Imprisoned in Rome, Paul continues to preach
Based on Acts 28:11-31
1. What confidence do Paul and his companions have, and why?
A VESSEL bearing the figurehead “Sons of Zeus,” likely a large grain carrier, is sailing from the Mediterranean island of Malta to Italy. The year is about 59 C.E. On board are the apostle Paul—a prisoner under escort—and fellow Christians Luke and Aristarchus. (Acts 27:2) Unlike the ship’s crew, these evangelizers seek no protection from the sons of the Greek god Zeus—the twin brothers Castor and Pollux. (See study note on Acts 28:11, nwtsty.) Rather, Paul and his companions serve Jehovah, who made known that Paul would bear witness to the truth in Rome and stand before Caesar.—Acts 23:11; 27:24.
2, 3. What route does Paul’s ship take, and what support has Paul enjoyed from the start?
2 Three days after docking at Syracuse, a beautiful Sicilian city rivaling Athens and Rome, the ship sails to Rhegium on the toe of the Italian peninsula. Then, aided by a south wind, the vessel makes the 175-nautical-mile (200 mi; 320 km) trip to the Italian port of Puteoli (near modern-day Naples) in optimum time, arriving on the second day.—Acts 28:12, 13.
3 Paul is now on the final leg of his trip to Rome, where he will appear before Emperor Nero. From start to finish, “the God of all comfort” has been with Paul. (2 Cor. 1:3) As we shall see, that support does not diminish; nor does Paul lose his zeal as a missionary.
“Paul Thanked God and Took Courage” (Acts 28:14, 15)
4, 5. (a) What hospitality did Paul and his companions receive at Puteoli, and why may he have been granted so much liberty? (b) Even when in prison, how may Christians benefit from their good conduct?
4 At Puteoli, Paul and his companions “found brothers and were urged to remain with them for seven days.” (Acts 28:14) What a wonderful example of Christian hospitality! No doubt those hospitable brothers were repaid many times over by the spiritual encouragement they received from Paul and his companions. Why, though, would a prisoner under watch be granted so much liberty? Possibly because the apostle had won the full trust of his Roman guards.
5 Likewise today, Jehovah’s servants, while in prisons and concentration camps, have often been granted special freedoms and privileges because of their Christian conduct. In Romania, for example, a man serving 75 years for robbery began to study God’s Word and underwent a remarkable change in personality. In response, the prison authorities assigned him to go into town—unescorted—to purchase items for the prison! Above all, of course, our good conduct glorifies Jehovah.—1 Pet. 2:12.
6, 7. How did the Roman brothers show extraordinary love?
6 From Puteoli, Paul and his companions likely walked some 30 miles (50 km) to Capua on the Appian Way, which led to Rome. Paved with large, flat blocks of lava, this famous road offered splendid views of the Italian countryside and, at certain points along its course, of the Mediterranean Sea. The road also took travelers through the Pontine Marshes, a swampy area some 40 miles (60 km) from Rome and the location of the Marketplace of Appius. When the brothers in Rome “heard the news about us,” wrote Luke, some came as far as the Marketplace, while others waited at Three Taverns, a rest stop about 30 miles (50 km) from Rome. What extraordinary love!—Acts 28:15.
7 The Marketplace of Appius provided little comfort for the traveler needing a respite from the rigors of his journey. Roman poet and satirist Horace describes the Marketplace as “crowded with sailors and surly inn-keepers.” He wrote that “the water was most execrable,” or foul. And he even refused to dine there! Despite all the discomforts, however, the delegation from Rome happily waited for Paul and his companions in order to escort them safely along the final leg of their journey.
8. Why did Paul thank God “on catching sight of” his brothers?
8 “On catching sight of” his brothers, the account says, “Paul thanked God and took courage.” (Acts 28:15) Yes, at the mere sight of these dear ones, some of whom the apostle may have known personally, he felt strengthened and comforted. Why did Paul thank God? He knew that unselfish love is an aspect of the spirit’s fruitage. (Gal. 5:22) Today, too, holy spirit moves Christians to put themselves out for one another and to comfort those in need.—1 Thess. 5:11, 14.
9. How can we reflect the spirit that was shown by the brothers who met Paul?
9 For example, holy spirit impels responsive ones to extend hospitality to circuit overseers, visiting missionaries, and other full-time servants, many of whom have made great sacrifices in order to serve Jehovah more fully. Ask yourself: ‘Can I do more to support the visit of the circuit overseer, perhaps showing hospitality to him and his wife if he is married? Can I arrange to work along with them in the ministry?’ In return, you may receive a rich blessing. For example, imagine the joy the Roman brothers felt as they listened to Paul and his companions relate some of their many upbuilding experiences.—Acts 15:3, 4.
“It Is Spoken Against Everywhere” (Acts 28:16-22)
10. What were Paul’s circumstances in Rome, and what did the apostle do soon after his arrival?
10 When the band of travelers finally entered into Rome, “Paul was permitted to stay by himself with the soldier guarding him.” (Acts 28:16) For those in light custody, security against escape usually called for a chain that bound the prisoner to his guard. Even so, Paul was a Kingdom proclaimer, and a chain certainly could not silence him. Hence, after giving himself just three days to recover from the journey, he called together the principal men of the Jews in Rome in order to introduce himself and give a witness.
11, 12. When speaking to his fellow Jews, how did Paul attempt to break down any prejudice they may have had?
11 “Men, brothers,” said Paul, “although I had done nothing contrary to the people or the customs of our forefathers, I was handed over as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. And after making an examination, they wanted to release me, for there were no grounds for putting me to death. But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar, but not because I had any accusation to make against my nation.”—Acts 28:17-19.
12 By addressing his Jewish listeners as “brothers,” Paul tried to establish common ground with them and break down any prejudice they may have had. (1 Cor. 9:20) Also, he made it clear that he was there, not to point an accusing finger at his fellow Jews, but to appeal to Caesar. Paul’s appeal, however, was news to the local Jewish community. (Acts 28:21) Why this apparent lapse in communication on the part of the Jews in Judea? One reference work states: “Paul’s ship must have been among the first that arrived in Italy after the winter, and representatives of the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem could not have arrived, nor could a letter about the case.”
13, 14. How did Paul introduce the Kingdom theme, and how can we imitate his example?
13 Paul now introduced the Kingdom theme by way of a statement that was sure to arouse the curiosity of his Jewish guests. He said: “For this reason I asked to see and speak to you, for it is because of the hope of Israel that I have this chain around me.” (Acts 28:20) That hope, of course, was bound up in the Messiah and his Kingdom, as proclaimed by the Christian congregation. “We think it proper to hear from you what your thoughts are,” replied the Jewish elders, “for truly as regards this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere.”—Acts 28:22.
14 When we have the opportunity to share the good news, we can imitate Paul by using thought-provoking statements or questions to arouse the interest of our listeners. Excellent suggestions can be found in such publications as Reasoning From the Scriptures, Benefit From Theocratic Ministry School Education, and Apply Yourself to Reading and Teaching. Are you making good use of these Bible study aids?
“Bearing Thorough Witness”—A Model for Us (Acts 28:23-29)
15. What four things stand out concerning Paul’s witness?
15 On the chosen day, the local Jews “came in even greater numbers” to Paul’s lodging place. Paul explained matters to them “from morning to evening . . . by bearing thorough witness concerning the Kingdom of God, to persuade them about Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets.” (Acts 28:23) Four things stand out in regard to Paul’s witness. First, he focused on God’s Kingdom. Second, he tried to appeal to his listeners by using persuasion. Third, he reasoned from the Scriptures. Fourth, he showed a selfless attitude, witnessing “from morning to evening.” What a fine example for us! The result? “Some began to believe,” while others would not. Dissension ensued, and the people “began to leave,” reports Luke.—Acts 28:24, 25a.
16-18. Why was the negative response of the Roman Jews no surprise to Paul, and how should we feel when our message is rejected?
16 This response was no surprise to Paul, for it harmonized with Bible prophecy and followed a pattern with which he was familiar. (Acts 13:42-47; 18:5, 6; 19:8, 9) Hence, to his unreceptive departing guests, Paul said: “The holy spirit aptly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your forefathers, saying, ‘Go to this people and say: “You will indeed hear but by no means understand, and you will indeed look but by no means see. For the heart of this people has grown unreceptive.”’” (Acts 28:25b-27) The original-language term rendered “unreceptive” indicates a heart that was “thickened,” or “fattened,” thus preventing the Kingdom message from penetrating it. (Acts 28:27, ftn.) What a tragic situation!
17 Unlike his Jewish listeners, “the nations . . . will certainly listen,” said Paul in closing. (Acts 28:28; Ps. 67:2; Isa. 11:10) Indeed, the apostle could speak with authority on that subject, for he had personally seen many Gentiles respond to the Kingdom message!—Acts 13:48; 14:27.
18 Like Paul, let us not take it personally when people reject the good news. After all, we know that comparatively few will find the road to life. (Matt. 7:13, 14) Moreover, when rightly disposed ones do take a stand for true worship, let us rejoice and welcome them with an open heart.—Luke 15:7.
“Preaching the Kingdom of God” (Acts 28:30, 31)
19. How did Paul make the most of his circumstances?
19 Luke concludes his narrative on a truly positive and warm note, saying: “[Paul] remained there for an entire two years in his own rented house, and he would kindly receive all those who came to him, preaching the Kingdom of God to them and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with the greatest freeness of speech, without hindrance.” (Acts 28:30, 31) What an outstanding example of hospitality, faith, and zeal!
20, 21. Mention some examples of those who benefited from Paul’s ministry in Rome.
20 One of those whom Paul kindly received was a man named Onesimus, a runaway slave from Colossae. Paul helped Onesimus to become a Christian, and Onesimus, in turn, became a “faithful and beloved brother” to Paul. In fact, Paul described him as “my child, whose father I became.” (Col. 4:9; Philem. 10-12) How Onesimus must have lifted Paul’s spirits!a
21 Others too benefited from Paul’s fine example. To the Philippians, he wrote: “My situation has actually turned out for the advancement of the good news, so that my prison bonds for the sake of Christ have become public knowledge among all the Praetorian Guard and all the rest. Now most of the brothers in the Lord have gained confidence because of my prison bonds, and they are showing all the more courage to speak the word of God fearlessly.”—Phil. 1:12-14.
22. How did Paul take advantage of his confinement in Rome?
22 Paul took advantage of his confinement in Rome to write important letters that are now part of the Christian Greek Scriptures.b Those letters benefited the first-century Christians to whom they were written. We too benefit from Paul’s letters, for the inspired counsel he wrote is as practical today as when it was written.—2 Tim. 3:16, 17.
23, 24. Like Paul, how have many modern-day Christians demonstrated a positive attitude despite being unjustly confined?
23 By the time of his release, which is not mentioned in Acts, Paul had been in custody for some four years—two in Caesarea and two in Rome.c (Acts 23:35; 24:27) But he maintained a positive outlook, doing all that he could in God’s service. Likewise, many of Jehovah’s servants today, though unjustly imprisoned because of their faith, have retained their joy and kept preaching. Consider the example of Adolfo, who was imprisoned in Spain because of his Christian neutrality. “We are amazed at you,” said one officer. “We have been making life impossible for you, and the worse we made it, the more you smiled and had a kind word.”
24 In time, Adolfo was trusted to the point that his cell door was left open. Soldiers would visit to ask about the Bible. One of the guards would even go into Adolfo’s cell to read the Bible, while Adolfo would keep a lookout. So the prisoner “guarded” the sentry! May the fine example of such faithful Witnesses move us to show “all the more courage to speak the word of God fearlessly,” even under difficult circumstances.
25, 26. In a little less than 30 years, what amazing prophecy had Paul seen fulfilled, and how does this compare with our time?
25 An apostle of Christ under house arrest “preaching the Kingdom of God” to all who visited him—what a heartwarming conclusion to the dynamic book of Acts! In the first chapter, we read the commission that Jesus gave his followers when he said: “You will receive power when the holy spirit comes upon you, and you will be witnesses of me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Now, less than 30 years later, the Kingdom message had been “preached in all creation under heaven.”d (Col. 1:23) What a testimony to the power of God’s spirit!—Zech. 4:6.
26 Today, that same spirit has empowered the remaining ones of Christ’s brothers, along with their companions of the “other sheep,” to continue “bearing thorough witness concerning the Kingdom of God” in 240 lands! (John 10:16; Acts 28:23) Are you having a full share in that work?
a Paul wanted to keep Onesimus there with him, but this would have violated Roman law and infringed on the rights of Onesimus’ master, the Christian Philemon. Hence, Onesimus returned to Philemon, taking along a letter from Paul that encouraged Philemon to receive his slave kindly, as a spiritual brother.—Philem. 13-19.