You will remember, from our readings in week 27, that Paul has returned to Jerusalem after travelling throughout Asia Minor and Greece preaching to the Gentile nations. In Jerusalem he reports on the positive outcomes of his preaching to the Gentiles (Acts 21). However, the Jewish leaders think that he has been telling the Jews on his travels to forsake the Law of Moses, and as a result they cause an uproar. Paul is rescued by the Chief Captain, who then arrests him, thinking him to be an Egyptian rebel. Paul asks permission to address the crowd, and the final verse of the chapter sees Paul speaking to the crowd in their own Hebrew language. This is where we pick up the narrative in chapter 22.
Sunday – Acts 22
Paul’s opening words to the crowd set out his credentials as a Jew, taught by one of the leading religious teachers of his day, and previously very zealous in his persecution of the early church. He then relates the events that we have already read in chapters 8 & 9, how he saw the Lord Jesus Christ and in consequence was baptised and became a believer himself.
Paul recalls how he saw the Lord again in a vision when he was in the temple in Jerusalem. He confessed to the Lord that he was present at the stoning of Stephen, and was then given his commission to go and preach to the Gentiles. It is at this point, in verses 21 and 22, that the crowd reacts and calls for Paul’s death. Such was the strength of feeling between the majority of the Jews and the Gentiles at the time. The Jews clearly believed that Paul should not preach to the Gentiles.
In verse 24, again the chief captain has to calm the situation by bringing Paul into the castle and instructs that he be scourged. Paul uses his Roman citizenship to avoid this, following which he is delivered to the chief priest. Paul is not afraid to speak out for what he believes, a lesson we can ourselves take to heart. Having realised his earlier mistakes when he denied the gospel, he is prepared to stand up confidently for what he now knows to be true, even though he knows it will lead to his own suffering (see chapter 21:13).
Monday – Acts 23
Paul is now on trial before the chief priest and makes another speech in defence of his preaching. He sets the council against itself by proclaiming that he is a Pharisee and as such believes in the resurrection. This provokes the Sadducees into debate, as, unlike the Pharisees, they did not believe in resurrection (see also Matthew 22:29). The debate was clearly heated as Paul had to be separated from them by the chief captain once again, verse 10.
In verse 11, the Lord appears to Paul during the night to tell him that he will witness in Rome. The Jews conspire to kill Paul, but his sister hears of it and tells the chief captain to avoid the plot. As a result Paul is sent to Felix, the governor, in Caesarea. The covering letter explains that Paul has done nothing worthy of imprisonment or death, but rather there are questions relating to the Jewish law. In this we learn therefore of God’s care for Paul: God did not deliver him from the difficult situations he had to face, as these were part of God’s purpose for him, but he was saved from immediate death.
As Paul was passed from one body to another, we can be sure that Paul would have used the opportunities given him to preach the same message that he had been speaking to the Gentiles (chapter 9:15; 26:2, 28, 1 Peter 3:15). He believed in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for our sins and was raised from the dead as he was sinless. Paul had the strength to endure all of the things he suffered because of his faith in the promise of Christ’s return to the Earth to raise the dead and set up God’s kingdom (2 Timothy 4:1,2), as we have seen promised throughout scripture (see for example the promises to Abraham and David in weeks 4, 6 and 30). This message remains for us today.
Tuesday – Acts 24
In this chapter we have a courtroom drama. The high priest and the Jews have come from Jerusalem, and are represented by Tertulus, a great orator, acting as prosecutor before Felix the governor and judge. Paul, on the other hand, is defending himself (see Luke 21:12-15). Have you noticed as we have read through Acts the number of times that Paul is persecuted? The life as a disciple of Jesus is certainly not an easy one. Although we may not be in the same circumstances as Paul, neither are we assured of an easy life at this time. Jesus himself told us so in his ministry (John 15:20, see also 2 Tim.3:12).
Paul states that he has done nothing worthy of punishment; his only ‘crime’ is his belief in the future promises of God, in particular the resurrection of the dead. This is the tenet of Paul’s argument to Felix. In verse14 he confirms that the things he believes are the same things that are written in the Old Testament, a good reason for us to keep reading both the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament hope is of a future resurrection of the dead (verse 15), and yet Paul’s belief in resurrection is the reason he is on trial (verse 21). We need to make sure this is our hope too.
Felix adjourns the hearing in verse 22. In verse 24 Felix sends for Paul to hear the gospel message in more detail, which message causes him to tremble, perhaps in particular at the thought of future judgement – there is a higher judge than Felix. However the politician in him comes out and he unsuccessfully waits for a bribe whilst also seeking to please the Jews. As a result Paul spends a further 2 years under house arrest.
Wednesday – Acts 25
After two years Festus comes to Jerusalem and the high priest and other Jews, who have still not forgotten Paul, demand that Paul is brought to Jerusalem. Just as we saw in chapter 23, they intend to kill him on his way. However Festus tells them he will visit Paul at Caesarea, and their plan is again thwarted. The Jews follow him there and accuse Paul of many (unnamed) things which they could not prove. Festus, trying to please the Jews, asks Paul if he will be judged at Jerusalem. Paul stands his ground saying he has done nothing wrong. He, as was his right as a Roman citizen, appeals to Caesar. Festus, happy no doubt to pass the problem on, tells Paul that he will therefore go to Caesar.
Later, Festus is visited by Agrippa and Festus tells him about Paul, wanting advice about what he should say in his letter of accusation to Caesar – he is scared of losing face if he sends a prisoner to Caesar without any indication of a crime. Interestingly Festus tells Agrippa in verse 25 that he finds nothing worthy of death in Paul – echoes of Pilate to the Jews regarding Jesus.
Thursday – Acts 26
Here we find Paul in front of Agrippa. Paul begins by saying he is happy to be examined by Agrippa because Agrippa is an expert in the customs and questions of the Jews. He then outlines, as we have read in earlier chapters, the things that have happened to him. We note again the mention of the promise of resurrection in verses 6 to 8. Paul also admits his persecution of the early church before his conversion, v11. This then is a realistic summary of his actions, both the good and the earlier bad.
At verse 24, Festus interrupts him saying he is mad. Paul’s response is to involve Agrippa, knowing that Agrippa himself believes the prophets. Agrippa has to admit that Paul nearly persuades him to believe, at which Paul says he wants everyone present to believe as Paul believes.
As they leave, Agrippa tells Festus that Paul had done nothing worthy of death or even of being imprisoned. They were thus in agreement about Paul. However they were still sending him to Caesar.
Friday – Acts 27
Here we read of Paul’s journey to Rome, including specific details about the route and the circumstances of those who accompanied him. In verse10 they are in a port that is not good enough to winter in therefore, against Paul’s advice, they sail on. Sailing around Crete they enter a storm that lasts a number of days, verses19 and 20. Amongst this Paul exhorts them that they will survive the storm, but be cast upon an island, v 26.
By v27 it was the fourteenth night of the storm, but the sailors calculated that they were close to land therefore they dropped anchor. Then against the expectations of the sailors Paul tells them that they have to stay aboard the ship to survive – verse 31. The centurion acts on Paul’s instruction. Such a soldier would not normally be acting on the sayings of his prisoners!
Having kept them all aboard, Paul tells them to eat and we read there were 276 people on board the ship. When daylight was come they could see the land but did not recognise it. However they ran the ship aground at an appropriate place and as Paul has prophesied (through God’s message to him) all make land safely.
Saturday – Acts 28
The ship-wrecked company find that they are at Melita, and the local inhabitants look after them. Paul is bitten by a viper, but through God’s care is able to shake it off (see Mark 16:18). The islanders thought he should have died and that this was his justice as a murderer, but they changed their mind when he didn’t die and said instead that he was a god – we remember back to chapter 14 where the Lycaonians had though Paul and Barnabas to be Greek gods. As at Lycaonia, Paul also shows God’s power by healing someone, this time the father of Publius.
When in verse 16 they finally arrive in Rome, Paul’s first action is to call the chief of the Jews and he explains to him the reasons behind his accusations. This individual and his group are more open minded as they want to hear him direct and make their own minds up on the matter. In verse 23 they meet at an agreed day and Paul preaches the kingdom of God to them.
The final verses of Acts tell us that Paul was in Rome for two years. We do not know for certain if he ever was brought before Caesar, although this is suggested by 2 Tim. 4:17, but we can be sure that he would have continued to preach the things of God even to him. The last few chapters of Acts have been dominated by the things that came upon Paul as a result of his hope in the resurrection. It is perhaps fitting, therefore, that we do not have any record of his death – we can however be certain that he now waits in faith for the resurrection at the return of Christ (2 Tim. 4:8, 1Corinthians 15).
The final verse of the book sums up the message throughout the book, whether from Peter, Stephen or Paul, they were all
‘Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence…’
Our purpose in this Reading Challenge is to encourage you to find out this message concerning the kingdom of God for yourself. God’s promise of his coming Kingdom, and the resurrection of the dead, remains the same promise for us today.