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Bible Commentaries
Acts 28

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Verses 1-2

Reception on Malta

After all of them arrived safely ashore, it became clear to them that they were on the island of Malta. “The natives”, i.e. the original population, prove to the drowning people “extraordinary kindness”. If we consider that it was a custom to seize everything that was washed ashore and kill the people, then here too we see the grace of God that He brought them to these people.

The treatment Paul receives here from pagans is a great contrast to the treatment he received from his Jewish brothers according to the flesh. It is the contrast between the Jewish leaders and the Roman rulers.

It seems as if nothing has happened, because we will see that Paul continues his work of witnessing on this island. God has given him new territory for this by the shipwreck.

Verses 3-6

Paul Bitten by a Viper

Before Paul witnesses, something happens that will greatly strengthen the witness to be given. The drowning people are invited by the natives to a fire to dry and warm themselves there. They are soaking wet and it also starts to rain, so that there is not much of a chance for them to dry. For such a large party a big fire and therefore a lot of wood is needed. For that, wood has to be gathered. Paul helps with this. He doesn’t feel too important to help gathering sticks. A communal activity gives warmth to all. The humblest work has that effect. Doing something for the Lord keeps your love for Him and the fellow believers warm and prevents you from getting cold spiritually.

Paul gathers a “a bundle of sticks”, a lot of branches, not just a few. When he has put the wood on the fire and wants to warm himself, a viper comes out of the heat and bites into his hand. The viper represents the devil. The devil doesn’t like it when believers care about each other. He does not like the heat of brotherly love and will try to disturb it. Just as heat awakens serpents, so love among the brothers awakens the devil as it were. When believers are cold or sleeping, the devil also keeps himself sleeping.

When the natives see the beast hanging from Paul’s hand, they are immediately ready with a theory that makes no sense, or it must be that it reveals their idolatrous way of thinking. Such an assessment can also occur with Christians. Christians, too, can be ready with an explanation if something bad happens to someone.

Paul’s reaction is the reaction of faith (Mark 16:18; Luke 10:19). He shakes off the beast in the fire. That must also be our reaction if the devil wants to catch us. We must, in faith, put him in the place where he will be forever: the fire (Revelation 20:10). The natives have given their opinion about the viper who had bitten himself into Paul’s hand. They also have their opinion about its consequences: it is either swelling up or suddenly falling down dead. Neither happens.

From a spiritual point of view the following application can be made. The hand speaks of activity, of being busy. If we are engaged in a work for the Lord, the devil can bite into it. If we do not act resolutely and point out the devil’s rightful place to him, we will swell up, which means becoming proud of what we are doing for the Lord. Or we will suddenly fall down dead, in other words, we no longer show any life for God. That is why we should not give the devil a place (Ephesians 4:27), i.e. we should not give him the opportunity to do his damaging work with us.

If the expected consequences do not happen, the natives change their minds. We have here a new proof of how easily people change their opinions, as we have seen before in Lystra, but there the opposite (Acts 14:11-Psalms :). Such reasoning involves people who only judge by appearances. God has His own plan for this event. He uses this event to indicate that in the midst of all the prisoners, this man is His servant.

Verses 7-10

Healings on Malta

The kindness of the islanders is so great that even “the leading man [i.e. an official title] of the island” receives Paul and his companions kindly for three days. Then comes the opportunity for a compensation. Publius’ father has become seriously ill. Without any appeal to him, Paul goes to him. Once there, he prays first. In this way he makes it clear that it is not he, but God who can give the healing. Then he lays his hands on him and he heals him. When that is done, it is the turn of the rest of the island who have diseases. They come to him and are cured.

For a long time we have not heard of signs. Here we hear about it again. Signs are always a support for the Word that the apostles speak. Also here it is a sign that is done by an apostle (2 Corinthians 12:12). Signs have a function at the beginning of a period. Paul is here on a wasteland where the gospel has never been heard. Because it is a new beginning for this island, signs have been done here as well. Signs are never an aim in themselves, but always connect to the proclamation of the Word (Hebrews 2:4). Paul also proclaimed that, of course. It is so obvious that Luke does not even mention it.

It is clear that the islanders are extremely thankful that they have heard and accepted the gospel and that they have been cured of diseases. The honors with which they venerate Paul and those with him for this have nothing to do with paying divine honors that Paul would certainly have rejected immediately.

Peter calls us in his first letter in a general sense to honor all people (1 Peter 2:17) and Paul says that we should honor those who deserve honor (Romans 13:7). It is about the other person’s appreciation of who he is as a creature of God and if he has done something that deserves honor, we should not withhold our appreciation from the other person. That is what the islanders have done.

When the company leaves the island, they all get what they need to continue the journey. In doing so, the islanders help them forward in a manner worthy of God (cf. 3 John 1:5-Ruth :).

Verses 11-16

Arrival at Rome

It is now the end of January / beginning of February when they board another Alexandrian ship (Acts 27:6) to continue their journey to Rome. The ship has, as Luke notes, the “Twin Brothers for its figurehead”. With these are meant the ‘sons of Zeus’. They were regarded as protectors of the seafarers and were therefore worshipped in many port cities. By mentioning the figurehead of this ship, where Paul is on board, we are made aware that the proclamation of the gospel of which Paul is the representative, is a spiritual battle. This struggle is still in full swing (Philippians 1:27-Hosea :).

The first port visited is Syracuse on the Italian island of Sicily. They stay there for three days, possibly to unload cargo or to wait for a favorable wind. From Syracuse they cross over to Rhegium on the mainland of Italy. Because they have to go north and there is a southern wind, the rest of the sea voyage goes very well. After two days they arrive in Puteoli, the port of Naples.

In Puteoli Paul and his companions went looking for “brethren” and they found them. “Brethren” is at that time the general name for the believers. The brethren ask Paul and his companions to stay for seven days. Seven days always means including a Sunday (Acts 20:6-Judges :; Acts 21:4). Then they go further over land on their way to Rome.

While Paul was in Puteoli for seven days, the message accelerated ahead to Rome. From there the brothers came to meet him. When Paul sees them, he thanks God and takes courage. He has never seen those brothers before, but the fact that they are brothers, who greet him warmly and embrace him, is a great gift and could only have been worked by God.

From Luke’s account of Paul’s meeting with the various groups of brethren, it seems that Paul was depressed. He is a man with a nature like ours. On an earlier occasion of despondency, the Lord Himself came to him to encourage him (Acts 23:11). Here the Lord does it through the brethren.

The love of the brethren encourages and animates Paul again. He experiences what he wrote earlier in his letter to “all who are beloved of God in Rome, called [as] saints” (Romans 1:7; Romans 1:12). A group of brethren meet him about sixty-five kilometers from Rome. He embraces them in the Market of Appius. Another group, who may have left Rome a little later, meets him about fifty kilometers and he embraces them in Three Inns. Thus the Lord has a double encouragement for Paul on the final part of the journey to Rome.

Then Paul finally arrives at the former heart of the world. What must have been going through him when he entered the city he had wanted to visit for so long (Romans 1:10; Romans 15:23). As mentioned before, he arrived there in a different way than he would have imagined. The fact that he would come there as a prisoner would not have arisen in his mind. But that is how God determined it and what a blessing came out of that imprisonment! Just think of the letters he wrote during this imprisonment and which we now have in the Bible.

Furthermore, Paul, as a prisoner, was given an opportunity that others in Rome did not get, namely, to bring the gospel to the court of the emperor, which was also an encouragement for others (Philippians 1:12-2 Chronicles :). At the same time, his imprisonment put the authenticity of the faith of many to the test. There are those who were ashamed of his captivity and forgot him in Rome, while someone like an Onesiphorus was not ashamed, but visited him in Rome (2 Timothy 1:16-Esther :). That may have been during his second imprisonment, but the principle remains the same. Paul was a prisoner.

During this first imprisonment Paul was given permission to stay by himself, being constantly chained and guarded by a soldier. In comparison with staying in a prison, this form of imprisonment can be called mild.

Verses 17-22

First Discussion With the Jews

The mild regime of his imprisonment is also reflected in the possibility that he is free to receive anyone or even invite anyone he likes. Already after three days he invites the leading men of the Jews to come to him. When he has no opportunity to go to the synagogue, it is in this way possible for him to act in Rome according to the principle ‘first the Jew and then the Greek’. When the leading men of the Jews have come to him, the first thing he does is to defend his person. He first explains why he came to Rome, because that he is here as a prisoner requires clarification and explanation.

He briefly summarizes for them what happened. It is remarkable that he doesn’t tell them anything about the cause and the attempts of murder. There is not a word of accusation against his Jewish brothers on his lips, no matter how much evil they have done to him. This is truly selfless love.

As for his treatment by the Romans, he also exposes them in a favorable way. Of them he only mentions that they had wanted to let him go because they had found nothing in him that death deserved (Acts 23:29; Acts 25:25Acts 26:32). Paul puts the Romans in a favorable light. These Jews live among them and know them.

Without any value judgment Paul tells how the Jews contradicted his release by the Romans and how he was forced to appeal to the emperor. He is not here to accuse his brethren, but to let the right take its course. He wanted them to know that and that’s why he has let them come.

He also let them know that he is not an apostate Jew, but that he shares in the hope of all Jews. “The hope of Israel” refers to the fulfillment of the promises to the fathers, a hope that is inseparable from the Messiah. In this way, at the end of the book, it is not only stated that Christendom is the new testimony, but also that God does not lose sight of His people. Paul does not denounce his people as the cause of his chain, but points as the cause of his chain to the hope of Israel, the Messiah.

When Paul is finished, the Roman Jews say they know nothing about him. No letters have been written about him from Judea to them, nor have any of their brethren come to them to say anything evil about him. Therefore they cannot pass judgment. They offer him the chance to explain his thoughts to them. At the same time, they indicate that what they have heard of Christendom gives them the impression that it is a contrary movement that does not do Judaism any good. The Pharisees did not give the Lord Jesus such an opportunity to justify Himself, while Nicodemus had urged them to do so (John 7:51).

These Jews do want to listen, but also show that they are critical of it. The attitude of these Jews is worthy of imitation. It is important that we only pass judgment on someone’s views that do not correspond with our own, after the person in question has been given the opportunity to justify himself.

Verses 23-28

Second Discussion With the Jews

After the acquaintance meeting, an appointment is made to go deeper into the matter. On that occasion even more come to Paul in his lodging. He explains to them what the kingdom of God is and declares its importance. This is the sixth time in this book that reference is made to the kingdom. Speaking about and living in the kingdom means speaking about and living under the reign of the Lord Jesus. That kingdom will be established in glory when the Lord Jesus comes to reign on earth.

Now that He has been rejected, the kingdom of God is not visible, but it is there. For it is everywhere where people confess the Lord Jesus as Lord and show that in the power of the Holy Spirit in the practice of every day in their lives (Romans 14:17). If every believer in his life would realize more of what it is like to be a subject in the kingdom, the truth of the church would be better put into practice. Many divisions in the church would then not have taken place.

Paul ‘is explaining’, which means making its meaning known, and ‘testifying’, which means that he speaks solemnly about the fact that it has to be lived according to. He does that all day long. There was no one watching the clock. It must have been breathtaking to hear him speak about the Lord Jesus from the law of Moses and from the prophets. He put his whole heart into it because he was so eager to persuade them concerning “Jesus”. If they would acknowledge in Him the Messiah sent from God, they would be saved and that was what he was all about. Here we see that intensive Bible study with explanation is also a possibility to win people for Christ.

The reactions are not lacking. As always, the preaching of the Word brings a split among the hearers. Some are persuaded, but others do not believe. They go away discussing after Paul has quoted a serious word of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:9-2 Samuel :). Isaiah spoke this word to the unbelieving people as a whole, and Paul now applies it to the unbelieving Jews he spoke to. The Lord Jesus also used this word for the purpose of the people in His days (Matthew 13:14-Nehemiah :).

The great question whether the people will still come to faith is clearly answered by this quotation. It seems a hard word, but it is fully applicable to them because of their rejection. It is the final and definitive judgment of the hardening observed by Paul. They have closed their hearts so that they cannot absorb the Word of God. They shrink back to their destruction (Hebrews 10:39).

This observation of their hardening leads Paul to the last words we have of him in this book. Those words contain the point we have been led to in this book that because of the rejection of salvation by the Jews, the door of salvation has opened to the nations (Acts 13:46; Acts 18:6; Romans 11:25-Jonah :). To them the Word will not go in vain. They will also hear. Although not all nations have accepted the gospel, over the centuries many of the nations have heard and accepted it (1 Timothy 3:16).

Verses 29-31

Paul Continues to Preach, Unhindered

The duration of this imprisonment of Paul, which he is allowed to spend “in his own rented quarters”, is fixed by Luke at “two full years”. It seems that he was released after that time because his prosecutors did not appear. In order for a trial to happen, both the accused and the plaintiffs had to appear in court (Acts 23:35; Acts 25:16). It is therefore not justified that Paul was not released after having been detained for two years (Acts 24:27). If the plaintiffs do not appear, Roman law prescribes that the accused must be released. The Jews will have found the journey to Rome too great an undertaking. They may have been satisfied that Paul was captured and put on transport to Rome.

The fact that Paul was released after two years, without appearing before the emperor, need not contradict the statement that he had to go to Rome precisely for this purpose. As far as the text makes clear, it is not necessary that his appearance before the emperor takes place during this imprisonment. A second imprisonment will follow and then he will appear before the emperor.

Paul had an unknown number of unknown people visiting him during this first imprisonment. These may have been brethren, Jews and also pagans (1 Corinthians 10:32). Among them is also a runaway slave named Onesimus, of whom we know that he was converted by the service of Paul (Philemon 1:10). He gave to this Onesimus the letter to Philemon which he wrote during his imprisonment on the occasion of the conversion of Onesimus. During these two years he also wrote the letter to the Ephesians, the letter to the Philippians and the letter to the Colossians.

To all who come to him, he preaches the kingdom of God, in which the Lord Jesus Christ is involved. The book begins with the preaching of the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3), and here, where it is mentioned for the seventh and last time, the book closes with it. Paul preaches the Lord of that kingdom in the city of the emperor, the great lord of the earth. He does so “unhindered”, the last word of the book of Acts.

The book ends with an open ending because the acts of the Spirit, Who is not bound, have not ended. The history of the church goes on in the life of each member. Thus the Word has reached the far corners of the Roman empire. Christendom has turned from a Jewish sect into a world religion. From Jerusalem the gospel has gone out to the end of the earth and will also go out to the end of the present dispensation. We may make our contribution to passing on that message, that there is another King than the rulers of the world: the glorified Lord in heaven. Until He returns, we wish it becomes day.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Acts 28". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/acts-28.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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