God’s Message goes to All Nations
Men Arrest Paul and Send him to Rome Acts 21-26
An EasyEnglish Study Unit (2800 word vocabulary) on the New Testament from Acts to Revelation
G. Barrie Wetherill and M. P. H. Stear
Words in boxes are from the Bible.
A word list at the end explains words with a *star by them.
This commentary has yet to go through Advanced Theological Checking.
Acts chapter 15 describes a *council at Jerusalem. There was not enough food in Israel, and so there were many bands of thieves. Cumanus ruled *Judea for the *Romans. He was not a good ruler. The *Romans called him back to Rome. He felt much shame. When Cumanus ruled, a *Roman soldier spoiled the *Temple. (We know this from a book by Barnett, page 162.)
The next ruler after Cumanus was Felix. Felix was perhaps the worst ruler. There was not enough food for everybody. This caused many difficult problems. There were problems with people and problems with money. This made Felix behave in a very cruel manner. (Josephus and Tacitus were two men who wrote the history of this time. They tell us about Felix’s bad behaviour.)
One result was that the *Jews became more proud of their nation. They hated anyone who was not a *Jew. They thought that they might even fight the *Romans. At such a time, people thought that Paul was not a true *Jew. They thought that he was not loyal. Many *Jews had left Israel. They now lived in other countries. Paul travelled to some of those countries. He wanted to tell people about Jesus. People believed that Paul taught the *Jews there wrongly. They thought that he taught them to break the law of Moses (Acts 21:21).
Then Paul went to Jerusalem for the last time. This is what we read in the Bible. He met ‘James and the *elders’. It does not mention the other *apostles. They must have lived in another place at this time.
Paul had collected a very large sum of money, but the Book of Acts does not mention this. Paul brought men who were not *Jews with him. This may have made some *Jews in Jerusalem very angry (Acts 21:27-29). The *Jews said that Paul had taken one of these men into the *Temple. The *elders suggested that Paul and some other people should make a special promise. They should obey the *Temple laws. This would prove that they loved the law. Paul agreed to this, but it failed.
Some *Jews had come from the countries where Paul had taught about Jesus. Those *Jews now saw Paul in the *Temple. A crowd quickly gathered. There were arguments and a fight. Paul was in great danger, but *Roman soldiers saved him. Paul knew that he had many enemies in Jerusalem, (Romans 15:31). He had not known how much his enemies opposed him.
The *Roman soldiers had rescued Paul. They allowed Paul to speak to the crowd, (Acts 21:37). The crowd listened to him in silence when he talked about the living *Lord Jesus. When he mentioned the word ‘*gentile’ the crowd shouted again. The soldiers wanted to hit Paul. He told them that he was a *Roman citizen. They could not hit a *Roman citizen.
The next day the *Roman *commander brought Paul to the *Sanhedrin. Some of the *Sanhedrin were Sadducees. Sadducees did not believe that people live after death. They did not believe in any *spiritual *beings. Some of the *Sanhedrin were Pharisees. Pharisees believed in life after death, and in *spiritual *beings. The Sadducees and the Pharisees never agreed. Paul knew this. When he spoke about *resurrection from death, the *Jews began a fierce argument. The *Romans had to rescue Paul again, (Acts 23:11).
After this, some *Jews had a plot to kill Paul. The son of Paul’s sister heard about the plot and told Paul. After that, he told the *Romans. The *Romans sent Paul with soldiers to Felix. Felix was the *governor of *Caesarea. The *Roman *commander sent a letter with Paul. The letter shows that the *commander could not accuse Paul of anything.
Felix arranged for the *high priest and his friends to go to *Caesarea. There they could accuse Paul. The *high priest thanked Felix for the ‘period of peace’ during his rule. He was not sincere, and Felix would know that. The *Jews said that Paul caused arguments and fights. They said that he had spoiled the *Temple. They could not prove this, and so the meeting ended.
Afterwards Felix and his companion Drusilla talked with Paul. Paul spoke to them about goodness. He said that men must control their behaviour. He spoke about the *judgement that will come. This worried Felix, and he talked with Paul many times. He even hoped that Paul would pay money for freedom. This is astonishing. This man listened to Paul when Paul talked about goodness and future *judgement. At the same time, he was hoping that Paul would give him money
Festus was the next *governor after Felix. Felix left Paul in prison. He wanted to please the *Jews.
Festus then brought Paul to court again. The *Jews who had authority were there. Once again, there was no decision. Festus then suggested that they should take Paul to Jerusalem to a court. Paul knew that this would be dangerous. The *Jews would catch him. He was a *Roman citizen, and he appealed to Caesar. Festus thought about this, and agreed. Soldiers would take Paul to Rome.
Before Paul left, King Agrippa came to visit Festus. Festus did not know what to say about Paul in a letter to Rome. He asked Agrippa to examine Paul. Acts chapter 26 tells us about this. Paul told Agrippa about his early life. He also told him how he became a Christian. He told Agrippa about his work. Paul’s speech to Agrippa was powerful. Agrippa knew what had happened. Paul reminded Agrippa about the *prophecies about the *Messiah. Jesus proved that these *prophecies were true.
King Agrippa and Festus agreed on one thing. If Paul had not appealed to Caesar, they might have freed him. (But if Paul had not done so, he would probably have died. The *Jews had planned to kill him.) Festus thought that Paul had learned too much. He thought that it had made Paul mad (Acts 26).
In all this time, Paul has spoken in a powerful manner. He has spoken to *Jewish rulers and to *Roman rulers. His words and his behaviour showed what he believed. They would have to think about what he said. Soon he would be in Rome, at the most important court in the *empire. God wanted Paul to speak about God in Rome, (Acts 23:11). Nothing would stop this. One day we shall see just how many people became Christians. This happened even when Paul was in prison.
Paul was in prison at *Caesarea for two years or more, (Acts 24:27). Luke was one of his companions. It is very likely that Luke used this opportunity to write his *gospel. Luke certainly spoke to people who had been witnesses (Luke 1:1-5). However, he could have done this in Jerusalem or in *Caesarea.
The book of Acts has many details about Paul’s journey to Rome. At that time, it was very dangerous to travel. However, the journey was good for God’s purposes. A *centurion who was called Julius guarded Paul. Julius seems to have been favourable to Paul.
The journey was slow. They realised that they would have to stop for the winter somewhere on the way. Paul thought that the journey would end in trouble (Acts 27:10). No one listened to what he said.
Soon, a very strong wind from the north-east blew on the ship. There was great danger. The men threw many things from the ship into the sea, to make the ship lighter. They did not see the sun or stars for many days, and they could not eat. Only Paul was not afraid. He told them what they should do.
Soon, they came to the coast of the island of Malta. Paul was a *prisoner, but he gave the orders. Some sailors tried to escape in a small boat. Paul warned that they would die. Other men stopped them. Paul spoke up again:
Soon, the ship came to land. Everyone on the ship was able to escape. The people on the island were kind, and lit a fire of wood. A snake bit Paul, but this did not hurt him. Then some of the people on the island thought that Paul must be a god. Later Paul was able to *preach and to make many ill people well again. When it was time to leave Malta, the people on the island gave them food and supplies.
At last, they reached Italy and Rome. The Christians there had heard that they were coming. They gave them a good welcome. Paul did not live in a prison. He lived in a house, but soldiers guarded him. Paul called the *Jewish leaders together. Some of them believed in what he said to them. Many of them did not believe. Paul had one last message for the *Jews, from the book of Isaiah.
Paul had a lot of freedom at this time. What was happening encouraged him. Many more people were hearing the good news about Jesus.
Men could put Paul in chains, and stop him. They could not stop the *gospel. It continued to spread. It spread even more because Paul suffered. We can be sure that many of the soldiers would believe in Jesus. Even other officials in the palace probably believed. Paul would also encourage the local Christians very much. This would make their *faith stronger.
While Paul was in prison, friends and *converts visited him. They told him the news about his churches. As a result, he wrote some *epistles, which we call ‘the prison *epistles’. These are Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians and Philippians. Paul wrote each one for a particular reason. We have to discover the reason from each letter. He probably did not intend them to be statements of *doctrine for everyone. If Paul had been free, he would probably have gone to the churches. He would have advised them himself. Because he could not do this, these valuable letters have come to us. They have helped Christians for hundreds of years. We will never know how much they have helped.
Paul had not been to *Colosse at this time, (Colossians 2:1). He expected that he would go there later. This would be after the *Romans freed him (Philemon 22). Epaphras had started the church at *Colosse (Colossians 1:7). He probably became a Christian when Paul was teaching in *Ephesus. The Christians met together in a house that belonged to Philemon, (Philemon 2). Philemon was a Christian because Paul had told him about Jesus, (Philemon 19). Epaphras was with Paul when Paul wrote the letter, (Colossians 4:12). Epaphras may have visited Paul to ask for help.
There were false teachers in the Colossian church. What they said was damaging the church. There were several wrong ideas.
(a) Greek philosophy was popular. It said that what you can see and touch is evil. What you cannot see or touch is good. This means that the body is evil and the *spirit is good. Therefore, some people tried to control the body in a very strict way. There were strict rules about food and behaviour. They thought that they should avoid pleasure.
(b) Because of this, *Jewish-Christian teachers said that the church should keep *Jewish customs. These men did not think that Paul should go to *Gentiles. (Most of the people in the church at *Colosse were not *Jews.) They thought that *circumcision was important, and rules for the *Sabbath and for special days in the year.
(c) There was also Gnosticism, which was a mysterious belief. It said that *salvation was for only a small number of people. These people had secret knowledge.
(d) As well as this, some people were teaching the church about a strange kind of *angel. These *angels were able to go between man and God. They taught that man himself could not talk to God. They said that no man deserved to speak to God.
Paul had to correct all this wrong teaching. Half of his letter is about Christ, and about who Christ is. He wrote about the death of Jesus and what that did for us. He wrote about Christ’s *resurrection. He wrote about *forgiveness and *eternal life. Anyone can tell Jesus that he is sorry for bad things in his life. It is not a secret that only a few special people know. Jesus is the one who speaks to God for us. *Angels do not speak to God for us. Through Jesus, we can speak to God.
A very important part of the letter to the Colossians is this teaching about Christ (1:15-20; 2:2-12). There are few other parts of the *New Testament like this, except John 1:1-14, Hebrews 1 and parts of Revelation. The false teaching had to deny that Christ is God. It is when we believe in Christ that God blesses us. This is why this is so important.
Paul was even more strict when he wrote to the Galatians. However, he had to speak about the error and make it right. Because of this, we can read this:
Christ is the most important person in *Christianity. Any other ‘Christian religion’ that does not believe this is very probably an error.
Paul asked Tychicus (Colossians 4:7) and Onesimus (Colossians 4:9) to take the letter back to Colosse. Onesimus was a slave who had run away. Paul was sending him back to Philemon, who was his owner. Onesimus was now a Christian. Paul would have liked to keep him in Rome as his servant, (Philemon 13). He wrote the letter to Philemon so that Philemon would be kind to Onesimus. Onesimus must have needed some courage to go back. However, if he was really sorry, he had to go back.
When Paul was in prison in Rome he also wrote a letter to the *Philippians. First of all, he wanted to thank the church. They had sent him a gift of money. This was to help him while he was in prison, (Philippians 1:5; 4:10-19). If this had been the only reason for the letter, the letter would have been very short. One important part is in Philippians 2:1-13. Paul tells us that we must be humble and united.
Paul says that this is very important. People needed to hear this. Paul writes about how Christ was humble. This makes us stop and think! If we are not humble, it is difficult for us to love each other. Unity in the church would be difficult, especially if church leaders are not humble. It would be difficult to tell other people about the *gospel. Philippians 2:5-11 contains some of the clearest teaching about who Christ is. It is good to read these words with the parts of Colossians that we have already mentioned. (See Part 5 of this unit.)
Paul also describes what he is suffering. He tells the Philippians what God was achieving through this. He encourages them to be strong. Other people will attack them because of their *faith (Philippians 1:12-30). Near the end of the letter (4:22), Paul mentions that there are now Christians even in ‘Caesar’s house’. Paul is suffering very much. He does not know what will happen in the future. However, he has great confidence in Christ. He wrote, ‘Because to me, to live is Christ and to die is to gain’ (Philippians 1:21).
In chapter 3, Paul writes about another problem. The Colossian church also had a similar problem. Some people insisted that *gentile *converts should obey certain *Jewish rules. Again, Paul reasons very much against this, especially from his own experience. We do not have *salvation because we belong to one particular nation. We do not have it because we keep some rules. We do not have it because we do good. We have *salvation only through *faith in Christ. In Christ we have strength to live daily and we have the power of the *resurrection. In Christ we have confident hope for the future, which is the *resurrection of the Christian. We believe that Christ will come a second time. Paul was humble. He knew that he had much still to learn. He wanted to be mature as a Christian. The *Romans were very proud to belong to Rome. Paul was proud of that too. He mentions that Christ will come for a second time. He speaks then about citizens of heaven. It will be far better to be a citizen of heaven than to be a citizen of Rome. (See Philippians 3:20, ‘But we are citizens of heaven’.)
Paul decided to send Timothy to them. Timothy would teach them and encourage them. He asks them to give Timothy a good welcome. (Here we see that Paul is training Timothy. Timothy will have to carry on Paul’s work, after Paul dies. Timothy must tell people about Jesus and look after the church.)
The most important thing about Philippians is that it talks about joy and love. Paul praises God. He is not sad because he is in prison. He believes that the *Lord is continuing to use him in many ways. The good news about Jesus still spreads.
Paul was not in a prison building. He was in a house, but he had to stay there. He could not go out. People came to see him, and he taught them. He spoke to them about Jesus and wrote letters to his churches. We know also that that he prayed a great deal. This was one of the secrets of his power. He tells us that he was not handsome! He did not speak well. It was not his power, or his strength. If there was a secret, it was PRAYER.
His prayer for the churches and people was constant. Prayer was a very important part of his life. The many references to prayer in his letters show us that.
‘mention you always’
1 Corinthians 1:4
‘always giving thanks to God for you’
‘I am always giving thanks for you’
‘I thank God ... always in every prayer’
‘we have not stopped praying for you’
1 Thessalonians 1:2
‘we give thanks ... often mentioning you’
Paul felt a great responsibility, to look after the churches. He cared very much about any who were weak. He cared very much about those who did wrong things, (2 Corinthians 11:28, 29). But these Bible references show that his prayers were full of praise. He often thanked God. Although he suffered so much, he thought about other people. He cared about his churches and his *converts and not about himself.
Much prayer today is without emotion – ‘*Lord, bless Alice, John…’ Prayer like that is not at all like Paul’s prayers. Let us look at some more references from his letters.
Romans 9:1-3 He is very sad all the time. Paul is very sad about those in his nation who are not yet Christians. He prayed with a lot of feeling.
1 Corinthians 1:10 Paul worries about the quarrels in the church, and appeals for unity.
2 Corinthians 7:5 Paul is very anxious about what they thought about him and his letters.
Galatians 1:6 False teaching astonishes and upsets Paul.
Philippians 1:8 ‘God is my witness how much I desire for you...’
Jesus wept for Jerusalem. Paul prayed deeply. He really cared. His prayers hurt him. When he prayed, it was not only words. His whole life was a life of prayer.
We know what he prayed for. Perhaps he prayed that all their troubles would end. Perhaps he prayed that they would get better from all their illnesses. Perhaps he prayed that they would have an easy life. That is what we pray for sometimes. We ask people to pray about our illness. We tell them what we suffer. That is what we think about. But let us look at the Bible. That is NOT what Paul prayed for. When the early church was in danger, they prayed. But they did not pray for safety. They prayed for *grace and courage to *preach the message (Acts 4: 24-30).
Let us look at Paul’s prayers for the Colossians and the Philippians.
Paul prays for the Colossians that they would know God’s plans for them. They will need *grace and strength from the *Lord to obey him. He wants them to be happy as Christians, even in difficult circumstances. If we study Paul’s prayers, we will gain much! When he was in prison, we can be certain about this: he spent much time in prayer.
See also the similar prayer for the Philippians.
Paul was in prison for two years. There is good evidence that his enemies freed him after this. There is doubt about whether he ever got to Spain. It does seem that he made one last visit to his churches. There was one last and lonely time in prison. Then his enemies killed him, in the time of the *Emperor Nero.
Paul gave us a good example. He set up churches. He also looked after them, and taught them. He prayed for them, until their *faith was mature. When Paul knew that his death was near, he wrote to Timothy. We would do well to give attention to his last instructions.
The account in the book of Acts comes to a sudden end. We might want to know whether there was more to come. Luke tells us that, in the early years of the Church, the Christians obeyed the words of Jesus in Acts 1:8. However, the sudden ending of the book makes us think that that this was not the end. It was the end of the beginning. The good news about Jesus had spread in Jerusalem. Then it spread in Judea and in Samaria. At last, it spread to the ‘ends of the earth’. Paul’s *missionary journeys took him to ‘the ends of the earth’. Rome was the most important place in the *empire. All power at that time came from Rome. It is no accident that Acts ends with Paul in the most important city in the world in his time. This was God’s plan.
There have been many books on church history and *missionary history since then. They tell the story of the spread of the good news about Jesus. However, God has written the story on the hearts, minds and lives of many millions of people through the ages. Men have told the good news in more and more countries. They have translated the Bible into more and more languages. People have trusted in Jesus as *Saviour, *Lord and *Messiah. They come now from ‘every family and language and people and nation’ (Revelation 5:9). The task is not complete. Acts 1:8 together with Matthew 28:18-20 will come true at last. That will be when Jesus comes again in power and *glory. Until then, the *Lord Jesus pours out the Holy Spirit on the church. He gives it power to do this important work for him.
‘Great *celebrations on that final day,
When out of the heavens you come.
Darkness will vanish, all *sorrow will end,
And rulers will *bow at your *throne.
Our great *commission complete,
Then face to face we shall meet.
Come, *Lord Jesus, come, *Lord Jesus.
Pour out your Spirit on us we pray.’
[‘Darkness will vanish’ means that when Jesus comes back to the world, there will be great joy.]
angel ~ a servant from God who brings messages to men.
apostles ~ the 12 men whom Jesus chose to be his helpers and to teach other people about him.
being ~ a person or animal that is alive.
believer ~ a person who knows and accepts Christ.
bow ~ bend your body, to show respect.
Caesarea ~ the name of part of the land of Israel.
celebration ~ a very happy time, a happy party.
centurion ~ a *Roman soldier, who commanded a hundred men.
Christianity ~ what men teach and believe about Jesus.
circumcision ~ cutting off the loose skin from the end of the sex part of a boy or man; an *Old Testament act that showed that the person agreed to keep God’s laws.
Colosse ~ a city in Asia.
commander ~ man who commands a group of soldiers.
commission ~ task, a piece of hard work.
converts ~ people who have changed their beliefs; people who have become Christians.
council ~ important men meet together to discuss and decide events.
Crete ~ an island in the Mediterranean Sea.
cross ~ two pieces of wood fixed together. Jesus died on a cross, and so the cross is now the sign of the church.
doctrine ~ statements of belief.
elders ~ church leaders, usually older and wiser men.
emperor ~ a man like a very important king.
empire ~ a very big *kingdom.
Ephesus ~ a city in Asia.
epistle ~ letter.
eternal life ~ the life that God gives to those who trust him now. It will continue in heaven.
faith ~ belief and confidence in someone or something; trust in God and in his Bible.
forgiveness ~ choosing not to remember bad things that someone has done.
Gentile ~ a person who is not a *Jew.
glory ~ the power and greatness of God.
gospel ~ the good news about Jesus; the message that Jesus came to save us from the bad things that we have done.
governor ~ a man who rules over part of a country.
grace ~ a gift from God that we do not deserve and cannot earn; what God gives because he is generous; the help and protection coming from God.
high priest ~ the most important priest in the *Jewish *temple.
Jew ~ someone who was born from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their children.
Jewish ~ a word that describes a *Jew or anything to do with a *Jew.
Judea ~ the country of the *Jews.
judgement ~ the decision about whether something or someone is good or bad.
kingdom ~ land that a king rules.
Lord ~ a name that we call God or Jesus; we call God or Jesus Lord when we do what they say.
Messiah ~ a name for Jesus Christ; it means the person who is sent to save people from the anger of God. God was angry because of our bad ways.
missionary ~ a person who goes to another country to tell people about Jesus.
New Testament ~ the last part of the Bible, which the writers wrote after the life of Jesus.
Old Testament ~ the first part of the Bible; the holy things that the writers wrote before Christ’s birth.
Philippians ~ people who lived in Philippi.
preach ~ to tell and explain the good news about Jesus Christ to someone, or to a group of people.
prisoner ~ a person who is in prison.
prophecies ~ truth spoken by prophets, (people who can tell other people what God wants).
resurrection ~ coming alive again after death.
righteousness ~ being right with God, when God sees us as clean and not his enemies.
Sabbath ~ the *Jews’ holy day, the seventh day of the week.
Roman ~ Rome was the capital city of the rulers at that time. That which belonged to Rome was Roman.
saints ~ holy people, who know Jesus Christ as *Lord; Christian *believers.
salvation ~ when God saves us from the results of our wrong beliefs and actions.
sanhedrin ~ the *Jewish council, a group of priests and other men who ruled the *Jews.
Saviour ~ Jesus, who brings us to God.
scripture ~ another name for the Bible.
sorrow ~ feeling very sad.
soul ~ the part of us that we cannot see, that is in us during life. It lives on after death.
spirit ~ the part of a person that is alive, and that we cannot see.
spiritual beings ~ these persons are living but we cannot see them.
spiritual ~ alive but we cannot see it; belonging to the *spirit.
temple ~ the special building in Jerusalem where the *Jews went to give thanks to God.
throne ~ a special chair that a king sits on.
Craig Keener ~ Bible Background *Commentary NT ~ IVP
B. M. Newman and E. A. Nida ~ A Translators Handbook on The Acts of The *Apostles ~ UBS
F. F. Bruce ~ The Book of The Acts ~ MMS
Donald Grey Barnhouse ~ Acts – An expositional commentary ~ Zondervan
In the Footsteps of Paul ~ CWR (Daily Bible Readings 1988)
I. Howard Marshall ~ Acts ~ Tyndale
Campbell Morgan ~ Acts of the *Apostles ~ Pickering and Inglis
Paul Barnett ~ ‘Bethlehem to Patmos’ ~ Biblical Classics Series ~ Paternoster ~ ISBN 0-85364-874-3
Werner Keller ~ ‘The Bible as History’ ~ Hodder and Stoughton
F. F. Bruce ~ ‘Israel and the Nations’ ~ Paternoster ~ ISBN 0-85364-762-3
Also: Personal notes and material from many other sources
© 1999-2003, Wycliffe Associates (UK)
This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words).
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