Paul in Rome – Acts 28

Read the Passage: Acts 28

Ministry in Malta (28:1–10)

With his arrest in Jerusalem in Acts 21, Paul began his fourth missions journey, which culminated in him preaching the gospel in Rome (cf. Acts 19:21; 23:11; 27:24). In Acts 22–26 Paul defended himself before a Jerusalem mob, the Jewish Sanhedrin, Governor Felix, Governor Festus, and King Agrippa. Each of these five trials ended without a conviction, and Paul had appealed his case to Caesar. Note that Acts 28:17–20 records a sixth time Paul defended himself, before the Jews while in Rome. Acts 27 gives details about Paul’s lengthy voyage to Rome, which occurred in the late fall of AD 60, after the Day of Atonement (cf. Acts 27:9). Sailing at this time of year was perilous, as Paul reminded his companions (cf. Acts 27:10, 21–26), and the voyage resulted in a shipwreck on the island of Malta—which was at least the fourth time Paul had been shipwrecked (cf. 2 Cor. 11:25).

Acts 28:1–10 reports details about Paul’s three-month stay on Malta, a small island about sixty miles south of Sicily. First, Luke notes that the natives of Malta showed “unusual kindness” (Acts 28:2) to the 276 people who were shipwrecked, even kindling a fire to help them stay warm in the cold, wet weather. Second, Luke records that as Paul was tending to the fire, a viper—a venomous snake—jumped out of a bundle of sticks and bit Paul on the hand (cf. Acts 28:3–6). The natives took this as a sign Paul was a murderer who was receiving divine justice. Yet, since Paul experienced no ill effects from the viper bite, the natives changed their mind, believing Paul to be divine (cf. Mark 16:18). Third, it is reported Paul facilitated the healing of the father of Publius, the governor of Malta, as well as the healing of “the rest of those on the island who had diseases” (Acts 28:9).

Arrival in Rome (28:11–16)

When the narrative of Paul’s journey to Rome began in Acts 27, it is evident that Luke had rejoined Paul for this voyage. Luke had been absent from the narrative since Acts 21:18, as he likely was dwelling in either Jerusalem or Caesarea, in order to minister to Paul, but was not part of Paul’s public, theological, and civil trials recorded in Acts 22–26. Recall that there are three main “we” or “us” sections in this book (cf. Acts 16:10–17; 20:5–21:18; 27:1–28:16). Acts 28:11–16 records Paul’s arrival in Rome after spending three months on Malta. Note that at this point Paul had been in Roman custody for nearly three years. Luke records that when they finally reach the Italian mainland, after a brief stop in Sicily, they found Christian believers with whom they lodged for a week. As they made their trip toward Rome, they met believers along the way, which was an encouragement to Paul.

Ministry in Rome (28:17–31)

Once in Rome Paul was able to obtain lodging and enjoyed fellowship with believers, being put under house arrest, but not being confined to a prison cell. Luke indicates that Paul was eager to share the gospel with the Jewish community in Rome, for “after [only] three days . . . Paul called the leaders of the Jews together” (Acts 28:17). These men would have been the chief men from the Roman synagogues. Paul then explained to these Jewish leaders the reason for his chains was that the Jews in Palestine had objected to his being released. Note that Paul’s brief dialog with the Jewish leaders in Rome constitutes his sixth and final personal defense recorded in the book of Acts. Somewhat surprisingly, these leaders informed Paul that they had not received any correspondence about him, nor had any of the brethren who traveled to Rome from Judea spoken against him.

While the Jewish leaders in Rome were not familiar with the details of Paul’s case, they were aware that the Christian message, which they referred to as a “sect” (Acts 28:22), was causing division. Therefore, they asked Paul to share his message with them. On an appointed time, the Jewish leaders gathered in Paul’s lodging and listened “from morning till evening” (Acts 28:23) while Paul presented the gospel message, arguing from the Old Testament. As was the pattern when Paul preached elsewhere, some believed and others rejected the gospel. The book of Acts then comes to a rather abrupt ending, as Luke writes that Paul dwelt for two years in Rome, preaching the gospel to those who would listen, writing several epistles, and awaiting his appeal before Caesar. Church history records that Paul would be acquitted of all charges and be released, likely in AD 63.

Application Questions:

  1. What have you learned from our study of Paul’s ministry in Acts 13–28? Have any passages in the book of Acts particularly encouraged or challenged you?
  2. Do you think Paul’s warning at Acts 27:10 about not sailing to Rome was the result of extra-biblical revelation or simple discernment and common sense?
  3. Are bad events, such as personal suffering, an indicator of one’s character? Is the idea of karma a biblical notion (cf. Luke 13:1–5; John 9:1–3)?
  4. Have you ever been surprised to meet Christians when you’ve traveled? Why was Paul encouraged by meeting believers as he traveled toward Rome?
  5. Why do you think the book of Acts ends so abruptly? What were some of the advantages of preaching while under house arrest (cf. Phil. 1:12–13; 4:22)?