David Guzik Commentary on the Bible
Acts 28:1-31 - PAUL ARRIVES IN ROME
A. Paul’s ministry on the island of Malta.
1. (Acts 28:1-6) 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. 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. 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 of the island. They didn’t recognize this side of the island.
i. Malta means refuge, a fitting name!
b. 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.
c. A viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand: Paul was being faithful to God, and being a wonderful servant. But this did not keep him from this trial. The exact thing he was serving in brought forth 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! Can’t You see I’m serving You?” He didn’t look at those sitting by the fire and say, “You lazy bums! If you would have gathered wood instead of me, this wouldn’t have happened to me!” Paul’s reaction seems nonchalant: He shook off the creature into the fire.
d. 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 is a prisoner, assume he has committed a great crime, and the goddess of justice will not permit Paul to escape unpunished.
e. And suffered no harm: God didn’t preserve Paul from the storm just to let him perish by a snake. Paul is protected. It was promised he would go to Rome (you must also bear witness at Rome, Acts 23:11), and Paul wasn’t at 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” has 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 their sins paid for by the work of Jesus on the cross.
f. 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. (Acts 28:7-10) 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. Sick of fever and dysentery: Some think that the sickness Publius’ father had was a malady known as Malta fever, which comes from a microorganism found in the milk of Maltese goats. Its symptoms usually last some four months.
b. The rest of those on the island who had diseases also came and were healed: 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 Dr. Luke was functioning as a “medical missionary” on Malta.
B. Paul at Rome.
1. (Acts 28:11-15) The final leg on Paul’s journey to 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. And so we went toward Rome: Paul and the others made their way northward up the Italian peninsula, until they are finally greeting outside Rome by Christians from Rome who have come to meet them.
i. Syracuse was a famous city in the ancient world, being the capital city of the island of Sicily. Archimedes, the famous mathematician, lived there, and 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 messing up my equation!” and the solider killed him.
b. When the brethren heard about us, they came to meet us as far as the Appii Forum and Three Inns: The Christians in Rome received Paul’s famous letter to them a few years before, so they probably felt like they knew him already. They honored him by greeting Paul as the emperors were greeting when they arrived at Rome: they went out to meet him as he came into the city, traveling some 50 miles to do it!
i. “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)
c. “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)
2. (Acts 28:16) 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: When Paul came to Rome, the city had existed for almost 800 years. The famous Coliseum had not yet been 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 - one million slave, one million free. Society was divided into roughly three classes: A small upper class, a large class of the poor, and slaves.
b. The soldier who guarded him: “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)
i. In Philippians 1:13, written from this Roman custody, Paul speaks of how his message is getting through to the palace guards of Rome. Though he was the prisoner, he had a truly captive audience!
3. (Acts 28:17-22) 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.” 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. 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.
b. We neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren who came reported or spoken any evil of you: Paul wanted to know what they had heard from Jerusalem about him. All these Jews in Rome were willing to say they knew about Christianity was that it was spoken against everywhere.
i. We neither received letters shows 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.
c. Paul said he was there as a prisoner for the hope of Israel. As the year 70 A.D. approached, time was running out before an unparalleled national calamity struck a Jesus-rejecting Israel.
4. (Acts 28:23-24) 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: This would be a great Bible study to have a tape of! 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. What did Paul teach regarding the kingdom of God? Undoubtedly, Paul taught exactly what Jesus taught: That now, God was bringing a spiritual kingdom that would take root in men’s hearts before it took over the governments of this world. The Jews of Jesus’ day and of Paul’s day were looking for a political kingdom, not a spiritual kingdom.
5. (Acts 28:25-29) The Jews reject the gospel again.
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.”‘ 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. 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.” Paul understood that Isaiah prophesied of the hardness of heart these people would have. Certainly, Paul was gratified that some received the gospel, but he would undoubtedly have been distressed if even one of them rejected Jesus!
i. Essentially, Isaiah is saying: “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.” This is a message just as true today as it was when Isaiah first said it - or when Paul quoted it.
b. Paul will plead for men to receive Jesus, but not as a beggar might plead. Paul aches not for himself, but for those who reject - and solemnly must warn those who reject of the consequences.
c. The preacher of the gospel really is preaching 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)
d. When he had said these words, the Jews departed: In just a few years after Paul’s rebuke of this Jewish rejection of Jesus, the Jewish people of Judea would be slaughtered wholesale and Jerusalem destroyed. God’s judgment was coming, and part of Paul’s frustration was that he sensed this.
6. (Acts 28:30-31) 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: “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)
i. Why did Paul get stuck at Rome for two years? There are many reasons, but three big reasons are the letters to the Ephesians, the Philippians, and the Colossians. 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.
b. His own rented house means that Paul supported himself during this period. Paul was always a hard-working man.
c. Received all who came to him: One example someone who he received in Rome was a convert of Paul’s, a runaway slave named Onesimus (Philemon 1:10), who Paul told to go back to his master Philemon!
d. Certainly, Paul had his appearance before Caesar Nero; and there is also no doubt that he boldly and powerfully proclaimed the gospel to him - as God had promised he would (Acts 9:15; Acts 23:11).
e. It seems likely that Paul was acquitted of these charges, and enjoyed a few more years of liberty until he was arrested again, imprisoned, condemned, and executed in Rome at the command of Nero - as the historical traditions of the early church state.
i. Why did Luke not record Paul’s appearance before Caesar? Probably because the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were composed as a “friend-of-the-court” brief to be used in Paul’s trial before Caesar.
f. No one forbidding him has the idea of completely unhindered. Paul’s chains and custody mattered nothing. The word of God was unhindered.
i. In the last two chapters, Paul’s life was threatened by the sea, by soldiers, and by a snake. But God delivered him from them all.
ii. God wants to show through this detailed description of the trials of Paul on the way to Rome that God’s man, fulfilling God’s will, cannot be stopped - though all kinds of difficulty may come in the way.
iii. Finally, even the unbelief of the Jews - or anyone else’s rejection of Jesus - will not hinder the gospel. The gospel will go forth without any hindrance.
iv. 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.
g. There is no end to the story. Why? Because this same story is repeated again and again throughout the history of the church. 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)
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