cocoon02Acts 28 Part 6

We were considering Acts 28:28, one of the most pivotal verses of the Bible, and the one that announces the second great change in the New Testament. We discussed the word “salvation,” which is actually an adjective, and indicates the “salvation-bringing message.” We discussed the word “sent,” which is the verb form of apostle, “apostled,” and means “authorized.” We discussed the word “Gentiles,” which means simply “nations.” Finally, we discussed the word “hear,” which has to do with comprehending, and means that the message would get through to them. Therefore, we finished with the following translation, as suggested by our studies, and by Otis Sellers in his Revised Version.

Be it known therefore unto you that the salvation-bringing message of God is now authorized (made freely available) unto the nations, and it will get through to them.

Now we are ready to continue our examination of this extremely important verse.

Acts 28:28: What Was the Change?

Now this verse is an expression of a great change in the history of the New Testament. Yet to really get this, we need to discover what that change was, and what the former conditions were that now were changed. If the salvation-bringing message of God was only just then authorized to the nations, whom was it authorized to before then? For only when we understand this can we understand the great change that took place here.

If you have been following along with me throughout my studies in the book of Acts, you will probably have a good idea whom the salvation-bringing message was authorized to throughout the book of Acts. Paul clearly states it in his address to the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13:26.

26. “Men and brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to you the word of this salvation has been sent.”

If we would examine the Greek of this verse, we would find that the word “sent” here is again the Greek word apostello. Thus, this verse expresses the truth that the word of the salvation that Paul was teaching was authorized at that time to those who were Paul’s brethren, the sons of the family of Abraham, and those proselytes who were among them who feared God. It was not authorized to those from other nations at this time. (Note that the word “salvation” here is actually a noun, soteria, rather than an adjective, soterion, here. Yet the meaning is clearly the same. The word of that salvation was the same as the salvation-bringing message God speaks of in Acts 28:28.)

Now we know that the word of salvation was authorized to men of nations other than Israel several significant times in the book of Acts. We have seen this in the incident of the household of Cornelius in Acts 10, Paul in Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13, Paul with the Philippians jailer in Acts 16, Paul in Athens in Acts 17, and Paul in Corinth in Acts 18. Of these incidents, Peter took a vision from God three times repeated in Acts 10, plus a direct word of command from the Holy Spirit, to go to Cornelius in Acts 10. In Acts 17, Paul was provoked in his spirit to do what he did. In Philippi, his word was spoken only to a Gentile jailer and his family. His actions in Pisidian Antioch and Corinth might be explained by his words in Romans 11:11. There, in speaking of Israel, he says:

11. I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles.

There are two Greek words for “fall” here, or else the verse would be self-contradictory. Israel had not stumbled that they should fall. Let it never be! But through their deviation, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation had come to the nations. That is what happened in Pisidian Antioch and in Corinth. This is clear in Acts 13 from verses 45-46.

45. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. 46. Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.

They turned to the nations very purposefully here in front of the Jews who were rejecting the Word, and this may well have provoked some to jealousy, even as Paul said in Romans 11:11. In Acts 18:6, this is also clear in Corinth.

6. But when they (the Jews) opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

Again, this was when the Jews stumbled or deviated from the right path. Paul went to the nations to provoke them to jealousy, and there is evidence that this worked. For in verse 8 we read:

8. Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.

Could it be that this Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue and therefore probably one of the primary men who had opposed Paul and blasphemed, saw Paul going to the nations with the word of Christ and became jealous and believed along with his household? This could well be. Moreover, we learn in Acts 18:17 that he was replaced by another synagogue ruler who continued to oppose Paul.

17. Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. But Gallio took no notice of these things.

Yet in the first epistle written to Corinth, Paul introduces his cowriter in verse 1 as “Sosthenes our brother.” Could it be that this second synagogue ruler too was provoked to jealousy and ended up following Paul after all?

So we can see that the examples of Gentiles receiving the gospel and believing in Acts were few and far between. Especially when we realize the meaning of the word “Greeks,” we can see that there are only these five instances that we can confirm of Gentiles receiving the message, and they seem to be the exception to prove the rule. Though some Gentiles were given the message and allowed to enter the company, the company itself was one of Israelite believers. These Gentiles who entered in were like wild olive branches grafted into Israel’s good olive tree, as Paul sets it forth in Romans 11:17-18.

17. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, 18. do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.

Yes, all this leads us to conclude that, in spite of a few exceptions, Paul’s words in Acts 13:26 are true all throughout the Acts period. Except in special circumstances, the “word of this salvation” was authorized to “men and brethren, sons of the family of Abraham.” It was meant for them, and not for men of other nations. We saw this earlier in this same chapter 28 on Malta, where, though Paul healed all who came to him, we read of him proclaiming the gospel to none. There were no Jews on Malta, and so there were no people to whom he needed to proclaim the gospel. Without a special commission, which he apparently did not receive, he had no word for the Maltese, and so he gave them none. This was the reality of the Acts period.

Yet now, as we come to Acts 28:28, we find a statement that ushers in a new condition of things entirely. Paul says that the salvation-bringing message is made freely available or authorized to the nations. This never happened in the Acts period. In Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas may have turned to the Gentiles. In Corinth, Paul may have gone to the Gentiles. Yet always in the next town down the line he would enter right back into the synagogue and declare the gospel to the Jews. They were his primary target audience. But now this has all changed. Now the gospel is authorized to all nations, not just to Israel. This is the main thrust of the great change that takes place in Acts 28:28.

Yet there is a second change here too, and it is one that is also significant for understanding God’s work today, as well as His work in the Acts period. That is found in the fact that the gospel itself is said here to be apostello, or authorized, to the nations. Though the word of salvation was authorized in the book of Acts, it was authorized only through the men who were commissioned to carry it. This is not stated in Acts 13:26, not being relevant to what Paul is saying there, but Paul explains this to us in Romans again, in Romans 10:14-15.

14. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15. And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:
“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,
Who bring glad tidings of good things!”

In these verses, Paul sets forth four impossibilities. The first is that it is impossible that one would call on one in whom he had not believed. Believing here is what establishes one’s right to call on the Lord. When one calls on another, he must have established the right to call. For example, I could not walk up to a stranger on the street and ask him to loan me $100. Even a casual acquaintance at my workplace would be unlikely to hear me if I made such a request. But if I should ask a good friend for the loan, I would be likely to get it, and the reason is that I have established my right to call on this person because he is a friend. With a  stranger I have no right to even ask, nor with a casual acquaintance. But with a friend, I have established a right to ask, and so if I do ask it is not a problem. So it is with Christ. One must establish the right to call upon Him when needed, and this right is established by believing in Him.

The second impossibility is that one cannot believe in One of whom he has not heard. This should be self-explanatory, though many are not as sensible about this as God is, imagining that men should be condemned for not believing in Christ even if they have never heard of Him. But this is asking the impossible. This would be like you asking me, “Promise me you’ll believe it and I’ll tell you a story.” How could I possibly grant such a request? If you will tell me the story, I will tell you whether I believe it or not. But to ask me to believe something before I have heard it is asking the impossible. I cannot believe until I have heard.

The third impossibility is that one cannot hear without a preacher. The Greek word kerussontos is actually a participle, and means “(one) proclaiming” here. Indeed, you cannot hear a story without one proclaiming it to you. By whatever means he does it…spoken word, written word, or any other means…he must proclaim the story to you before you can hear it. You cannot hear what has never been communicated to you.

The final impossibility is that one cannot proclaim unless he is sent. The word “sent” here is a form of the Greek word apostello, the same word we have already examined as it relates to Acts 28:28. As we said above, the word means to send with authority or to commission. This impossibility will seem very strange to us today. Why would one need authority before he could proclaim? We usually suppose that any story that we have heard, we are able to relate to someone else, as long as we have kept it in mind sufficiently to do so. Why would one need to be sent with authority in order to do this? But in this we reveal that we do not understand the nature of the proclamation of the gospel in the Acts period. The fact is that the gospel contains an offer, the offer of salvation and life in Christ Jesus. It is not a story only, but an offer of forgiveness and life in Christ Jesus. And while a story can be told by anyone, an offer can only be made by one given the authority to make that offer.

Now the reality of the book of Acts is that those who made the offer of salvation to others had been commissioned or sent with the authority to do so. As we can see here, they were not allowed to proclaim the salvation-bringing message unless they had been commissioned to do this. We saw that at first it was the Lord’s disciples, led by the twelve, who made this proclamation in Jerusalem in Acts 2-7. Then, those who were trained up by the twelve and then scattered throughout the world after the stoning of Stephen made this proclamation everywhere they went. Finally, Paul was commissioned by God to carry the gospel to the places that those involved in the great scattering had never reached. But in all these cases, the ones carrying the gospel were apostled or commissioned with authority to proclaim it.

Now, however, Paul’s words in Acts 28:28 set forth a great change in this situation. Now, it will no longer be men who will be commissioned with God’s authority to carry His offer of salvation and life to all those who hear it. Now, the salvation-bringing message itself is commissioned or authorized. This makes a vast difference. If the gospel is authorized, the proclaimer no longer has to be. The truth of Romans 10:15, that no one can proclaim unless he is commissioned to do so, is no longer in effect. Now, the gospel itself is authorized to all nations. Now, anyone can take it up and proclaim it, and anyone without earshot can hear it. Now, the message itself is commissioned.

This one fact of the message itself being authorized, rather than individual men being commissioned, explains why the message now had to be freely available to all nations. When individuals had to be commissioned to proclaim the message, that meant God could control where that message went and who heard it, as He could control the travels and activities of those men. Now that the gospel itself was the apostle, however, such control was no longer possible. Now, wherever the gospel is proclaimed and whoever might choose to proclaim it, anyone who hears becomes a rightful recipient, and anyone who hears may believe. One does not even have to believe the gospel himself in order to proclaim it. I have used the example of someone acting a part in a play or movie in which the gospel is proclaimed in the lines that have been written for him. The actor who speaks those lines might not believe them at all himself, but if they truly contain the gospel, then one could hear that actor proclaiming them and believe the truth through him, just because he spoke it. Therefore there are no limits on the gospel, neither in who can speak it, nor in who can hear it. All can hear, and all can speak. This is what is true when the gospel itself is apostello. This is what is true when the gospel itself is authorized.

So this great proclamation in Acts 28:28 first of all opened the door to all nations to believe. Before this proclamation, the word of this salvation had been sent to the descendants of the man Abraham, and the men of other nations who heard and believed it were few and only in certain exceptional circumstances. Now, however, the salvation-bringing message was made freely available to men of all nations, and they would hear and believe it. Before this proclamation, the gospel could only be proclaimed by one who had been commissioned with the authority to offer it. Now, however, the gospel itself carried the authority, and both anyone could speak it and anyone could hear and believe it. These were the changes that came about as a part of this one crucial proclamation by God through the man Paul. We must understand this proclamation, then, and exactly what it did and how it changed things, if we ever are to understand truth for today, and to rightly divide the Word of truth.

29. And when he had said these words, the Jews departed and had a great dispute among themselves.

So Paul finishes his last great proclamation to these Jewish rulers from Rome, and they depart from his house. As they go, we read that they had great dispute among themselves. The idea of the Greek is that they were questioning, disputing, and discussing these things among themselves. As we saw earlier, about half of these Jews had believed the things which Paul had spoken, and half had not believed. So there must have been much disagreement, and they are discussing and disputing these things even as they depart from Paul’s house and head back to their own homes. Hopefully, those who believed took this to heart and started to live for the Lord Jesus Christ themselves from this point on. As for those who did not believe, we can pray that they listened to those who did believe and reconsidered this position, for only in the Lord Jesus Christ could these Roman rulers hope to find future life in God’s kingdom.

We would note, however, the fact made plain by the passage that about half of these most important and influential men in the Jewish community in Rome left believing. We can hope and expect that these men went back to their synagogues and the ancestral Israelites over whom they had influence and proclaimed their newfound faith, even as they now had permission to do. These were men greatly respected, and so it could well be that through their word many Jews in Rome could have come to believe.

30. Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him,

Now we read that Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house. Notice that there is no word here of Paul being a prisoner. He was brought to Rome as a prisoner, but when he arrived there were found none to accuse him. At this point, then, it would appear that he was set free. There was simply no further reason to hold him, since there were no charges against him and no accusers to bring any. Those who call this “Paul’s two year imprisonment in Rome” show that they are not paying careful attention to what the Word is saying. Paul was not under some kind of house arrest here. Rather, he was free to act as he would. He was a Roman citizen with no charges against him.

Now we should not get carried away with this, however. Paul had appealed to Caesar, and, as Festus said in Acts 25:12, “You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go!” Moreover, the Spirit Himself assured Paul that he had to appear before Caesar, for as we read in Acts 27:24, while Paul and the ship he was on were still caught in the storm, a messenger of God appeared to him and said, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.” Not only Roman law, but also God demanded that Paul must have a hearing before Caesar. However, since he will not be a prisoner anymore and there will be no charges against him, this will be a strange meeting indeed. Probably these strange circumstances will peak Caesar’s curiosity. At any rate, all he is likely to do is to ask Paul to present whatever he wants to say about himself, and then will dismiss his case altogether. However, when Paul has a chance to speak, what an opportunity this will be, for he will be able to proclaim Jesus Christ to the ruler of the most powerful empire on earth at that time!

A word also needs to be said about the words of Paul in the books he wrote during these two years, wherein he calls himself a “prisoner,” desmios or “bound one” in Greek. The first of these occurrences is in Ephesians 3:1.

1. For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles—

Again, he speaks similarly in Ephesians 4:1.

1. I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,

He says the same thing in Philemon 1.

1. Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer,

Again he speaks this same way in Philemon 9.

9. yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you—being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ—

Notice, however, that in each of these cases, Paul calls himself a prisoner of Christ Jesus, a prisoner of the Lord, or a prisoner of Jesus Christ. Never once does he say that he is a prisoner of Rome, or that he is bound because of the Jews, the Romans, or any other human being. Apparently, it was Christ Who wanted him in Rome at this time, and not just the Roman authorities. If they paid any attention to the whereabouts of Paul at all, it was so he could appear before Caesar when the time came. Yet in reality it was Christ who held him there, and Christ to whom he was bound.

Philippians and Colossians were also written during this time, and though they do not speak of Paul being a prisoner, he does mention in Colossians 4:10 (as well as Philemon 23) a “fellow prisoner.”

10. Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him),

Aristarchus has been traveling with Paul at least since Acts 19:29, and probably since Paul was in Macedonia in Acts 16-17. He was with Paul on his journey back toward Jerusalem in Acts 20:4, and accompanied him on board the ship in Acts 27:2. However, we never have any intimation that he was arrested, and so this too probably points to the fact that he was bound to Jesus Christ, and not that he also was a prisoner of Rome.

Finally, though Paul does not mention being a prisoner at all in Philippians, he does mention being in bonds or chains, the Greek word desmos, which is clearly related to desmios. We see this first in Philippians 1:7.

7. just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace.

He mentions bonds or chains again in verses 13,14, and 16.

13. so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ;
14. and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
16. The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains;

The only place here where he defines his chains is in verse 13, where he says “my chains are in Christ.” In other words, they all knew that it was Christ who bound him there, not Rome at all. He was there because God had work for him to do there.

This word “bonds” or “chains” also occurs in Colossians 4:18, and Philemon 10,13. Neither of those passages defines what these chains are, however.

One last interesting thing to note is that both these words, “prisoner” and “chains,” are found in II Timothy, the former in II Timothy 1:8, and the latter in II Timothy 2:9. This has led some to speculate a second Roman imprisonment for Paul, but again Paul is speaking of “me His (the Lord’s) prisoner,” and not of any imprisonment by Rome. Paul in all these passages was bound by his mission for and service to the Lord, and not by any human imprisonment at all.

Now during this time we read that Paul was receiving all who came in unto him. As he himself had just stated, he no longer had to make any distinction in those who came to him. He was not obliged to proclaim the gospel first to the Jews and then to the Greek, as Romans 1:16 stated it for the Acts period. He no longer had to wait until some of the Jews rejected the message and then proclaim to Gentiles to provoke those Jews to jealousy, as he explained he did in the Acts period in Romans 11:11. Now, in accordance with his words in Acts 28:28, Paul is able to receive all who come to him, and to proclaim to all who come to him without any distinction, as we see in the following and final verse.

31. preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.

So Paul not only received all who came to him, Jew and Gentile alike, but he also proclaimed to all without distinction. This was the door that was thrown open to him in the declaration of Acts 28:28. The salvation-bringing message was now freely available to all, and Paul is taking full advantage of that fact.

Notice too what it is said that Paul is proclaiming to all those who come to him. He is “preaching (proclaiming) the kingdom of God” and “teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is very similar to what we just read in Acts 28:23 that he did with the Roman Jewish leaders who came to him for a day: “to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus.” In both cases, the two topics covered are the kingdom of God and the Lord Jesus. If Paul’s message changed from before to after Acts 28:28 (and I believe it did,) it nevertheless did not change in regards to what its two main topics were. Both before and after the change, it was about first of all the kingdom of God, and secondly the Lord Jesus Christ.

This fact proves to be false the idea some have that at Acts 28:28 the Lord set aside His kingdom program and began working on some other purpose for something called “the church” or “the church which is His body.” If the kingdom of God is no longer the major topic of the time in which we live, then that should be reflected in the words the Lord uses here, but instead the opposite is the case. It is as if the Lord wants to emphasize for us here the fact that, though there might have been a change in plans, the basic plan is still the same. Though, instead of being in the early stages of the kingdom, the kingdom is now delayed and God is working through a dispensation of grace instead, yet still this is all centered around the eventual arrival of the kingdom of God. That is still the expectation, and that is still the hope. The importance and centrality of the kingdom has not changed in the least.

So he proclaimed the kingdom and taught about the Lord Jesus, and he did it with confidence. This word not only has to do with confidence or boldness, but also to do with speaking a thing plainly or openly. Paul was not proclaiming a vague and mysterious message that was difficult for anyone to grasp. Moreover, he was not hiding what he was doing, as if he was proclaiming to Gentiles in secret and did not want anyone to find out. Everyone who cared to know in Rome, including all the Jews, both believers and unbelievers, knew that he was doing this. He was not hiding it, nor doing it secretly. There was nothing unforthcoming or secretive about this. Those who might have charged Paul with starting his new ministry to Gentiles secretly are proven to be liars by this statement. Paul did not start this new work in secret. He did it boldly, clearly, and openly.

And not only did he do it openly, but he need not have feared doing it openly, for we read that no man was forbidding him. This is a single word in Greek, akolutos, which occurs only here, and means “without hindrance.” No Jew attempted to stop him from speaking to the Gentiles. What he did was open, and it was unopposed. Opposition may have arisen later from Jews in other places, but in Rome at least, no such opposition appeared. The Lord had opened the way for Gentiles to hear and believe, and for now at least, those in Rome would be able to hear and believe without hindrance.

So we have completed our journey through the book of Acts. We have seen the work that the Lord began during His earthly ministry continued, as Luke proclaimed in the first verse.

1. The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,

So in the book of Luke, Luke wrote about what the Lord began to do and teach, and in Acts he has explained to us how His apostles continued that work. Then we have seen that work brought to a conclusion in order for God to bring in a new work, His work today of showing forth the riches of His grace in a dispensation of grace. This answers the question the book started with, the question of Acts 1:6-7.

6. Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7. And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.”

The Lord refused to answer this question at that time, but now we know what the answer was. The Lord did not restore the kingdom to Israel at that time. That kingdom work was begun, but it was suspended before it reached the stage of Israel’s national restoration. Instead, the salvation-bringing message was made freely available to all nations, and God started a new work with them. As Paul would soon teach in Ephesians, that work treated all nations as being joint and equal. That work was not a kingdom work, but a work in which God administered His control in this world completely in secret and through grace.

Many lessons can be learned from the book of Acts, both about our Lord and about His work. We can see examples for us of how we should act and should not act, and we can learn many things from the study of this book. However, we should never lose sight of the fact that this book is the historical record of a time that is past, and a work of God which is no longer in progress. We can learn about that work, but we should not try to emulate it, for indeed we cannot do that even if we tried. To learn what God’s work is today and what He wants us to do in light of it, we must turn to other books than Acts, like the books of Ephesians and Colossians. Only in those books written to us today can we learn God’s present purpose, and what He would have us to do in light of it. Yet without understanding Acts we might never be able to understand that present work, nor grasp how it relates to His work in the past earthly ministry of Christ, nor how that ministry affects us today. So praise God for Acts and all we have learned from it, but let us be careful to keep it in its place, and, as always, to rightly divide the word of truth.We were considering Acts 28:28, one of the most pivotal verses of the Bible, and the one that announces the second great change in the New Testament. We discussed the word “salvation,” which is actually an adjective, and indicates the “salvation-bringing message.” We discussed the word “sent,” which is the verb form of apostle, “apostled,” and means “authorized.” We discussed the word “Gentiles,” which means simply “nations.” Finally, we discussed the word “hear,” which has to do with comprehending, and means that the message would get through to them. Therefore, we finished with the following translation, as suggested by our studies, and by Otis Sellers in his Revised Version.

 

Be it known therefore unto you that the salvation-bringing message of God is now authorized (made freely available) unto the nations, and it will get through to them.

 

Now we are ready to continue our examination of this extremely important verse.

 

Acts 28:28: What Was the Change?

 

Now this verse is an expression of a great change in the history of the New Testament. Yet to really get this, we need to discover what that change was, and what the former conditions were that now were changed. If the salvation-bringing message of God was only just then authorized to the nations, whom was it authorized to before then? For only when we understand this can we understand the great change that took place here.

 

If you have been following along with me throughout my studies in the book of Acts, you will probably have a good idea whom the salvation-bringing message was authorized to throughout the book of Acts. Paul clearly states it in his address to the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13:26.

 

26. “Men and brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to you the word of this salvation has been sent.”

 

If we would examine the Greek of this verse, we would find that the word “sent” here is again the Greek word apostello. Thus, this verse expresses the truth that the word of the salvation that Paul was teaching was authorized at that time to those who were Paul’s brethren, the sons of the family of Abraham, and those proselytes who were among them who feared God. It was not authorized to those from other nations at this time. (Note that the word “salvation” here is actually a noun, soteria, rather than an adjective, soterion, here. Yet the meaning is clearly the same. The word of that salvation was the same as the salvation-bringing message God speaks of in Acts 28:28.)

 

Now we know that the word of salvation was authorized to men of nations other than Israel several significant times in the book of Acts. We have seen this in the incident of the household of Cornelius in Acts 10, Paul in Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13, Paul with the Philippians jailer in Acts 16, Paul in Athens in Acts 17, and Paul in Corinth in Acts 18. Of these incidents, Peter took a vision from God three times repeated in Acts 10, plus a direct word of command from the Holy Spirit, to go to Cornelius in Acts 10. In Acts 17, Paul was provoked in his spirit to do what he did. In Philippi, his word was spoken only to a Gentile jailer and his family. His actions in Pisidian Antioch and Corinth might be explained by his words in Romans 11:11. There, in speaking of Israel, he says:

 

11. I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles.

 

There are two Greek words for “fall” here, or else the verse would be self-contradictory. Israel had not stumbled that they should fall. Let it never be! But through their deviation, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation had come to the nations. That is what happened in Pisidian Antioch and in Corinth. This is clear in Acts 13 from verses 45-46.

 

45. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. 46. Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.

 

They turned to the nations very purposefully here in front of the Jews who were rejecting the Word, and this may well have provoked some to jealousy, even as Paul said in Romans 11:11. In Acts 18:6, this is also clear in Corinth.

 

6. But when they (the Jews) opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

 

Again, this was when the Jews stumbled or deviated from the right path. Paul went to the nations to provoke them to jealousy, and there is evidence that this worked. For in verse 8 we read:

 

8. Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.

 

Could it be that this Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue and therefore probably one of the primary men who had opposed Paul and blasphemed, saw Paul going to the nations with the word of Christ and became jealous and believed along with his household? This could well be. Moreover, we learn in Acts 18:17 that he was replaced by another synagogue ruler who continued to oppose Paul.

 

17. Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. But Gallio took no notice of these things.

 

Yet in the first epistle written to Corinth, Paul introduces his cowriter in verse 1 as “Sosthenes our brother.” Could it be that this second synagogue ruler too was provoked to jealousy and ended up following Paul after all?

 

So we can see that the examples of Gentiles receiving the gospel and believing in Acts were few and far between. Especially when we realize the meaning of the word “Greeks,” we can see that there are only these five instances that we can confirm of Gentiles receiving the message, and they seem to be the exception to prove the rule. Though some Gentiles were given the message and allowed to enter the company, the company itself was one of Israelite believers. These Gentiles who entered in were like wild olive branches grafted into Israel’s good olive tree, as Paul sets it forth in Romans 11:17-18.

 

17. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, 18. do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.

 

Yes, all this leads us to conclude that, in spite of a few exceptions, Paul’s words in Acts 13:26 are true all throughout the Acts period. Except in special circumstances, the “word of this salvation” was authorized to “men and brethren, sons of the family of Abraham.” It was meant for them, and not for men of other nations. We saw this earlier in this same chapter 28 on Malta, where, though Paul healed all who came to him, we read of him proclaiming the gospel to none. There were no Jews on Malta, and so there were no people to whom he needed to proclaim the gospel. Without a special commission, which he apparently did not receive, he had no word for the Maltese, and so he gave them none. This was the reality of the Acts period.

 

Yet now, as we come to Acts 28:28, we find a statement that ushers in a new condition of things entirely. Paul says that the salvation-bringing message is made freely available or authorized to the nations. This never happened in the Acts period. In Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas may have turned to the Gentiles. In Corinth, Paul may have gone to the Gentiles. Yet always in the next town down the line he would enter right back into the synagogue and declare the gospel to the Jews. They were his primary target audience. But now this has all changed. Now the gospel is authorized to all nations, not just to Israel. This is the main thrust of the great change that takes place in Acts 28:28.

 

Yet there is a second change here too, and it is one that is also significant for understanding God’s work today, as well as His work in the Acts period. That is found in the fact that the gospel itself is said here to be apostello, or authorized, to the nations. Though the word of salvation was authorized in the book of Acts, it was authorized only through the men who were commissioned to carry it. This is not stated in Acts 13:26, not being relevant to what Paul is saying there, but Paul explains this to us in Romans again, in Romans 10:14-15.

 

14. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15. And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:
“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,
Who bring glad tidings of good things!”

 

In these verses, Paul sets forth four impossibilities. The first is that it is impossible that one would call on one in whom he had not believed. Believing here is what establishes one’s right to call on the Lord. When one calls on another, he must have established the right to call. For example, I could not walk up to a stranger on the street and ask him to loan me $100. Even a casual acquaintance at my workplace would be unlikely to hear me if I made such a request. But if I should ask a good friend for the loan, I would be likely to get it, and the reason is that I have established my right to call on this person because he is a friend. With a  stranger I have no right to even ask, nor with a casual acquaintance. But with a friend, I have established a right to ask, and so if I do ask it is not a problem. So it is with Christ. One must establish the right to call upon Him when needed, and this right is established by believing in Him.

 

The second impossibility is that one cannot believe in One of whom he has not heard. This should be self-explanatory, though many are not as sensible about this as God is, imagining that men should be condemned for not believing in Christ even if they have never heard of Him. But this is asking the impossible. This would be like you asking me, “Promise me you’ll believe it and I’ll tell you a story.” How could I possibly grant such a request? If you will tell me the story, I will tell you whether I believe it or not. But to ask me to believe something before I have heard it is asking the impossible. I cannot believe until I have heard.

 

The third impossibility is that one cannot hear without a preacher. The Greek word kerussontos is actually a participle, and means “(one) proclaiming” here. Indeed, you cannot hear a story without one proclaiming it to you. By whatever means he does it…spoken word, written word, or any other means…he must proclaim the story to you before you can hear it. You cannot hear what has never been communicated to you.

 

The final impossibility is that one cannot proclaim unless he is sent. The word “sent” here is a form of the Greek word apostello, the same word we have already examined as it relates to Acts 28:28. As we said above, the word means to send with authority or to commission. This impossibility will seem very strange to us today. Why would one need authority before he could proclaim? We usually suppose that any story that we have heard, we are able to relate to someone else, as long as we have kept it in mind sufficiently to do so. Why would one need to be sent with authority in order to do this? But in this we reveal that we do not understand the nature of the proclamation of the gospel in the Acts period. The fact is that the gospel contains an offer, the offer of salvation and life in Christ Jesus. It is not a story only, but an offer of forgiveness and life in Christ Jesus. And while a story can be told by anyone, an offer can only be made by one given the authority to make that offer.

 

Now the reality of the book of Acts is that those who made the offer of salvation to others had been commissioned or sent with the authority to do so. As we can see here, they were not allowed to proclaim the salvation-bringing message unless they had been commissioned to do this. We saw that at first it was the Lord’s disciples, led by the twelve, who made this proclamation in Jerusalem in Acts 2-7. Then, those who were trained up by the twelve and then scattered throughout the world after the stoning of Stephen made this proclamation everywhere they went. Finally, Paul was commissioned by God to carry the gospel to the places that those involved in the great scattering had never reached. But in all these cases, the ones carrying the gospel were apostled or commissioned with authority to proclaim it.

 

Now, however, Paul’s words in Acts 28:28 set forth a great change in this situation. Now, it will no longer be men who will be commissioned with God’s authority to carry His offer of salvation and life to all those who hear it. Now, the salvation-bringing message itself is commissioned or authorized. This makes a vast difference. If the gospel is authorized, the proclaimer no longer has to be. The truth of Romans 10:15, that no one can proclaim unless he is commissioned to do so, is no longer in effect. Now, the gospel itself is authorized to all nations. Now, anyone can take it up and proclaim it, and anyone without earshot can hear it. Now, the message itself is commissioned.

 

This one fact of the message itself being authorized, rather than individual men being commissioned, explains why the message now had to be freely available to all nations. When individuals had to be commissioned to proclaim the message, that meant God could control where that message went and who heard it, as He could control the travels and activities of those men. Now that the gospel itself was the apostle, however, such control was no longer possible. Now, wherever the gospel is proclaimed and whoever might choose to proclaim it, anyone who hears becomes a rightful recipient, and anyone who hears may believe. One does not even have to believe the gospel himself in order to proclaim it. I have used the example of someone acting a part in a play or movie in which the gospel is proclaimed in the lines that have been written for him. The actor who speaks those lines might not believe them at all himself, but if they truly contain the gospel, then one could hear that actor proclaiming them and believe the truth through him, just because he spoke it. Therefore there are no limits on the gospel, neither in who can speak it, nor in who can hear it. All can hear, and all can speak. This is what is true when the gospel itself is apostello. This is what is true when the gospel itself is authorized.

 

So this great proclamation in Acts 28:28 first of all opened the door to all nations to believe. Before this proclamation, the word of this salvation had been sent to the descendants of the man Abraham, and the men of other nations who heard and believed it were few and only in certain exceptional circumstances. Now, however, the salvation-bringing message was made freely available to men of all nations, and they would hear and believe it. Before this proclamation, the gospel could only be proclaimed by one who had been commissioned with the authority to offer it. Now, however, the gospel itself carried the authority, and both anyone could speak it and anyone could hear and believe it. These were the changes that came about as a part of this one crucial proclamation by God through the man Paul. We must understand this proclamation, then, and exactly what it did and how it changed things, if we ever are to understand truth for today, and to rightly divide the Word of truth.

 

29. And when he had said these words, the Jews departed and had a great dispute among themselves.

So Paul finishes his last great proclamation to these Jewish rulers from Rome, and they depart from his house. As they go, we read that they had great dispute among themselves. The idea of the Greek is that they were questioning, disputing, and discussing these things among themselves. As we saw earlier, about half of these Jews had believed the things which Paul had spoken, and half had not believed. So there must have been much disagreement, and they are discussing and disputing these things even as they depart from Paul’s house and head back to their own homes. Hopefully, those who believed took this to heart and started to live for the Lord Jesus Christ themselves from this point on. As for those who did not believe, we can pray that they listened to those who did believe and reconsidered this position, for only in the Lord Jesus Christ could these Roman rulers hope to find future life in God’s kingdom.

 

We would note, however, the fact made plain by the passage that about half of these most important and influential men in the Jewish community in Rome left believing. We can hope and expect that these men went back to their synagogues and the ancestral Israelites over whom they had influence and proclaimed their newfound faith, even as they now had permission to do. These were men greatly respected, and so it could well be that through their word many Jews in Rome could have come to believe.

 

30. Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him,

 

Now we read that Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house. Notice that there is no word here of Paul being a prisoner. He was brought to Rome as a prisoner, but when he arrived there were found none to accuse him. At this point, then, it would appear that he was set free. There was simply no further reason to hold him, since there were no charges against him and no accusers to bring any. Those who call this “Paul’s two year imprisonment in Rome” show that they are not paying careful attention to what the Word is saying. Paul was not under some kind of house arrest here. Rather, he was free to act as he would. He was a Roman citizen with no charges against him.

 

Now we should not get carried away with this, however. Paul had appealed to Caesar, and, as Festus said in Acts 25:12, “You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go!” Moreover, the Spirit Himself assured Paul that he had to appear before Caesar, for as we read in Acts 27:24, while Paul and the ship he was on were still caught in the storm, a messenger of God appeared to him and said, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.” Not only Roman law, but also God demanded that Paul must have a hearing before Caesar. However, since he will not be a prisoner anymore and there will be no charges against him, this will be a strange meeting indeed. Probably these strange circumstances will peak Caesar’s curiosity. At any rate, all he is likely to do is to ask Paul to present whatever he wants to say about himself, and then will dismiss his case altogether. However, when Paul has a chance to speak, what an opportunity this will be, for he will be able to proclaim Jesus Christ to the ruler of the most powerful empire on earth at that time!

 

A word also needs to be said about the words of Paul in the books he wrote during these two years, wherein he calls himself a “prisoner,” desmios or “bound one” in Greek. The first of these occurrences is in Ephesians 3:1.

 

1. For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles—

 

Again, he speaks similarly in Ephesians 4:1.

 

1. I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,

 

He says the same thing in Philemon 1.

 

1. Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer,

 

Again he speaks this same way in Philemon 9.

 

9. yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you—being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ—

 

Notice, however, that in each of these cases, Paul calls himself a prisoner of Christ Jesus, a prisoner of the Lord, or a prisoner of Jesus Christ. Never once does he say that he is a prisoner of Rome, or that he is bound because of the Jews, the Romans, or any other human being. Apparently, it was Christ Who wanted him in Rome at this time, and not just the Roman authorities. If they paid any attention to the whereabouts of Paul at all, it was so he could appear before Caesar when the time came. Yet in reality it was Christ who held him there, and Christ to whom he was bound.

 

Philippians and Colossians were also written during this time, and though they do not speak of Paul being a prisoner, he does mention in Colossians 4:10 (as well as Philemon 23) a “fellow prisoner.”

 

10. Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him),

 

Aristarchus has been traveling with Paul at least since Acts 19:29, and probably since Paul was in Macedonia in Acts 16-17. He was with Paul on his journey back toward Jerusalem in Acts 20:4, and accompanied him on board the ship in Acts 27:2. However, we never have any intimation that he was arrested, and so this too probably points to the fact that he was bound to Jesus Christ, and not that he also was a prisoner of Rome.

 

Finally, though Paul does not mention being a prisoner at all in Philippians, he does mention being in bonds or chains, the Greek word desmos, which is clearly related to desmios. We see this first in Philippians 1:7.

 

7. just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace.

 

He mentions bonds or chains again in verses 13,14, and 16.

 

13. so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ;

14. and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

16. The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains;

 

The only place here where he defines his chains is in verse 13, where he says “my chains are in Christ.” In other words, they all knew that it was Christ who bound him there, not Rome at all. He was there because God had work for him to do there.

 

This word “bonds” or “chains” also occurs in Colossians 4:18, and Philemon 10,13. Neither of those passages defines what these chains are, however.

 

One last interesting thing to note is that both these words, “prisoner” and “chains,” are found in II Timothy, the former in II Timothy 1:8, and the latter in II Timothy 2:9. This has led some to speculate a second Roman imprisonment for Paul, but again Paul is speaking of “me His (the Lord’s) prisoner,” and not of any imprisonment by Rome. Paul in all these passages was bound by his mission for and service to the Lord, and not by any human imprisonment at all.

 

Now during this time we read that Paul was receiving all who came in unto him. As he himself had just stated, he no longer had to make any distinction in those who came to him. He was not obliged to proclaim the gospel first to the Jews and then to the Greek, as Romans 1:16 stated it for the Acts period. He no longer had to wait until some of the Jews rejected the message and then proclaim to Gentiles to provoke those Jews to jealousy, as he explained he did in the Acts period in Romans 11:11. Now, in accordance with his words in Acts 28:28, Paul is able to receive all who come to him, and to proclaim to all who come to him without any distinction, as we see in the following and final verse.

 

31. preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.

 

So Paul not only received all who came to him, Jew and Gentile alike, but he also proclaimed to all without distinction. This was the door that was thrown open to him in the declaration of Acts 28:28. The salvation-bringing message was now freely available to all, and Paul is taking full advantage of that fact.

 

Notice too what it is said that Paul is proclaiming to all those who come to him. He is “preaching (proclaiming) the kingdom of God” and “teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is very similar to what we just read in Acts 28:23 that he did with the Roman Jewish leaders who came to him for a day: “to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus.” In both cases, the two topics covered are the kingdom of God and the Lord Jesus. If Paul’s message changed from before to after Acts 28:28 (and I believe it did,) it nevertheless did not change in regards to what its two main topics were. Both before and after the change, it was about first of all the kingdom of God, and secondly the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

This fact proves to be false the idea some have that at Acts 28:28 the Lord set aside His kingdom program and began working on some other purpose for something called “the church” or “the church which is His body.” If the kingdom of God is no longer the major topic of the time in which we live, then that should be reflected in the words the Lord uses here, but instead the opposite is the case. It is as if the Lord wants to emphasize for us here the fact that, though there might have been a change in plans, the basic plan is still the same. Though, instead of being in the early stages of the kingdom, the kingdom is now delayed and God is working through a dispensation of grace instead, yet still this is all centered around the eventual arrival of the kingdom of God. That is still the expectation, and that is still the hope. The importance and centrality of the kingdom has not changed in the least.

 

So he proclaimed the kingdom and taught about the Lord Jesus, and he did it with confidence. This word not only has to do with confidence or boldness, but also to do with speaking a thing plainly or openly. Paul was not proclaiming a vague and mysterious message that was difficult for anyone to grasp. Moreover, he was not hiding what he was doing, as if he was proclaiming to Gentiles in secret and did not want anyone to find out. Everyone who cared to know in Rome, including all the Jews, both believers and unbelievers, knew that he was doing this. He was not hiding it, nor doing it secretly. There was nothing unforthcoming or secretive about this. Those who might have charged Paul with starting his new ministry to Gentiles secretly are proven to be liars by this statement. Paul did not start this new work in secret. He did it boldly, clearly, and openly.

 

And not only did he do it openly, but he need not have feared doing it openly, for we read that no man was forbidding him. This is a single word in Greek, akolutos, which occurs only here, and means “without hindrance.” No Jew attempted to stop him from speaking to the Gentiles. What he did was open, and it was unopposed. Opposition may have arisen later from Jews in other places, but in Rome at least, no such opposition appeared. The Lord had opened the way for Gentiles to hear and believe, and for now at least, those in Rome would be able to hear and believe without hindrance.

 

So we have completed our journey through the book of Acts. We have seen the work that the Lord began during His earthly ministry continued, as Luke proclaimed in the first verse.

 

1. The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,

 

So in the book of Luke, Luke wrote about what the Lord began to do and teach, and in Acts he has explained to us how His apostles continued that work. Then we have seen that work brought to a conclusion in order for God to bring in a new work, His work today of showing forth the riches of His grace in a dispensation of grace. This answers the question the book started with, the question of Acts 1:6-7.

 

6. Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7. And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.”

 

The Lord refused to answer this question at that time, but now we know what the answer was. The Lord did not restore the kingdom to Israel at that time. That kingdom work was begun, but it was suspended before it reached the stage of Israel’s national restoration. Instead, the salvation-bringing message was made freely available to all nations, and God started a new work with them. As Paul would soon teach in Ephesians, that work treated all nations as being joint and equal. That work was not a kingdom work, but a work in which God administered His control in this world completely in secret and through grace.

 

Many lessons can be learned from the book of Acts, both about our Lord and about His work. We can see examples for us of how we should act and should not act, and we can learn many things from the study of this book. However, we should never lose sight of the fact that this book is the historical record of a time that is past, and a work of God which is no longer in progress. We can learn about that work, but we should not try to emulate it, for indeed we cannot do that even if we tried. To learn what God’s work is today and what He wants us to do in light of it, we must turn to other books than Acts, like the books of Ephesians and Colossians. Only in those books written to us today can we learn God’s present purpose, and what He would have us to do in light of it. Yet without understanding Acts we might never be able to understand that present work, nor grasp how it relates to His work in the past earthly ministry of Christ, nor how that ministry affects us today. So praise God for Acts and all we have learned from it, but let us be careful to keep it in its place, and, as always, to rightly divide the word of truth.

/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-priority:99;
mso-style-qformat:yes;
mso-style-parent:””;
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin:0in;
mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:11.0pt;
font-family:”Calibri”,”sans-serif”;
mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri;
mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;
mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast;
mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri;
mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;
mso-bidi-font-family:”Times New Roman”;
mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;}

Advertisements