Paul in Rome: Page 4 of 5 (series: Lessons on Acts)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

27 For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.

The Jews of Rome had demonstrated precisely this response. They had heard from Paul the message of God’s salvation in Christ, but their hardness had made them unresponsive and resistant. The key concept in the narrative of Paul’s encounter with the Jews of Rome is that of hearing. The verb “to hear” occurs five times and at key points. The first occurrence is when the Roman Jews expressed their desire to “hear” Paul’s views (28:22). But when they had heard his testimony, and it became clear that they had not really “heard him” because they responded in disbelief and rejection. The quote from Isaiah refers to “hearing” three times, and its whole point is that hearing is not really hearing at all if the message is not acted upon. Finally, Paul referred to hearing one last time; and it is the last, emphatic word of the entire passage. The Gentiles would “hear”—they would “listen,” would hear with receptive, and responsive hearts. The Jews had expressed their desire to hear Paul, but they were hardened to his message and really did not hear his word of salvation. It would be different with the Gentiles. They would hear and receive the gospel.

28 Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.

Now for the third, climactic time in Acts, Paul turned to the Gentiles (28:28; 13:46; 18:6). Paul saw his ministry as primarily to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:8), and his vision in the temple had confirmed this (Acts 22:21). Throughout Acts he has been depicted as having great success among the Gentiles. So Paul’s directing his efforts to the Gentile mission was nothing new. The main question is whether at this time Paul’s turning from the Jews to the Gentiles was final and irrevocable. Had Paul “given up” on the Jews? Many scholars feel that he had. But there are significant claims in the text to indicate that such is not the case. All along, Luke has shown that there were some Jews who believed, even in those synagogues that rejected and persecuted Paul. The same pattern of acceptance and rejection appears in the present scene. In verse 30 Paul is said to have welcomed “all” who came to him. Elsewhere it is specified that Paul witnessed to both Jews and Gentiles (14:1; 18:4; 19:10). And there is no reason to believe that individual Jews have been excluded in this instance. Yet there is a sense in which the Jewish rejection is seen to be decisive. It had become clear that “official Judaism,” the Jewish people as a whole, would not embrace Christ.

This rejection first became clear at the martyrdom of Stephen. It repeated itself in every synagogue Paul entered. He was never able to remain in a single synagogue but always was forced to leave. The same was true in the present instance. The Jewish delegation in Rome was representative of official Judaism. It was the “leaders” of the Jews who came to Paul (28:17). In Rome as in Jerusalem and the Diaspora synagogues, this official Judaism refused the gospel message. But everywhere individual Jews had come into the Christian fold, into “the way” within true Judaism, into the true people of God. There is no reason to believe that the same pattern of a continued witness to Jews would not go on after this scene. Perhaps the wording of Paul’s statement in 28:28 underscores this fact. Paul did not say that because the Jews had rejected his message he would turn to the Gentiles. Rather he stated that God’s salvation had already been sent to the Gentiles. The passage is therefore not so much about Jewish exclusion as it is about Gentile inclusion in God’s people. Acts is primarily the story of the inclusive gospel: God’s salvation has been sent to all.

This was Paul’s parting shot, and a telling one it was. Echoes of this judicial turning to the Gentiles can be heard at Pisidian Antioch (13:40) and at Corinth (18:6). But now the full volume of the divine thunder is heard. From now on the Gentiles would have priority in receiving the gospel, and unlike the majority of the Jews the Gentiles would flock by the millions into the Christian fold.

29 And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, and had great reasoning among themselves.

Some Bible scholars dispute the validity of this verse. However, we can be sure it accurately reflects what happened. We can well believe that the Jews argued for a long time about what Paul had said and his impressively solemn dismissal of them. However the gospel has not been given to men to discuss and debate, but to accept and obey, so far as the Holy Spirit was concerned, the time for discussion was past. He had said His last word.

30 And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him,

There were two years, of which we only know what these two verses reveal, and what is found in the letters to the Philippians, the Colossians, the Ephesians, and Philemon; for those four letters were written undoubtedly during this first imprisonment and not during the second. We shall find in his letters references to nobles in Rome who had passed under the influence of the Gospel. But there came to him, visiting him, abiding with him, a little band of faithful souls, referred to in his letters as coming to him in Rome. Luke and Aristarchus had accompanied him, and remained with him. Tychicus was there for a while, but was soon sent away with a letter to Ephesus. Timothy also was there for part of the time. Epaphroditus came to see him from Philippi, bringing with him the gifts of the church there. Onesimus, a runaway slave, found his way into the dwelling of the apostle, and was brought under the spell of the Gospel and of Christ, until he served with love this man in his imprisonment. Mark, too, from whom he had parted once in anger, also was there for part of the time, and one called Jesus, or Justice, a disciple of Epaphras. Then Epaphras, whose portrait Paul had drawn in his letters, and who stands upon the pages of the New Testament as one of the most wonderful saints of the whole period, “one of you,” who agonized in prayer that the Colossians might “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God,” he too came to Rome. During those days, also, Demas was with him. Paul kept an open house in the home in which he was confined, receiving all that came to him. That group of faithful souls went to that open house, were taught by the great apostle, inspired to do new work, and set out upon the new missions.

That is all that Luke has recorded. But during that period Paul wrote some letters: the Philippian letter, the Ephesian letter, the Colossian letter and the half-page letter to Philemon. Measure the teaching given to the disciples by these letters, and then we shall know some of the things he taught concerning Christ during those two years.

With verses 30-31 Acts comes to a rather abrupt ending. In verse 30 Luke told us that Paul stayed in Rome for a period of two years, evidently living under free custody in his rented dwelling. Paul’s rented house in Rome became the headquarters of world evangelism. He could not go, but others could. People flocked to him. He led people to Christ, inspired others to get on with the gospel, won members of the Roman guard (Philippians 1:13-18), and through all the weight of his undiminished apostolic authority behind the spread of the gospel and the building of the church. Paul’s contacts within “Caesar’s household” (Philippians 4:22) and with Onesimus, a runaway slave from Colosse (Philemon), show how far-reaching and effective was his ministry at this time. You can lock up a man like Paul, but you cannot shut him up! Wherever he is, he will find a Mission Field, and every person he meets will be a potential convert to Christ.

Paul remained a prisoner, confined to his house; he was not at liberty to go where he wished, but he was at liberty to receive all who cared to come to him. He graciously received “all” who came to visit him there, probably including Jews as well as Gentiles. We do not know all the reasons for his imprisonment, though we are indeed indebted to Paul’s imprisonment for his epistles to the Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. Paul’s prolonged captivity is part of his sometimes puzzling ways. We can be sure, however, that the Lord of the harvest, who is in charge of the entire mission program of the church, makes no mistakes.

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