ACTS 28:17-28 - COMMENTARIES
BLB - Paul Arrives In Rome
A. Paul's ministry on the island of Malta.
B. Paul at Rome.
3. (Acts 28:17-22) Paul appeals to the Jewish community of Rome.
17 After three days he called together the local leaders of the Jews, and when they had gathered, he said to them, "Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.18 When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. 19 But because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar-though I had no charge to bring against my nation. 20 For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain." 21 And they said to him, "We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you. 22 But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against."
4. (Acts 28:23-24) The Jewish community of Rome hears the gospel from Paul.
23 When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. 24 And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved.
5. (Acts 28:25-29) The Jews reject the gospel again.
25 And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: "The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: 26 "'Go to this people, and say, "You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive." 27 For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.' 28 Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen." [29 And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, having much dispute among themselves] *some manuscripts
Bible.org - S. Cole
God accomplishes His Great Commission through His servants who obediently proclaim the gospel to all people (28:17-31).
It seems odd that Luke never reports that Paul preached the gospel on Malta, nor does he report any conversions. Other than the fact that Luke is pressing quickly toward his conclusion in Rome, I do not know why he omits these important details. But I think we can assume that Paul, who never missed an opportunity to tell others about Christ, was not silent for these three months.
When he finally got to Rome, Paul quickly summoned the Jewish leaders to explain why he was a prisoner there. It seems strange that they had not heard anything about Paul, and their knowledge of Christianity, while negative, seems somewhat secondhand and distant (28:22). Perhaps since Claudius had expelled all the Jews from Rome just a few years before, they were being diplomatic and cautious about saying too much. But they were open to hearing Paul's views, and so a time was set.
Paul spent the entire day testifying about the kingdom of God, which refers not only to Christ's future reign on earth, but also to the gospel that brings people under His rule. There was probably a lot of interaction both ways, as Paul tried to persuade them concerning Jesus, that He is God's promised Messiah. Paul's source of authority was the Law of Moses and the Prophets (= Old Testament). He probably took them to the texts in Moses that describe the Jewish sacrificial system, showing that these sacrifices pointed ahead to Jesus. He would have taken them to Psalm 16, which both Peter and Paul used to show the truth of the resurrection (Acts 2:25-28; 13:34-37). He no doubt took them to Psalm 22, which describes death by crucifixion centuries before this was known as a means of execution. He would have taken them to Isaiah 53, which describes the death of Jesus with amazing detail.
The outcome was, as in many of Paul's previous experiences, some were being persuaded, but others would not believe, leading to a dispute between the two groups (28:25). Before they left, Paul gave his parting shot, quoting Isaiah 6:9-10. Just after Isaiah's rare vision of God, exalted on His throne, and Isaiah's commission to preach, the Lord spoke these words to Isaiah, warning him of the hardness of heart of the people of Israel.
This important text is quoted six times in the New Testament (Matt. 13:14; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40; Rom. 11:8; & here). Three of those times are in reference to the parable of the sower in the synoptic gospels, where Jesus explained why He spoke in parables, to conceal truth from scoffers, but to reveal truth to seekers. Another time John cited it and then commented, "These things Isaiah said because he saw [Jesus'] glory, and he spoke of Him." The main idea of these verses is that if people close up their hearts to God's Word through His messengers, the Lord will confirm their rejection by hardening them even further. Israel had a sad history of rejecting and even killing the prophets that God sent to turn them back to Him. Finally, and most tragically, they killed God's Son. God's judgment would shortly fall on Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and the Jews would be scattered for 19 centuries.
Paul uses the quote to support his calling to take the gospel to the Gentiles, adding, "they also will listen" (28:28). God's purpose is to be glorified through the preaching of the gospel to all peoples. He accomplishes that purpose through His servants' willing obedience to the Great Commission. Israel should have been a light to the nations, but their idolatry and sin caused them to fail.
Hardness of heart prevents sinners from responding in faith to the gospel, but it never thwarts God's ultimate purpose. There is a mystery here, in that sinners are always responsible for their stubbornness and unbelief, but if they turn in repentance and faith to the Lord, it is not their doing, but only because He has granted it to them (Acts 11:18). In other words, we are solely responsible for our unbelief, but if we come to faith in Christ, it is solely from God, so that none can boast.
While Israel was cut off because of unbelief and the Gentiles were grafted in, God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew (Rom. 11:2). One day Israel will again be grafted back in, "for God is able to graft them in again" (Rom. 11:23). As Paul explains, "a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in." But after this, "all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:25-26). There will be a future time of great blessing for the nation Israel, when God will pour out on them "the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on [Him] whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son" (Zech. 12:10). Israel will turn en masse to their Messiah Jesus Christ.
But, meanwhile, like Paul, we should commit ourselves fully to God's purpose in the Great Commission. Just as the Lord told Paul that He had many people in the city of Corinth, and thus Paul should go on speaking so that these would come to faith, so we know that He has some from every people group who are His elect (Rev. 5:9). Whatever the hardships, we should commit ourselves to get the gospel to all who have not yet heard.
Though Paul was in chains in Rome, the gospel was not chained. Luke's final word in the Greek text (as in the NASB) is, "unhindered." As he later wrote to Timothy, even though he was imprisoned as a criminal, the word of God is not imprisoned. For that reason, Paul endured "all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory" (2 Tim. 2:10).
Luke never tells us the final outcome of Paul's trial or anything about his subsequent life. Probably Paul stayed in custody for about two years (until 62), during which time he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. When his accusers did not show up, he was released on default. Some think that he eventually made his way to Spain, as he hoped (Rom. 15:24, 28). He probably visited again some of the churches, perhaps even seeing the Ephesian elders once more, contrary to his earlier prediction. He sent Timothy there to help correct some problems. He visited Crete and left Titus there to minister. During these free years, he wrote 1 Timothy and Titus. Perhaps he was betrayed by someone such as Alexander the coppersmith and arrested again. He was taken to Rome, where he anticipated that things would not go well. From prison, he wrote 2 Timothy. About 67 or 68, Nero executed the great apostle who had fought the good fight, finished the course, and kept the faith (2 Tim. 4:7). Paul accomplished his mission.
Bible.org - R. Deffinbaugh
The Gospel to the Jews in Rome Acts 28:17-24
17 After three days Paul called the local Jewish leaders together. When they had assembled, he said to them, "Brothers, although I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors, from Jerusalem I was handed over as a prisoner to the Romans. 18 When they had heard my case, they wanted to release me, because there was no basis for a death sentence against me. 19 But when the Jews objected, I was forced to appeal to Caesar - not that I had some charge to bring against my own people. 20 So for this reason I have asked to see you and speak with you, for I am bound with this chain because of the hope of Israel." 21 They replied, "We have received no letters from Judea about you, nor have any of the brothers come from there and reported or said anything bad about you. 22 But we would like to hear from you what you think, for regarding this sect we know that people everywhere speak against it." 23 They set a day to meet with him, and they came to him where he was staying in even greater numbers. From morning until evening he explained things to them, testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus from both the law of Moses and the prophets. 24 Some were convinced by what he said, but others refused to believe (Acts 28:17-24).
Rome, at last! Rome is not new to us in Acts. Some pilgrims from Rome had been in Jerusalem to witness the miracle at Pentecost (Acts 2:10). It wasn't so long ago that Luke informed us Jews were not welcome in Rome (Acts 18:2). For some time, Paul had intended to visit the saints in Rome:
Now after all these things had taken place, Paul resolved to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. He said, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome" (Acts 19:21).
Paul's plan was to collect the contributions of the saints in Macedonia and Achaia, deliver them to the needy brothers and sisters in Jerusalem, and then go directly to Rome. From here, Paul intended to be sent on to Spain:
22 This is the reason I was often hindered from coming to you. 23 But now there is nothing more to keep me in these regions, and I have for many years desired to come to you 24 when I go to Spain. For I hope to visit you when I pass through and that you will help me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while. 25 But now I go to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia are pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 27 For they were pleased to do this, and indeed they are indebted to the Jerusalem saints. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are obligated also to minister to them in material things. 28 Therefore after I have completed this and have safely delivered this bounty to them, I will set out for Spain by way of you, 29 and I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of Christ's blessing (Romans 15:22-29).
Paul's plan was a good one, but God often modifies our plans so that His fingerprints are all over what He accomplishes through us. God had even given some indication of these changes when He repeatedly revealed that in Jerusalem Paul would encounter imprisonment and persecutions.16 He arrived safely in Rome, attached to a Roman guard. But there he would bear witness to the salvation God had provided in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, "Have courage, for just as you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome" (Acts 23:11).
And now Paul is in Rome. After three days, Paul contacts the Jewish leaders and invites them to visit him in his rented quarters. When they had gathered, Paul explained his presence in Rome. He assured them that he had not done anything against the Jews or against Jewish customs. He had been handed over as a prisoner to the Romans, and they recognized that he was innocent. They wanted to release him but encountered strong opposition from the Jews, forcing Paul to appeal to Caesar. He made it clear that he did not intend to press charges against the Jews, but only to face the charges they had raised. Paul declared that his chains were due to his faith in what (more accurately, in Whom) was the hope of Israel.
The response of the Jewish leaders is rather amazing. They claim not to have received any letters about Paul, nor had any brethren come from Jerusalem because of Paul. They did claim to have knowledge regarding the "sect" (Christianity) that Paul represented, and they admitted that it was commonly opposed. I think what they are saying is that while they had received no formal charges against Paul, they were aware of the gospel and its impact, and at best they were skeptical. Nevertheless, they were willing to give Paul the opportunity to present his position on these matters. And so a date is set for them to gather and to discuss these things more at length.
That date came, and so did a good number of Jews. I would assume those who gathered represented the Jewish leadership in Rome. If so, the outcome would likely determine whether or not the Jewish leadership in Rome would recommend Paul and his teachings to other Jews. For an entire day, Paul spoke of the kingdom of God, showing how the Lord Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures. I would have loved to have heard this survey of the Old Testament and its relationship to Jesus. I imagine that it was very similar to the teaching of our Lord to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus:
Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things written about himself in all the scriptures (Luke 24:27).
As usual, some were convinced by Paul's teaching, but others "refused to believe." This is an interesting choice of words on Luke's part. He does not say that they were not convinced, as though Paul's presentation had its weaknesses. What he says strongly implies that Paul's arguments were compelling, but in spite of the overwhelming evidence in support of Paul's faith, they refused to believe it. The problem was not with Paul's presentation; the problem was with the hardened hearts of those who heard.
The End of an Era Acts 28:25-29
25 So they began to leave, unable to agree among themselves, after Paul made one last statement: "The Holy Spirit spoke rightly to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah 26 when he said, 'Go to this people and say, "You will keep on hearing, but will never understand, and you will keep on looking, but will never perceive. 27 For the heart of this people has become dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have closed their eyes, so that they would not see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them."' 28 "Therefore be advised that this salvation from God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen!" [29 When he had said these things, the Jews departed, having a great dispute among themselves.] (Acts 28:25-29)
The outcome of this meeting reminds me of Paul's trial before the Sanhedrin, when some (Pharisees) sided with Paul, and the rest strongly opposed him.17 In verse 25, Luke tells us that these Jews disagreed among themselves about what Paul had taught. A number of translations do not regard verse 29 as a part of the original text because it is missing in some key manuscripts. This verse simply reiterates Luke's statement in verse 25, even more emphatically.
As they are beginning to leave, Paul cites Isaiah 6:9-10 as a fitting explanation of their response to the gospel. This quotation is even more meaningful because our Lord cited this same text in every one of the four Gospels. In Matthew (13:14-15), Mark (4:12), and Luke (8:10), Jesus cited this same text from Isaiah 6 to explain why He had begun to teach the people in parables. In effect, Jesus responded, "I am speaking to them in parables so that they won't understand Me, won't repent, and thus won't be saved."
This seems like a horrible thing to say, until you consider the context, and understand why Jesus said this. Jesus had been performing many miracles to underscore the authenticity of His teaching. Initially, the Jewish leaders who opposed Jesus sought to discredit these miracles as being something less than miraculous (see John 9:13-34). But when the authenticity of these miracles became undeniable, the scribes from Jerusalem took a different approach: they claimed that our Lord's miraculous power was actually that of the devil. Thus they attributed the work of the Holy Spirit in Jesus to the work of Satan in Jesus: to them, Jesus was demon possessed.
The experts in the law who came down from Jerusalem said, "He is possessed by Beelzebul," and, "By the ruler of demons he casts out demons" (Mark 3:22).
Grace Int'l Commentary
Leaders of the Jews (Acts 28:17)
Luke said nothing about Paul's preaching or influence with Caesar's household, the Praetorian Guard-or even with the average Gentile citizen of Rome. Throughout the rest of chapter 28, Luke reported only on Paul's dealings with the unconverted Jews of Rome, and that in a single scene. He described an event that occurred three days after Paul arrived in Rome.
He called together the leading Jews to defend himself and to explain his position on preaching the gospel. Paul also wanted to know what they had heard from Jerusalem about him and to find out what their attitude was toward him.
Paul's defense (Acts 28:17-20)
Paul began by asserting, "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" (28:17). Paul again declared that he was a good Jew, and had been faithful to the Jewish traditions (22:3; 23:6; 24:14-16; 26:4-8). Paul went on to say that after the Roman authorities examined him, they judged he was not guilty of any crime. Since the Jewish leaders objected to his release, he had no alternative but to appeal to Caesar (28:19).
Paul wanted to assure the Jewish leaders that he wasn't in Rome to present charges, but merely to defend himself (28:19). He was here to have himself cleared of all charges, not to make accusations against the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem. The reason he was in chains was "because of the hope of Israel"-that is, the resurrection (28:20). This echoes Paul's defense before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem (23:6). Paul insisted that he had run afoul of the Jewish leaders in Jersualem (most of whom were Sadducees) because of telling people about the promise made to the patriarchs regarding the resurrection of the dead. Paul maintained that this hope had been realized in Jesus.
As it was, it was his devotion to Israel's ancestral hope that had cost him his freedom and brought him under guard to Rome. In Rome, as in Judaea, he emphasizes that the resurrection message which he proclaims, far from undermining the religion of Israel, is its divinely appointed fulfillment. (Bruce, 505)
Marshall writes, "What was at issue in his trial, as he had insisted all along, was the true nature of the hope of Israel in the coming of the Messiah and the resurrection. It was, in other words, for being a loyal Jew, as he saw it, that Paul was wearing a Roman fetter" (423)
No letters received (Acts 28:21)
The Jews responded to Paul's defense: "We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you," they said, "and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you" (28:21). However, it's difficult to believe that no one coming from Jerusalem had any harsh words for Paul, and had failed to report on Paul's case (now well over two years old).
The response was diplomatic. The Jews in Rome were in too precarious a position to pick a fight with Paul or Rome's Christians. The Jews had returned en masse only a few years earlier when the emperor Claudius died, and after being banished from the city. The Jews were not in a position to condemn Paul, and they didn't want to get involved in a controversy over which they might be expelled again.
There is another and less complicated answer to the Jews' reaction to Paul. Perhaps a delegation with official letters had not yet arrived from Jerusalem, due to the same weather that had delayed Paul. And the Sanhedrin may have decided against proceeding with the matter, once Paul was dispatched to Rome. The council may have felt that Paul would be no trouble to them in Jerusalem, and there was no need to follow up. They saw that he had been judged not guilty of any crime on more than one occasion and they may have felt that it was hopeless pursuing the matter in Rome.
It is far from certain that the Sanhedrin had any intention of proceeding with the matter. They had been singularly unsuccessful in prosecuting Paul before Felix and Festus, and Festus and Agrippa had actually pronounced him innocent of any crime. The prospect of gaining a conviction in Rome was not good, and the Roman authorities sometimes dealt harshly with accusers who failed to substantiate their case. Nor could the Sanhedrin have reasonably expected the Jews of Rome to take up their cause, since their own position was a precarious one. (Williams, 452)
Against this sect (Acts 28:22)
The Jews did admit that the Christian movement was being described in less than complimentary terms. "We want to hear what your views are," they told Paul, "for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect" (28:22). The Jews must have been familiar with the Christian movement in Rome. It had probably come there soon after the first Pentecost. Jews from Rome, attending the festival, had become converted (2:10). No doubt many of them returned to Rome to spread the faith. By the late 40s the Jews were so incensed about the growing Christian community that they were rioting in protest. The emperor Claudius was forced to issue an order banning Jews from Rome (Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, "Claudius" 25:4; Acts 18:2).
In Paul's case, the Jewish leaders presented themselves as neutral bystanders. Yes, they had heard about the "sect of the Nazarenes," but they wanted to hear Paul's explanation of what it was about. The leaders appeared to be evasive, not wanting to really commit themselves and reveal their attitude. "People everywhere" may have been talking against the Christians, but they were waiting to hear Paul's views.
Kingdom of God (Acts 28:23)
In a second, more official meeting, an even larger contingent of Jewish leaders met with Paul at the house he was staying (28:23). It would be an all-day encounter. Paul used the opportunity to preach the gospel, in his usual manner. Luke said: "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" (28:23).
Paul spent the day explaining how the Holy Scriptures pointed to Christ. He hoped to prove to the assembly of Jews that Jesus had fulfilled Holy Writ and that he was the Messiah who was King of the kingdom they were expecting. Luke didn't relate specifically what Paul said to the Jewish delegation. But we already know what it must have been, from his earlier speeches, as at Pisidian Antioch (13:17-41).
In this final chapter, Luke emphasized something he seldom mentioned in Acts. Paul, in his preaching, explained the meaning of the kingdom of God (28:23). Luke had begun Jesus' ministry with his assertion, "I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent" (Luke 4:43). Paul, the disciple and witness, was like his Master who carried on the work begun by Jesus. From the beginning of his account to the end, Luke told his readers that the gospel included an understanding of the true nature of God's kingdom.
The final condemnation (Acts 28:24-27)
Some of the Jews were convinced by Paul's message, but others refused to believe him. In disagreement with each other-and confused about Paul's message-the Jewish elders began to leave. As in virtually every city Paul preached in, the bulk of the Jews rejected the message of salvation in Jesus. Though some seemed at least superficially persuaded, Luke gave no indication that they were sufficiently moved to repent and seek baptism. Nor does it appear that they returned at a later date for further instruction.
As the Jewish elders of Rome began to leave, Paul lashed out with a searing rebuke from the prophet Isaiah (6:9-10). He said the Holy Spirit had spoken the truth to their forefathers-and his words applied to them: "Go to this people and say, 'You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving...'" (28:26). Paul was here pictured by Luke as one of the Old Testament prophets who spoke out against his people. Jesus had already used these words of Isaiah to describe the Jewish response to his message, and all the gospel writers including John had written of it (Matthew 13:13-15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:39-40). The scripture from Isaiah is thought to have been widely used in the early Christian church as a text explaining the Jewish rejection of the gospel.
With such words from Isaiah, Paul cited the Jews' spurning of his gospel message as a fulfillment of prophecy. The rejection was to be expected, because it had been spoken of ahead of time. Williams writes, "The fact that Paul appears to have addressed his final remarks to them all suggests that none of them had as yet been persuaded to the point of believing that Jesus was the Messiah" (453).
In Luke's view, the rejection in Rome was the definitive one. As the Jews turned their backs on Paul, refusing his message and perhaps irritated at his prophetic condemnation, he stressed his role as the apostle to the Gentiles. "I want you to know," he must have shouted to the departing Jews, "that God's salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!" (28:28). Paul had already announced a turning to the Gentiles, once in Pisidian Antioch (13:46), and again at Corinth (18:6). This time Paul announced his turning to the Gentiles with a note of finality.
Luke's readers recognize this as the prophecy that has indeed taken place "among us" (Luke 1:1), and which has generated the question that made the writing of this narrative necessary in the first place: how did the good news reach the Gentiles, and did the rejection of it by the Jews mean that God failed in his fidelity to them? Luke's answer is contained in the entire narrative up to this point. In every way, God has proven faithful; not his prophetic word and power, but the blindness of the people has led to their self-willed exclusion from the messianic blessings. (Johnson, 476)