Acts 28:17–31 . . .
“Paul Makes It Ashore then Arrives in Rome”
Mission accomplished! Acts is the story of “all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day that he was taken up to heaven” (1:1–2). The work that he began was to be completed by his disciples who were to be His “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the remotest part of the earth” (1:8). Now at the end of Acts, Luke leaves us with Apostle Paul preaching the gospel in the capital of the empire, unhindered and openly. And so, in one sense, the mission was accomplished, with the gospel going to the remotest part of the earth. Yet, in another sense, Luke leaves the story open and ongoing. Jesus’ followers have been carrying on the mission for almost 2,000 years, but it's not yet thoroughly accomplished. We know that one day, in heaven, there will be people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, whom Jesus purchased for God with his blood (Revelation 5:9).
But as yet there are still close to two billion people who haven't heard of Jesus Christ. We have the privilege and duty of joining the Lord in accomplishing his purpose of being glorified among all the nations. In that sense, Acts is still being written. Chapter 28 shows us how God accomplishes his mission in two ways: (1) In vv. 1–16, God accomplishes his Great Commission by protecting, providing for, and empowering his servants; (2) in vv. 17–31, he accomplishes his Great Commission through his servants who obediently proclaim the gospel to all people.
As always, Jesus fulfilled his promise! After a long and dangerous journey, Paul finally made it to his destination: home sweet Rome! Luke concludes his story by recapping a few of the major theological themes throughout this Acts volume: providence, fellowship, evangelism, and faithfulness. Look for each as you read the passage now, starting with v. 17.
Paul Presents the Gospel to the Jews in Rome (28:17–22)
Three days after Paul settled in his new home, he called for the leaders of the local Jewish community; many promptly answered his summons. Why they came is unclear. In his request for a meeting, he must have been able to establish that he was a person of some importance. Indeed, as a former student of Gamaliel, and a member of the Sanhedrin, he had impressive credentials. Moreover, the account suggests that these Roman Jews already knew of him as a church leader.
At this meeting, Paul explained why he'd come to Rome for trial, telling them that, as a result of events in Jerusalem, he became a prisoner of the Romans even though he hadn't committed an offense. The proof of his innocence was that the Romans were willing to release him, but, when the Jews protested, he had no recourse but to lodge an appeal with Caesar. He emphasized that he had no plan to press a complaint against his own people while in Rome. To prepare the way for the gospel, he stated that the only reason for his chains was his zealous testimony to the hope of Israel. By that hope, he meant, as on earlier occasions, the hope fulfilled when Christ came and conquered death by his resurrection (Acts 13:32–39; 23:6; 24:15; 26:6–8). His words fanned their desire to hear more. He sought an opportunity for an extended discussion, enabling him to establish by fulfilled prophecy that the conqueror of death — Jesus of Nazareth — was Messiah.
The leaders responded by saying they hadn't heard an evil report about Paul, whether through letters or visitors from Judea. Presumably, the high priest and his allies had decided not to make trouble for Paul in Rome. If they were unable to bend the local Roman governor to their will, they could hardly expect to win their case against Paul in the emperor's court, which was hardly friendly to Jewish interests. Any action against Paul was risky. If they pressed their judicial case against him or if they sent letters maligning him to the Jewish leaders in Rome, they might stir up passion and civil disorder in the Jewish community. As a result, the current emperor might expel Jews from Rome, as his predecessor had done approximately ten years earlier.
Although these leaders in Rome had heard nothing directly against Paul, they had heard much against the new "sect," as they called it. The Greek word suggests an "unseemly departure from what is generally believed." Knowing that Paul was a leader of this sect, they were interested in hearing what he'd say in its defense.
Collective Reasoning: The End of an Era (vv. 23–29)
It was at an appointed time that many of the leading Jews in Rome came to hear Paul present the gospel to them. Although he was a great preacher, the method of witnessing that he used on this occasion wasn't preaching. Rather, using teaching as his method, he systematically went through Old Testament Scriptures, showing that every prophecy was perfectly fulfilled in Jesus. From morning till evening, he patiently explained the prophecies, answering all questions. He sought to build faith by highlighting Scriptures about faith. If they'd already put their faith in God's Word, it would be a small step for them to put their faith in the One who was the theme of God's Word.
As this passage's video clip (linked below) documents, Paul's method worked for some of his hearers but not all. His testimony for Christ divided them into two groups that fell into sharp dispute with each other: One part gladly accepted Paul's message while the other hotly rejected it. In the evening, the company of Jews left without agreement. The debate continued even as they departed. His closing words addressed the unbelievers, repeating the solemn verdict brought by Isaiah the prophet against the nation of Israel (Isaiah 6:9–10); it was the same verdict that he'd already quoted in his epistle to the Romans (Romans 11:8), and that Jesus himself had quoted when rebuking the Jews for their unbelief (Matthew 13:14–15). Isaiah predicted that the nation of Israel would turn their backs upon truth. Sin would so weigh upon their hearts and dull their spiritual senses so that truth would make no impression on them. Paul warned the unbelievers that by rejecting the truth about Christ Jesus, the Messiah, they were fulfilling Isaiah's prophecy. Paul then announced that God would seek another audience for truth that, unlike the Jews, would receive it well. He'd provide salvation to all the Gentile peoples of the world.
Paul’s Stopover in Rome (vv. 30–31)
Acts comes to an end with a summary of the next two years. Throughout that time, Paul remained under guard in his lodging, a house he himself rented, where he welcomed all visitors who wanted to hear about Christ. His shackles prevented him from witnessing for Christ in Rome's streets and plazas, but city folk could go to him; presumably many did. He met and taught them freely, without any interference from government officials.
Going to Rome, capital of the civilized Gentile world, was a logical final step in the career of the "apostle to the Gentiles." The two concluding verses of Acts are therefore words of triumph, for they affirm that Paul had fulfilled his calling in life; he'd accomplished his mission. The verses are the perfect ending of a book primarily intended to lay out Paul's work in expanding gospel witnessing beyond the narrow world of the Jews, to the much larger world centered in Rome. Throughout his career, he'd always longed to complete the arduous course laid out before him (Philippians 3:13–14). After overcoming all obstacles and eventually gaining Rome, Paul could say very well in his final epistle that he'd run the race and successfully and purposefully come to the finish line.
Conclusion: The volume of Acts ends very abruptly at v. 31, although Luke doesn’t really give this second volume an ending. We're left wondering what happened to Paul. Was he executed? Released from prison? All the evidence suggests that Paul was released from prison around 62 AD. For the next four years, he continued traveling while doing missionary work, perhaps making it to Spain. He wrote 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus during those years. Around 66 AD, he was imprisoned and martyred under Caesar Nero.
Luke’s purpose in writing his Acts volume has been completed. In 1:8, Jesus told his disciples that they were to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the remotest parts of the earth. For a Jew, Rome was extremely remote. The gospel has gone from Jerusalem (the center of the world for the Jews) to Rome (the Gentiles' world center). Along the way, countless thousands had been converted; hundreds of churches had been planted; the gospel had triumphed in every venue and situation.
Acts doesn’t really have an ending because it's still being written today in real time. Remember: Luke began this volume by saying that his Gospel volume describes “all that Jesus began to do and teach,” clearly implying that his Acts volume records “all that Jesus continued to do and teach.” Guess what? Jesus has been teaching in continuum! In every age and generation, he's used his hearty servants do his works and teach his truth. And he's still writing more chapters in Acts as his church strives wholeheartedly to introduce his gospel to all the world. We thank you, Jesus, for equipping us, then directing us to witness to many, how our lives have changed now that you, Jesus, are our Lord.
Application: Each of us needs to ask: What about me? Am I as committed to the Great Commission of my Lord as I ought to be? Since God has protected and provided for me, am I relying on his power to do all that I can to see as many people reached for Christ, both locally and worldwide, as I'm able? If you answered "yes" to whether you're relying on the Lord's power to enable you to share your testimony with someone, consider how well or poorly you've done at utilizing the witnessing opportunities he's given you. If you could have done more, ask the Spirit of Jesus right now to enable you to serve him this week by sharing your personal testimony with another.
Don't take Jesus' Great Commission for granted. Heartily commit yourself to accomplish the mission the Lord has entrusted to you!
- Q. 1 Why do you suppose Paul took the initiative with Jewish leaders in Rome (vv. 17–20)?
- Q. 2 What does the ending that's shown in v. 31 reveal about Luke's central concern in writing this volume?
New International Version (NIV)
[View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to chapter 28.]
† Watch this concluding epilogue video clip of Acts 27:34–28:31, starring Bruce Marchiano as Jesus, James Brolin as Simon Peter, Harry O. Arnold as Saul/Paul, and Dean Jones as Luke.
Paul Preaches at Rome Under Guard
17Three days later he called together the local Jewish leaders. When they had assembled, Paul said to them: “My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. 18They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. 19The Jews objected, so I was compelled to make an appeal to Caesar. I certainly did not intend to bring any charge against my own people. 20For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.”
21They replied, “We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. 22But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.”
23They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus. 24Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. 25They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet:
26“‘Go to this people and say,
“You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.”
27For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’ [Isaiah 6:9–10]
28“Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!”  [Some manuscripts include here: After he said this, the Jews left, arguing vigorously among themselves.]
30For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ — with all boldness and without hindrance!