The Faithful Witness of the Apostle Paul—Conclusion

Paul’s Perilous Journey to Rome

AS WE will recall from our previous study, Paul’s final witness in Jerusalem came to an end with a very dramatic scene. The twenty-first to the twenty-sixth chapters of the Book of Acts detail his experiences in that city, concluding with his rescue once again by Roman soldiers, from violence at the hands of an angry group of Jews who took strong exception to his preaching. For his own safety he was taken to Caesarea where he remained in the custody of the Roman government for two years.

Festus was appointed the new Roman governor of conquered Israel in 60 A.D. As required by his duty as the newly appointed governor, he arranged for two hearings with reference to Paul’s case, to determine what to do with him. Festus was convinced that Paul was innocent, and should be set free. But Paul, as was his right as a Roman citizen, had previously made an appeal for an audience with Caesar in Rome. Therefore, he had to remain in custody until his case had been presented to Caesar for a decision.

During Paul’s confinement, troublesome and unsettling events continued to plague the brethren in Jerusalem. As a result, some went to minister to classes in other regions, and to continue the important work of searching for God’s people where they settled. From among a goodly group of Paul’s former traveling companions, Paul’s faithful co-worker, Luke, and one other brother named Aristarchus, remained in Judea. It was during this time that Luke obtained from the apostles and disciples there, the information necessary to write his Gospel. A number of incidents recorded by Luke were not reported in Matthew’s’, Mark’s, or John’s accounts, and are important to us, and we are appreciative for his records.

When Paul, as a prisoner, finally sailed by ship to Rome, Luke and Aristarchus accompanied him. These two brothers were a source of great comfort and help to Paul during his lengthy imprisonment, with Luke remaining right until the end. Paul mentions his beloved Luke many times in his later letters.—Col. 4:14; Phil. 1:23-25; II Tim. 4:11

So it is with the body of Christ. The members have much concern and great affection for each other. It is also noteworthy that sometimes God even directs matters so that the hearts and minds of good men of the world in positions of authority are moved by the fine qualities they see in the Christian’s life, and look favorably upon them. And this was true in Paul’s case. The centurion in command of delivering the prisoners to Rome permitted Paul and his friends to visit the brethren in Sidon when the ship docked there. His name was Julius, and he “courteously entreated Paul, and gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh himself.”—Acts 27:3

How refreshing it must have been for Paul to have fellowship with the brethren in Sidon, and what a blessed surprise for those dear brethren to see Paul again! This was his first congregational meeting in more than two years! Joy and love must have flowed freely on this occasion, and it no doubt reminded Paul of similar gatherings he had enjoyed during his many pilgrimages. But the time came when the ship was ready to set sail again, and they had to part.

The account in Acts tells us that the ship plied a course close to the mainland of Asia Minor due to contrary winds. It was getting dangerously late in the season to be traveling by ship. Progress was slow and difficult. But finally they reached a port in Lycia where they changed for another vessel which was bound for Italy. Winds continued to be unfavorable, and their progress was still very slow. Since the originally planned course could not be followed due to the bad weather, when they reached the island of Crete, refuge was taken in a harbor called Fair Havens.

There they remained longer than had been hoped would be necessary, waiting for the storms to cease. Soon it became apparent that if they did not set sail immediately they would have to spend the entire winter in that city. So the ship’s owner decided to sail to the southern part of the island, as he preferred to winter there. Despite Paul’s warning that venturing out was too dangerous to the ship, its cargo, and its passengers, one morning when the south wind was blowing, they readied the vessel and left.

In a very short time they knew that this was a mistake. A “northeaster” arose, with a tempestuous wind, and the ship, tossed by the storm, was driven far off course. The crew worked hard and tirelessly, to keep the ship from being driven against rocks or a sandbar. This was no ordinary storm—it raged for fourteen days!

On the second day they lightened the ship by tossing cargo overboard; and on the third day they threw out all the furniture. No one could eat because the pitching of the ship on the wild waves was so intense, and fear continually grew in the hearts of the passengers and the crew. “But after long abstinence, Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss. And now I exhort you to be of good cheer for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, fear not, Paul: thou must be brought before Caesar; and, lo, God bath given thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me. Howbeit, we must be cast upon a certain island.”—Acts 27:21-26

At last, on the fourteenth day, they came close to land. After sounding to determine the water’s depth and finding it to be extremely shallow, the crew threw out four anchors. It was nighttime when the crew planned to desert the ship, using the only small lifeboat on board. But before they could lower it over the side, Paul advised Julius, the centurion, to caution them that unless they stayed aboard all would drown. The crew was not convinced to heed that warning, so the soldiers cut the ropes of the small boat before any could climb aboard, and it drifted away.

As daylight approached, Paul assembled the two hundred and seventy-six people on board, and said to them: “This is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried, and continued fasting, having taken nothing. Wherefore I pray you take some meat; for this is for your health; for there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you. And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat. Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took some meat.”—Acts 27:33-36

After everyone had finished eating, they lightened the ship still further by tossing sacks of wheat overboard. Finally, when it was full daylight, land could be seen, but the captain was unable to recognize where they were stranded. A nearby bay seemed as though it offered them some safety, and so the crew decided to steer the ship into the cove. They cut off the anchors and sailed toward the bay. The harbor had almost been reached when strong, contrary currents caused the ship to run aground. All at once, the bow became stuck in the rocks, and the violence of the sea broke up the stern of the ship. Although they did not make safe harbor, they were close enough so that everyone could reach the shore unharmed.

Julius ordered all who could swim to go first, and those who could not, to cling to pieces of the ship’s wreckage, and eventually be taken by the waves onto the shore. Generally, it was the practice of Roman soldiers to kill their prisoners before they could escape in situations of this kind. They were responsible for their prisoners, and if one should escape they were accountable with their own lives. But the centurion was impressed with Paul. Paul had warned them not to sail, in the first place. It was he who had told them that an angel of the Loren had given the assurance that none would perish; and it was Paul, too, who had warned the centurion that the ship’s crew were planning to desert the ship. Julius was confident that none of his prisoners would escape.

Shipwreck was not a new experience to Paul. In II Corinthians 11:25, Paul tells of being shipwrecked three times, and on one occasion, of being adrift in the sea a night and a day! Travel by ship was very hazardous, as well as arduous, in those ancient times.

However, their adventures were not at an end even though they had survived the storm, the shipwreck, and the swim to shore. The natives of the island of Melilla, or Malta, as it is named today, proved to be kind and helpful to these cold, wet survivors, and built a large fire to warm and dry them. Paul, helping to find fuel for the fire, was gathering up sticks when suddenly he was bitten by a viper!

The inhabitants of that island, being very superstitious, began supposing that Paul had been a murderer, and that although he escaped the sea, justice was claiming his life and he would die from the deadly bite of the poisonous serpent. But Paul did not fall down dead, and soon they changed their theories, deciding that he was a god! It seemed so to them, when in reality God was using his power on Paul’s behalf to assist him in his witness to the people.

God’s power continued to be miraculously employed on Paul’s behalf. Paul and his friends were entertained by Publius, the governor of the island, whose father was very ill. When Paul healed that man, word of the miracle spread throughout the entire island! Their stay on Melita lasted three months, and during this time many people suffering from diseases were brought to Paul, and were cured.

We do not learn from the record whether or not any of these people were converted to Christ and became disciples, but we do know that when the time came for Paul to again set sail, they honored him, and presented him with many gifts. And they supplied many provisions for their continued journey. Perhaps the Lord did have some people there whom Paul reached, and that was the reason for the circumstances which so drastically altered the course of the ship. In any case, a witness was given by Paul and his companions, so that if there were any hearing ears, they would have an opportunity to understand the calling of God to them.

Finally the weather became favorable for a continuation of their journey. The centurion arranged for another ship—all were put aboard—and they set sail for Italy. A few days later they arrived at a port on the north shore of the Bay of Naples. Nearby, in a town called Puteolli, there were brethren. Paul, Luke, and Aristarchus searched them out and enjoyed a week of fellowship with them, before having to continue on to Rome.

How had the Gospel message previously reached these people in Puteolli, Italy? We do not find any scriptural information to answer this question. Tradition holds that Cornelius carried the Gospel to Rome and other parts of Italy when he and his family returned to that country, and that through his faithful witness several congregations of Christians became established. In any case, we are aware that there were organized groups of brethren, composed of both Jews and Gentiles, to whom Paul had earlier written what we call his Epistle to the Romans. Now he was meeting them for the first time!

Rome was still one hundred and ten miles away! This overland excursion was the final leg of a long and weary journey. Paul apparently was apprehensive and in low spirits as they left Puteolli, but before too long he found encouragement! A group of brethren who lived in Rome heard that Paul was on the way there, and they traveled fifty-eight miles to meet him at the Appian Forum! We can well imagine the effect this had upon Paul! Luke says that he thanked God, and took courage. These dear ones manifested great love for Paul, which helped to prepare him for whatever lay ahead in Rome.

At last the journey was completed—they had reached the city of Rome. Julius turned his prisoners over to the authorities, with the exception of Paul. The Lord provided a special arrangement for him, so that he was able to live in a private house with only a single Roman soldier to guard him. Since this house was paid for with Paul’s own money, supplemented by contributions of the brethren, Paul was able to receive visitors.

Just three days after arriving in Rome, Paul contacted the chief men of the Jews. He wanted them to know what had brought him to Rome, and to declare his innocence of the accusations which had caused him to become a prisoner. These men had no knowledge of Paul, either from letters or visitors. However, they were aware of the Christian sect, and of the extensive opposition to it. Now that Paul was among them, they were eager to hear more about it.

When Paul selected a day suitable for all, many came. He preached to them from morning until evening, telling about the kingdom of God, and how in various ways the Law of Moses pointed to Jesus. Some were convinced, but others did not believe. To the unbelievers, Paul quoted Isaiah’s words, “Go, and tell this people, hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.” (Isa. 6:9,10) Paul told this august assemblage, “Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it!”—Acts 28:28

Luke concludes his record of the Acts of the Apostles by saying, “And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those tidings which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.”—Acts 28:30,31

Nowhere in the Scriptures do we find anything more said about Paul’s later experiences. However, it is believed that Paul was brought before Nero, tried, and condemned to death. Paul had been privileged to witness before great crowds of people, and he had private audiences with some of the most prominent men and women of his day, yet only a few responded in any measure. His most rewarding work was in establishing the young churches. However there were a few distinguished people among his converts: Claudia was of British royalty, and she was married to Pudens, a young senator of Rome, and both became faithful Christians. (II Tim. 4:21) But the Gospel, then, as now, appeals more generally to the poor of this world, rich in faith.

Tradition is inconsistent in detailing later events in Paul’s life. Various sources give accounts of further activities by the apostle, indicating that he was released from his confinement in Rome. Some of these are Clement, the third bishop of Rome, and L.A. Muratori, Catholic priest and historian, who lived from 1672 to 1750. They speak of further missionary work done by Paul during later visits to the churches. But none of these writings have Scriptural backing.

On the contrary, Paul’s words lead us no farther than Rome: “Paul purposed in the spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” (Acts 19:21) While en route to Jerusalem he told the elders of Ephesus, “Now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there. Save that the Holy Spirit witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.”—Acts 20:22,23

It was also evident that the Holy Spirit had indicated that “they would see his face no more.” (vs. 38) Again, the Lord appeared to Paul in a vision, saying, “Be of good cheer, Paul, for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.” And finally, we recall the apostle’s words to his shipmates during the storm at sea: “There stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar.”

So we must be content with the knowledge that God did, indeed, bring Paul safely to Rome where, even though he was a prisoner, he was able to strengthen the brethren living there, and to find new Christians.

It is generally conceded by Bible scholars that the last letter written by Paul was the second epistle to Timothy. His letters to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, Hebrews, I and II Timothy, and Titus, are believed to have been written front 61 A.D. to 65 A.D., also from Rome. We conclude that once Paul arrived in that city, he remained a prisoner there until his death. His words to Timothy are plain: “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.”—II Tim. 4:16

Paul’s final words to Timothy are truly inspiring and strengthening to our faith: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”—II Tim. 4:7,8

Dawn Bible Students Association
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