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Acts 28:17-31 by Robert Dean
Brace for a triumphant finish as we near the end of the book of Acts. Paul arrives in Rome and is held a prisoner under house arrest. Listen to this lesson to learn how he organizes meetings with the Roman Jewish leadership and presents Jesus' claims to be the Messiah. See how Paul must confront the disturbing question they had of why Jesus did not bring in the Kingdom of God. Discover the difference between Bible study methods and the communication of Bible truths. Understand how even in chains Paul continued to preach and persuade both Jews and Gentiles.
Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:1 hr 1 mins 59 secs

To the Uttermost Part of the Earth
Acts 28:17-31

As we come to this last section we see that in terms of Luke's purposes he has brought us to the end of his intention. His intention wasn't to give a biographical sketch of Peter and Paul. It wasn't designed to take us all the way through the foundation period of the church age. His intention was to show the fulfillment of the mandate that the Lord gave to the disciples at the very beginning, just before He ascended into heaven.

Acts 1:7, 8 NASB "He said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth'."

We have come to the end of the earth now that we have arrived in Rome. It is the expansion of the gospel and the establishment of the church as the body of Christ. This is the opening chapter of something that has gone on in terms of the expansion by the Holy Spirit down through the last 1900 years.

Paul has finally arrived in Rome. This is the fulfillment of God's promise to Paul that He would bring him to Rome and he would proclaim the gospel in Rome. As we get into this next section, beginning in verse 17, we are going to see a reminder of one of the key themes in Acts, which has to do with the kingdom of God. This section gives us insight into the impact on the Jewish community in Rome. This is one of the greatest evangelistic consequences that we have seen in Paul's ministry to the Jewish community. In many places we have seen a number of converts but we also saw a hostile reaction. What we will see here is that a large proportion of the Jewish community in Rome responded to instruction on the fact that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. We don't know if there was half, the indications from the grammar suggest that it was a roughly equivalent proportion. In verse 17 Paul is just rehearsing for the Jewish leaders how he came to be in Rome. He had been placed under house arrest, which meant that he had a certain degree of freedom but was still closely guarded by members of the Praetorian Guard.   

Acts 28:17 NASB  "After three days Paul called together those who were the leading men of the Jews, and when they came together, he {began} saying to them, 'Brethren, 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'."

During those three days Paul is not just resting, he is organizing. He is finding out who the leadership is in the Jewish community and inviting them to come to a meeting so that he can determine what they had heard about his imprisonment: what they had heard from Jerusalem and what they might know about the gospel. They would not be completely ignorant about the gospel because we know from a comment from …. that the reason that Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome about ten years earlier was due to a conflict and riots over someone known as Chrestos, as opposed to Christos. Most believe that that this is identifying some sort of disagreement within the Jewish community at that time over Jesus as Messiah. The Jews were expelled from Rome and then they returned. Somewhere between 10,000 and 40,000 would be the population of the Jewish community in Rome at this time.

The Jewish leadership was composed exclusively of males. This was typical of the Jewish community as it was in the Christian church. The leadership of the church was upon the males, and that was because they didn't atomize the synagogue or the church into individuals. We have shrunk American society down to where we have democratized it some much that we put an emphasis on individuals, whereas in the early days of this republic people still viewed the primary makeup of the nation as being families. This is why men had the voting franchise. It wasn't because they were against women, it wasn't because the founding fathers were misogynists; it was that they understood that the key stabilizing influence in the nation was the family and the head of the household was the father. So the man was the one who voted; he represented the family. This was derived from a Christian influence. In many ways that had rendered itself to some abuse, but that doesn't mean that the foundational issue of male leadership was wrong. All through the Scriptures the emphasis in God's command is always in terms of male leadership. The male is the spiritual head of the home and is the one God is going to hold accountable for the spiritual welfare of the home.

Paul begins to summarize the events. He doesn't go into details. First, he asserts his innocence. He deals with the fact that he didn't violate the Law of Moses and he didn't violate any of the traditions of the fathers.

Acts 28:18 NASB "And when they had examined me, they were willing to release me because there was no ground for putting me to death. [19] But when the Jews objected, I was forced to appeal to Caesar, not that I had any accusation against my nation. [20] For this reason, therefore, I requested to see you and to speak with you, for I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel."

Here again he is emphasizing the gospel. He focuses his attention the hope of Israel, and has mentioned this earlier in several passages. Cf. Acts 23:6. In So he makes the gospel the centerpiece of what he is proclaiming. In Acts 26:6 he refers to this as "the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers". The hope is resurrection. The resurrection comes by Jesus Christ because He is the Messiah, the one who conquered death. The term "hope of the resurrection" is a term that summarizes all of the work of Christ on the cross, plus His burial and resurrection. In Acts 26:7 he references it again when he was giving testimony to king Agrippa: "for this hope's sake I am accused by the Jews". So he emphasizes the hope of the resurrection which emphasizes God's plan of salvation and the fulfillment of the promises of God in the Old Testament.

Remember the episode in John chapter eight when Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees because of His claim to be the Messiah, and He said: "Before Abraham was I AM". Then he goes on in another passage and conflict with the Sadducees to talk about the promise of the resurrection to Abraham where His response to them was that Abraham never saw the promise of ownership of the land. Therefore if God was going to be true to His promise to give the land to Abraham there must be a future resurrection so that God can fulfill His promise. He particularly pointed that argument at the Sadducees because they denied the reality of physical, bodily resurrection. 

Then they respond to Paul. Acts 28:21 NASB "They said to him, 'We have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren come here and reported or spoken anything bad about you'." The word "letters" is the Greek GRAMMATA, which can refer to a letter, but it also describes official documents. What this shows us is that even though Paul had been transferred to Rome the Jewish leadership didn't follow him. They stayed behind and didn't even send letters of condemnation. They didn't follow him to Rome to provide accusation before Caesar. They probably never did. We are not told because Luke's account ends at this time. Paul will remain a prisoner in Rome for two years and we are not told whether the Jewish leadership from Jerusalem ever showed up. It is very likely that they didn't and this is why Paul was ultimately released in order to continue his ministry.

Acts 28:22 NASB “But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere.”

This indicates that they are already knowledgeable about Christianity. (Christianity in the early church was viewed as a sect, a subset of Judaism; it wasn't viewed as a different religion. It really wasn't until the late first century and early second century that a strong distinction is made separating Christianity from its Jewish roots) They understand that this is extremely controversial but they are willing to give it an objective hearing. This is one of the most unusual gatherings because in other places where Paul has taught (except for Ephesus where he had about three months free of trouble) it caused a great controversy.

Paul at this time decides they needed to have a meeting with more people there and so they arrange for a later date at which time he is going to teach them about Jesus' claims to be the Messiah.     

Acts 28:23 NASB "When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening."

Many came to him at his lodgings. It was a much larger group and so obviously the place where he was staying was not just a small apartment, or at least it had access to a much larger area that could accommodate a large number of people. The two words "explained" and "solemnly testified" are words we need to pay attention to. The word "explained" is the Greek word EKTITHEMI, which means to explain something, to go through it point by point, to expose the heart of the matter, and to do what we would call exposition. The word exposition comes from the word expose. It is to bring out the details of a passage. We often refer to this in terms of its root process, which is exegesis, the Greek verb EXEGEO meaning to draw something out. The result of exegesis is what Paul is doing here. He is explaining a lot of different points related to Jesus' claims to be the Messiah. Coming to conclusions and teaching what the passage says on the basis of that conclusion really isn't exegesis; it is exposition. What Paul is going to do here is explain.

Then the second word, "solemnly testified", is a compound word in the Greek: DIA, the prefix to the verb MARTUROMAI, meaning to bear witness in court, to give a testimony. This is the word that Jesus used in Acts 1:8, "You will be my witnesses …" Paul is fulfilling that mandate. It has been fulfilled all the way through Acts with Peter, Stephen, Philip, John, and with the apostle Paul. The object of his testimony or the content of his explanation and testimony here relates to the kingdom of God. We know this is a broad doctrine, an important doctrine, and it is mentioned numerous times in the book of Acts as it is in the Gospels. He is talking about the kingdom of God and he is explaining that to this Jewish audience.

Acts 28:24 NASB "Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe."

"Persuaded" is the Greek verb PETHO. He is persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the prophets from morning until evening. So he is not just teaching from 7 o'clock to 8 o'clock at night. He is not just teaching on Sunday morning with a little ten-minute break in between, he is teaching from morning until evening. This is an all-day Bible class. This was common in many places in the world up until the 20th century where there were cars and you could easily get church and drive a long distance. Back in the pioneer days of the horse and buggy Bible classes were lengthy. Another reason for Bible classes being lengthy is because when you are dealing with sophisticated and significant concepts a lot of times you can't develop them in fifteen or twenty minutes.

The other thing to observe here is that Paul is persuading them. That means he wants to change their mind. So he is organizing his material in a way that is contrasting it with what they have heard in Judaism. That is a form of apologetics: contrasting truth with error so that they can understand that there are similarities but there are differences. That is how you develop critical thinking skills in people. Sadly there are some people who just want to be told what to think, they don't want to be told why they should believe something that way or how what they have learned fits with other components of Scripture. That leads to a lot of superficial Christianity. Paul is persuading them. And notice, it takes from morning until the evening to go through all the messianic prophecies and promises of the Old Testament.  

So Paul is talking about the kingdom of God. Why is he explaining about the kingdom of God? The first time we see the kingdom of God mentioned in Acts is in 1:3-6. There are about five passages in Acts which reiterate something about the kingdom of God. In chapter one Jesus is talking about the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. For forty days between the resurrection and the ascension He is instructing the disciples about the kingdom of God. What is He telling them? Well, part of this goes back to understanding the parables of the kingdom, which are designed not to teach about the kingdom per se but about the interim between the time of Jesus and the future coming of the kingdom. That was a major topic that Jesus was focusing on and still the disciples were confused. In Acts 1:6 they asked: "Lord, will you restore the kingdom at this time to Israel?" He doesn't correct their understanding of the kingdom. He is still emphasizing it is a literal, physical, geopolitical kingdom with Jesus on the throne of David ruling from Jerusalem; it is not a spiritual reign or rule.

The next time we see this mentioned is in Acts 8:12, and the Samaritans are the focus: "But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike." The Samaritans had their own view of the kingdom and so Peter and John had to straighten out their concept of the kingdom: that the kingdom had been offered by Jesus, that is had been rejected by the Jews, that is was postponed and would not come until Jesus Christ returned to establish the kingdom in the future.

The third place in which the kingdom is taught is in Acts 14:22. Paul is teaching in the area of Asia Minor (Turkey): "strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and {saying,} 'Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God'."  

Notice here that he is talking to believers. And this is crucial for understanding Matthew and the Sermon on the Mount. He is talking to disciples. He has just led them to the Lord in the last few weeks; they are already believers. But now he is going to teach them how to enter the kingdom—how to go into, the Greek verb EISERCHOMAI. Many times we think of entering the kingdom as being equivalent to getting saved, getting justified. But here is a clear passage where entering the kingdom doesn't mean getting eternal life so you end up in heaven, it is talking about entering into the fullness of the blessings of the kingdom. He is addressing those who are already disciples, already believers, and he says the way to entering the kingdom is going to be through many tribulations, through much adversity. That is not a free grace gospel. You gain eternal life by grace through faith; you believe the gospel. But if you want to have a full experience in the kingdom then that is going to involve suffering with Jesus—according to Romans chapter eight as well. He is talking about spiritual life truth there, and he is talking about the fact that as believers if we are going to live for the Lord we are going to encounter suffering and adversity in this life. Although there are Gentiles in this audience (there is a mixed audience of Jews and saved Gentiles) the objects of his teaching are Jews, because Jews have a frame of reference for understanding the kingdom of God. The Gentiles had no frame of reference for understanding the kingdom of God.

Then is fourth place he mentions this is in Acts 20:25 NASB "And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face." He is talking to the Ephesian elders. Again he is reminding a mixed audience of Jews and Gentiles that they are all saved.

From these passages and in Acts 28 is that first of all the primary people to whom the kingdom message is given involved unbelieving Jews, Jewish believers, and Samaritans who believed in a messianic kingdom. Second, he never presents the kingdom to an unsaved Gentile audience; they don't have a frame of reference for understanding it. Jews would because they know the Torah. When he is talking to unsaved Gentiles he keeps the focus on the cross. The principle for us is, don't get distracted by non-essentials in communicating the gospel.

Then what we see in Acts is that the kingdom of God is never equated to the church as the same thing, and it is not viewed as something that had currently come into existence. We are not living in some mystery form of the kingdom, we are not living in a spiritual form of the kingdom; it is presented as something distinct from the church and something that is yet future.

Why is it that Paul is explaining the kingdom program to the Jews? It is because the question that continued to come up in the first century was if Jesus is the Messiah why didn't we see the kingdom? And that is still a problem today. In the history of Judaism it took about 800-1000 years before they could really articulate some profound answers to Christian witnessing. In the process they finally got around in about the 10th and 11th century to construct answers to Christian presentations of the gospel. They redefined Isaiah 53, Psalm 22 and some other passages.

In the 12th century and individual came along who was one of the most remarkable leaders in the history of Judaism, a man by the name of Maimonides. His Hebrew name was Moses ben Maimon. He was a Jewish rabbi, a physician, and one of the greatest philosophers of any generation. He wrote volumes on the Torah. So what were some of the things that he said Messiah would do when He comes? How would we be able to identify the Messiah? He said He is going to restore the throne of David, He will rebuild the temple, He will gather the exiles, He will restore the Torah, He will be a descendant of David, He does not have to perform any signs or wonders, He will be a student of the Torah and He will force Israel to study the Torah. He will fight the wars of the Lord, Elijah will come before Messiah, the battle of Gog and Magog will precede the Messiah, Messiah will purify the priesthood of the Levites, Messiah will identify those who are truly those who are of Israel, Messiah will identify the tribes of Israel and in His reign there will be no hunger or wars. And lastly, in Messiah's reign all will study the Lord.

What does that describe? That describes the millennial kingdom—outside of a couple of those in the middle related to the fact that He will be a descendant of David and He won't perform signs and wonders, everything else relates to establishing the kingdom. Many rabbis recognized there were messianic prophecies that depicted a suffering Messiah and several emphasized a ruling Messiah, but they saw these as two different Messiahs: one the son of David and one a descendant of Joseph. But in the first century they wanted the crown before the cross, the glory before the suffering. They looked at these and said Jesus wasn't the Messiah because Jesus didn't bring in the kingdom. And basically all of these things that Maimonides listed here characterized the kingdom, what Jesus will do at the Second Advent, not what would be accomplished at the first advent. This is typical of Judaism. They look at the fact that He didn't bring in the kingdom and so He couldn't be the Messiah.

The Jews had to be taught that the kingdom was offered, the kingdom was rejected, the kingdom was postponed, and it will come in fully when Jesus returns at the second coming. The problem is they don't understand that the kingdom has been postponed. This is why the kingdom is such a major issue all the way through Acts.        

After a day of intense, in-depth Bible study, presenting the case for Jesus as Messiah there were two groups. Acts 28:24 NASB "Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe." The Greek should be translated this way: "On the one hand some were persuaded; on the other hand some disbelieved. The text treats this as if these two groups were roughly equivalent in size.  

A problem arose about ten years ago and it became an issue in the Grace Evangelical Society. There were some and there are still some who believe that persuasion is what faith is. Persuasion is passive, and so they would say you don't exercise a volitional decision to believe. But persuasion is a process. You present your facts. Along the way you have to decide whether each point is convincing. When you get to the end of the process if you have volitionally decided to accept the argument each step of the way, then the result is you will believe. It is an active voice verb. What we have in verse 24 is a present active participle: some were persuaded, and then some disbelieved (active voice); their volition was engaged. What happened was, some people in a scholarly, academic community who just drilled down beyond the level of common sense. And one of the errors that they made was the belief that both PISTEUO and the verb PETHO come from the same root. But in languages even though two words cane come from the same word root etymologically their usage differs, they are not synonyms. Even though in some places they almost overlap as synonyms there are important differences. To be persuaded that something is true results in believing it to be true, but being persuaded is not the same as believing. One leads to the other.

Acts 28:25 NASB "And when they did not agree with one another, they {began} leaving after Paul had spoken one {parting} word, 'The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers

So there was a large response from the Jewish community and they went home arguing among themselves. There is an old Jewish adage that where there are two Jews there are three opinions. What upset them was Paul's quote from Isaiah 61:9, 10. This is quoted by Jesus in Matthew chapter thirteen, right after He is rejected by the Pharisees. When He begins to instruct the disciples in parables He quotes from Isaiah 61.


They have become dull, because of negative volition. Because they have exercised negative volition this has shut them down from understanding or wanting to know the truth. In Matthew 13 Jesus started talking in parables in order to enshroud the truth to make it more difficult for them anyway—not for any other reason than that they had already made the decision in terms of negative volition. Paul applies this principle that God has brought a judgment against some of the Jews—not all of them but some of them—because of their negative volition.  

Acts 28:28 NASB "Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen."

Sadly, in the history of Christianity there have been some Christians have taken this verse to indicate that God has completely wiped His hands of the Jewish people under a curse, and this verse has been used to promote anti-Semitism. That is not what this verse is saying. It is not saying there won't be any more salvation among the Jews because in the context there is a huge number of Jews who just got saved. It is simply that God is going to be taking the gospel to the Gentiles because the Jewish community as a whole (the Jewish leadership) rejected Jesus as Messiah.

Some people have asked the question: why is it that down through the ages that only a small percentage of Jews have trusted in Christ as Messiah? We need to ask a similar question: why is it that down through the ages that only a small percentage of Gentiles have ever responded to the claim that Jesus Christ is the Messiah? I would think (it is impossible to know until we get to heaven) that the percentage of Gentiles who have responded to the gospel is probably not much different than the percentage of Jews that have responded to the gospel. The church age is not a time period where we are going to see a huge response to the gospel. That may surprise a lot of people. There were times when there was a huge response in some countries, but overall when we look at the billions of people who have lived on this earth since the time of Christ only a small percentage has responded positively to the gospel among the Gentiles. And the same is true among the Jews.  

Acts 28:29 NASB "[When he had spoken these words, the Jews departed, having a great dispute among themselves.] [30] And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, [31] preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered."