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Acts 28 by Robert Dean
If you like a high-stakes true adventure story, then the Apostle Paul's life is a must-read. Burning with anger at the very name of Jesus, he was at the forefront trying to stamp out Christianity. Listen to this lesson to learn how this man, who went on to become one of the greatest witnesses of the risen Christ and the writer of many books in the New Testament, came to the end of his life on earth. Find out how Biblical and historical evidence points to his two imprisonments in Rome and his subsequent death by beheading. Begin an overview of the book of Acts including Luke's mission to explain the growth of the Church under the Holy Spirit and the purposes and distinctions that showcase the new dispensation of the Church Age.
Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:54 mins 5 secs

Paul's Later Life
Acts Review 

In Acts chapter 28 we come to the end of Acts but we don't come to the end of Paul's life. He is still in prison in Rome and he spent two years in Rome. We know that Luke is with him at this time because of his use of the first person plural in several passages. He is also associated with Epaphras who is mentioned in Philemon 23. Philemon lived in Colosse and was the owner of the slave named Onesimus who had escaped, and Paul met Onesimus in Rome. When Paul wrote to Philemon he included a greeting from Epaphras who also helped establish the church in Colosse (Colossians 1:7; 4:12). Epaphras was the pastor there and he had come to Rome in order to bring a report to Paul on what was going on in the church at Colosse. That was the occasion for Paul to write the epistle to the Colossians and he sent it back by Tychicus who was returning Onesimus to his owner Philemon.

There is a good point there because it shows that there was not a social activistic element to the gospel message. Even though slavery was not the best situation or an ideal situation Paul was not telling Philemon that he should just free Onesimus. He gave him the principles and it was up to him to make the decision. The first person he spent time with while in prison was Epaphras, the second was Onesimus who was the slave of Philemon. And there he spent time teaching him. Onesimus had escaped as an unbeliever. He had come to faith in Christ and so Paul taught him principles related to authority, principles related to the Word of God and obedience to a master in the case of slaves, and so Onesimus is showing his submission to the Word of God and is going back to Philemon who is also a believer. Paul is going to deal in the epistle to Philemon principles about how a Christian master should deal with slaves.

The third person Paul spent time with in those two years in Rome was Epaphroditus who visited Paul and brought gifts to him from Philippi. During the time he was in Rome he became very ill and Paul thought he might die. Paul mentions him in Philippians 4:18. Paul did not heal him and that is a great illustration that just because somebody becomes ill it doesn't mean that God is going to heal him or that there is going to be some sort of miraculous healing. Epaphroditus did recover but it was not through a miraculous healing. 

Another thing that we learn from reading bits and pieces in the prison epistles is that Paul expected to be released from his imprisonment. We see this is Philippians 1:19, 25, 26. Also at this time Demas was still with him. He has some associates with him. He mentions Mark,  Aristarchus, Demas and Luke. In 2 Timothy we learn that Demas has apostatized and left the faith. That is one of the problems we have reconciling the content of 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus with the chronology in Luke. There are those who believe that Paul died at the end of this two-year imprisonment in Rome and there is a discussion about that among biblical scholars. The problem is that the details we see in the pastoral epistles don't fit with the chronology in Acts. But that is no problem for those who come with a theologically liberal mindset. Remember the assumption of the theological liberal is that the Word of God is man's word about God, not God's Word to man. The mindset of the theological liberal is to come to the Scripture and to say that this is evidence that this isn't the Word of God because there are contradictions. But there are contradictions because they have approached the text with a false understanding and they haven't sought a reconciliation of what appears to be contradictions.  

So Paul spent two years in Rome and then it is believed on the basis of what is said in the pastoral epistles (nothing overtly said, it is inference) that Paul was released and had a ministry for another four or five years before he was again imprisoned in Rome, a much worse imprisonment that led to his martyrdom. So we believe Paul was released after two years. The biblical and historical records suggest that that happened and that his accusers never showed up in Rome, so he was released. This would have occurred somewhere around 63 AD. The evidence that we have comes from the church fathers. One of them who was referred to as one of the apostolic fathers, Clement, was a pastor in Rome and he wrote an epistle to the Corinthians that is know to us as 1st Clement. It was written around 95 or 96 AD, about the same time that the apostle John was writing Revelation. In chapter five of his epistle he mentions that Paul had been released from Prison. Eusebius who writes in the 4th century says that Paul was released. Eusebius is not the strongest evidence but he clearly shows that the tradition which dominated through the early church was that Paul was released.

Then we know that there are three events specifically mentioned in the life of Paul subsequent to Rome that just don't fit anywhere in the book of Acts. The first if these is mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:20 NASB "Erastus remained at Corinth, but Trophimus I left sick at Miletus." He is writing that in 2 Timothy which is his last epistle. So this can't refer to his visit to Miletus at the end of his third missionary journey; this is another visit to Miletus which doesn't fit anywhere within the record of Acts. Also it indicates that he goes to Corinth again, accompanied by Erastus. So the two things that come are another visit to Corinth and another visit to Miletus that are not mentioned in Acts.

In 2 Timothy 4:13 Paul mentions to Timothy that he had left some things behind in Troas—"books, especially the parchments." What scholars believe he meant by the parchments is Scripture. But we don't know when he was in Troas. We know he was at Troas at the beginning of the second missionary journey and that he went back to Troas again in the third missionary journey, but there is no evidence of him leaving there close to the end when he left something. It just doesn't fit anything in Acts. Remember that in Acts after he was arrested in Jerusalem he took the ship to Rome and he didn't go anywhere near Troas. So if we are going to try to fit this in the chronology of Acts this would be something he had left at Troas four or five years earlier. That doesn't really fit either. 

A third thing that is mentioned in Paul's ministry in Crete. Titus 1:5 NASB "For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you." For Paul to leave him in Crete Paul would have to be in Crete. When did he go to Crete? That is something we are not clear about. He is writing to Titus and this doesn't fit anywhere within the chronology of Acts. These thing clearly happened outside of that chronology and they can't be fit within it.

Another reason we believe he was released is because the prison situation he describes later on in 2 Timothy is a much harsher prison situation than the one identified in Acts where he is under house arrest. In chapter 28 when he was talking to the Jews who came to him he does mention and show them the chains on his hand. But it was house arrest whereas tradition indicates that he was in the Mamertine dungeon, which was a very horrible place to be, just prior to his execution. This would fit with the way he describes the harsh conditions of his imprisonment at the end of 2 Timothy.

2 Timothy 2:9 NASB "for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal …" He is not found guilty in Acts. Then he goes on to mention in 2 Timothy 4:10 NASB "for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens {has gone} to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia." Titus is not in Crete anymore. At this time he has gone to Dalmatia. This indicates the nature of his imprisonment is quite different by the end of 2 Timothy. Also he indicates that he is prepared to die. He expects that. 2 Timothy 4:6 NASB "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. [7] I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; [8] in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing."

This evidence indicates that there were discrepancies, different circumstances, situations and people (specifically Demas), and at the end of 2 Timothy he expected death to come very soon.

So after his two years of imprisonment there was a period of time when he was travelling. He went to places not mentioned in the book of Acts and then he is arrested. So what happened? There was a post-imprisonment journey. This would have occurred in a four to five-year period between 63 and 68 AD. Remember what else was going on. In 66 the Jewish revolt breaks out. If Paul dies in 68 that was right before Nero died in 69 or 70. This was why Vespasian went back to Rome to assume the position of emperor. He relinquished his siege of Jerusalem for a short time and the troops pulled back to Caesarea before the final assault on Jerusalem. It was the pulling back that allowed the Christians who were still in Jerusalem to follow the advice of the Lord and to get out of Jerusalem. That caused a lot of problems in subsequent decades between Christians and Jews as well.

It is during this fourth missionary journey that Paul writes two epistles. He writes 1 Timothy and Titus. There are several passages that indicate that he moved around. He went to Colosse as indicated in Philemon 22 NASB "At the same time also prepare me a lodging, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given to you." He also went into Macedonia in Greece. Philippians 2:24 NASB "and I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly." 1 Timothy 1:3 NASB "As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines". So by this period, roughly 64 or 65, Timothy is pasturing the congregation in Ephesus. Then we read in 1 Timothy 3:14 that he made another journey to Ephesus. NASB "I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long."

From there, perhaps, he finally made it to Spain. His desire to go to Spain is mentioned in Romans 15:24-28 NASB "whenever I go to Spain--for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while—but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Yes, they were pleased {to do so,} and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things. Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain."

That was his hope at the end of his life to go beyond Rome. And there is also a passage in Clement that he "went to the limits". And the limits wouldn't be Rome because that is the capital of the Romans empire. It would indicate something beyond that which though it is not stated would make sense that he had made it to Spain.

This was written when he wrote Romans, so it is before his first captivity. There are some traditions that Paul made it up into what we now call France, and also some traditions that he made it to Britain. There is no evidence that he made it to either location.

Titus 1:5 NASB "For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you". So he visited Crete as well on this journey; also to Corinth and Miletus and Troas. Then Titus 3:12 NASB "When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, make every effort to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there."

The chronology seems to be like this. In 63 he is released from the first imprisonment. From there he went to Philippi and Colosse (or perhaps the other way around), and he probably went to Spain from there. Later in 66 he went to Ephesus and Macedonia and Ephesus again. In 67 he wrote 1 Timothy and went to Miletus and Corinth, and from there wrote the epistle to Titus and went to Nicopolis. That seems to be the general order of events. Following that he was arrested and brought to Rome where he faced trial. At this time Rome burned and Nero needed someone to pin the blame on. He blamed the Christians and it was during this time that the Christians were horribly persecuted, thrown to the wild beasts in the Coliseum and things of that nature. At this time Paul and Peter were martyred. Peter was crucified upside down, according to tradition. Paul, because he was a Roman citizen, could not be crucified and was beheaded. This occurred some time late in 66 or in 67.

Evidence that we have of this comes in a number of different writers. Clement, who wrote about 30 years after Paul's martyrdom, said that he was beheaded by emperor Nero. Dyonesius, who wrote about 80 years later in AD 170, mentioned that Paul was martyred in Rome. Then about 20 years after Dyonesius Tertullian wrote that Paul was beheaded in Rome. At the beginning of the 3rd century Gaius stated that Paul was beheaded on the Ostian Way in Rome. Not long after Gaius, Origen wrote in 325 that Paul was martyred by Nero. Eusebius, who wrote at about the same time as Origen in his Ecclesiastical History of the Church, wrote that Paul was martyred under Nero.

This brings us to the conclusion of Acts as well as the apostle Paul and we now take some time to review the book of Acts and go back over the twenty-eight chapters and think it through a little bit in terms of the lessons that we have learned.

Going back to chapter one, Luke is writing to Theophilus, a Gentile and he says in Acts 1:1 NASB "The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach". So he writes book one, the Gospel of Luke, and then book two, the Acts of the apostles—a poor name for it historically; it is really the Acts of the Holy Spirit. His purpose in writing was to give Theophilus an orderly account of the birth and the growth of the early church, as well as to establish him as a young believer in his understanding of Christianity. We see that it is structured around Acts 1:8 NASB "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." So the message of the book is to explain the birth and the expansion of the church. It doesn't begin until chapter two and then its expansion cannot be attributed to human effort or human power but is the result of the work of God the Holy Spirit. Throughout the book Luke gives these various progress reports on how the church is growing and expanding.

There are eight sub-purposes that are accomplished by Luke in writing this. The first relates to his initial message to Theophilus and it is that he is writing to establish Theophilus in the faith. He wants Theophilus to understnad about the foundation of the church and to give him a foundation for solid theology of the church. The word we use for that is ecclesiology—related to the teaching of the church. So Luke writes to explain to Theophilus how the church was born, the primary dynamic for the church, which is God the Holy Spirit, and how the Holy Spirit expanded the church. The expansion of the church is not something that just happened, it was something that was directed by God the Holy Spirit.

It is interesting that Luke in the details that he includes does not talk about the expansion of the church into Africa, east into Babylonia; but the focus is on its expansion west and north. Why would that be? Think back to the prophecy of Noah in Genesis chapter nine that Shem would dwell in the tents of Japheth, not the Hamites. So the primary ethnic groups that are going to dominate the history of mankind are going to be the descendants of Shem, which are going to be eventually narrowed down to Israel, and the Japhethites, which would include Indo-European people. It would include the Iranians because they are Persians and not Arabs, and it would include Slavic people, the Gauls, the Latins, the Scandinavians, the British; all of the groups that dominated Europe. This is the area where Paul headed; it is a part of biblical prophecy.

The next thing that is in Luke's mind is to show the numerical expansion of the church. The church grew rapidly and there are a number of places where he mentions this: Acts 2:47; 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:30, 31. There are also some smaller areas where he gives very short progress reports but those are the large ones that he gives in order to teach about the expansion of the church.

The fourth purpose that Luke has is to validate Paul's ministry as an apostle—to show that Paul was commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ and given a mission to take the gospel to the Gentiles. He demonstrates that and one of the ways he does this is by a comparison of Paul's ministry with Peter's ministry. Peter is clearly the lead apostle, starting in Acts chapter two. He begins to fade out by the time we get to Acts 10, 11, and 12 but initially he is the lead apostle in the church. Peter heals the man lame from birth in chapter three; Paul heals a man lame from birth in chapter fourteen. Peter heals people by his shadow in Acts 3:15, 16; Paul heals people by his handkerchief in Acts 19:11, 12. Peter's success was the cause for Jewish jealousy in Acts 5:17; Paul's success was also a cause of Jewish jealously in Acts 13:45. Peter confronted Simon who was a sorcerer in Acts 8:9-24; Paul confronted Bar-Jesus who was a sorcerer in Acts 13:6-11. Peter raised Tabitha (also known as Dorcas) to life in Acts 9:36-41; Paul raised Eutycus back to life in Acts 20:9-12. Peter was jailed and freed miraculously by God in Acts 12:3-19; Paul was also jailed and freed miraculously by God in Acts 16:25, 34. So by looking at this comparison what Luke is bringing out is that the same power that worked with Peter also worked with Paul. The same divine power that authenticated Peter's ministry is also authenticating Paul's ministry. Paul had the same authority as the original disciples even though he was saved, as he said, out of time. He was not saved at the same time as the others. Paul's ministry needed some additional verification.

A fifth thing we learn in terms of Luke accomplishing his purposes is that he wrote to explain to Roman authorities that Christianity was not a threat to the Roman empire. He showed in the text (it is subtle) that Christianity is not a competitor for the imperial throne, and that the trouble that was caused in the colonies, as it were, e.g. Philippi, Thessalonica and other places was because of unbelieving Jews who were antagonistic to the Christians. That is mentioned in a number of passages in Acts. There are a few instances where the Gentiles persecuted Paul, for example in Philippi, but they did this usually because there was a loss of income. This also happened in Ephesus when the silver smiths were losing their trade. So Luke is taking pains to show that the authorities keenly vindicated Paul. Whenever he was taken before a Gentile court they could not find any legitimate charge against him, but the Jews were consistently reacting to him and hostile to him.

Sixth, Luke also contrasts the Gentile reception of the gospel with Jewish rejection. The Gentiles responded. Paul always went to the Jews first. He had a fairly lengthy time in Ephesus where he explained the gospel for about three months before they finally became upset with him and expelled him. In other places it didn't last but two or three weeks before the Jews kicked him out, and then he went to the Gentiles and they responded. Luke is showing that there was a dispensational shift and transition taking place during this time.      


Seventh, Luke wanted to show that although the church had its roots in Judaism and in the Old Testament it was distinct from Judaism. There is a distinction now between God's plan for the church, which is universal; taken from Gentiles where there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile. And there is a distinction between the church and Israel.

Eighth, Luke shows that the gospel is for all people. There is a universality to the gospel: it is for all nations, all people, all cultures and all strata of society. It is not just for the rich, the powerful or the educated; it is for everyone. So Luke is demonstrating the power of the gospel.

The unique things in Acts.

Acts describes numerous first-time events. It is a dispensational shift, as we are going to see. It is the beginning of a whole new era in God's plan and purposes for man and there are a number of things that happen that are firsts. For example, in Acts chapter two we have for the first time the descent of God the Holy Spirit, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the filling of the Holy Spirit. The second thing that happens in Acts chapter two is that the disciples spoke in tongues (languages). These were languages they had never learned before. This is the first time this had ever occurred and there was a purpose for it. Peter ties that to Joel chapter two showing that this kind of thing is what the Holy Spirit performs. There was also a large number of conversions. You never see a large number of conversions in the Old Testament. In Acts 2:41 there are three thousand who are saved as a result of Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost, and then in Acts chapter four there are five thousand males who are saved.

In Acts chapter five we have the death of Ananias and Sapphira under divine discipline, the sin unto death, because they had lied against God the Holy Spirit. We also see the first selection of leadership, a non-apostolic leadership, in Acts chapter six. In chapter seven we see the martyrdom of Stephen who, as he is about to die physically, the heavens open sees Jesus Christ in heaven ready to receive him. We see the conversion of the Samaritans as a result of miracles that are performed there as well as the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts chapter eight. Then in 11:26 we see the apostle Paul and Barnabas are chosen for the first missionary journey. They never had missionaries go out from Israel in the Old Testament. There is the first identification of Christians in Acts 12:2. There followers of Jesus were now identified as Christians.   

It is very important to understand that the book of Acts is transitional in nature. It is showing a shift from one dispensation to another. It is showing how that under this new dispensation there are going to be new characteristics and God is going to be accomplishing some new things.

We also see the emphasis on the Holy Spirit. Luke emphasizes the ministry of God the Holy Spirit and mentions the Holy Spirit over 50 times in the book of Acts. That tells us on the basis of emphasis that this is extremely important. He also emphasizes prayer. This is a central theme is Acts for Luke. It is important for believers to pray and to be dependent upon God and express that through prayer.

Acts represents the mission of the church. Following the great commission when Jesus said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you", Acts emphasizes the mission of the church to evangelize the lost and to instruct all people on the gospel and the Word of God.

Acts also emphasizes that the purpose of the church is instructional. There are sermons that teach evangelism but there are others that teach doctrinal points. There are 23 sermons in Acts, emphasizing the fact that it is through the oral communication of the Word that God is teaching and training believers in the church age.

Another thing that we see is an emphasis on miracles. This goes along with the apostolic focus of Acts because miracles were part of the validation of the apostles. This is mentioned by Paul in 2 Corinthians chapter twelve. These were the signs of the apostles. There were various miracles wrought by Peter, those that were performed by Paul, and others that were also miracles of discipline or divine judgment as well as healing miracles. All this was to demonstrate that the apostles were validated by God.

Also se wee as part of the transitional nature that there were numerous non-normative receptions of God the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit shows up in Acts chapter one for the Jews. He shows up in Acts chapter eight for the Samaritans. He comes again in chapter ten for the Gentiles, and again in chapter nineteen for the disciples of John the Baptist representing Old Testament believers. Those elements indicate that there is one thing that each has in common, and that is the presence of an apostle, indicating that the unity of the church is based on apostolic authority; as Paul says in Ephesians 2:20, the apostles and prophets are the foundation of the church.

The book of Acts furnishes the historical background and content for us for understanding the Pauline epistles in the New Testament. We learn where he went, something about the churches, and the problems of people that Paul faced in those locations. So that gives us a historical and cultural context for understanding the Pauline epistles.

Acts, then, is the only book that gives us the history of the early church. It provides a historical transition from the resurrection of Christ to the end of the first century, and seeing the expansion of the church until the close of the canon of Scripture.

Acts shows a shift from Israel to the church. God's purpose now is directed to the church, but it will be restored to Israel. After the rapture of the church the shift goes back to Israel.  

Last, we see emphasis on the kingdom of God. In Acts chapter Jesus is teaching the disciples about the kingdom of God. The last thing we hear Paul teaching the leaders about in Acts 28 is the kingdom of God. It is the same kingdom all the way through, a literal millennial messianic kingdom of Christ upon the earth. These are just some of the things that make Acts a distinct and unique book.