Video Uploaded: .
The Spreading Flame - Series 6: Episode 14

Paul preaches in Rome

| Martin Charlesworth
Acts 28:11-30

Paul, under guard travelled by ship to Puteoli and then by road to Rome. Groups of Christians met him along the way which encouraged him. He spoke to the Jews in the synagogue where a few believed and then spent time under house arrest speaking without hindrance. Acts 1:8 has been fulfilled.

Paul, under guard travelled by ship to Puteoli and then by road to Rome. Groups of Christians met him along the way which encouraged him. He spoke to the Jews in the synagogue where a few believed and then spent time under house arrest speaking without hindrance. Acts 1:8 has been fulfilled.


Welcome to the final episode of our series on the book of Acts. If you have been with us all the way through, can I thank you so much for following this amazing story to the end. Thank you to the live audience we have here, who have done exactly that, as we have been recording these 47 videos to tell the amazing story of the Early Church over a 30-year period, from the Day of Pentecost until the time that Paul arrives and is detained in Rome, which we are going to find out about in our final episode.

Introduction and Background

This whole Series 6 has been all about getting to Rome. I have said it many times, this was Paul’s goal. He just saw in his mind’s eye that that is where he needed to go, once he had spent so much time in the eastern Mediterranean countries, preaching the Gospel and planting churches. In this series, we have seen the dramatic events that took place in Jerusalem when he went there: the imprisonment; the riots; the trials and discussions with the authorities; and then the incredible sea voyage, which Luke describes so vividly and which nearly came to a tragic end. But everybody was saved when they landed in Malta. Even though the ship was destroyed, 276 people survived miraculously. Paul and his companions spent three months in Malta and that is what we looked at in our last episode - a surprising visit to an island Paul would never have imagined going to, and very warm welcome from the islanders, with much opportunity to preach about Christ and probably, the formation of the church on the island of Malta itself. Malta is south of Italy in the central Mediterranean, not so far from Italy, not so far from Rome.

And so . . .to Rome

There is one more part of the journey still to go, and then we will see what happens when Paul actually arrives in the city of Rome. Acts 28:11 - 16,

11 ‘After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island—it was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux. 12 We put in at Syracuse and stayed there three days. 13 From there we set sail and arrived at Rhegium. The next day the south wind came up, and on the following day we reached Puteoli. 14 There we found some brothers and sisters who invited us to spend a week with them. And so we came to Rome. 15 The brothers and sisters there had heard that we were coming, and they travelled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged. 16 When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him.’

Acts 28:11-16, NIV

We have to remember that Paul is under armed guard throughout this time, throughout the whole voyage because the governor in Judea had sent Paul to Rome to be heard in the Imperial Court, and he had given military officers the command to keep Paul under watch, and to bring him safely under guard, to Rome. There are always soldiers with Paul and he ends up being under house arrest in Rome, and we will find out more about that in just a moment.

They picked up a ship from Malta that came from Alexandria and that tells us that probably this was a grain ship because, as I have mentioned in previous episodes, the Egyptians had a huge supply of grain, from a very fertile Nile Delta area. Their main port was Alexandria, and they frequently sent large consignments of grain to Rome. This was almost certainly one of those ships upon which Paul and his companions, and the soldiers joined. They travelled first of all, to Syracuse in Sicily, then to the southern port of Rhegium in Italy, and then to Puteoli. This port was the wheat distribution port. That’s where the wheat ships came in from other parts of the Mediterranean. It was about 240 km south of Rome and there was a road that joined them together, a very famous road known as the ‘Via Appia’. Puteoli is near the modern city of Naples.

The interesting thing about arriving in the city of Puteoli is that Paul found some Christians there. He had never visited Italy before; he’d never preached there directly before but churches had been founded in this country. Verse 14: ‘There we found some brothers and sisters who invited us to spend a week with them’. This keeps happening to Paul when he goes to places - he finds that there are believers there. It is so exciting for him to find believers in a place that he knew really nothing about and had never been to before, had never been involved with any mission there, but there was a church. They said, “Stay with us,” and so, the group of travellers, including Luke, stayed for a week. The Roman guards must have given them permission to do that and would have stayed with them. The Roman guards had to be with them all the time, so they were there for that whole week while they received that hospitality. From Puteoli, they sent a message to the Christians in Rome - the church in Rome - to say that the Apostle Paul was on his way. What an exciting message that must have been. The church in Rome would have been thrilled to know that the great Apostle to the Gentiles was coming to them. He’d never been there before. That’s why they gave this wonderful gift to Paul: they travelled south to various stopovers along the road, on the 240 km journey. They stopped over at the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns. These were transit points along the road where there was hospitality available. As Paul travelled with his companions, there they were to meet him, to greet him, and to welcome him into the city of Rome, where Paul was very excited to be. At the sight of these people, Paul thanked God, and was encouraged.

Paul’s plan to get to Rome had taken him several years to fulfil and he had been held up by being two years in prison in Caesarea, but he had finally got there. It says that he was allowed to live by himself, that means under house arrest with a soldier constantly in attendance. He was under arrest; he couldn’t travel freely around the city; he had to stay in his home. But he had finally arrived. Let us think about the church in Rome. Why is there a church in Rome? As far as we know, none of the Twelve Apostles have been to Rome. None of the other early Apostles have been to Rome. Paul and his team have not been to Rome. How could a church be formed in Rome? The book of Acts has a clue because on the Day of Pentecost, when Jews gathered from all over the Roman Empire and beyond, for a big religious celebration in Jerusalem, as described in Acts 2, we find that Luke describes various different ethnic groups and places where these Jewish people had come from. He includes in that description, visitors from Rome, in Acts 2. Jewish visitors from Rome had come to a Jewish celebration, the Pentecost festival, in large numbers and then some of them experienced Peter preaching on the Day of Pentecost and were converted to Jesus Christ on that day, or shortly afterwards, as the church grew from up to 3000 to 5000 and beyond. There were some people in that church whose actual home was Rome. They stayed on for a bit as the church was formed, as I explained in earlier episodes, how some people stayed on for some months to be part of the church and then gradually went back home. Visitors from Rome would almost certainly have been converted. Then eventually, when they went home to Rome, what did they do? They formed a church. This is the origin, almost certainly, of the church that Paul now meets for the first time. Some of those people when they met Paul, would have said, “We were there on the Day of Pentecost”. These would be the older members of the church.

Paul had been very interested in this church in Rome. He had already written a letter to them, which is the letter which we call Romans. He says in Romans 1: 13,

“I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have among the other Gentiles.”

Paul said to them, “I wanted to come to you”. They had already received his letter. The church must have been incredibly excited because they’ve read the Roman letter that Paul had written, a very powerful, long and significant letter, and now they were going to meet Paul face-to-face.

Paul Speaks to the Jews

As our story moves on, Paul wants to connect with the Jewish community there, and the synagogue community in Rome. There was a significant Jewish community in Rome and indeed, there has been right up until the present day, located particularly in the centre of the city. Let us read what happens as Paul engages with the Jewish leaders. Acts 28:17 - 22:

17 ‘Three 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. 18 They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. 19 The 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. 20 For this reason I have asked to see you and to talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.” 21 They 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. 22 But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.”’

Acts 28:17-22, NIV

No word had got to the Jewish leaders in the Jewish synagogue in Rome. But Paul wanted to connect with them, and he knew that at some point in the future there would be a message coming from Jerusalem, from the Sanhedrin, warning them against Paul. The Sanhedrin’s rule over the Jewish community extended beyond the city of Jerusalem and the country of Judea; it extended to all the Jewish communities throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. The local synagogue rulers would be very interested to know what the Jewish rulers, the High Priest and the Sanhedrin, had said about Paul. But they haven’t heard anything yet. So, Paul had an opportunity to influence them before negative comments came through from the Sanhedrin.

Paul’s Explanation of the Scriptures

That is exactly what he tried to do. He wanted to bring the message of Jesus Christ to his fellow Jews yet again, as he had done on many occasions, and in many places, as we’ve seen as we’ve studied the book of Acts. Paul communicated quite deeply with the Jewish community. Acts 28: 23 to 29,

23 ‘They 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. 24 Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. 25 They disagreed amongst 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.” 27 For 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.’ 28 “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!”’

Acts 28:23-29, NIV

Paul spoke to them, principally about the Kingdom of God. We see this in verse 23, ‘explaining about the Kingdom of God’. This was his central theme, and this was a very important theme for Jewish people because they knew that God had established a kingdom through King David. They all knew that David would have an ultimate successor who would be the Jewish deliverer, saviour, or Messiah. Paul was trying to connect Jesus to this idea of the Kingdom and saying, “Well, actually when Jesus came, he proclaimed the Kingdom of God has come now to the Jewish people.” He told them the story of what Jesus had said and done and he went through the Old Testament to support his argument. We have noticed that Paul did this every time he went to the Jewish synagogues. All over the Roman world he would go to the synagogue, and he would open up the Old Testament Scriptures, the Jewish Bible, and would take a prophecy, or a passage, or a statement, and he would explain how it connected to Jesus. Probably, on this occasion, he would start with Genesis 12:2 - 3, which is where God spoke to Abraham and said,

2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 12:2-3, NIV

He would have explained to them that God was now blessing all the other nations of the earth through the Jewish people, through a Jewish Messiah, who had actually come, whose name was Jesus, who died and rose again, and now was the time for this blessing to go to the Gentiles. He would have gone through many of the prophecies of the Old Testament to confirm his argument.

It says that they spent a whole day discussing this. Paul had the capacity to speak for days at a time. It’s amazing! Do you remember when he spoke all the way through the night when he was in Troas, and one young man fell asleep, and fell off the ledge of the window, and fell down and died and had to be raised again from the dead? You might remember that story. The interesting thing about that is Paul was speaking for the whole night, I mean, he went on for hours. Here he goes on for the whole day, from one text to another text, questions, answers, discussion, debate. Some people began to become Christians. Others thought, ‘No’. The majority of them thought, ‘No, no, no, we can’t accept this. This is upsetting our traditions. We’re not really sure about this.’ So, the day ended inconclusively, with a divided Jewish opinion. Whenever Paul spoke the Gospel amongst the Jews there was a divided opinion. There were always some who believed and almost always the majority who didn’t. Then they argued amongst themselves and usually the majority forced Paul out of the synagogue, out of the community, and in some cases, even out of the city where he was working. We saw some examples of that earlier on as we studied the book of Acts. But here the situation is different. They can’t force Paul to go anywhere because he is under the Roman guard. In fact, he mentions a chain. He is actually shackled. He is chained, probably loosely, in the house that he is in and the Roman guards are watching over while he is debating with the Jews. So, the Jews will have to leave the house. They can’t take Paul into custody; they can’t do anything; the Romans have got him under their authority.

This ends with a rather sad moment, where Paul quotes this remarkable prophecy from Isaiah 6, which speaks of Isaiah being called to speak to the people of the ancient kingdom of Judah. Even though he is speaking to them, and he has been called to be a preacher to them, God predicts that they will not respond to his message. Basically, what Paul is saying here, is that, just as in Isaiah’s time, the people of Judah failed to respond to the preaching of the prophets, so now, in the time of Jesus and the Apostles, the Jewish people are going to fail to respond, as a nation, in the majority, to the Gospel because their hearts have become hardened, their inner attitudes have become hostile and defensive to this new truth, and this new reality. This was a very sad way to end. That prophecy in Isaiah 6, has an interesting conclusion that Paul would have in mind but it is not quoted here. The prophecy says that over many years the people will not respond to the preaching of the prophets and they will face a spiritual judgement. But Isaiah 6:13 is the final statement,

“And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be a stump in the land.”

The prophecy ends with the prediction that, although the nation of Israel will be judged, there will be a remnant, like a stump of a tree, that can grow again. That is exactly the same thing that happens in the New Testament era. The majority of Jewish people don’t believe, but there are a remnant, a small number who do, of which Paul is one. Paul had this in mind. Just a few of those Jews listening to him probably believed and joined the church.

Paul Speaks to the Gentiles

Paul said he was now going to focus on the other ethnic groups in Rome, the Gentiles. This brings us to our final verses. Acts 28:30 says,

‘For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to him.’

Acts 28:30, NIV

He is under house arrest; he is been able to rent a house. People have provided the money for that. The Romans are guarding him. He is restricted by house arrest, but people are allowed to come. The Romans said people can come to the house, and people kept coming to Paul for two whole years. His reputation went before him; the church came, other Jewish people came, and other Gentile people came. He began to preach effectively in his confinement for two years.

Final Summary Verse

The final, concluding comment of the book of Acts, says,

‘He proclaimed the Kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!’

Acts 28:31, NIV

That is where Acts ends. It is a triumphant end. It is not the end of Paul’s story and that is a bit of a mystery which we need to think about in a moment. He is still in confinement; he hasn’t been judged; he is still alive. What is going to happen next? Luke doesn’t recount this, but what he does recount is that Paul has now arrived in Rome and he is able to preach freely to those who came to him, right there in the imperial capital.

We have an interesting pattern established in the book of Acts. It starts right on the fringe of the Roman Empire, right in the most Eastern province in Judea. The Christian message is proclaimed on the Day of Pentecost to a Jewish audience. Now the Gospel is established in the capital city. Paul is within a very short distance of the Imperial Palace, where the Emperor is ruling the greatest empire of the ancient European and Middle Eastern world. The Gospel is being proclaimed and this is symbolic in the way that Luke describes it. This concluding statement is about Gospel advance.

I want to pause for a moment and remind us all, if we haven’t followed through all the episodes, that the pattern of the book of Acts divides very easily into 6 Series. Those 6 Series represent the Gospel advancing into a new place, or geographical area, or a new ethnic group. At the end of every one of those six sections is a summary statement. I am going to read the summary statements as a conclusion, to see this pattern because we have come to the final one.

After describing the success of the Gospel in Jerusalem in Acts 6: 7 Luke writes, and

‘So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.’

When the Gospel spread to all of ancient Israel, Judea and Samaria in Acts 9: 31 at the end of that description, Luke says,

‘Then the Church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.’

Then when the Gospel was beginning to go to the Gentile nations for the first time in Acts 12: 24 the summary statement is, ‘But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.’

You can see the pattern, can’t you? I’ve mentioned it before, but this is the climax of that particular pattern. When the Gospel went to Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, as Paul led the mission there, at the end of that description, in Acts 16: 4 and 5 Luke writes,

4 ‘As they travelled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the Apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.’

Acts 16:4-5, NIV

Then as the Church enters Europe, when Paul goes to Macedonia and Greece, that section is summarised in Acts 19: 20 with this statement,

‘In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.’

And that is the context in which this final series about the Gospel going to Rome, says that,

‘He proclaimed the Kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!’

Acts 28:31, NIV

At every step of the journey, Luke is describing the Gospel spreading through real courage of the leaders, the miraculous power of God and amidst considerable difficulties and setbacks, but it still keeps spreading. That is really a key message of the book of Acts.

We ask ourselves the question as we gradually come to a conclusion, “So, what happened next in the life of Paul?” Luke must have written this account very quickly after these events, otherwise he would have described things that happened afterwards. We don’t have much information about what happened afterwards. What we do have is some letters that Paul wrote much later in his life, that speak about being near the end of his life. 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus, particularly, which suggest that Paul had travelled on another missionary journey, had been rearrested, and was in prison again, awaiting execution. So, the possibility exists, and many people believe, that Paul was actually acquitted by the Imperial Court, when he finally got to the court in front of either the Emperor or his legal representatives - that he was probably set free and he had one more missionary journey. Some of the references in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus suggest Paul travelling again after this particular event. Then he was probably rearrested. Church tradition suggests that he finally was martyred in Rome but the New Testament doesn’t tell us the final end of Paul’s life.


So, as we reflect at this very, very last moment of our amazing time together, with these 47 episodes over 6 Series, covering the whole book of Acts, what can we say by way of final reflection? In Acts 1: 8 Jesus predicted to the eleven Apostles, eleven of the original twelve, before his resurrection, famously,

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Now we come to the end of the book of Acts, we know that the Gospel is spreading to the ends of the earth. It is spreading further and further away. This is only one aspect of it that is described here. We know from other historical information in the Early Church, that some of the other Apostles travelled, probably to Egypt, and then east of Judea, and possibly as far as India and north towards Turkey and countries to the east of Turkey, as we would describe them, in the modern world, like Armenia.. So, we know there was a movement and Paul’s mission was one of those key movements of the Gospel moving out. We know that the prediction of Jesus in Acts 1:8 came true. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church kept together despite opposition and difficulties. We know that Paul was ambitious and had huge ambitions beyond his visit to Rome. He says, in Romans 15: 23 - 24,

23 “But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to visit you, 24 I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there.”

Romans 15:23-24, NIV

An Unfinished Story

Rome wasn’t Paul’s ultimate destination, after all. It is the ultimate destination of the book of Acts, but we know that he wanted to use Rome as a springboard for a new mission in the western Mediterranean, to go to Spain, a country he had almost certainly never visited in his life before. What an amazing story. The book of Acts is like an unfinished story, and that unfinished story unfolds in the lives of the Apostles in the immediate years afterwards, but it continues to unfold in the Church to this very day, as modern 21st century Christians, take the inspiration of the book of Acts, to know that God is with us by the power of his Spirit, and has commanded us to keep spreading the Gospel to every place in the world. We know that despite incredible opposition, spiritual strongholds, political opposition, personal opposition, economic hardship, and a lot of difficulties travelling and moving from place to place, the Church succeeded in this original Apostolic period, in spreading the Gospel far and wide. We know that it is God’s will that we should continue on the same mission. That is the mission to which you and I are called.

Thank you so much for being with us through the book of Acts. If you haven’t heard some of the earlier episodes, please do take the opportunity to do that. If you have listened all the way through and here you are at the end, can I say thank you so much for joining us on this amazing journey. Hope to see you again. Thanks for listening.

Study Questions

The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.

  • Exploring Faith
    Exploring Faith
    1. Which episode did you enjoy most? Why?
  • Discipleship
    1. How can Acts be a help to you today?
  • Further Study
    Further Study
    1. Why did Luke write the book of Acts? Look at the first and last chapter and also the end of Luke’s gospel.
Created by Word Online