effort to send ahead documents confirming their case against him.
b. Nor have any of the brethren who came reported or spoken any evil of you: Paul wanted to know what they heard from Jerusalem about him. The Jewish people of Rome had not yet heard anything about Paul.
c. We desire to hear from you what you think, for concerning this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere: Though they did not know anything about Paul, they had heard that Christianity was unpopular among some, being spoken against everywhere. They should be complimented on wanting to hear the story from Paul himself.
5. (23-24) The Jewish community of Rome hears the gospel from Paul.
So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening. And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved.
a. He explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening: In what must have been a wonderful time of teaching, Paul spoke of the kingdom of God, and gave an exhaustive study of how the Old Testament spoke of Jesus – from morning till evening.
b. Testified of the kingdom of God: In speaking of the kingdom of God, Paul undoubtedly taught what Jesus taught: That in Jesus God brought a spiritual kingdom that would take root in men’s hearts before it took over the governments of this world. Most of the Jewish people of Jesus’ day and of Paul’s day looked for a political kingdom, not a spiritual kingdom.
c. Some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved: In response to this remarkable, day-long teaching from Paul, some believed and trusted Jesus. Others did not, and disbelieved. Even the best teaching from the best apostle in the best circumstances could not persuade them.
6. (25-27) Paul explains the rejection of the gospel from Isaiah 6:9-10.
So when they did not agree among themselves, they departed after Paul had said one word: “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers, saying, ‘Go to this people and say: “Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand; and seeing you will see, and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.”’
a. When they did not agree among themselves: This suggests that those who were persuaded and those who disbelieved started arguing among themselves.
b. They departed after Paul had said one word: “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers.” Paul understood that Isaiah prophesied of their hardness of heart. Certainly, Paul was happy that some received the gospel, but he was undoubtedly distressed if even one of them rejected Jesus.
c. Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand…: Essentially, Isaiah said this in this passage from Isaiah 6:9-10: “If you reject Jesus, you can hear, but never understand; you can see but never perceive. You heart is, and will be, hard, your ears closed, and your eyes shut – because you really don’t want to turn to God and be healed of your sin.”
i. This is a message just as true today as it was when Isaiah first said it – or when Paul quoted it. Many hear and reject simply because they don’t want to turn to God and be healed of their sin.
7. (28-29) Paul tells them he will take the message of salvation to the Gentiles.
“Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!” And when he had said these words, the Jews departed and had a great dispute among themselves.
a. Therefore let it be known to you: If some of them rejected the salvation of God, it did not make that salvation of no effect. It just meant that God would find those who would hear it – in this case, the Gentiles.
i. Paul plead for men to receive Jesus, but not as a beggar might plead. Paul ached not for himself, but for those who rejected – and solemnly warned those who rejected of the consequences.
ii. The preacher of the gospel really preaches two messages. To those who respond to the gospel with faith, he is a messenger of life. But to those who reject Jesus, the preacher adds to their condemnation. To the one we are the aroma of death to death, and to the other the aroma of life to life. (2 Corinthians 2:16)
b. When he had said these words, the Jews departed: This mixed group – some who believed, some who did not – left Paul arguing with each other (a great dispute among themselves).
i. In just a few years after Paul’s rebuke of those Jews who rejected Jesus, the Jewish people of Judea were slaughtered wholesale and Jerusalem was destroyed. God’s judgment was coming, and part of Paul’s frustration was that he sensed this.
8. (30-31) Paul spends two years in Rome before his trial in Caesar’s court.
Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.
a. Then Paul dwelt two years: Paul spent more than two years at Caesarea waiting for his case to be resolved (Acts 24:27). Now he spent another two years waiting for his case to be heard before Caesar.
i. “The two years’ prolongation of Paul’s stay in Rome could be accounted for adequately by congestion of court business. It took that time for his case to come up for hearing.” (Bruce)
b. His own rented house: Probably, Paul continued his work as a tentmaker (leatherworker) to supply the rent for his house (as in Acts 18:1-2 and 20:33-35). Paul was always a hard-working man.
c. Received all who came to him: One example of someone who he received in Rome was a convert of Paul’s, a runaway slave named Onesimus (Philemon 10), who Paul told to go back to his master Philemon.
d. Preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence: Though Paul could not travel, he could teach and preach to all who came to him – and this he did. He also wrote letters; we have these two years of Roman custody to thank for the letters to the Ephesians, the Philippians, and the Colossians.
i. These two years were not wasted, and God didn’t waste Paul’s time in Rome. God never wastes our time, though we may waste it by not sensing God’s purpose for our lives at the moment.
ii. Paul eventually had his appearance before Caesar Nero. It’s entirely reasonable to believe that he boldly and powerfully proclaimed the gospel to him – as God had promised he would (Acts 9:15 and 23:11).
iii. It seems likely that Paul was acquitted of these charges, and by most estimates was free for another four or five years until he was arrested again, imprisoned, condemned, and executed in Rome at the command of Nero in a.d. 66 or 67 – as the historical traditions of the early church state.
iv. Probably, Luke did not record Paul’s appearance before Caesar because the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were written to give the Roman court the background and facts of Paul’s case in his trial before Caesar.
e. No one forbidding him: This has the idea of completely unhindered. Paul’s chains and custody mattered nothing. The word of God was unhindered.
i. As Paul came to Rome, the sea, the soldiers, and the snake all threatened his life. But God delivered him from them all. Through Paul, God shows that God’s man, fulfilling God’s will, cannot be stopped – though all kinds of difficulty may come in the way.
ii. Finally, even the disbelief of some of the Jews – or anyone else’s rejection of Jesus – will not hinder the gospel. The gospel will go forth and find those who will believe.
iii. Matthew 22:1-14 is a parabolic illustration of the Book of Acts. God prepared a feast for Israel, and invited them to come (in the days of Jesus’ ministry), but they would not come. Then, He sent out a second invitation, after all things were ready. But they did not come then either; instead, they killed God’s servants who brought the message of the feast. Finally, God invited all that would come, including Gentiles – but they could only come if they were clothed in the garments of Jesus.
f. With all confidence, no one forbidding him: There is no end to the story, because the history of the church continues this story on and on through the centuries. Trusting in Jesus, relying on the power of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of the Father, the word of God will continue to spread without hindrance and continue to change lives for the glory of God. The Book of Acts really is a never-ending story.
i. “Now unto him, who is able to work so as none can hinder, be all honour and glory, dominion and power, for ever and ever. Amen.” (Poole)
©2017 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission