Matthew’s record of the Great Commission reads like this: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
The book of Acts is the inspired account of how the early church carried out that great mission. It also contains the pattern for how God’s people can evangelize the world in every generation (Colossians 1:23).
In Acts 28, the apostle Paul arrives in the major city of the first century world, Rome. He meets with Jewish leaders to explain his relationship with God, “persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets.” The book of Acts ends with the information that Paul spent two years under house arrest, with the freedom to teach everyone who came to him.
It was during this time frame (from when Paul was first arrested in Acts 21:33 through this two year house arrest – approximately A.D. 60-63) that Paul wrote four letters, commonly called his prison epistles. They are Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.
After the events of Acts 28, Paul is released for a period of time. It was then that he wrote 1 Timothy and Titus and Hebrews (if he wrote Hebrews).
Paul was later arrested again and, during this imprisonment, he wrote his final letter, the book of 2 Timothy. Shortly after he wrote that last epistle, Paul was put to death, in approximately A.D. 68. History (or perhaps, legend) tells us that Paul was beheaded.
One more spiritual lesson. When Paul preached to these listeners in Acts 28, there were two responses. “And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved” (verse 24). There are only two responses to the gospel, obedience and disobedience. There are two groups of people, saved and lost. There are two eternal destinies, heaven and hell.
World evangelism is accomplished one soul at a time.
Paul could have been set free because he was innocent of any crime. Why then did he appeal to Caesar? Wouldn’t it have been better for him to be free? Couldn’t he have reached more people for the Lord living free rather than being a prisoner?
Perhaps so, but now Paul has the opportunity to preach the gospel to the most powerful man in the world, the Roman Caesar. His name is Nero and as the leader of the Roman Empire, he is well known for his disdain for Christians. The Great Persecutor is about to meet the great apostle to hear about the Great Savior.
Just imagine how much good could have resulted from Nero’s conversion. Everyone would know about it. Everyone could have the chance to hear about salvation in Christ, in many cases, sooner rather than later.
Is he likely to be converted? Probably not, and of course, history tells us he was not. He is more likely to order Paul to be executed immediately. Nero could easily reject the gospel message and we now know that he did.
But to Paul, it is a chance worth taking. He understands that the Great Commission says: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Paul’s job is not to pre-judge anyone’s response to the gospel, even Caesar’s. His mission is to preach the truth to everyone and to let each soul make the personal decision to accept or to reject the gospel. That was his point in 1 Corinthians 1:17-18.
We can learn from his example that we should just teach the message of the cross every chance we get and then allow the Holy Spirit to work through those efforts to convert the lost. We plant the seed and water it. God gives the increase, or not. We must simply be faithful to meet our responsibility. And we must not pre-judge someone’s interest and decide not to give him the chance to accept or reject the message.
Acts 27 chronicles Paul’s treacherous voyage by ship toward the headquarters of the Empire. There are many dangers and problems but the Lord’s providence sees Paul and the other 275 passengers through. Verse 37 tells us that Luke is accompanying the apostle on this hazardous trip. This account describes one of three shipwrecks that Paul suffered in his life (2 Corinthians 11:25).
Slowly, but surely the apostle Paul is making his way toward Rome.
“You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” Only those who have tried to teach others and who have heard those or similar words can truly understand Paul’s response. “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am.”
This chapter begins with Paul once again relating the events surrounding his past life in Judaism and his subsequent conversion to Christ. (The original event was recorded in Acts 9 and he retells the story in Acts 22 and here.)
Paul first tells Agrippa that he had been a faithful Jew his entire life. His zeal for God had led him to “do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” On his way to Damascus to persecute even more Christians, however, Jesus had personally appeared to him. The Lord told Paul that he would be sent to preach the gospel to the lost, “to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me,” that is, faith in Jesus. And that is what Paul has been doing ever since, preaching the good news of the resurrected Christ.
Do you realize how important the resurrection is to the gospel story? It was the crucifixion death of Jesus that gives us the remission of our sins. But it is the Lord’s resurrection from the dead, never to die again, that gives us hope beyond the grave. If the resurrection is true, then all of Christianity is true – sin, grace, mercy, forgiveness, heaven, hell. If the resurrection is false, nothing else really matters. But because Jesus is the Son of God and not only died for our sins, but was raised from death, we have every reason to believe in Him and obey the gospel. He is the Lord, Jesus Christ our Savior.
Both Festus and Agrippa understand the point. Festus accuses Paul of being mad (insane). Paul focuses on Agrippa and challenges him to trust and obey. Agrippa refuses to submit to God’s will. It is so sad to see a believer who will not obey the Lord. As the song says, “Almost, but lost.”
It has been two years and the Jews still want to kill Paul. (Do you remember the 40 men who had taken a vow not to eat or drink until they had killed him? They must have been quite hungry by this time, don’t you think?) Another plot to kill him fails here. You can see God’s providence in His protection of the apostle.
Festus declares that Paul should be kept at Caesarea as he will soon journey there. He promises to examine Paul then.
When the Jews come down to Caesarea from Jerusalem, they accuse Paul of many things, none of which they can prove. As a favor to the Jews, Festus suggests that the whole group travel to Jerusalem for trial. Paul realizes the danger this puts him in and appeals to Caesar’s judgment seat.
In verse 13, King Agrippa II comes to Caesarea and after he has been there for a few days, Festus tells the king about Paul. He expresses his dilemma to Agrippa by explaining that, even after examining both sides, he doesn’t know what the charges against Paul really are.
You will notice that one thing came out clearly from the testimony, however. Paul spoke of the Savior, “a certain Jesus,” who had been put to death, “whom Paul affirmed to be alive.” Everything the Bible teaches about salvation depends on the truth of the resurrection. The New Testament refers to Christ as “the firstfruits” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23) of resurrection. That means simply that everyone is going to be raised. Our souls are immortal; they cannot cease to exist. Every soul is going to live forever either in heaven or in hell. The resurrection makes all the difference and we must be certain to emphasize it in our teaching, as Paul did.
King Agrippa’s interest is raised and he says he would like to hear from Paul personally. The next day, the stage is set for the apostle to appear before a king to preach the gospel, just as it had been foretold that he would (see Acts 9:15). Chapter 26 contains his powerful sermon.
This chapter begins a series of trials before Roman officials, two governors (Felix and Festus) and a king (Agrippa II). Chapter 24 focuses on Paul’s defense before Felix.
At this trial, the Jews are represented by a professional orator named Tertullus who tries to flatter Felix into condemning Paul. He refers to Paul as a plague, a creator of dissension among Jews around the world, a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. He accuses him of only one crime, profaning the temple.
The apostle begins his defense to Governor Felix by denying that they can prove the charge against him, because it is not true. He confesses his allegiance to “the Way” and his hope of resurrection from the dead. When Felix hears of the resurrection, he has some knowledge of the matter and desires to hear more from Paul privately.
Soon, Felix and his Jewish wife, Drusilla, have a private Bible study with the inspired apostle. Paul speaks of the faith in Christ and reasons with them about righteousness, self-control (temperance, KJV) and the judgment to come. Felix realizes how badly his life compares to God’s standard and trembles in fear. He puts Paul off to wait for a more convenient time.
Thousands of people have died waiting for an easier time to put off sin and obey the gospel. Please do not be one of them!
Felix spends the next two years hoping for a bribe to release Paul. He is ultimately succeeded by Porcius Festus. Paul will answer to the new Roman governor in the next chapter.
Chapter 23 continues with Paul’s explanation of his change from Judaism to Christianity as he tells them that he has acted with a completely clear conscience at all times. Realizing that some of his listeners are Sadducees and some are Pharisees, Paul mentions “hope and resurrection of the dead” as the basis for their criticism of him. This has the immediate effect of dividing the Jews with the Pharisees not wanting to “fight against God.”
Verses 8-9 provide a brief explanation of one of the major differences between Pharisees and Sadducees. The Sadducees did not believe in an afterlife, including resurrection, angels and spirits. They believed that this life was all there is. The Pharisees, on the other hand, were convinced that there is an entire spiritual realm, another level of existence beyond the physical, that includes our immortal souls, the part of man created in the image of God, that will live forever.
The Pharisees’ belief in the spiritual realm (what the book of Ephesians calls, “the heavenly places”) and the Sadducees’ disbelief is what causes “a loud outcry” and a “great dissension.”
The commander is afraid that Paul might be pulled to pieces by the two groups and takes him back into the barracks again for his protection.
The Lord assures Paul that he will bear witness of Him at Rome, just as he has in Jerusalem. We then learn of a conspiracy against Paul by more than forty Jews who agree together not to eat or drink until Paul is dead. When Paul’s nephew hears about the plot, he informs the commander who subsequently has Paul safely transported to Caesarea.
This is another example of how God can use unknown, otherwise insignificant people to accomplish His will. Maybe that means that He can even use you and me.
Paul begins his defense in the Hebrew language by referring to the Jews as “brethren and fathers.” He is showing his respect for them and he captures their attention as “they kept all the more silent.” He continues on to describe his own Jewish heritage.
Paul tells them of his early rabbinical training as he sat under the teaching of the highly respected Gamaliel. (Do you remember him from Acts 5:34-40?) He describes his attitude of persecution against the early Christians and then his trip to Damascus to continue his efforts to make havoc of the church.
And then a truly life changing event happens. The resurrected Lord appears to Paul personally. Remember that he was called, Saul, at that time. (It was necessary for an apostle to see the Christ after His resurrection – Acts 1:22. That’s one of the reasons there are no apostles today.)
This is what changed Saul of Tarsus, Christian hater and persecutor into the apostle Paul, gospel preacher and defender of the faith of Jesus Christ. He knew that Jesus had been put to death on that Roman cross. He had no doubt in his mind, whatsoever, that Jesus had died on Golgotha. And now that he has seen Him alive, Paul realizes that Jesus of Nazareth is truly the Messiah.
Paul relates how the Lord brought him together with Ananias who teaches him the gospel and baptizes him into Christ to wash away his sins. He tells them that he returned to Jerusalem, was praying and while in a trance, Christ commissioned him as an apostle (“one sent”) and sent him to preach to the Gentiles.
The idea of God showing mercy to the Gentiles is just too much for these zealous Jews. They begin shouting their protest and the Roman commander retreats with Paul into the barracks and decides to scourge him to get to the real truth. Told that Paul is a Roman citizen, the commander backs away and instructs Paul to appear the next day before the Jewish Sanhedrin Council.
Paul and his companions, after leaving the city of Miletus, sail to Cos, Rhodes, Patara, Cyprus and Syria before landing at Tyre. Finding disciples there, they stay for seven days. (Notice that the church at Tyre had men, women and children.)
Next, they travel to Ptolemais where they spend one day with the brethren and then continue on to Caesarea. At Caesarea, they stay with the godly family of “Philip the evangelist.” Our last discussion of Philip goes all the way back to Acts 8.
A prophet from Judea, named Agabus, comes to Caesarea and predicts that, if Paul goes to Jerusalem, he will be arrested and delivered to the Gentiles (Romans). Paul insists that he is willing not only to be arrested, but to die for the Lord. That is total commitment, a complete surrender of his life to God. The Lord expects and deserves nothing less from every disciple, including you and me. See Mark 12:28-30.
When the group (including Luke; remember the “we”) comes to Jerusalem, Paul meets with the elders of the church and gives them many details about his work among the Gentiles. While they “glorified the Lord” for the good news, they were also concerned about the perception that Paul was teaching Jews “to forsake Moses,” including circumcision and other Jewish customs. Paul helps to pay the expenses of four men who have taken a vow (verses 23-26) as proof that he still respects Moses and Jewish tradition.
Some Jews from Asia stir up the multitude with an accusation that Paul had taken a Gentile, Trophimus the Ephesian, into the temple. The charge is false, but many people believe that Paul is guilty. (We should learn from that to always hear all the facts before we make a decision about a person’s guilt or innocence.)
Paul is about to be beaten to death, when a Roman commander, Claudius Lysias (Acts 23:26), hears the uproar and come in to rescue him. The apostle asks for permission to speak to the assembled multitude and begins to do so, in the Hebrew language, as Chapter 22 begins.
Paul spends more time in Macedonia/Greece as Chapter 20 begins.
In verse 4, we are introduced to those who were traveling with Paul on this third preaching journey. He was accompanied, at this time, by Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica. (By the way, Secundus probably is not a proper name as much as it informs us that he was a slave, or former slave, who was the “second” child born in his family. “Tertius” [Romans 16:22], who was Paul’s scribe in writing the book of Romans, was probably the third child born into his master’s group of slaves.) Gaius of Derbe and Timothy are also on the journey with Paul as are Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia. Luke is also present, although he does not mention himself by name. (Did you remember that Luke wrote the book of Acts?) But he does include himself throughout the book with pronouns like “us” (verse 5) and “we” (verse 6).
As these spiritual soldiers move on, we find them next at Troas. The disciples come together on the first day of the week to remember their Savior’s death for their sins. Paul preaches to them and, as he prolongs his message, a young man named Eutychus falls asleep, falls from the third story window where he was seated and falls to his death. Paul brings him back to life and then continues his message until daybreak the next morning. (That’s quite a long sermon, don’t you think?)
Paul and his companions set out on a ship and sail to Miletus. From there, he calls for the elders of the church at Ephesus to come to him. The rest of the chapter contains his discussion with these elders, Paul’s only recorded sermon to believers. All the others were to convert sinners.
There are many lessons for churches, elders and preachers in this discourse of Paul’s. We should serve the Lord with humility. We must teach people privately and from house to house to repent. He tells us to be certain to declare “the whole counsel of God.” We must be on the alert for false teachers, inside and outside the church. We must rely on the word of God to build us up spiritually. He encourages us to help those who are weak.
They pray together, weep together and then the elders accompany Paul to the ship which will take him on to his next destination.
Chapter 19 finds Paul in ancient Ephesus. In New Testament times, Ephesus was a Roman city in Asia Minor. It is now part of modern day Turkey.
As Paul converts people to the Lord in Ephesus, another new congregation is established. The church in Ephesus will be a powerful influence for good. Paul will later write a letter to the church in Ephesus that becomes a part of the New Testament. Also, in Revelation 2 and 3, when seven churches in Asia Minor receive letters from the Lord, Ephesus is one of those congregations (Revelation 2:1-7).
The chapter begins (verses 1-7) as Paul finds twelve men who had been baptized with John’s baptism. Upon further teaching, they are baptized in the name of the Lord.
Paul preaches for three months in the synagogue of Ephesus and then sets up a teaching situation in a local school for two years. This allows the whole province of Asia to hear the gospel (verses 8-10).
After performing many kinds of miracles (the Bible calls them “unusual miracles”), Paul casts out a demon which some “itinerant Jewish exorcists” had failed to remove. These miracles have their intended effect (John 20:30-31) and many people come to faith. Their repentance is shown by their willingness to burn many expensive books of magic. The Bible makes this powerful statement: “So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.”
One more incident concludes chapter 19 (verses 21-41). A man named Demetrius, along with others of his fellow silversmiths, recognizes the danger to his trade caused by former idol worshipers converting to Christianity. So they put together a protest against Paul and his companions. For a long time, they cry out “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” (Some Bible translations call her “Artemis of the Ephesians.” Diana was her Roman name and Artemis was her Greek name.) The whole city is in an uproar and chaos is reigning with some citizens not even knowing what is happening. Finally, the city clerk resolves the crisis by telling the silversmiths to pursue legal action against Paul and his friends or else to simply drop the matter.