This is the final chapter of the book of Acts, but not of the acts of God, which go on to this day. Paul gets bitten by a poisonous snake, shakes it off, is unharmed, and then God works healing through his hands. They finally reach Rome, where Paul is at liberty to preach the kingdom of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
As I write in every introduction:
The translation and commentary are mine, just so I can learn. I also offer quick word studies. If you would like to see the verses in many translations, please go to biblegateway.com. And if you would like to study Greek with a short lexicon, go to biblehub.com, and click on the interlinear tab.
At the end of each section and this post, I offer observations for discipleship. How can we apply these truths to our lives?
Links are provided for further study.
Paul Is Bitten by a Viper and Survives (Acts 28:1-6)
1 After we made it safely through, we found out that the island was called Malta. 2 The natives provided no ordinary kindness to us: They lit a bonfire and welcomed every one of us because the rain was falling and the cold. 3 After Paul gathering a bundle of brushwood, and while he placed it on the fire, a viper was driven out from the heat and fastened on his hand. 4 When the natives saw the creature dangling from his hand, they said to each other, “Clearly this man is a murderer! Though he was saved from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live!” 5 But he shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 They were expecting him to swell up shortly or suddenly to fall over dead. They were waiting a long time and observed nothing unusual happen to him. They changed their minds and began to say he was a god.
“made it safely through”: this comes from the one verb diasōzō, and it literally means “save through,” which in this case was the storm in the previous chapter. See 27:43-44 for the other uses of the verb. Its related to the verb sōzō is standard for “save,” as in people being saved through Christ. The verb and noun are very versatile.
Since the theology of salvation (soteriology) is so critical for our lives, let’s look more closely at the noun salvation, which is sōtēria (pronounced soh-tay-ree-ah and used 46 times) and at the verb sōzō (pronounced soh-zoh and used 106 times).
Greek is the language of the NT. BDAG, which is the authoritative lexicon of the NT, defines the noun sōtēria as follows, depending on the context: (1) “deliverance, preservation” … (2) “salvation.”
The verb sōzō means “save, rescue, heal” in a variety of contexts, but mostly it is used of saving the soul. BDAG says that the verb means, depending on the context: (1) “to preserve or rescue from natural dangers and afflictions, save, keep from harm, preserve,” and the sub-definitions under no. 1 are as follows: save from death; bring out safely; save from disease; keep, preserve in good condition; thrive, prosper, get on well; (2) “to save or preserve from transcendent danger or destruction, save or preserve from ‘eternal’ death … “bring Messianic salvation, bring to salvation,” and in passive mood it means “be saved, attain salvation”; (3) some passages in the NT say we fit under the first and second definition at the same time (Mark 8:5; Luke 9:24; Rom. 9:27; 1 Cor. 3:15).
Another rarer verb is diasōzō (pronounced dee-ah-soh-zoh and used 8 times), and the prefix means “through.” Here are the occurrences: Mark 14:36; Luke 7:3; Acts 23:24; 27:43-44; 28:1, 4; 2; 1 Pet. 3:20. It means what the regular verb does, but often to be rescued through and up to the very end, like Paul’s ship landing on Malta after going through the storm.
As noted throughout this commentary on Luke-Acts, the noun salvation and the verb save go a lot farther than just preparing the soul to go on to heaven. Together, they have additional benefits: keeping and preserving and rescuing from harm and dangers; saving or freeing from diseases and demonic oppression; and saving or rescuing from sin dominating us; ushering into heaven and rescuing us from final judgment. What is our response to the gift of salvation? You are grateful and then you are moved to act. When you help or rescue one man from homelessness or an orphan from his oppression, you have moved one giant step towards salvation of his soul. Sometimes feeding a hungry man and giving clothes to the naked or taking him to a medical clinic come before saving his soul.
All of it is a package called salvation and being saved.
Acts is about salvation of entire households and meeting in those saved households (2:2, 46; 5:42; 8:3, but be careful of persecution in 8:3! 10:2; 11:14; 16:15, 31, 34; 20:20; 21:8).
“found out”: it is the verb epiginōskō (pronounced eh-pea-gee-noh-skoh, and the “g” is hard as in “get,” and it is used 44 times in the NT). In any case here are the basic meanings, depending on the context: (1) “know exactly, completely”; “know again, recognize”; “acknowledge’; (2) “know, learn, find out, ascertain; notice; perceive, learn of; understand, know, learn to know.” The second definition is best.
“natives”: I translated the noun barbaroi (pronounced bahr-bahr-oi, masculine plural) as natives. This word comes from the belief that anyone who did not speak Greek was speaking gibberish, as in bar-bar-bar. Our version of the word barbarians or foreigner would literally be blah-blah-bians. On Malta back then, they spoke a Phoenician dialect.
“no ordinary”: the phrasing is known as a litotes (pronounced lih-toh-tees), or an understatement that expresses the affirmative by a negative! Luke likes litotes: Acts 12:18; 14:17, 28; 15:2; 17:4, 12, 27; 19:11, 23; 20:12; 21:39; 26:19; 27:20; 28:2. Most translations just drop the litotes and have “extraordinary” or “unusual.”
“kindness”: it is where we get our word philanthropy (see Acts 27:3). It means the love for humanity. Apparently the Maltese were friendly—and a good thing, too, for the shipwrecked people.
Paul was gathering brushwood (or sticks). This shows he was not afraid to do menial labor. Good lesson for all of us.
Various people have identified the viper, but nowadays there are no poisonous snakes on Malta, much like there are no more snakes in Ireland (or so I am told). Peterson notes that vipers tend to bite and release, rather than fasten on and not letting go. It must be a snake that resembles a viper and Luke is using the term loosely (comment on v. 3).
“natives”: see v. 2 for a closer look.
“creature”: it comes from the noun thērion (pronounced thay-ree-own) and usually means “wild beast.” I almost translated it like that, but I thought of the wild beasts that attacked Christians in the Roman coliseum in the subsequent centuries. There is a difference between the contexts. In any case, in modern Greek it is a common word for snake.
“saved from”: this again comes from the one verb is diasōzō, and see v. 1 for a closer look. They were saying Paul was saved through the storm or rescued through the storm.
Justice is personified as a goddess. It is best to drop lightminded theology that says whenever bad things happen to you, God did that. Luke explains why the snake crawled out of the brush—the heat. God did not cause the snake to bite Paul, for it was following its “snaky” nature.” God gave us enough sense to know what to do about it.
However, even though medical knowledge was strong back then, it was not as strong as ours is today. It is clear that Paul was sustained and inoculated by God and experienced a miracle. In Luke 10:19, Jesus told his missionary disciples that he gave them authority to trample on snakes, which in that context meant demons. And the longer ending in Mark’s Gospel (16:18) says disciples can pick up snakes, which won’t hurt them. The main point is that the early church had the belief that God can work miracles, and Acts is filled with them and assumes them. What about churches today?
“But”: it should be translated “and so,” for shaking it off was the logical thing to do.
“creature”: it is the same word as that in v. 4.
“shook … off”: it comes from the Greek verb apotinassō (pronounced ah-poh-tee-nahs-soh), which combines apo– (off or away or from) and tinassō (shake or brandish, as in a sword). It is used only here and in Luke 9:5 in the NT.
Normally, I don’t like to symbolize or spiritualize real things in a nonpoetic, nonsymbolic section of Scripture, but I’ll go it for this time, as I did for the storm in Acts 27 (the storms of life). When you are under attack from a snake of a spiritual kind (a spirit being called Satan or a demon), just shake it off. You can do that through Scripture in Jesus’s name. He quoted from Deuteronomy in this temptation struggle against Satan (Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13; cf. Mark 1:12-13). If he quoted from Scripture, then so should we. He showed us the way. Why do we over-intellectualize things? Let’s follow him, instead. You can quote Eph. 6:16, which says to put up the shield of faith that quenches the fiery arrows of the enemy. You don’t need to spend half your mental life each day rebuking Satan. Just get the Word in you. Just pray, “Lord, according to Eph. 6:16, I raise up a shield of faith over my mind to quench the fiery darts of the enemy.” I do that almost every day. And it works. The attacks are less frequent and very minimal—no longer powerful at all now!
“waiting … observing”: “waiting” is the same verb translated as “expecting” in the same verse. It is definitely a mental activity. The whole point is that they were waiting and watching him, expecting him to swell up or drop over dead. But nothing out of place or unusual (atopos in Greek) happened to him.
“changed their minds”: this phrase comes from the one verb metaballō (pronounced meh-tah-bahl-loh), and the word mind is implied. (We get our word metabolism from it.) The prefix meta– implies a movement from one state or condition to another one, like expecting one thing, but getting another thing, so you adjust your belief. Here, they switched rapidly, from falsely concluding that Paul was a murderer to a false conclusion that he was a god. Our beliefs can get wacky because our minds can get confused. We have to work extra-hard to ensure that our beliefs stay on the right path, and the best way to do that is to get into Scripture, daily. It can build and renew our minds (Rom. 12:2).
“began to say”: it is in the imperfect tense, and so it could be translated “they were saying,” because the imperfect tense means incomplete or unperfected action—they were saying it for a while. I wonder what they did to honor him as a god. Earlier in Paul’s ministry, the Lycaonian priest wanted to sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas, but then soon afterwards the people intended to kill them (Acts 14:11-19). So the Lycaonians went in the reverse direction from these islanders. Apparently nothing like that happened here, perhaps because Paul did not correct them: “No, Maltese people, no! I am not a god!” He did this in Lycaonia, which resulted in their belief being shattered. Then they overreacted and tried to kill Paul and Barnabas.
As for Paul’s remarkable and miraculous resistance to the poison, let’s remember that he prayed in the Spirit often—his prayer language, formerly and archaically called “tongues” (1 Cor. 14:18). We should have no doubt that he was exercising this gift a lot, especially right after the snake bite. No, he was not shouting in his prayer language, just as someone without this gift would not shout his prayers in his known, native language. He was praying under his breath—or so I like to believe. Luke assumes that we would read his charismatic Acts from this perspective.
Let’s explore his assumption more deeply.
In Acts, Luke omits some of these details, but that is how all four Gospels and Acts are presented to us: elliptical. But the entire context of Acts is Spirit-empowered and Spirit-filled and very charismatic. Luke expects us to fill in the ellipses with the power of the Spirit and manifested gifts, like prayer languages. After all, Paul had his prayer language, probably when Ananias prayed for him, but Luke did not announce it.
It is like the anointing of Jesus at his water baptism with the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove (Luke 3:31-22; 4:18-19). From then on, Jesus worked miracles of nature and healing and demonic expulsion in the third Gospel, and Luke does not have to announce it every time Jesus did those things: “Remember when I wrote that Jesus was anointed with the Spirit? He worked that miracle based on those verses!” Rather, Luke expects us to fill in those omissions with the power of the Spirit. Likewise, in the many cases of Christian witness from town to town in Acts, Luke expects us to fill in the omissions with the same empowerment because of Acts 2:1-4. And so Luke-Acts is all very charismatic, which is normative for the church throughout its history. Spirit-filled empowerment and anointing continues.
It is similar to his omitting water baptism in key places. Often he does say that new converts got baptized: Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12-13, 35-38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:14-15, 31-33; 18:8; 19:5), Yet in other cases water baptism is not brought up for new converts: Acts 9:42; 11:21; 13:12, 48; 14:1; 17:12, 34). Believe it or not, during Paul’s and Barnabas’s first missionary journey, Luke does not record even one water baptism, yet we can be sure they took place because this was standard practice. Luke expects us to fill in these omissions. This is why I have nicknamed him “the Omitter” or “the Condenser.”
This filling of the omissions is especially true for the next section, as follows. But first the discipleship questions.
GrowApp for Acts 28:1-6
A.. As soon as Paul was safely ashore, he was compelled to do menial work. A snake bit him. But God saved him again. How has Satan counterattacked you after you were saved through your own storm? How did God protect you?
Healings (Acts 28:7-10)
7 In those regions around that vicinity, there was an estate belonging to the first man of island, named Publius. He received us three days and hosted us very friendly. 8 It happened that Publius’s father was lying with bouts of a fever and dysentery. Paul came to them and prayed and laid his hands on him and healed him. 9 When this happened, the rest of people on the island having sicknesses also began to come and were healed. 10 They honored us with many honors. And when we were getting ready to sail, they loaded supplies for our needs.
“first man”: it comes from the Greek adjective prōtos (pronounced proh-toss), and it means “first.” Greek inscriptions and literary references prove a “leading man” had lots of local power and showed it off by acts of generosity with his own money. He got their money from his landed estates. No doubt he occupied some political offices or wielded political power in some way, just like all the other leading men and women in the Greek East (Acts 13:50).
Please see my 2004 article Lifestyles of the Rich and Christian:
“friendly”: yes, the English word functions as both adjective and adverb, so it is in the right form. It comes from the adverb philophrōnōs (pronounced fee-loh-froh-nohss), and it combines phil– (friend, love, like) and phrōn– (mind or thinking), so it means “kindly minded” and “friendly.” They had a good attitude.
“fever”: Dr. Luke uses a technical term. See Luke 4:38 about the technical term for a fever attacking Peter’s mother-in-law, and Mark 1:30, which uses less technical language (// Matt. 8:14).
“prayed”: It is the very common verb proseuchomai (pronounced pros-yew-khoh-my), and it appears 85 times. The noun form, proseuchē (pronounced pros-yew-khay), is used 36 times., so they are the most common words for pray or prayer in the NT. They are combined with the preposition pros, which means, among other things, “towards,” and euchē, which means a prayer, vow and even a mere wish. But Christians took over the word and directed it towards the living God. I like to believe that Paul leaned in toward him and prayed, fully expecting an answer. It is not a mere wish or heartfelt payer to a pagan deity.
Prayer flows out of confidence before God that he will answer because we no longer have an uncondemned heart (1 John 3:19-24; Rom. 8:1); and we know him so intimately that we find out from him what is his will is and then we pray according to it (1 John 5:14-15); we pray with our Spirit-inspired languages and our native languages (1 Cor. 14:15-16). But that’s what all believers should do; however, too often theory outruns practice. Pray!
Here in this section, Paul knew what the will of God was—health.
“laid hands on”: Renewalists believe that the power of God can flow through hands. Yes, the laying on of hands is a way to empathize with the sick, but God still uses obedient vessels through which to channel his power (Mark 5:30).
“were healed”: the verb is therapeuō (pronounced thair-ah-pew-oh, our word therapy is related to it), and it means to “make whole, restore, heal, cure, care for.” It is in the passive mood, and it means that these healings were supernatural; they were not self-healings (though God has designed the body to heal itself, if we take care of it).
Once again, let’s note that Paul prayed in the Spirit often—his prayer language (1 Cor. 14:18). We should have no doubt he was exercising this gift a lot, especially during his ministry time healing the sick. But he was not shouting it, any more than you would in your first and native language. He may have been praying under his breath, as you do. Luke assumes that we would read his charismatic Acts from this perspective.
Further, though the verse does not say “signs and wonders,” this is what is meant here. Signs and wonders happening right before one’s eyes is awe-inspiring. It inspired everyone, to the point of bringing their diseased and sick friends and family members. Renewalists believe healings still happen today. See v. 6 for a discussion of the charismatic book of Acts and how Luke expects his readers to assume it.
For a nearly complete list of miracles, signs and wonders in the New Testament and a theology of them, see the post
GrowApp for Acts 28:7-10
A.. Signs and wonders confirm that God is real and the gospel is true. What miracle have you experienced to know deeply that he is real in your life.
Rome at Last! (Acts 28:11-16)
11 Ad so after three months, we set sail on an Alexandrian ship that had wintered on the island, with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux. 12 And we sailed into Syracuse and stayed three days. 13 From there we circled around and landed at Rhegium. And after one day a south wind came up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli. 14 There we found brothers and sisters and we were encouraged to stay with them seven days. And in this way we came to Rome. 15 From there the brothers heard the news about us and came to meet us as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.
16 When we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself with a soldier guarding him.
They are reaching their goal, step by step, stage by stage. This is how God usually works. He gives you a vision for your life, and then it is fulfilled in stages, not all at once. Be patient! God is not finished with you yet. He’ll get you there. It is amazing that Luke acknowledges these popular gods, but he did not honor them. He simply says their names. For him, Christ was Lord.
You can look up those towns on an online Bible map.
“brothers and sisters”: The Greek just says “brothers,” but the noun can contain sisters too, just as our word mankind includes women.
“And so we came to Rome”: that is a masterful understatement. The last half of Acts (and more), particularly after the Jerusalem Council, has been about Paul. In Acts 27, they just survived a huge storm, and they now have accomplished their goal. It must have been a relief for Paul, Luke and Aristarchus, his two traveling companions. It was in the large vicinity of Rome, as we learn in the next verse.
These locations are a long way out of Rome: Forum of Appius (43 miles, 70 km) and Three Taverns (35 miles 57 km). Apparently some believers walked the longer distance, while others left at a later time. Those brothers and sisters took a risk to go out and meet him. Some of them may have met Paul on their travels around the provinces (e.g. Corinth) (Rom. 16), but others were meeting him for the first time.
“brothers and sisters”: the Greek has only brothers, but the term is big enough to include women, much like our word mankind does. However, I took a risk including women here, because it is easy to imagine that they would wait for Paul to show up at Rome proper.
“Three Taverns”: the NASB has Three Inns.
Paul thanking God and taking courage means that he was thrilled to see the Christians of the leading city in their known world. He had already written an epistle to them (Romans) and commended believers to them, like Phoebe, and greeted others (Rom. 16).
I like Bruce’s writing, and here is his description of Paul meeting the Roman Christians:
Paul might well thank God and take fresh courage at the sight of these friends. He had long had a desire to visit Rome; it was three years since he had sent his letter to the Christians there to prepare them for his projected visit. Now his prayer was granted, and in circumstances which he had not foreseen when he dictated his letter, he saw Roman Christians face to face. He probably wondered from time to time what kind of reception he would have from them. Now any misgivings he might have had were removed by the heart-warming action of those members of the Roman church who tramped out so far to bid him welcome to their midst. (comment on v. 15)
The transfer was complete. God’s favor was on him, for Paul did not have to languish in a prison. Bruce says that he would have been chained lightly to a soldier who was stationed nearby at the barracks. One soldier would guard him for four hours and change off with another one. He became a “talking point” among the praetorian guard (Phil. 1:13).
Remember what Jesus himself told him: “Take courage, for as you testified to the things about me in Jerusalem, in the same way you must testify also in Rome” (Acts 23:11).
23 For last night an angel of God, whose I am and whom I worship, stood before me 24 and said, ‘Do not fear, Paul! You must stand before Caesar. And see! God has graciously granted you everyone sailing with you.’ 25 Therefore, be courageous, men! For I believe God—that it shall happen in the way that was spoken to me! (Acts 24:23-24)
The book of Acts does not end with Paul standing before Caesar, but the apostle is in Rome. We may assume that he stood before the man himself. About two hundred years later, church historian Eusebius reports that Paul defended himself successfully before Nero, who was not insane at that time (Ecclesiastical History 2.22).
Also, Nero’s wife Empress Poppaea was favorably disposed towards Jews since she was reported to worship the true God of the Jews, and she may have believed that Paul was part of Judaism, as he certainly testified in Acts 26 in his speech. She may have helped in his release, since we learned in Acts 26:31-32 that there was no case against him according to Roman law. He then went to Spain (see Rom. 15:24, 28) and returned to Rome, where he was executed by the same Nero, whose moral and mental state had degraded.
Or some scholars say that he was detained (or willingly remained) in Rome without going to Spain and was executed a few years later.
I like how Bock summarizes this section of Scripture:
The most important theme of the passage is that God can be taken at his word. God told Paul that he, the messenger, would reach Rome, and Paul did. God told Paul that no lives would be lost, and none were. And God told Paul that the ship would run aground, and it did. God’s word can be trusted because God can be trusted. The only thing one does not know is when God will accomplish his will. (comment on vv. 1-16, p. 747).
GrowApp for Acts 28:11-16
A.. Finally, at long last, Paul got to Rome. He achieved God’s goal for his life (up to that point). You may have achieved a goal in your life (graduation, marriage, family or other things). Can you say that God helped you reach it? How has he done this?
Paul’s First Meeting with Roman Jews (Acts 28:17-22)
17 After three days he called for the leading Jews. When they assembled, he began saying to them, “Men, brothers! Although I have done nothing against the Jewish people or the customs of our ancestors, I was a prisoner in Jerusalem and have been handed over to the hands of the Romans. 18 After they examined me, they were willing to release me because there was not one cause for the death penalty for me. 19 But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar, though I did not have a cause to accuse my fellow Jews. 20 Therefore this is why I have called for you—to see and to speak with you: that for the sake of the hope of Israel I wear this chain.” 21 But they said to him, “We have received neither letters about you from Judea, nor has anyone from the brothers arriving here reported or spoken anything bad about you. 22 We desire to hear from you what you think, for about this sect it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against.”
Paul reaches out to his fellow Jews first. Though he was called mainly to Gentiles (Gal. 2:7; Acts 9:15), he never neglected his fellow Jews (Rom. 1:16; Acts 9:15). “They are Israelites, who have adoption, glory, the covenants, the established law, worship, and the promises; who have the fathers from whom is the Messiah according to human ancestry, who is God over all, blessed forever, amen” (Rom. 9:4-5).
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (I Cor. 9:19-23, NIV)
Paul was flexible. He did not break the customs of his ancestors when he was with Jews, but when he as with Gentiles he id not impose these customs on himself or the Gentiles. The goal was unity between the two peoples. “On his own testimony, he did live as a law-abiding Jew when he was among Jews, but did not adhere to the ‘ancestral customs’ when he found himself in Gentile company” (Bruce, comment on v. 23). Bruce goes on to say that his opponents (or Jewish listeners) could argue that a truly loyal Jew would not have compromised Jewish customs among Gentiles, but Paul was not like that. He had a double calling to Jews and Gentiles.
We should never forget that they got the whole plan of redemption going (on a human level), and now God has inaugurated a new plan that was predicted in the old Scriptures that spelled out the old plan. In other words, God has moved forward, and certain Jews accepted the new direction founded on Yeshua ha Meshiach, Jesus the Messiah, or Jesus Christ (the Anointed One).
As for the immediate content of these verses, Luke is keen to tell the truth and convey the message that Paul did nothing wrong, deserving this chain.
In v. 21, the verb is katēgoreō (pronounced kah-tay-gor-eh-oh), and it combines the prefix kata– (down) and the verb agoreuō (pronounced ah-gor-ew-oh), so the context is in public, specifically in the synagogue here. The verb agoreuō means “to speak in the assembly, harangue, speak ill of someone” (Liddell and Scott). Combine it with the prefix and you get “speak down to” or just “accuse.” In this verse, however, Paul did not have any cause to accuse his fellow Jews.
As for the last clause in v. 22, it is a literal translation, but if it is difficult, it could read: “We know that people everywhere speak against this sect.” Of course the sect in this context is Christianity or the Way. It had been cut away—or is in the process of being cut away—from Judaism, its root.
In v. 22, the word “think” appears. It comes from one Greek verb phroneō (pronounced froh-neh-oh). It means, depending on the context: (1) “think, hold or form an opinion, judge”; (2) “set one’s mind on, be intent on”; (3) “have thoughts or attitudes, be minded or disposed” (the Shorter Lexicon).
GrowApp for Acts 28:17-22
A.. Paul submitted to unjust legal accusations, yet he defended himself, to clear his name. This is a legal setting. How important is it for you to have a clear conscience before God and people? Have you ever had to set the record straight? Were you angry or calm?
Paul’s Second Meeting with Roman Jews (Acts 28:23-28)
23 When they arranged a day to meet with him, a larger number came to his lodging. He explained to them and testified powerfully about the kingdom of God, trying to persuade them about Jesus, both from Moses and the prophets, from daybreak to evening. 24 And some were persuaded by what he had been saying, while others did not believe. 25 Since they were unharmonious with each other, they departed. Paul spoke one last word:
“Well has the Holy Spirit spoken through Isaiah the prophet to your ancestors,
Go to this people and say:
You ever hear and do not understand;
You ever see and do not perceive;
27 For the heart of this people has become dull,
And they hear with ears hard of hearing,
And they close their eyes,
Otherwise, they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their heart
And turn, and I would heal them. [Is. 6:9-10]
28 Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen.”
Paul is still reaching out to them. In the first meeting he explained that he was falsely accused. His credibility is intact. Now he will expand his outreach with a clearer message about God’s new plan, which fulfills the old one.
“testified powerfully”: the verb is diamarturomai (pronounced dee-ah-mahr-too-roh-my), and it can also mean “bear witness to” or “witness.” In these contexts this verb always means witnessing or testifying through the power of the Spirit. And witness always means reporting what you have seen and heard. We can surely do that about what Jesus did in our hearts and minds.
“kingdom”: Jesus spoke often about the kingdom of God, and so did Paul here. Jesus ushered it in, and at the birth of the church in Acts 2 it is now about to expand beyond Israel. It is for everyone who receives him into their hearts and becomes his followers. When that happens, they enter into his light; receive clarity; enjoy an intimate relationship with the Father through Christ and the Spirit; live a consecrated life through his resurrection power and in the Spirit and by his power. And so the kingdom makes all the difference in the world—by creating a new world, a new kingdom, he creates a new you, a new life.
1 Introducing the Kingdom of God (begin a ten-part series)
It is good to know that Paul had some success among his fellow Jews. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Anointed One, the fulfillment of the old plan and who inaugurated the new one.
But others did not believe. It was their choice to resist. I don’t believe God selected some Jews and rejected the other ones. They simply exercised their God-given free will—a very powerful gift—and said no. People need the message of God, the gospel, in some form (even a dream) and the Spirit drawing them. They cannot just strut unassisted into God’s kingdom, without grace or the Spirit or the gospel. However, they can resist God’s call for all of their lives.
It is good to know this table of Bible prophecies:
But Jesus fulfills more than just those quoted verses from the OT and NT. He also fulfills the patterns and themes of Scripture, like the temple itself and the sacrificial system and all the covenants.
“unharmonious”: it comes from the interesting adjective asumsphōnos (pronounced ah-soom-foh-noss), and the a– in front is the negation (dis- or un- or not); sum– (or sym– or sun, which means with or together); and phōn– (sound or voice), so all together they mean unharmonious. Yes, we get our word symphony from it (without the a– prefix). However, if you prefer a more traditional translation, then go with “in disagreement” or “disagreed.”
“word”: the Greek here is the noun rhēma. The ma– suffix means “the result of” and rhē means “speaking.” Put the two together and you get “the result of speaking” or “the spoken word.” Paul had to get the last word in. He pronounced a prophecy from Isaiah, as follows.
The passage from Isaiah is about irony, which means people think they know, when they do not. They hear the words, and believe that they know it all already, but actually they do not. So how do you prevent yourself from being a victim of irony? Your ears and eyes are the gateway into your mind and heart, and the heart and mind must hear and see the truth. To break free from irony, you have to get a teachable heart and open mind.
Now some theologians may teach that only God can open your mind and heart, and that’s partly true, because the gospel and the call and grace and the Spirit draws people. But the human—you—have to also have an open mind and tender heart. And as noted, you can resist God’s call to Christ because God took the risk to give humans free will, which is so very powerful that it can resist the call and grace and gospel and Spirit.
If Paul’s stubborn half of his Jewish audience were just surrender, then they could get saved, just as the other half of Jews did, thus becoming Messianic Jews.
“salvation”: it comes from the Greek noun sōtēria (pronounced soh-tay-ree-ah). Being saved is an instantaneous occurrence, when the Spirit descends on the open-hearted seeker. But then the process after salvation is called sanctification (or “the process of making you holy”) (Phil. 2:12). The Spirit does the sanctifying. Don’t confuse conversion or being saved with sanctification. They are linked but distinct.
Salvation goes a lot farther than just preparing the soul to go on to heaven. It has additional benefits. It includes keeping and preserving and rescuing from harm and dangers; saving or freeing from diseases (as seen in this verse) and demonic oppression; and saving or rescuing from eternal death, judgment, sin. When you help or rescue one man from homelessness or an orphan from his oppression, you have moved one giant step towards salvation of his soul. Sometimes feeding a hungry man and giving clothes to the naked or taking him to a medical clinic come before saving his soul. All of it is a package called salvation.
In this verse, Paul is saying that this salvation is now offered through Jesus, not law-keeping ot custom-keeping. God has moved his divine economy or purpose or plan forward. It is no longer stuck in a small part of the world—only to Israel or exclusively to the Jewish communities scattered throughout the Greco-Roman world. The Gentiles are eligible because God made them so.
Evidently, the best manuscripts don’t have this verse. Here is a translation: “After he said these things, the Jews left, having a big discussion among themselves.” It is easy to imagine that “when he had said these things, they departed and argued intensely among themselves” (an alternative translation). Paul was proclaiming something new and wonderful. Some believed; others did not.
GrowApp for Acts 28:23-28
A.. Paul preached Jesus from the Old Testament. When you read it, do you understand how Jesus fulfills it? Do you have an idea about how to study the Old through the lens of the New?
The Gospel Advances without Hindrance (Acts 28:30-31)
30 He stayed for two whole years at his own expense and welcomed everyone visiting him. 31 He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ, with all boldness and without hindrance.
Let’s ask some questions about the ending.
Why does Luke close his historical narrative here, before Paul’s acquittal? Was he acquitted and freed and then go on to Spain as he intended (Rom. 15:24, 28)?
Here are options.
(1).. Luke was very keen to show that Paul was innocent and unjustly accused. Then Paul came back to Rome and was executed during the great persecution under Nero. Longenecker points to 2 Tim. 4:6-18 that says that Paul assumes he was about to undergo another trial. So Paul was rearrested in AD 67 and beheaded at Rome by order of Nero (comment on v. 30). Luke did not record this because it was so well known.
Schnabel writes: “All in all, it appears that after a two-year imprisonment in Rome during which he wrote his letters to the Colossians and Ephesians, to Philemon, and to the Philippians, Paul was tried and acquitted (or released by default) in early AD 62” (comment on v. 30). Then he cites early church writings that say Paul went to Spain. Yet Schnabel does not commit himself.
(2).. Luke was waiting to find out what Paul would do after he visited Spain, and then Luke moved on to other things than Acts after Paul’s return to Rome. However, he never completed his book on Paul’s return.
(3).. Peterson, noting other commentators, says that Paul was rearrested and condemned and executed before the great fire of AD 64 (comment on v. 30). He had arrived in Rome in AD 62 (or some say in 60). Luke did not record this because this fact was so well known.
(4).. It may be because Luke’s manuscript ran out of room.
(5).. Peterson, referring to another commentator (Witherington), says the ending is appropriate since the book is a history and not a biography of Paul. If it were a biography about Paul, the ending would be a puzzle.
In support of the fifth option, Keener says that unfinished endings were common in ancient literature, sometimes even rhetorically sophisticated literature ended abruptly because the main point was finished (p. 620). Even Hellenistic historiography ended abruptly, and Luke wrote an historical account (pp. 3-18; 620). Here the main point, as noted, was a history about the worldwide spread of the gospel, and the capital of the huge Roman empire fits the need.
(6).. Polhill says that the gospel and the word of God are the heroes (my word) of the story: “Whatever may have been the outcome of Paul’s Roman imprisonment, Luke seems to have deliberately chosen to end his story where he did. He ended not on Paul but on the gospel, on the message of the kingdom. The word of God in Christ—not Peter, not Paul—is the real hero of Acts” (p. 547).
(7).. The spiritual reason is that Luke wanted the final words in Acts to inspire us to write our own narrative history about the Acts of the Holy Spirit. We should proclaim the kingdom of God with all boldness and without hindrance, either internal or external hindrance.
Now let’s move on and allow Bock to summarize the book of Acts:
The book [of Acts] has an open ending, with the word still being preached. In fact, the Great Commission anticipated in Luke 24 is realized here as the word goes out. The Spirit of God has directed the operation and the Spirit has been a Spirit of enabling boldness. The word spreads even when some try to keep it doing so. Faithful witnesses made sure that this happens. Faithful witnesses understand God’s calling and support, just as Paul did (comment on vv. 30-31, p. 759)
Bock insightfully continues:
All of this is the work of an active God. God has been directing events throughout the book. God set forth the call for mission. God gave the Spirit. God directed the church to the Gentiles. God called out Paul with Barnabas and then sent Paul to Jerusalem ad Rome. God protected Paul as he brought the word there as God’s faithful witness. God can be trusted, and his calling is to be followed. Paul shows us that the combination of divine and human faithfulness to God’s calling is powerful. (ibid.)
GrowApp for Acts 28:30-31
A.. Paul enjoyed the gift of hospitality, even while wearing chains. His goal was to proclaim the kingdom of God and taught about Jesus to everyone who visited him. He was emboldened by the Spirit. Without feeling self-condemned, do you share your faith, when appropriate? How do you expect the Spirit to give you boldness? Do you pray for this?
B.. We know what Paul’s basic message was. What is yours?
Observations for Discipleship
Luke writes in the context of Paul’s appearance before the Sanhedrin (high Jewish council), where his life was on the line:
The next night the Lord stood before him and said, “Take courage, for as you testified to the things about me in Jerusalem, in the same way you must testify also in Rome” (Acts 23:11).
Also, in the context of a mighty storm:
For last night an angel of God, whose I am and whom I worship, stood before me and said, ‘Do not fear, Paul! You must stand before Caesar. And see! God has graciously granted you everyone sailing with you’” (Acts 27:23-24).
Paul was going to Rome, and no earthly power or storm was going to stop him. Just the opposite. The earthly authorities were going to escort him to the capital of the known world. Jesus assured him that he would get there.
In your own life, Jesus himself will fulfill his promise to your heart. He’ll get you there. But what if it doesn’t happen? Then it is possible that your unbelief got in the way, and Satan used that to hinder you (1 Thess. 2:18). To be blunt, I messed up and missed out. Satan really did thwart or stop me. But God has a better plan for me now. You can be redeemed from your past oversights and unbelief and Satanic attacks.
And let me ask one more time: what happens when God does not fulfill his promise to your heart? I just discussed a genuine promise that got stopped because of my unbelief and satanic attacks. Another possibility is that God really did not promise your thing or goal, but it was just you and your own desire and imagination. In the years ahead, you will look back and be happy that God did not fulfill his seeming-promise (when it was actually just yours).
In any case, Jesus appeared to Paul and told him calmly that he would get to Rome. He indeed got to Rome, even after a near-fatal snakebite and a long storm described in great detail, in the next chapter.
Be assured that he will see you through to his goal for your life.
Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Baker Academic, 2007.
Bruce, F. F. Acts. Rev. ed. Eerdmans, 1988. (I also used his earlier work Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Commentary, Eerdmans, 1951, 1952, 1990, 3rd ed.).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger. United Bible Society, 2014.
Keener, Craig, S. Acts. New Cambridge Bible Commentary. Cambridge UP, 2020.
Longenecker, Richard N. Acts. Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 2007.
Marshall, I. Howard. Acts. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Tyndale, 1980.
Parsons, Mikeal C. and Martin M. Culy. Acts. A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor, UP, 2003.
Peterson, David G. The Acts of the Apostles. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans, 2009.
Polhill, John B. Acts. New American Commentary. Vol. 26. Broadman and Holman, 1992.
Schnabel, Eckhard, J. Acts. Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2012.