"Paul in Rome " Page 3 of 5 (series: Lessons on Acts)
by John Lowe
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.
The second response of the Roman Jews is somewhat more puzzling. Their knowledge of the Christians did not seem to be very intimate, only a sort of hearsay acquaintance that “people everywhere are talking against this sect.” Christians were well established in Rome. In any event, their refusal to speak anything against Paul was in itself something of an indirect testimony to his innocence.
Although they professed ignorance of Paul (28:21), they could not very well profess ignorance of Christianity, but they were not favorably impressed. They must have had considerable experience with the new movement. It is likely that the Christian community in Rome was the first to be founded outside of Palestine, carried there by Roman Jews in Jerusalem on that first momentous day of Pentecost.
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.
The first meeting was followed by this more formal assembly. We have no detailed account of Paul’s discussion or any exchange of ideas that took place on this occasion, but Luke has given us the theme of it. He talked from morning till evening to these men of two things. First, he “testified the Kingdom of God.” That was the rock foundation of the Hebrew nation. Notice the fine and wonderful skill with which this man in Rome, among the Hebrews, pleaded the cause of his Master. He began by testifying the Kingdom of God; the Theocracy. That is what the Hebrew people were, in the purpose of God. In that they made their boast. He testified to that, showing first how he had not departed from the foundation position of the Hebrew people. Then secondly, he persuaded them arguing with them “concerning Jesus,” from their own writings, from Moses, and all the prophets. The picture ends sadly; it is one of division.
A date was set for Paul to address them. News of the proposed meeting spread swiftly throughout the Jewish community. Whatever reservations the leaders might have felt, the rank and file believed it was an opportunity too good to miss. A few inquiries soon convinced the Jews that Paul was a celebrity, an authority, and a man worth hearing. As a result, Paul’s place of residence was jam-packed. But in Rome, however, there was no Gentile faction; the audience was solely Jews. Since Paul was under guard they came to him in his private rented quarters.
The conference lasted all day. Paul made the most of his opportunity. Probably his appeal was based on what we have in the epistles to the Romans and to the Hebrews. His theme was the kingdom of God. He gave them a survey of the Scriptures. He expounded the Christology of the Old Testament, referring to the types of Christ found in the law and to the direct statements of the prophets. He brought before them truth concerning the kingdom of God. He doubtless directed their attention to those searching words of Jesus to Nicodemus—“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). His whole message was laced with the story of Jesus: His virgin birth, His place of birth, His life, teaching, and miracles, His rejection, betrayal, crucifixion, burial, resurrection and ascension, as well as His promised return. He confronted them with the need for personally accepting Jesus as Messiah and personal Savior and thus to enter the kingdom of God.
The Jews looked forward to the coming of the Messiah and the restoration of God’s kingdom in a renewed Israel (1:6). The message of Acts has been that this has already occurred—in Jesus. This was what Paul set before them that day. He sought to convince them through an exposition of the Scriptures (“from the Law of Moses and from the prophets”). Luke did not specify which texts Paul used to expound Jesus, but they were surely those which point to the necessity of the Messiah’s suffering and to His resurrection—the texts Jesus set before the disciples after His resurrection (Luke 24:27, 44-47), which Peter used to show Christ’s messianic status to the Jews at Pentecost and in the temple square (Acts 2:17-36; 3:12-26) and which Paul himself expounded in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch (13:32-39).
24 And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.
Some believed, and some disbelieved; they were not able to come to any decision. They departed after Paul had spoken his final word. This whole book of the Acts is the story of God’s final striving with
the Hebrew people. In the life of our Lord He came first to the Hebrew, the Jew. They rejected him, and Jerusalem finally rejected Christ when they rejected Paul.
The result was a sharp division among the Jews who heard Paul’s witness—some were convinced, others refused to believe him. Every time the gospel is preached, heaven and hell are in the balance, eternal issues are at stake. The reference to some being “convinced” could mean no more than that some of the Roman Jews found Paul’s arguments persuasive without implying their coming to a point of commitment to Christ. On the other hand, the picture of a divided synagogue is a constant of Acts—some believing, others resisting and violently opposing Paul. It is likely that the same pattern is to be seen here. Some individual Jews believed, but “the Jews” as a whole, “the synagogue” in an official sense, did not accept Paul’s witness to Christ. This had been the tragic story of the Jews in every community in which Paul had preached.
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,
The divided Jews argued among themselves and began to disburse, but not before Paul had gotten in the last word—one final Old Testament testimony. This time it was not prophesy regarding the Christ but rather one that applied to them and their refusal to hear the word of God. He spoke more in sorrow than in anger, as he cited the words of Isaiah 6:9-10 (see note 1), attributing them to the Holy Spirit himself, and giving particular emphasis to the phrase—“Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.” The inspiration of the prophet’s word is stressed through the reference to the Spirit’s mediation. The spirit is described as speaking the word of the prophecy. In every instance in Acts where a scriptural quote is introduced by a reference to the Spirit, the Spirit is described as having spoken (1:16; 4:25). In this manner the written Word is shown to be a dynamic, “living” Word. Note that at this point Paul began to distance himself from the unbelieving Jews. Earlier he had addressed them as “my brother’s” (28:17). Now he spoke of “your” forefathers. Paul had not ceased being a Jew, but his faith in Christ sharply separated him now from his Roman brothers who refused the gospel message. Paul was not one with those hardhearted forefathers who had rejected God’s word through Isaiah, who had resisted the Spirit in the past, and whose descendents were now doing the same (7:51).
At this rejection of the gospel by so many, after such a thorough exposition of the truth, the Holy Spirit led Paul to call down God’s judicial wrath upon the Hebrew people. It was not enough that the Jerusalem Jews had rejected the Savior, the Spirit, and the Scriptures, but now the Roman Jews had endorsed the same rejection the Jews had in city after city. It was the final straw. The Holy Spirit pronounced God’s doom upon the nation, the final withdrawal of Jewish religious privilege, and the transfer of spiritual blessing to the Gentiles.
Note 1: (Isaiah 6:9-10) “And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.”
26 Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive:
Verses 26-27 reproduced verbatim the Septuagint text of Isaiah 6:9—“And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.” This Greek version the prophet’s words constitute a prophesy of the people’s stubbornness. The three organs of perception are highlighted—the eyes, the ears, and the heart (v. 27), the latter in Hebrew thought is considered the organ of understanding and will. The picture is that of a people who merely take in sensory perceptions but in no sense make them their own. Their ears heard the sounds, but the hearing was without understanding. Their eyes took in the sights but without any insight because their hearts had become calloused; the message received by their eyes and their ears had become callous; the message received by their eyes and ears was neither understood nor acted upon. Otherwise, they would have done something in response to God’s message. If they had heard and understood the divine word they would have turned from their ways in repentance and received God’s healing.