Last the last essay we studied 27:1-44, which was part of Luke’s last “we-passage” (27:1-28:16). In this essay we are studying chapter 28, which will end our study of the book of Acts. The word that correctly is translated “natives” or “islanders” in verse two is the word from which we get our word “barbarians.” However, in those days, the word was used for any people who did not speak Greek or Latin, whether or not they were savages.
As Luke tells us, the natives were unusually kind to the shipwrecked people. It had begun to rain and was cold, so the natives built a fire for them and welcomed them to its warmth. Paul apparently decided to help gather fire wood, and as he was putting an armful on the fire, a viper “driven out by the heat latched onto Paul’s hand. The natives immediately assumed that Paul was a murderer who was being punished. They apparently believed that this was divine justice at work. They expected Paul to swell up and die. But Paul shook off the viper into the fire and suffered no harmful effects. The natives were so impressed with the event that they declared Paul to be a god.
Some scholars today discount this story as untrue, because there are no vipers, or other poisonous snakes, on the island of Malta today. Although that’s an interesting fact, I could not, and would not, dispute the reactions of the Maltese natives. They would have known the wildlife on their island at that time better than anyone, and they obviously knew what a bite from a viper would do to a man.
In verses 7-10 we learn first that the leading man on the island, whose name was Publius, had an estate nearby. Like the other islanders, Publius was gracious. He entertained the shipwrecked company for three days. During those days, it was discovered that Publius’ father was “sick in bed with fever and dysentery.” Paul visited him, laid hands on him and prayed; and he was cured. That resulted in the people of Malta bringing all their sick to Paul, and he healed them. Of course they were exceedingly grateful, and they bestowed “honors” on “us,” says Luke. The word translated “honors” is the same word that was used for the honoraria or professional fees paid to physicians. Therefore, some have suggested that Luke, who was a physician, helped Paul with the healing ministry and received fees for it. Whatever the ‘honors” were, when it came time for the group to leave Malta three months later, the grateful natives provided them with provisions for the trip.
As you can see in verses 11-16, after a three months winter layover on Malta, Julius the Centurion booked passage on another Alexandrian ship that also had wintered at Malta. It was named “The Two [or Twin] Brothers,” because the ship’s figurehead was double and represented the brothers Castor and Pollus of Greco-Roman mythology. The brothers were sons of Jupiter, or Zeus, and they were the gods of navigation and patrons of seafarers.
Their first stop was Syracuse, the capital city and main port of the Island of Sicily. They stayed there three days, and then they sailed to Rhegium, located on the toe of Italy, where they stayed only one day. Next they sailed to Puteoli, the major seaport of the west coast of Italy. It was in the Bay of Naples, and it was the port where the grain ships unloaded their cargos.
It is not known why they remained there for a week. Some suggest that Julius was awaiting orders. At any rate, Paul and the other Christians found some believers in the city and had fellowship with them during those days. It is not surprising that there would be a community of believers in such an important city. Christians had been spreading to all of the major cities of the Mediterranean world.
From Puteoli the travelers set out for Rome by land. In only a few miles they would reach the famous Appian Way that led straight to Rome. Interestingly, the Christian community in Rome had heard about Paul’s coming; and they sent a delegation from Rome to meet him on the way. Some came as far as forty-three miles to a market town called “the Forum of Appius.” And others traveled thirty-three miles to the “Three Taverns.” Paul was much encouraged when he saw them. Once in Rome Paul was given what we would call “house arrest” status. That is he was kept under guard, but he was permitted to rent a house, receive visitors, write letters, etc. Luke’s we passage ends here; but according to references in Paul’s letters, Luke remained in Rome with him (Philemon 24; Col. 4:14).
As you know, Paul’s usual procedure when he arrived in a new city was to go to the local synagogue and preach the gospel to the Jews. In Rome, since he was a prisoner, he could not go to them. So three says after Paul’s arrival, he invited the leaders of the Jews of the city to come to him. As you can see in verses 17-22, he explained to them why he was in Rome under arrest. He made three points that he hoped would convince them that he was a loyal Jew. First, he had done nothing against the Jews or their ancestral customs (v, 17). Second, the Romans found nothing wrong in his actions (v. 18). And third, he had to appeal to Caesar because of Jewish objections to his release, not because he had done anything wrong (v. 19).
The Jewish leaders took his explanation rather well. They had heard nothing about him from the Jews in Judea. They had received no letters about him, nor had anyone visiting from Judea said anything about him. However they were very interested in hearing more about the Christians, whom they described as a sect that is “everywhere spoken against.”
As you can see in verses 23-29, they set a date for all in the Jewish community, who wished to do so, to gather at Paul’s residence so that he could teach them about the Christians. And he did from morning until evening, though it likely was not a monologue. There probably was a great deal of discussion and debate. Paul taught them primarily about two things: the kingdom of God and Jesus. And he taught them from both Moses and the prophets. That is a Bible study I would have enjoyed hearing!
Some of Paul’s listeners were convinced by Paul’s teachings; but others, evidently a large majority, were not convinced. The result was disagreements among them. As the meeting was breaking up, Paul announced as they were leaving, quote, “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah,” and then he quoted Isaiah 6:9-10, which says, “go and tell this people, ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people calloused; make their and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.’”
Clearly the Jews of Rome, like the Jews of so many other places where Paul tried to convince them of the gospel of Jesus, rejected his message; and he used Isaiah six to summarize that rejection. You may recall that Jesus himself used Isaiah six against the unbelievers of his day (Mt. 13:14-15), as did the apostle John (Jn. 12:37-43).
The last two verses of Acts tell us that Paul lived as a prisoner in Rome at his own expense for two years while he waited for his case to come up in the imperial court. And he was able to continue his ministry. Apart from the confinement, Paul’s ministry was not hindered in any way. All of this was possible, because as a Roman citizen Paul had the privilege of renting his own house and doing whatever he wanted in it, provided he financially could afford the house, which he could.