AN EXPOSITION OF ACTS 28:16-27
The Background Setting
While visiting in Caesarea during his missionary journey, Paul became determined to go to Jerusalem against all odds. He was in the house of Philip the evangelist when a certain prophet, named Agabus, came from Judae to warn Paul, who did not appreciate the warning. “Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. 14 And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.” (Acts 21:13-14)
Initially, Paul was well received in Jerusalem. The brethren received Paul and his entourage from Caesarea gladly. (Acts 21:17) Then, Paul made a strategic mistake. He went into the Temple in Jerusalem where Jews from Asia recognized him, and stirred up all the people. (Acts 21:27) Paul was seized by an angry mob as false accusations were leveled against him. There was a public riot. Paul was rescued by the chief captain and soldiers. In the confusion that followed, Paul was arrested. The captain of the guard was determined to find out who Paul was, and why the Jews were so angry with him. Paul was to be examined by scourging. The theory is that torture will bring out the truth. (Acts 22:24)
While he was in the process of being bound with leather straps to secure him during the ordeal of being scourged, Paul surprised the soldiers by saying, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and un-condemned?” (Acts 22:25)
“When the centurion heard that, he went and told the chief captain, saying, Take heed what thou doest: for this man is a Roman.
27 Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? He said, Yea.
28 And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was free born.
29 Then straightway they departed from him which should have examined him: and the chief captain also was afraid, after he knew that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him.
30 On the morrow, because he would have known the certainty wherefore he was accused of the Jews, he loosed him from his bands, and commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down, and set him before them.” (Acts 22:26-30)
Paul was brought before the Sanhedrin for questioning. The inquiry did not go well for the Sanhedrin, for Paul was able to create a division among the religious ruling body by suddenly announcing that he was a Pharisee and believed in the hope and resurrection of the dead. (Acts 23:6) The proceedings were immediately interrupted as “there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided.” (Acts 23:7) Paul was taken away, but kept in custody.
The next night the Lord came to him saying, “Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou had testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.” (Acts 23:11) It was to take time, and it involved many perilous moments, including a ship wreck, but eventually the journey to Rome was completed.
16 And when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard: but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him.
The Lord who had visited Paul in Jerusalem did not lie. In the providence of God, after a long period of time, Paul came to Rome, but he was a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was a prisoner of Rome, from a human point of view. But from a divine perspective, Paul was a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ, which made his bondage bearable.
The bondage itself was not as terrible as it might have been for Paul was allowed to dwell by himself with an armed guard over him. The name of the captain of the guard is known to history as Burrhus Afranius. (Tacitus, History, 12, 42, 1) Because he was only under house arrest, Paul was able to receive visitors. Therefore, Paul called for the Jewish leaders in the city of Rome to share with them why he was there.
Paul’s Plea for Help
17 And it came to pass, that after three days Paul called the chief of the Jews together: and when they were come together, he said unto them, Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the people, or customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.
There are times when every person needs an ally in life. Paul needed an ally. He would have preferred leaders from the Christian community come to visit him, and later, some would. But initially, Paul was wise enough to seek the support of the chief of the Jews. To them he would explain his situation because if he was treated in an unjust manner, then no Jew in Rome was safe.
Once the chief of the Jews had gathered, Paul began his defense. Simply stated, he was an innocent man being falsely accused by a mob in Jerusalem. He had not committed any crimes against the Jewish people. He had not violated any Jewish customs. He was not a leader of sedition against Rome. Paul was an innocent man, and there was proof. Those who heard his case in Jerusalem were willing to let him go.
18 Who, when they had examined me, would have let me go, because there was no cause of death in me.
An honest inquiry into Paul’s case proved that there was no cause of death in him. Nor was there any reason he should remain in custody. But, while justice may be blind, injustice is not blind. With eyes wide open evil men and women want to hurt those with whom they do not agree. One effective way to hurt someone is to scream, and shout, and drown out any voice of reason, while making false accusations. That was what happened to Paul.
19 But when the Jews spake against it, I was constrained to appeal unto Caesar; not that I had ought to accuse my nation of.
The mob in Jerusalem did not want Paul to be at liberty. They wanted him to remain in custody, and they wanted him to be broken in body. To that end, Paul was taken and prepared for scourging, which compelled him to appeal to Caesar. Paul said that he appealed to Caesar for his own preservation and safety, not because he wished to accuse his countrymen of doing anything wrong.
Paul’s statement is a testimony to his growth in grace and knowledge. Though falsely accused, and physically abused, Paul said that he harbored no unkind feelings towards those who had done him wrong.
How a person arrives at such a state of grace is a great mystery. Certainly it goes against human nature. When we are wronged we become angry. We want justice. We want revenge. We want the truth to be made known.
Paul too wanted the truth to be made known, but without revenge, and with no hatred in his heart. Only God can change our hearts. But, we can ask God to make us like Jesus, and allow us to show as much grace to others as we have been shown.
A Reasonable Defense
20 For this cause therefore have I called for you, to see you, and to speak with you: because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.
Having declared his innocence, having provided some reasonable proof of his innocence, Paul moved to explain to the Jews the real reason why he was in Rome, as a prisoner. His explanation was a master of double entendre, or double meaning. “For the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain,” said Paul.
It was true. Paul was in prison for believing in the Messiah, the true Hope of Israel, but the Jewish leaders might have understood the phrase, “the hope of Israel”, in a different way. They would initially think that Paul was telling them he was in prison because of his conservative religious beliefs in the coming Messiah, who was still the future “Hope of Israel” for most Jews.
Paul was not trying to deceive the chief Jews in Rome. He was simply trying to establish an emotional and intellectual connection with them. A good point of contact would be their common faith in the Messiah. It was a brilliant defense. It was a godly strategy. Jesus teaches His disciples to be wise as serpents, but harmless as doves.
The Response of the Chief Jews in Rome
21 And they said unto him, We neither received letters out of Judaea concerning thee, neither any of the brethren that came shewed or spake any harm of thee.
When Paul was finished giving his initial defense, the Jews spoke, saying that they were surprised at Paul’s arrest. They had not had any official correspondence concerning him. In fact, they were not aware that any Jewish brethren wanted to do him harm.
Several reasons for this lack of information concerning Paul might include the passing of time, the distance between Rome and Jerusalem, and the fickleness of a mob. People of passion are easily distracted.
Here in America we have seen within a matter of months the mob mentality of the Wall Street One Percenters, the Donald Trump is not our President crowd, thank you Russia and Michael Moore, the Black Lives Matter mob, and the Me Too movement. Those who are controlled by their emotions and not by reason, careen from one issue to the next, to their shame.
As the Jewish leaders listened to Paul, they were inclined to be of help to him if they could. But first, they needed to know more. And so they told Paul what was on their minds.
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 chief Jews were perceptive men. They immediately picked up on the double entendre, for they knew that Paul was a member of the sect called The Way. They might have appreciated the clever sedge-way Paul had used with his play on words, the Hope of Israel. So they wanted to hear more, because they knew “that everywhere it is spoken against.” There is nothing like controversy to attract interest and attention.
When I was a young person, I attended the Fundamentalist Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. I learned as a young “Preacher Boy” to preach on controversial topics. It would attract attention. Back in those days, to preach on controversial subjects was to preach against smoking, drinking, gambling, the pool hall, Communist, Masons, and going to movies. But, as can be seen, human nature does not change. Two thousand years ago when something was spoken against, people wanted to know more.
Witnessing to the Jewish Leaders
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.
On an appointed day, the chief Jews in Rome returned to Paul’s lodging, but they did not come alone. “There came many to him into his lodging.” In the providence of God, Paul was giving a wonderful opportunity to expound and testify to the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God, and to the King of the Kingdom of God, even Jesus Christ.
The point of logical discussion concerning Christ was the Law of Moses, and the prophets. Like Christ, Paul showed, from the Scriptures, how Jesus fulfilled the promises of God from Genesis 3:15 to Malachi 3:1.
“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Gen. 3:15)
“Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.” (Mal. 3:1)
Time took wings and flew away. From morning till evening Paul spoke, taking as much time as necessary to make sure people heard that the King of all kings has come. Come to the Kingdom of God. It is a present reality.
24 And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.
The result of gospel preaching was predictable. Some believed what Paul said about Jesus, and some believed not. Those who did not believe were the fulfilment of the prophetic words of Isaiah.
25 And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias [Isaiah] the prophet unto our fathers,
26 Saying, GO UNTO THIS PEOPLE, AND SAY, HEARING YE SHALL HEAR, AND SHALL NOT UNDERSTAND; AND SEEING YE SHALL SEE, AND NOT PERCEIVE.
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. [Isaiah 6:9,10 cf. Jer. 5:21; Ezek. 12:2]