The untold story

When the Apostle Paul finally arrived in Rome, he met with the Jewish leaders there and explained his situation to them. “Then they said to him, ‘We neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren who came reported or spoken any evil of you. But we desire to hear from you what you think; for concerning this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere'” (Acts 28:21-22, NKJV). Paul spent two years under house arrest in Rome and according to 2 Timothy 4:16 appeared before Caesar Nero, but was not convicted. Then, as far as anyone knows, he was released and allowed to continue his ministry.

It is clear from Acts 13:1-21:17 that Paul went on three missionary journeys. There is also reason to believer that he made a fourth journey after his release from the Roman imprisonment recorded in Acts 28. The conclusion that such a journey did indeed take place is based on: (1) Paul’s declared intention to go to Spain (Romans 15:24,28), (2) Eusebius’s implication that Paul was released following his first Roman imprisonment (Ecclesiastical History, 2.22.2-3) and (3) statements in early christian literature that he took the gospel as far as Spain (Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians, ch. 5; Actus Petri Vercellenes, chs. 1-3; Muratorian Canon lines 34-39). (Paul’s Fourth Missionary Journey, pgs. 1738-1739)

The reason Luke didn’t include Paul’s fourth missionary journey in his book of Acts may have been because he thought Paul’s arrival in Rome signified the accomplishment of the goal of his ministry. Another reason may have been because Luke left Paul in Rome and didn’t know what happened to him. Paul stated in 2 Timothy 4:16, “At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.” Paul went on to say, “Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully know, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of a lion” (Acts 4:17). “Since as a Roman citizen, Paul could not be thrown to the lions in the amphitheater, this must be a figurative way of saying that his first hearing did not result in an immediate guilty verdict” (note on Acts 4:17).

Although the details of Paul’s final arrest and death by execution are not included in the Bible, it is believed that his second letter to Timothy was written shortly before he was beheaded in Rome. In that letter, Paul disclosed that “only Luke is with me” (2 Timothy 4:11). If Luke and Paul were separated after his first imprisonment in Rome, they were reunited sometime before his death around 67 or 68 A.D. Paul concluded his second letter to Timothy with these final words, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil assault, and He will bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (2 Timothy 4:18, AMP).

A living testimony

The encouragement Paul received from the Lord gave him confidence in spite of overwhelming circumstances during his voyage to Rome. The angel of God said, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you” (Acts 27:24, NKJV). After 14 days of being driven up and down the Adriatic Sea by a typhoon like east-northeast wind, the ship Paul was sailing in drew near to land. It says in Acts 27:29-31:

Then, fearing lest we should run aground on the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern, and prayed for day to come. And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, when they had let down the skiff into the sea, under pretense of putting out anchors from the prow, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” (NKJV)

Paul believed that God was going to keep him alive, but he was apparently under the impression that everyone in the ship had to stay together in order for them to be delivered from their adverse circumstances. In a similar fashion to Jesus’ last meal with his disciples, Paul “took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat” (Acts 27:35). At this point in his journey to Rome, Paul became a living testimony to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul didn’t preach a sermon to the men he was sailing with; he intended to show them that God would preserve their lives if they believed what he told them.

Paul and his sailing companions became shipwrecked on an island called Melita, also known as Malta (Acts 28:1 and note). Luke’s account of the situation showed that the local people considered Paul and the other prisoners to be dangerous criminals, and yet they showed them kindness by starting a fire for them because of the rain and cold (Acts 28:2). Luke stated:

But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand. So when the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice does not allow to live.” But he shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. However, they were expecting that he would swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had looked for a long time and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god. (Acts 28:3-6, NKJV)

Paul didn’t correct the natives viewpoint of him, but rather went on to further demonstrate his superhuman power by healing the father of the chief man of the island (Acts 28:8). Although there is no record of anyone on Malta being converted during Paul’s three month stay there, it seems likely that the people that lived on the island were greatly impacted by Paul’s living testimony. According to wikipedia, “Malta has a long Christian legacy and its Archdiocese is claimed to be an apostolic see (an apostolic see is an episcopal see whose foundation is attributed to one or more of the apostles of Jesus or to one of his close associates) because Paul the Apostle was shipwrecked on “Melita.”

An alternate route

Paul’s determination to reach Rome in his journey across the continents of Asia and Europe was somewhat hindered, but also helped by his imprisonment in Cesarea. Because he was a Roman citizen, Paul was able to appeal to Caesar and set in motion his transport to the capital of the Roman Empire (Acts 25:12). After sharing his testimony with King Agrippa and his sister Bernice, Paul was finally sent to Rome by way of a military escort. It says in Acts 27:1-2, “And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners unto one named Julius, a centurion of Agustus’ band. And entering a ship of Adramyttium, we launched, meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia; one Aristarchus, a Macedomian of Thessalonica, being with us.”

Apparently, Paul was allowed to take at least two of his traveling companions with him when he was taken to Rome. Aristarchus is identified in Acts 19:29 and 20:4 as a Macedonian of Thessalonica that accompanied Paul on his third missionary journey. Luke, the author of the book of Acts indicated he went with Paul to Rome by using the pronoun we when he said “we should sail” in Acts 27:1. Even though Paul was a prisoner, he was treated with respect, perhaps because of his Roman citizenship. It says in Acts 27:3, “And the next day we touched at Sidon. And Julius courteously entreated Paul, and gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh himself.”

The timing of Paul’s voyage was an issue because Luke tells us, “And when we had launched from thence, we sailed under Cyprus, because the winds were contrary” (Acts 27:4). The prevailing winds in the summer were westernly making a 1000 plus mile trip to Rome very easy, but the contrary winds caused their journey to become nearly impossible. Paul’s guard decided to change their route and sail directly to Rome from Alexandria (Acts 27:6). Paul told his captors, “Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives” (Acts 27:10). The centurion responsible for transporting the prisoners to Rome ignored Paul’s warning and in spite of their effort to get to Rome via an alternate route, they ran into a typhoon-like, east-northeast wind, which drove the ship away from their destination (note on Acts 27:14).

Luke tells us the situation became desperate “when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was taken away” (Acts 27:20). Paul’s confidence was evident when he “stood in the midst of them and said, ‘Men, you should have listened to me, and not have sailed from Crete and incurred this disaster and loss'” (Acts 27:21, NKJV). Afterward, Paul reassured everyone by stating, “For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me” (Acts 27:23-25, NKJV).

Final assignment

Paul’s appearance before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem bore remarkable resemblance to Jesus’ appearance before the Jewish authorities on the night of his crucifixion. It says in John 18:19-23, “The high priest then asked Jesus about His disciples and His doctrine. Jesus answered him, ‘I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing. Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them. Indeed they know what I said.’ And when He had said these things, one of the officers who stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, ‘Do You answer the high priest like that?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?'” (NKJV).

Paul’s situation was similar, but when the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to strike Paul on the mouth, he responded, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?” (Acts 23:3, NKJV). Paul’s feisty response may have gained him some respect with the council because he was able to convince the scribes of the Pharisees to listen to what he had to say. Afterward, they responded, “We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God” (Acts 23:9). Paul’s reprieve from judgment may actually have been the result of a divine intervention. It says in Acts 23:11, “But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.'”

Paul understood his final assignment from Jesus to be that he was to share his personal testimony with the Roman emperor. When Paul later appeared before the governor Festus and was told his trial would be conducted in Jerusalem, Paul responded, “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you very well know. For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar.”

Paul’s determination to reach Rome was hindered by many natural and spiritual disasters. His first obstacle was a conspiracy to kill him before he could be taken out of Jerusalem (Acts 23:12-13). Paul’s sister’s son heard about this plot and informed Paul he was in danger (Acts 23:16). In an amazing rescue effort, Paul was smuggled out of the city of Jerusalem by the Roman chief captain that was responsible for guarding him (Acts 23:23-24). Paul was taken to a military post 30 miles from Jerusalem between Samaria and Judea where he remained for the next two years. During that time, Paul prepared himself for his final assignment of appearing before Nero by repeatedly sharing his testimony with the various Roman officials he came in contact with.