Paul Keeps Spreading the Good News
Paul keeps spreading the Good News DIG: Why might Paul take the initiative to call this meeting with the Jewish leaders in Rome? How do Paul’s statements in 23:6, 24:21, 26:8 and 28:20 illustrate what he means being a prisoner for the Lord (Ephesians 4:1; Philippians 1:13-14; Colossians 4:3; Philemon 1)? How does the existence of these prison letters demonstrate the way Paul made the best of his situation? In light of all Paul has been through, how do you think he felt when he heard the response of the Jews in verse 21? How is their attitude different from that of the Jews in Jerusalem? How do you account for that difference? Why didn’t the Jews in Jerusalem pursue the case after it left their area? Verse 31 is similar to other summary verses in Acts (see 6:7, 9:31, 12:24, 16:5, 19:30, etc). What does this ending show about Luke’s central point concerning the writing of this book?
REFLECT: How does verse 31 set the stage for the way your life should be a continuation of the book of Acts? In what way would you like to contribute to this movement of God during the next two years? Probably within a few years Paul was killed by the emperor Nero. How would verse 31 serve as a fitting epitaph on Paul’s grave? What do you need to build into your life now, so that your faith in Christ will be what people remember about you at the time of your death? What bothers your unbelieving friends about the faith? How might you help them overcome those barriers?
This concluding passage of the book of Acts contains very important material for understanding the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, gospel and TaNaKh, Messianic and non-Messianic Judaism, Jewish and Gentile believers. The conclusion is that Paul had a very successful evangelistic ministry among the Jewish community of Rome, and that entire synagogues became Messianic. It is one of the high points of Messianic Jewish history.
The message to Jewish leaders: It happened that after three days, Paul called together those who were the prominent Jewish leaders (Romans 1:16), many of whom he knew (Romans 16). But he quickly discovered that they knew very little about the gospel (28:21-22). Therefore, Paul saw this as an evangelistic opportunity. Rome possessed a significant Jewish presence, estimated to be from 40,000 to 50,000. The believers in the Roman congregation had apparently not done much to evangelize the Jews living in Rome (Encyclopedia Judaica 14:242), or they had tried but had been ineffective. Perhaps they wished to avoid the sort of persecution some of them might have already experienced in Yerushalayim when they came to faith at or shortly after Shavu’ot (2:10), or after the martyrdom of Stephen (8:1-3). (28:17a).648
Paul gathers together the leaders of the Jewish community and said to them very clearly: Brothers, although I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans (Acts 28:17b). Since Paul’s statement to the Jews in Rome is true, it indicates that he remained faithful to the Torah and to Jewish customs and traditions throughout his entire lifetime. The fact that he continued to frequent the synagogue proves just how false the claims that God has rejected Isra’el and that Paul had rejected his own people.649
When they examined me, they wanted to release me because there was no basis for the death penalty. But when the Judean leaders protested releasing me, I was forced to appeal to Caesar – not that I had any charge to bring against my own nation, of which Paul still considered himself a part. For this reason, therefore, I have requested to see you and to speak with you – since it is for the [Messianic] hope of Isra’el that I am bearing this chain (28:18-20). Rather than betraying his own people, Paul wanted to make it clear to the prominent Jewish leaders that he was on trial because he publicly expressed his trust in the Messiah, who is the hope of Isra’el.
They said to him, “We have received no official letters from the Sanhedrin in Judea about you (showing that the Sanhedrin knew their case was hopeless), and none of the Jewish brothers coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you in this specific case. But we think it appropriate to hear from you about what you think. For indeed, it is known to us that Messianic Judaism is spoken against everywhere” (28:21-22). Those Jewish leaders were very open-minded, more so than today’s usually are. The situation in Rome was different from the others described in the book of Acts, where very quickly the non-Messianic Jewish community took a hostile position against the Messianics. Somehow the Roman believers avoided such a clash with the non-Messianic synagogues, so that when Paul arrived they were willing to listen and not immediately reject him and his message.650
The Second Meeting: Evidently a more detailed discussion of Paul’s practices and beliefs demanded more time. As a result, the prominent Jewish leaders set a whole day to meet Paul and came to him at his quarters in large numbers. From morning until evening he was explaining everything to them, testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them about Yeshua from both the Torah of Moses and the Prophets (28:23). Paul could use the Scriptures freely, since many of his audience probably knew them by heart. This was a Jewish audience and Paul had to explain in detail that since Yeshua was indeed the Messiah, why the Messianic Kingdom wasn’t already set up! Surely this all day session in which large numbers of local Jewish leaders of the capital of the world who came to visit the world’s leading evangelist in order to hear about Messianic Judaism must be unique in history.
Rather than presenting the gospel as something alien or superior to Judaism, Paul discussed a topic well known to his audience of Jewish leaders – the Kingdom of God. And his object was to expand their conception of it by his testimony. Paul must have spent hours explaining what the whole B’rit Chadashah teaches, namely, that at this point in history accepting the Torah of Moses and the Prophets implied accepting all of the Good News. God’s active and present rule is expressed through Messiahship and Lordship of Yeshua, the salvation He brings to humanity, and the improvement He brings to the inner lives and outward behavior of believers through the continuing work of the Ruach ha-Kodesh.651
Some were convinced by what he said, while others refused to believe. The gospel properly proclaimed always causes division (Matthew 10:35-36; John 7:7:43). Since those who were persuaded were leaders, they surely returned to their synagogues and communicated the gospel themselves; so that in due time, especially with Paul’s continued teaching over the next two years, entire synagogues became Messianic. So when they disagreed among themselves, they began leaving after Paul warned some who refused to believe, “The Ruach ha-Kodesh rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers” (28:24-25), saying:
Go to these people and say,
“You will keep on hearing but will never understand;
you will keep looking, but will never see.
For the heart of this people has become dull,
their ears can barely hear,
and they have shut their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts.
Then they would turn back,
and I would heal them (28:26-27).
Like Pharaoh, who hardened his heart too often, ADONAI eventually seals and makes the hardening final, so that it becomes impossible for the person to repent. Luke quotes the TaNaKh almost always in a form either corresponding to the LXX or close to it, and not according to the Hebrew Masoretic Text. Here Isaiah 6:9-10 is quoted verbatim from the LXX.652
Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen” (28:28)! From 1:8 we have seen that one purpose, perhaps the main purpose, of the book of Acts has been to show that the gospel would spread to the ends of the earth and permeate the Gentile nations. Some Christians have gone beyond this and claimed to see in the book of Acts the rejection of the gospel by the Jews so that ADONAI rejected them and turned to the Gentiles, who gladly received the message. It is a fact that God’s truth and His promises became available to the Gentiles in a new way as a result of what ADONAI did during the early years of the Messianic Community, as reported in the book of Acts. For it was decided that the Gentiles did not have to become Jews in order to become Christians (10:1-11, 15:1-29 and 21:20-27). It is also a fact that the Gentiles believed in the gospel in substantial numbers. Nevertheless, as we have just seen, Jews continued accepting Yeshua as Isra’el’s Messiah right up to the day that the words of this verse were spoken. God had not rejected the Jewish people as unworthy of the gospel (Romans 11:1).
Some argue that the destruction of Yerushalayim in 70 AD closed the age of God’s favor with the Jews and that Rome, the Gentile capital of the world, was to be the new center for conveying the truth of ADONAI. But Tziyon has never ceased to be the holy City: A beautiful height – the joy of the whole earth – is Mount Tziyon (Psalm 48:2), the center of three monotheistic religions. Now, after being trampled down by the Gentiles for coming on 2,000 years, it is at last once more in the hands of the Jewish people (since 1967); and with the apparent fulfillment of Yeshua’s prophecy concerning this (see the commentary on The Life of Christ, to see link click Jl – Jerusalem Will Be Trampled Until the Times of the Gentiles), it should be clear to all that ADONAI is continuing to favor the Jewish people.
The proper perspective is this: the gospel was to move out from Jerusalem and the Jews, to the Gentiles and the ends of the earth, that is, to Rome and beyond. This was a new work of Ha’Shem, though not without past history, since Jews had been making proselytes for centuries (Esther 8:17; Matthew 23:15). It was not that the Jews were rejected, but that the Gentiles were accepted. This message shocked many Jews, and some Jews today still look down on Christianity as an “easy religion” not worthy of Jewish acceptance. This is why it was necessary to have the longest book in the New Covenant deal with the question; and the answer of the book of Acts is that despite Jewish resistance, ADONAI is bringing His truth to the Gentiles and they are being included in the people of God without converting to Judaism. Yet the Jews are no less God’s people – as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable (Romans 11:28b-29).653
Verse 29 is not in the best documents and adds nothing.
A closer look: Did Paul witness before Caesar? While being held in custody in Caesarea, Paul appealed to have his court case heard by Caesar himself, as was his right as a Roman citizen (25:12). Then, on his way to Rome, an angel said to Paul, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you” (27:24). So we know Paul must have stood before Caesar, although the actual record of it is not found in the Bible. It was prophesied that he would preach before the Gentiles and kings (9:15), and so his appearance before Caesar was a fulfilment of this prophecy. Later, when writing to the Philippians from Rome, Paul wrote: All the kedoshim greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household (Philippians 4:22). So it seems he had made friends with those in the household of Caesar while waiting for his case to be heard. The emperor at the time was the tyrannical Nero, although he was actually relatively sane at this stage of his reign. The empress Poppaea may have influenced him as, according to Josephus, she was “a worshipper of the true God” and probably favorably disposed to Christians. About 200 years later, Eusebius recorded that “after defending himself successfully, it is currently reported that the Apostle again went forth to proclaim the gospel, and afterwards came to Rome a second time, and was martyred under Nero” (Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica 2.22). There are also many other early church writings which say he was released and embarked on new missionary journals (notably to Spain (Meinardus, 1978).654
A summary statement of Paul’s ministry in Rome: Paul remained two whole years (which was the length of time that accusers had under Roman law to come to Rome and make their accusation. If they failed to show up Paul would be released by default) in his own rented quarters (Philippians 1:12-14), but he was not idle writing four of his letters (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon), and continued to welcome all who came to him – proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Yeshua the Messiah with all boldness and without hindrance (28:30-31). The perfect way to end the book, whose purpose is secondarily historical and primarily inspirational. Even though under house arrest awaiting trial, Paul was free for the one thing that gave meaning to his life, proclaiming the gospel. By his life as well as his words he showed the Messiah within him. He always went to the Jew first (Romans 1:16) and was also a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 49:6).655
Paul was released in late 62 AD before the time of the fire in Rome (July 64 AD), which also means it was before the time when Nero descended into tyranny and was looking for scapegoats, and thus before Christianity had really come under close imperial scrutiny. Nevertheless, the Acts of the apostles have long ago finished. But the acts of the believers in Jesus Christ will continue until the end of the world, and their words will spread to the end of the earth (1:8).656