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Bible Commentaries
Acts 28

Bridgeway Bible CommentaryBridgeway Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-15


From Caesarea to Rome (27:1-28:15)

Festus arranged for a centurion and a unit of Roman soldiers to take Paul, along with a number of other prisoners, to Rome. Two Christians also went with Paul, his loyal friend Luke and a church leader from Thessalonica named Aristarchus (27:1-2; cf. 19:29; 20:4). They began the journey on a ship that took them as far as Myra in Asia Minor. There they changed to one of the huge grain ships that sailed between Alexandria and Italy. After several days they came to the island of Crete (3-8).
At the port of Fair Havens (Safe Harbours), Paul advised the ship’s officers not to sail any further till the dangerous winter season had passed. But they rejected Paul’s advice and decided to move on to the next Cretan port, Phoenix, which they considered to be a better place to spend the winter (9-12).
Soon all were sorry that they had not listened to Paul. A fierce storm struck, and it seemed certain that the ship would sink and all on board would drown (13-20). Paul believed otherwise. God had assured him that, although the ship would be lost, all on board would be saved, and Paul himself would eventually reach Rome (21-26).
Paul’s natural qualities of leadership soon saw him take control of the situation, in spite of his being a prisoner. When the ship was about to run aground and some sailors tried to escape, the Roman guard acted on Paul’s advice and stopped them (27-32). When Paul warned that people were endangering their lives by going so long without eating, the ship’s officers likewise heeded his words (33-38). Only the centurion’s respect for Paul stopped the soldiers from killing the prisoners when the ship broke up. In the end all those on board the ship escaped safely to land (39-44).
The island on which they landed was Malta. The local people were kind and helpful to them all, but again Paul was the one who created the most interest (28:1-6). Although he was legally a prisoner, he and his party spent three days with the island’s chief official as his special guests. In return for the hospitality received from the islanders, Paul and Luke attended to many of their medical needs (7-10).
Three months after landing on Malta, when winter was over and sailing was again safe, Paul’s party boarded another Alexandrian grain ship and sailed for Puteoli in Italy. From there they went by road to Rome, being met by Christians from Rome at a number of places along the way (11-15).

Verses 16-31


Paul in Rome (28:16-31)

In Rome Paul enjoyed a limited freedom. He was allowed to live in his own house and people could visit him freely, though a Roman soldier guarded him constantly (16; cf. v. 30).
Soon after arriving he invited the Jewish leaders in Rome to come and see him. He outlined the events that had brought him to Rome and pointed out that he had done nothing contrary to Jewish law. He made it clear that he brought no accusation against the Jewish people; his appeal to Caesar was solely to prove his innocence (17-20).
The Jewish leaders gave the surprising reply that they had heard no reports about Paul, though they knew that people everywhere were turning against the Christians (21-22). It seems likely that, once Paul had left Palestine, the Jerusalem Jews felt they had achieved their main goal. They may not even have sent an accusation to Rome; for if they had failed to win the support of Felix and Festus in their own country, they had little hope of winning the support of Caesar in anti-Jewish Rome. Also, if Festus sent any official papers, they probably went down with the ship.
As usual Paul preached his message to the Jews first, showing from the Old Testament that the gospel he preached was the true fulfilment of the religion of Israel. But, as in other places, most of the Jews rejected his message. This also, said Paul, had been foretold by the Old Testament Scriptures. Therefore, he would once again turn and proclaim the message to the Gentiles and they would believe (23-29).
Paul’s two-year house imprisonment probably included a fixed period of eighteen months during which his accusers could present their case. If, as seems likely, the Jerusalem Jews presented no case, the authorities in Rome could take no action. Any further relevant correspondence between Rome and the authorities in Palestine would account for the remaining six months.
The point Luke emphasizes concerning Paul’s two years in Rome is a positive one, namely, that Christianity’s leading representative was allowed to preach the gospel freely in Rome, and Roman officials had first-hand knowledge of his activity. Clearly, the Roman authorities did not consider Christianity an unlawful or politically dangerous religion. Paul proclaimed the kingdom of God in the heart of the Empire just as he had proclaimed it elsewhere. And on that triumphant note, Luke concludes his story (30-31).

The Post-Acts Period

PAUL IN ROME

During Paul’s two-year imprisonment in Rome a number of people from distant places came to visit him. The news Paul received from these visitors prompted him to send off a number of letters, some of which have been collected in the New Testament.

Letter to the church in Colossae

One person to visit Paul in Rome was Epaphras, a Christian from Colossae in Asia Minor. The church in Colossae was probably formed during Paul’s long stay in Ephesus, when the converts he trained took the gospel into the surrounding countryside (Acts 19:9-10). Epaphras, in fact, seems to have been the person mainly responsible for founding the church in Colossae (Colossians 1:6-7; Colossians 4:12). Now a problem had arisen that Epaphras was unable to deal with, so he went to Rome to seek Paul’s help.

A strange form of teaching had found its way into the Colossian church. It was an early form of Gnosticism, a religious philosophy that combined Christian belief with pagan mythology. It also contained features taken from Judaism, mainly in connection with ceremonial laws and sacred rituals (Colossians 2:16,Colossians 2:20-21).

The false teachers were concerned with trying to harmonize things that they considered to be in conflict with each other, such as good and evil, spirit and matter, God and man. Because they believed matter to be evil, they argued that a God who is holy could not come in contact with human beings who are sinful. They taught that there were countless intermediate beings, part-spirit and part-matter, who helped bridge the gap between God and the human race, and Jesus Christ was one of them. People were required to worship these beings if they were to gain victory over evil and eventually reach God (Colossians 2:8-10,Colossians 2:18).

Paul opposed this teaching, pointing out that Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and the human race, and the only person able to save sinful human beings. He is the supreme God who is over and above every being, spirit or material, yet he is the perfect human being who by his death conquered evil and brings repentant sinners into union with God (Colossians 1:15-22; Colossians 2:9,Colossians 2:15). This union means that on the one hand believers can have victory over evil, and on the other that Christ’s life can be reproduced in them (Colossians 3:3-5,Colossians 3:10).

Letter to Philemon

While Epaphras was with Paul, another person from Colossae arrived at Paul’s place of imprisonment in Rome. This person, Onesimus, was a slave who worked for Philemon, the Christian in whose house the Colossian church met (Philem 1-2,Philemon 1:10).

Onesimus had escaped from his master and fled to Rome in search of a new life of freedom. But upon meeting Paul he was converted. He knew that since he was now a Christian, he should correct past wrongdoings and return to his master, but he was understandably fearful. Paul knew Philemon well, so wrote him a letter asking him to forgive Onesimus and receive him back as a brother in Christ. Not only was Philemon to welcome Onesimus back to his household, but the church was to welcome him as a new and useful addition to its fellowship (Philemon 1:10-20; cf. Colossians 4:9).

Letter to the church in Ephesus

Paul apparently learnt from Epaphras that the false teaching was not confined to Colossae. He therefore wrote another letter to send back to the region, as a means of passing on teaching to the churches as a whole. This letter, known to us as Ephesians, was more general than Paul’s other letters. It made no specific references to individuals or incidents in a particular church, but dealt with broader issues of Christian faith and practice. It gave further teaching on matters discussed in Colossians, such as the uniqueness of Christ, his victory over evil spiritual forces, his union with his people, and the results that this union should produce in the lives of Christians (Ephesians 1:20-23; Ephesians 2:2-6; Ephesians 4:1,Ephesians 4:17; Ephesians 6:12).

Ephesians seems to have been one of several similar letters that Paul sent to the churches of the region. Perhaps the name of the receiving church was written into the introduction of each letter as it was delivered. If so, that would explain why some ancient manuscripts include the word ‘Ephesus’ in the introduction, but others omit it (Ephesians 1:1). Paul’s letter to the church in Laodicea may have been another copy of this letter (Colossians 4:16). The person who delivered these letters, Tychicus, also passed on news of Paul’s circumstances in Rome (Ephesians 6:21-22; Colossians 4:7-9).

Though held prisoner in Rome, Paul was not alone. Luke and Aristarchus, who had travelled with him from Caesarea, were still there (Colossians 4:10,Colossians 4:14; Philemon 1:24). So were Mark and Timothy, who had travelled with him on his missionary journeys (Colossians 1:1; Colossians 4:10; Philemon 1:24). There was also a Jew, Jesus Justus (Colossians 4:11), and another friend, Demas (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 1:24). No doubt his Christian friends in Rome visited him often (Romans 16:1-15).

Letter to the church in Philippi

Possibly it was during this two-year period in Rome that Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians. The letter records that Paul was a prisoner at the time of writing (Philippians 1:13), but it does not record where he was imprisoned. The account of his life shows that he was imprisoned in many places and on many occasions (Acts 16:23; Acts 22:23-30; Acts 24:23-27; Acts 28:16,Acts 28:30; 2 Corinthians 11:23), but the present imprisonment in Rome seems the most likely setting for the writing of Philippians.

The church in Philippi showed its concern for Paul by sending one of its members, Epaphroditus, to Rome to help him and give him a gift from the church. Paul wrote to thank the Philippians for their gift (Philippians 1:5; Philippians 4:18) and to correct wrong attitudes that had arisen in the church (Philippians 2:1-4,Philippians 2:14; Philippians 4:2-3). The Philippians were not to be discouraged because of his imprisonment, for he had many opportunities to teach and preach (Philippians 1:12-14). Christians in Rome were able to help him, including some who were in the government service (Philippians 4:21-22).

PAUL REVISITS THE CHURCHES

Free again

Although the result of his trial was in doubt for so long, Paul remained hopeful that he would be released. He told the Philippians that he expected to visit them soon (Philippians 1:25,Philippians 1:27; Philippians 2:24), and earlier he had told Philemon of his plans to visit Colossae (Philemon 1:22). Almost certainly he was released at the end of his two years imprisonment. What happened after his release is not certain, but from details in the letters he wrote to Timothy and Titus, we can work out at least some of his movements.

Helping Timothy and Titus

One place that Paul visited after leaving Rome was the island of Crete. It seems that among those who accompanied him on this trip were two co-workers from former years, Timothy and Titus. Paul found that the churches of Crete were in confusion, mainly because of false teachers. He stayed for a while to help correct the difficulties, but when he had to move on to other places he left Titus behind to carry on the work and establish proper leadership in the churches (Titus 1:5,Titus 1:10-11).

When Paul came to Ephesus he found further problems of false teaching. He had once warned the Ephesian elders that false teachers would create confusion in the church (Acts 20:29-30), and now that had happened. Self-appointed ‘experts’ were ruining the church with unprofitable teaching based on ancient myths, legends, laws and genealogies (1 Timothy 1:4-7; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 1 Timothy 6:3-5). Some of the teaching was so harmful that Paul believed the only way to deal with the unrepentant offenders was to put them out of the church (1 Timothy 1:19-20).

After some time Paul departed from Ephesus to go to Macedonia, but he left Timothy behind to give further help to the church (1 Timothy 1:3). In Macedonia Paul no doubt fulfilled his wish of revisiting the Philippian church (cf. Philippians 2:24; Philippians 4:1). But he was concerned for the two men he had left behind in Crete and Ephesus, and decided to write them each a letter. The two letters, Titus and 1 Timothy, are similar in many ways, though 1 Timothy is much longer and more personal.

In both letters Paul encourages his two fellow workers to be confident in carrying out the task entrusted to them (1 Timothy 1:3,1 Timothy 1:18; 1 Timothy 4:6,1 Timothy 4:11-12; Titus 1:5; Titus 2:15), to establish some order and leadership in the churches (1 Timothy 2:1,1 Timothy 2:8; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; 1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:6-9; Titus 2:2-8), to instruct people in Christian truth (1 Timothy 3:14-15; 1 Timothy 4:13-14; 1 Timothy 6:20; Titus 2:1; Titus 3:8) and not to waste time arguing about senseless issues (1 Timothy 4:7; 1 Timothy 6:20; Titus 3:9).

Imprisoned again

Some time after writing to Timothy and Titus, Paul left Macedonia. His exact route is unknown, but among the places he visited were Corinth in the south of Greece and Miletus on the west coast of Asia Minor (2 Timothy 4:20). He also visited Troas to the north. The fact that he left behind some of his valued possessions at Troas suggests he may have been arrested there and forced to leave in a hurry (2 Timothy 4:13). Wherever he was arrested, he was taken to Rome once more, and from prison wrote his final letter, 2 Timothy (2 Timothy 1:8; 2 Timothy 2:9).

When the authorities in Rome laid charges against Paul, some of his friends deserted him. But the God who always stood by him rescued him from violence and enabled him to proclaim the gospel to the Roman officials (2 Timothy 4:16-17). Nevertheless, he did not have the optimism of his first imprisonment. Instead of looking forward to release, he expected only execution (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

Knowing that time was running out, Paul wrote to Timothy to give him further encouragement and make a number of urgent requests. The church in Ephesus was still troubled by false teachers, and Paul wanted Timothy to stand firm in teaching the Christian truth (2 Timothy 1:6-8,2 Timothy 1:14; 2 Timothy 2:3,2 Timothy 2:15; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; 2 Timothy 4:2,2 Timothy 4:5). At the same time he was to avoid time-wasting arguments with people whose chief aim was to make trouble (2 Timothy 2:14,2 Timothy 2:16,2 Timothy 2:23; 2 Timothy 3:5).

Two people who would no doubt be of help to Timothy in his difficult task were Aquila and Priscilla, who were now back in Ephesus after their second period of residence in Rome (2 Timothy 4:19; cf. Acts 18:2,Acts 18:18-19,Acts 18:24-26; Romans 16:3). The family of Onesiphorus, who had given Paul valuable help in Rome, were also now back in Ephesus and likewise would be a help to Timothy (2 Timothy 1:16-18; 2 Timothy 4:19).

Martyrdom in Rome

Several urgent requests that Paul sent to Timothy indicate the distress of his final imprisonment. As he sat in his unhealthy cell, he was beginning to feel cold and he missed his books (2 Timothy 4:13,2 Timothy 4:21). He was also lonely. Demas, who had been with him faithfully during his first imprisonment, had now left him (2 Timothy 4:10; cf. Colossians 4:14). Others had gone to various places in the service of God (2 Timothy 4:10,2 Timothy 4:12). Some of the local Roman Christians visited him (2 Timothy 4:21), but only Luke could stay with him for any length of time (2 Timothy 4:11).

The two people Paul most wanted with him in his closing days were Timothy and Mark, the two who, as young men, had set out with him on his early missionary journeys. Mark was most likely working in Colossae, not far from Ephesus, so Timothy would have had no difficulty going to fetch him (2 Timothy 4:9,2 Timothy 4:11; cf. Colossians 4:10). Whether they reached Rome in time is not certain. The apostle to the Gentiles, who throughout his life had never been far from death at the hands of the Jews, was finally beheaded by imperial Rome (about AD 62).

THE MINISTRY OF PETER

Encouraging the persecuted

By this time persecution was breaking out against the Christians throughout the Empire. As long as Christianity was thought to be a branch of Judaism, it was protected by law, because Judaism was a legal religion. But people in general were becoming more aware of the differences between Christianity and Judaism. When the Jews in Jerusalem killed James the Lord’s brother (about the same time as Paul was martyred in Rome), everybody could see clearly that Christianity was not a movement within Judaism. It was plainly an unlawful religion.
In addition to this, people hated Christians because they could not mix freely in a society whose practices they saw as idolatrous and immoral. The Emperor Nero, who began a sensible reign ten years previously, was by now senselessly brutal and bitterly anti-Christian. He blamed Christians for the great fire of Rome (AD 64), with the result that fierce persecution broke out. About this time Peter wrote the letter that we know as 1 Peter. Its purpose was to encourage Christians to bear persecution patiently, even if it meant death (1 Peter 2:20-23; 1 Peter 3:14-15; 1 Peter 4:12-19), and to assure them of their living hope and glorious future (1 Peter 1:3-9).

But where has Peter been all these years? We last read of him in relation to the meeting with Paul and other leaders at Jerusalem thirteen or fourteen years earlier (Acts 15:6-7,Acts 15:12-13). We shall therefore go back to the time immediately after that meeting to see if we can fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge concerning Peter.

Peter and Mark

When Barnabas left Paul before the start of Paul’s second missionary journey, he went to Cyprus with Mark, while Paul and Silas went through Asia Minor to Europe (Acts 15:36-41). Early records indicate that after Barnabas and Mark finished their work in Cyprus, Mark joined Peter. These two then worked together for many years, preaching and teaching throughout the northern regions of Asia Minor that Paul had been forbidden to enter (Acts 16:7-8; 1 Peter 1:1).

There is good evidence to indicate that, after this, Peter and Mark went to Rome for a period and taught the Christians there. When Peter left, Mark stayed behind, and the Romans Christians asked Mark to write down the story of Jesus as they had heard it from Peter. Mark did as they requested and the result was Mark’s Gospel.

Peter’s influence in Mark’s Gospel is seen in the rapid movement of the story, the straightforward reporting, the direct language and the vivid detail (Mark 1:30,Mark 1:41; Mark 3:5; Mark 4:38; Mark 6:39; Mark 10:14,Mark 10:21,Mark 10:32). This is particularly so when the story concerns Peter’s mistakes (Mark 9:5-6; Mark 14:66-72). Peter and Mark helped the Gentiles in Rome to understand the story of Jesus better by giving translations of Aramaic expressions (Mark 3:17; Mark 5:41; Mark 7:11,Mark 7:34; Mark 15:22,Mark 15:34) and explanations of Jewish beliefs and practices (Mark 7:3-4; Mark 12:18; Mark 14:12; Mark 15:42).

Mark and Luke

About this time, Paul arrived in Rome as a prisoner for the first time, having with him Aristarchus and Luke (Acts 28:16,Acts 28:30; cf. 27:2). Both Mark and Luke were therefore in Rome when Paul wrote the letters of his first imprisonment, and no doubt they got to know each other well (Colossians 4:10,Colossians 4:14; Philemon 1:24). Over the years Luke had been collecting and preparing materials for the book he himself was planning to write, and on arrival in Rome was pleased to find Mark’s completed record. He was able to take some of Mark’s material and include it in his own book, which eventually appeared in two volumes, Luke’s Gospel and Acts.

In his Gospel, as in Acts, Luke wanted to show that Jesus Christ was God’s Saviour for people everywhere, regardless of race (Luke 2:32; Luke 3:6-8; Luke 4:25-27; Luke 7:9), and that his followers had a responsibility to spread the message of that salvation everywhere (Luke 4:18; Luke 19:10; Luke 24:47). The concern that Jesus’ followers showed for the poor, the sick, the despised and other socially disadvantaged people was something they had learnt from him (Luke 6:20; Luke 7:12,Luke 7:22; Luke 13:11; Luke 17:16).

Peter and Silas

After Paul’s release from imprisonment, Mark also left Rome. Later, Paul was imprisoned in Rome again and, believing he was near death, sent for Mark and Timothy to come to him (2 Timothy 4:9,2 Timothy 4:11). Whether or not they reached Rome before Paul was executed, Mark seems to have stayed on in Rome, and was still there when Peter visited the city again (1 Peter 5:13. The early Christians referred to Rome symbolically as Babylon, the centre of organized opposition to God). Peter’s co-worker at this time was Silas, the person who had gone with Paul on his second missionary journey. Using Silas as his secretary, Peter then wrote the letter referred to above (1 Peter) and sent it to the churches of northern Asia Minor that he had helped to evangelize (1 Peter 1:1; 1 Peter 5:12).

Peter and Jude

A year or so later, when Peter was in Rome again, he heard of the activities of false teachers around the churches to whom he had previously written. He therefore wrote and sent off a second letter (2 Peter 3:1). In it he opposed the false teachers, who claimed that faith was not related to behaviour, and therefore immoral practices were not wrong for those with higher spiritual knowledge (2 Peter 1:5-7; 2 Peter 2:1-3). Peter also opposed those who mocked the Christians’ belief in Christ’s return. He urged them to repent before it was too late, because Christ’s return would bring in the final judgment (2 Peter 3:3-4,2 Peter 3:9-10).

At the time of writing this letter, Peter was probably awaiting execution (2 Peter 1:14; cf. John 21:18-19). According to tradition he was crucified in Rome during the latter half of the AD 60s.

The sort of false teaching dealt with in 2 Peter was causing growing concern among the churches. Another New Testament letter written to oppose it was the letter of Jude (Jude 1:4,Jude 1:19). The writer was probably a younger brother of Jesus and, like his older brother James, may have become a believer after the resurrection (Mark 6:3; John 7:3-5; Acts 1:14). The similarities between 2 Peter and Jude suggest that the two writers may have used a commonly accepted form of argument in opposing the false teaching. This destructive mixture of philosophy and religion was yet another early form of Gnosticism.

CLOSE OF AN ERA

Discouragement among Hebrew Christians

With the increasing persecution of Christians during the reign of Nero, some of the Jewish Christians began to wonder if they had done right in turning from Judaism to Christianity. They had believed that Israel’s Old Testament religion fulfilled its purpose in Christ and that the temple in Jerusalem was to be destroyed. Yet thirty years after Jesus’ death, the temple was still standing and the Jewish religious system was still functioning.

To some Jewish Christians it seemed that Judaism was as firm as ever, whereas Christianity was heading for disaster. Many became discouraged and stopped joining in the meetings of the church, while some even gave up their Christian faith and went back to Judaism. The Letter to the Hebrews was written in an effort to correct this backsliding (Hebrews 6:4-6,Hebrews 6:9-12; Hebrews 10:23-25,Hebrews 10:35-39).

The writer of this letter does not record his name, though he must have been a well known Christian teacher of the time. He was probably a Jew (Hebrews 1:1), and both he and his readers had received the gospel through the apostles or others who had heard Jesus (Hebrews 2:3). The letter does not say where these disheartened Jewish Christians lived, but the writer hoped to visit them soon (Hebrews 13:19).

By one example after another, the writer contrasted the imperfections of the Jewish religious system with the perfection of Christ. Everything of the old era that was temporary, incomplete or insufficient found its fulfilment in him. He was far above prophets, angels, leaders and priests, and his one sacrifice did what all the Jewish sacrifices could never do (Hebrews 9:11-14; Hebrews 10:11-18). If the Jewish Christians suffered because of their faith, they were only experiencing what all God’s faithful people experienced. But the faithful endured (Hebrews 11:36-40; Hebrews 12:1-2; Hebrews 13:23). Even Jesus Christ suffered, but he also endured, and in God’s time he was gloriously triumphant (Hebrews 12:2-4).

Final break with Judaism

During the AD 60s there was a growing feeling of unrest throughout the Jewish population of Judea, not so much because of the Christians as because of the Romans. Most Jews had always hated Rome, but their hatred increased as the Roman governors of Judea increasingly mismanaged Jewish affairs. The anti-Roman extremists among the Jews were now prepared for open rebellion against Rome.

When war broke out the Jews were encouraged by some early successes, but they could not withstand Rome indefinitely. In due course the Roman armies, after conquering Galilee, Perea and Judea, laid siege to Jerusalem. At first they met strong opposition from the Jews, but by AD 70 they had conquered the city and reduced much of it, including the temple, to rubble. Although this devastated Judaism, it had a good effect on Christianity, because all the old visible ties with Judaism were now completely broken.

Preserving the Gospel records

About forty years had now passed since the death of Jesus Christ. Many of those who had been witnesses of Jesus’ ministry were now scattered far and wide, and others had died. Because Christians wanted to preserve the teachings that these men handed down, many collections of the sayings and works of Jesus began to appear (Luke 1:1-2).

We have seen how Mark prepared an account of the ministry of Jesus for the Roman Christians, and as time passed this account became widely used among the churches. Luke also had prepared a written record, which, though designed for someone who was probably a government official, was also becoming widely known. Now another person, Matthew, prepared his Gospel. He used some of the material that Mark and others had already prepared, but the characteristic flavour of his Gospel comes from the extra material he added and the way he arranged it. Early records suggest that he wrote for Greek-speaking Jewish Christians in Syria.

Matthew was concerned to show that Jesus was the promised Messiah (Matthew 9:27; Matthew 11:2-6), the one to whom the Old Testament pointed (Matthew 2:5-6; Matthew 12:17-21), the fulfilment of God’s purposes for Israel (Matthew 1:17; Matthew 5:17), and the king through whom God’s kingdom came into the world (Matthew 4:17; Matthew 12:28; Matthew 27:11). Those who repented and believed the gospel were the people of Christ’s kingdom, no matter what their nationality, whereas those who clung to the traditional Jewish religion were not (Matthew 3:7-10; Matthew 8:11-12; Matthew 21:43; Matthew 23:23-28).

Jewish Christians were therefore not to fall into the errors of the unbelieving Jews. They were to develop a standard of behaviour that consisted of more than merely keeping laws (Matthew 5:22,Matthew 5:28,Matthew 5:42; Matthew 20:26), and they were to spread the good news of the kingdom to all people, regardless of race (Matthew 5:13-16; Matthew 12:21; Matthew 24:14; Matthew 28:19-20).

The fourth Gospel

Towards the end of the century another account of Christ’s ministry appeared, this time in Ephesus. The writer was the last living member of the original apostolic group, John, ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ (John 21:20,John 21:24). By that time the other three Gospels were widely known. John therefore did not write another narrative account of Jesus’ ministry, but selected a number of incidents and showed what they signified. Most of these incidents involved miracles (or ‘signs’) which showed that Jesus was the Messianic Son of God (John 20:30-31). Usually they were followed by long debates between Jesus and the Jews (e.g. John 5:1-15 followed by 5:16-47; John 9:1-12 followed by 9:13-10:39).

Gnostic-type teachings were by now a bigger problem than ever, especially in the region around Ephesus. Some teachers denied that Jesus was fully divine, others that he was fully human. John firmly opposed both errors (John 1:1,John 1:14,John 1:18; John 3:13; John 19:28,John 19:34). But he was concerned with more than just opposing false teaching. He wanted to lead people to faith in Christ, so that they might experience the full and eternal life that Christ made possible (John 1:4; John 3:15; John 6:27; John 10:10; John 14:6; John 20:31).

John’s letters

Soon after writing his Gospel, John wrote a letter that was sent around the churches of the Ephesus region. Because of the Gnostic-type teachings, many Christians were confused. John denounced the false teachers as enemies of Christ. Their denial of either his deity or his humanity was an attack on the very foundation of Christian belief (1 John 2:18-19,1 John 2:22,1 John 2:26; 1 John 4:1-3). John wanted the believers to be assured of their salvation in Christ (1 John 5:13), and resistant to those who encouraged sin by teaching that the behaviour of the body did not affect the purity of the soul (1 John 2:4; 1 John 3:6,1 John 3:8). Christians were to be self-disciplined and loving (1 John 2:6; 1 John 3:3,1 John 3:17; 1 John 5:3).

The false teaching was being spread around the churches by travelling preachers. John wrote the short letter known as 2 John to warn one particular church not to allow the false teachers into their gatherings (2 John 1:10-11).

On the other hand some travelling preachers were genuine preachers of the true gospel. But in one church a dictatorial person named Diotrephes refused to accept them. He claimed that they were followers of John, whom he opposed. John therefore wrote a short personal note (3 John) to one of the better leaders in the church, his friend Gaius, to help and encourage him (3 John 1:5,3 John 1:9-10).

Victory, not defeat

Ever since the outbreak of the persecution under Nero, the church had suffered official persecution. Although this persecution eased on occasions, it intensified during the reign of Domitian (AD 81-96). Thousands of Christians were killed, tortured or sent to work as slaves in various parts of the Empire. Oppression increased, evil men prospered, people in general became anti-Christian, and the government enforced Emperor worship as a settled policy. In addition, churches were troubled within by false teachers who encouraged Christians to join in practices that were pagan and immoral. These were the circumstances in which John received from God the messages recorded in the book of Revelation (Revelation 1:1; Revelation 2:10,Revelation 2:13-14; Revelation 6:9-11; Revelation 22:6).

John knew of the suffering that Christians were experiencing, for he himself had been arrested on account of his faith. He was being held prisoner on Patmos, an island off the coast from Ephesus. He sent his book to seven well known churches of the province of Asia, from where the message would spread to the smaller churches round about. The person who delivered the book probably took it to Ephesus first, then moved in a circuit around the other churches and back to Ephesus, from where he returned to Patmos (Revelation 1:9-11).

Because of the difficulties that the churches faced, some Christians renounced their faith and others became discouraged. Many were confused, for it seemed that Jesus Christ, the glorious king they expected to return in power, was either unable or unwilling to save them from the power of Rome.

Through John, Jesus reassured his people that he was still in control, though he did not give them false hopes by promising quick relief. On the contrary he prepared them for greater endurance by revealing both the troubles that lay ahead and the ultimate victory that awaited those who stood firm for him. He was still the ruler of the world and he was still in control. In God’s time he would return to punish his enemies, save his people, and bring in a new age of eternal peace and joy (Revelation 1:5; Revelation 12:10-11; Revelation 19:15-16; Revelation 21:1-4).

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Bibliographical Information
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Acts 28". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bbc/acts-28.html. 2005.
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