The Work in Philippi: Part 10 of 14

by John Lowe
(Laurens, SC)

Converting a Jailer’s Household (16:25-34; KJV)

25 And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.
26 And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed.
27 And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.
28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.
29 Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,
30 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
32 And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.
33 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.
34 And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.



Introduction

The reader of Acts is not surprised to find Paul and Silas miraculously delivered from their confinement in the Philippian prison. It had happened before: to the apostles in 5:19-26 and to Peter in 12:5-19. The present narrative perhaps has more in common with the apostles’ deliverance, since in both these instances divine power was displayed in bringing about their freedom, which provides a stronger base for witnessing. In chapter five the Apostles did not run away but willingly returned to the Sanhedrin for their scheduled trial. The miracle considerably strengthened their position before the Sanhedrin, however, and paved the way for Gamaliel’s council (5:38). In the present narrative, the same holds true. Though freed, Paul and Silas did not attempt to escape. The miracle served not only to deliver them but to deliver the jailer too. It served as the basis for Paul and Silas’s witness to him and for his conversion. The story thus falls into two divisions, the first relating Paul and Silas’s deliverance (vs. 25-28) and the second the conversion of the jailer and his household (vs. 29-34).



Commentary

25 And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.

It was the middle of the night. Paul and Silas were in the most secure part of the prison with their feet fastened securely in stocks and their legs forced into a cramping position and their future uncertain, and yet, instead of complaining or calling on God to judge their enemies, they were praying1 and singing hymns of praise to God. Their joy was completely independent of earthly circumstances. The source of all their singing was high in heaven above. In Acts, Christians are always full of hope. Peter slept peacefully the night before his trial (12:6); Paul and Silas sang. Their praise and good cheer was in itself a witness to God, and the other prisoners listened intently.

That they should be praying is no cause for surprise. There is nothing miraculous about that. But singing? Remember what Jesus said: “blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: four great is your reward in heaven.”

So they sang, and the whole prison heard them. Who knows what hardened cases were in that prison? Who knows what vice and what wretchedness?

Soon the prison walls echoed with hymns and songs of praise, a strange sound in that Grim place. The other prisoners heard the name of Jesus, heard the message of salvation, and heard the stately stanzas of the psalms. They had heard the commotion, the curses, and the command that the two men be securely fastened. Word would soon spread that they had been beaten and were now in the stocks. Many of them would know what that was like. They would expect to hear blasphemies from that isolation hole in the inner prison. Instead to their astonishment, they heard hymns.

Prayer and praise are powerful weapons (2 Chronicles 20:1-22; Acts 4:23-37), as you shall gather from the next verse.


26 And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed.

The area around Philippi often experiences earthquakes and tremors, but this one happened at just the right time, and what an earthquake it was! Walls did not cave in and roofs did not fall. The prison doors probably were locked by bars; these flew up, and the doors opened. Everyone’s chains came loose. The chains may have been attached to the walls and were wrenched lose by the violence of the quake.

Oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful if our brand of Christianity could observe such miraculous displays of God’s awesome power! Peter, in prison, expecting execution in the morning, could sleep like a baby. Paul and Silas, with bruised and bleeding bodies, could sing like the seraphim. No wonder things happened. No wonder souls were saved.


27 And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.

The jailer was aroused by the earthquake and spotted the open doors. Supposing that the prisoners, given this golden opportunity, had already escaped. There was only one remedy for his situation. He was disgraced. Death was better than disgrace for a man like him. Sword in hand, he sprang to the open door of the prison and peered inside. All was dark. And now, for the moment, all was still and quiet, like the grave that he would soon occupy. He found what he believed to be an empty prison. He would most certainly be held accountable. His last order had been to keep those two Jews secure. Now they were gone, not to mention all the others.

Jailers and guards were personally responsible for their prisoners and in some instances were executed for allowing them to escape. Peter, who was chained between two guards, escaped the prison he was in, and Acts 12:19 states that Herod put the guards to death—“After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed (Acts 12:19NIV). Upon discovering that Jesus was no longer in the tomb, the keepers of our Lord's sepulcher, had "shaken and become as dead men" (Mt 28:4), because they probably were anticipating the same sentence as Peter’s guards received. Sometimes, if a guard lost a prisoner, he was given the same punishment the prisoner would have received; so there must have been some men in the prison who had committed capital crimes.

He most certainly would die one way or another; better to die now than face arrest, torture perhaps, and crucifixion or some other public form of death. He drew his sword and in a moment it was at his throat. One mighty thrust of his arm and he would be in eternity. He would kill himself, preferring death by his own hand than by Roman justice.

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