by Greg Williamson © revised 2022
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB © The Lockman Foundation*

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Ashore on Malta; Arrival at Rome; Paul Preaches at Rome Under Guard (Acts 28:1-10; 11-16; 17-31)

Ashore on Malta; Arrival at Rome; Paul Preaches at Rome Under Guard (Acts 28:1-10; 11-16; 17-31)

From Malta to Rome (Acts 28:1-31)

(1) When they had been brought safely through, then we found out that the island was called Malta. (2) The natives showed us extraordinary kindness; for because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold, they kindled a fire and received us all. (3) But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand. (4) When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they began saying to one another, "Undoubtedly this man is a murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live." (5) However he shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm. (6) But they were expecting that he was about to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had waited a long time and had seen nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god.

(7) Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who welcomed us and entertained us courteously three days. (8) And it happened that the father of Publius was lying in bed afflicted with recurrent fever and dysentery; and Paul went in to see him and after he had prayed, he laid his hands on him and healed him. (9) After this had happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases were coming to him and getting cured. (10) They also honored us with many marks of respect; and when we were setting sail, they supplied us with all we needed.

(11) At the end of three months we set sail on an Alexandrian ship which had wintered at the island, and which had the Twin Brothers for its figurehead. (12) After we put in at Syracuse, we stayed there for three days. (13) From there we sailed around and arrived at Rhegium, and a day later a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli. (14) There we found some brethren, and were invited to stay with them for seven days; and thus we came to Rome. (15) And the brethren, when they heard about us, came from there as far as the Market of Appius and Three Inns to meet us; and when Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.

(16) When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.

(17) After three days Paul called together those who were the leading men of the Jews, and when they came together, he began saying to them, "Brethren, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. (18) "And when they had examined me, they were willing to release me because there was no ground for putting me to death. (19) "But when the Jews objected, I was forced to appeal to Caesar, not that I had any accusation against my nation. (20) "For this reason, therefore, I requested to see you and to speak with you, for I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel." (21) They said to him, "We have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren come here and reported or spoken anything bad about you. (22) "But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere."

(23) When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening. (24) Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe. (25) And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word, "The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, (26) saying,


(28) "Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen." (29) [When he had spoken these words, the Jews departed, having a great dispute among themselves.]

(30) And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, (31) preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.

I. PAUL AT MALTA (Acts 28:1–10)
  A. The apostle and the people on the island (Acts 28:1–6)
    1. They first look on him as a murderer (Acts 28:1–4).
      a. The crisis (Acts 28:1–3): Paul is bitten by a poisonous snake.
b. The conclusion (Acts 28:4): The people say, "A murderer, no doubt! Though he escaped the sea, justice will not permit him to live."
    2. They finally look on him as a god (Acts 28:5–6): When nothing happens to the apostle, they conclude that he is a god of some sort.
  B. The apostle and the politician on the island (Acts 28:7–10): Paul meets the governor, Publius.
    1. Paul heals Publius's father (Acts 28:7–8): He is delivered from fever and dysentery.
2. Paul heals Publius's people (Acts 28:9–10): Soon the other sick people on the island come and are also healed.
II. PAUL EN ROUTE TO ROME (Acts 28:11–14): Paul's ship makes three brief stops on the way to Rome. Paul is encouraged when some fellow believers meet him at one of the ports.
III. PAUL IN ROME (Acts 28:15–31)
  A. Where (Acts 28:15–16): Paul is allowed to live by himself with a soldier to guard him.
  B. Who (Acts 28:17–29): Paul schedules two separate meetings with the Jewish leaders living in Rome.
    1. First meeting (Acts 28:17–22)
      a. His review (Acts 28:17–20): Paul introduces himself and the message of the Cross.
b. Their reaction (Acts 28:21–22): They have never heard of the messenger or his message but want to hear more.
    2. Second meeting (Acts 28:23–29)
      a. The revelation (Acts 28:23): Many people come to hear Paul speak about Jesus from the Old Testament Scriptures, and Paul teaches from morning till evening.
b. The responses (Acts 28:24): Some believe, and some do not.
c. The reminder (Acts 28:25–29): Paul reminds them that their unbelief was predicted by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah (Isa. 6:9–10).
  C. When (Acts 28:30–31): For the next two years, Paul remains in his rented house, under guard, witnessing to all who visit him. [ref]
  • (Acts 28:1-2) The crew and passengers are shipwrecked on the island of Malta, the natives of which welcome them with much hospitality.
    ■ Toussaint: "[The ship's crew and passengers] were shipwrecked on Malta, a small island 60 miles south of Sicily. Malta had good harbors and was ideally located for trade. In two weeks the storm had carried them 600 miles west of Fair Havens, Crete. The islanders translates hoi barbaroi (lit., 'the barbarians'), a Greek term used to refer to non-Greek-speaking people. This does not mean the people were savages or uncultured, but that their civilization was not Greek-oriented. They showed … unusual hospitality to the victims of the shipwreck, building them a fire and welcoming them." [ref]
    ■ Witherington: "The narrative is about one of the most highly regarded virtues of antiquity, hospitality, being a tale of 'the kindness of strangers,' but it is also about the providence of God that places Paul and his companions in a place where they could receive such hospitality, after such a rough journey." [ref]
    ■ Ger: "The Maltese's native tongue was a variation of Phoenician. While few of the shipwrecked survivors may have been facile in Phoenician, their soggy, exhausted and near hypothermic state would have spoken for itself. For their part, the Maltese communicated with the universal language of hospitality, receiving their sodden guests with a welcoming bonfire on the beach." [ref]
  • (Acts 28:3-6) Paul is bitten by a snake -- an incident to which the natives ascribe the workings of justice. When Paul survives, the pendulum swings to the opposite extreme and the natives now believe he is a god.
    ■ Bruce: "Paul, who had shown himself such a practical and helpful person on board ship, continued to make himself useful on land. A wood fire out of doors is an excellent thing, but it will soon burn out if it is not fed with fresh fuel. Paul therefore started to gather brushwood to help to keep the fire going. But when he had gathered one bundle and put it on the fire, a poisonous snake crept from the fire and bit his hand or at least fastened on it. He had probably mistaken it for a small twig as it lay on the ground stiff with cold, but the heat quickly brought it back to life." [ref]
    ■ Ger: "Although this humorous episode is reminiscent of the reaction of the Lystrans to Paul (Acts 14:11-19), there is no indication that the Maltese attempted to worship the apostle." [ref]
Troubled By A Rumor
H. A. Ironside:
Not long ago I read a little article in a church bulletin in which the pastor explained that he had been greatly troubled by a rumor going around to the effect that his wife had attended a meeting of some heretical group and that he had gone there in great indignation and dragged her out by the hair of her head and brought her home and beat her. He undertook to explain that he had not dragged his wife out of that meeting, that he had never at any time dragged her about by her hair, and that he had never beaten her, and also that his wife had never attended that meeting, and finally that he was a bachelor and had never had a wife! We are so ready to pick up things, you know, and make so much out of them. [ref]
  • (Acts 28:7-10) The head man in that part of the island was Publius. He took us into his home as his guests, drying us out and putting us up in fine style for the next three days.  Publius's father was sick at the time, down with a high fever and dysentery. Paul went to the old man's room, and when he laid hands on him and prayed, the man was healed. Word of the healing got around fast, and soon everyone on the island who was sick came and got healed. We spent a wonderful three months on Malta. They treated us royally, took care of all our needs and outfitted us for the rest of the journey (Acts 28:7-10, The Message).
    ■ Keener: "Hospitality was an important virtue, especially toward people who had been shipwrecked and were stranded without possessions." [ref]
    ■ Bruce:
    The expression "the chief man of the island" -- literally, "the first man of the island" -- is probably an official designation: it appears on a Maltese inscription. The "first man" at this time, named Publius, had an estate near the place where the shipwrecked party came ashore, and he treated them as his guests for three days. ... Publius's father was suffering from intermittent attacks of gastric fever and dysentery, of which Paul cured him by laying his hands on him and praying for him. The news of this cure spread rapidly; in consequence, people who were suffering from a variety of ailments came from all over the island to receive suitable treatment. Perhaps Luke was able to add his medical skill to Paul's gift of healing. At any rate, says Luke, they "honored us with many honors," which in this context might well include honoraria or material gifts. ... When at last the time came for the party to leave Malta, the Maltese showed their appreciation of Paul and his friends by putting on board for them things that would supply their need and minister to their comfort for the remainder of the voyage. [ref]
  • (Acts 20:11-14) Luke records the final leg of their journey to Rome.
    ■ Toussaint:
    Since the crew and passengers left Crete in October or November (“after the Fast,” Acts 27:9) and were in the storm two weeks, their three months’ stay on Malta brought them through the winter into February or March. In that time they saw another ship docked at the island. Because it was of Alexandrian origin, it too was probably a grain ship (cf. Acts 27:6, 38) from Egypt that had spent the three months of winter, when it was too dangerous to sail, at a seaport on Malta. Probably it was at the Valletta harbor.

    The twin gods Castor and Pollux on the ship’s figurehead were the heavenly twin sons of Zeus and Leda according to Greek mythology; supposedly they brought good fortune to mariners. If their constellation, Gemini, was seen during a storm it was an omen of good luck. Possibly Luke included this detail to contrast the superstition of the people of Malta, Rome, Greece, and Egypt with Christianity.

    The journey was carefully traced by Luke: from Malta to Syracuse, Sicily; to Rhegium (today Reggio) on the “toe” of Italy; to Puteoli (today Pozzuoli), 152 miles south of Rome; and finally to Rome itself. Puteoli was an important commercial seaport halfway between Rhegium and Rome. At Puteoli Paul and his companions found some brothers. This is significant because it shows that the gospel had already spread from Rome to this Italian seaport. No doubt a church had been planted in Rome by Roman Jews who had gone to the Pentecost feast, heard Peter’s sermon, were saved, and returned home with the good news (Acts 2:10). Paul accepted the believers’ invitation to spend a week with them. Perhaps the centurion was in charge of unloading the ship or else had to spend a week in Puteoli on some other business. [ref]
    ■ Larkin: "Since Josephus mentions a Jewish colony at Puteoli (Jewish Wars 2.104), it is not surprising that Paul and his Christian companions found some [Christian] brothers. Their invitation to spend a week with them of course presupposed a request to the centurion and his consent (compare Acts 27:3). What an attractive picture of the worldwide network of support and encouragement that Christians know! To the cosmopolitan Roman then, and the sophisticated but unconnected urbanite now, Paul's experience of instant but genuine intimacy and full-orbed mutual commitment in the company of brothers at Puteoli is a refreshing picture of what they long for and can have in the gospel (compare Acts 16:15, 33–34; 21:7; 27:3)." [ref]
  • (Acts 28:15) A group of believers come out from Rome to greet Paul and his companions. Toussaint:
    The Christians at Rome soon heard of Paul’s coming, so they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius (a market town 43 miles from Rome) and the Three Taverns (33 miles from Rome) to meet him and his companions. The noun apantēsin, translated as an infinitive “to meet,” was used in Greek literature of an entourage coming out of a city to meet an official going to the city.

    At the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged (lit., “received courage”). At last God was bringing Paul to Rome. And the welcome of fellow believers, whom he had never met, uplifted his soul. So they proceeded on the Appian Way, “the queen of the long roads,” to the city of Rome. [ref]
Never Alone
William Barclay:
The Christian is never alone.
  • He has the consciousness of the unseen cloud of witnesses around him and about him.
  • He has the consciousness of belonging to a world-wide fellowship.
  • He has the consciousness that wherever he goes there is God.
  • He has the certainty that his Risen Lord is with him. [ref]
  • (Acts 28:16) Paul is kept under house arrest, with one soldier guarding him.
    ■ Bruce:
    Paul was not kept in the barracks but received leave to stay in lodgings of his own -- the place where he received representatives of the local Jewish community in [Acts 28:23] and many other visitors according to [Acts 28:30]. He thus enjoyed a measure of personal liberty while he was under restraint: he was permitted to live as a private resident, and a soldier (presumably one of the praetorian guard) was detailed to guard him. To this soldier he would be lightly chained by the wrist, with the chain to which he draws his visitors' attention in [Acts 28:20]. The soldier would be relieved every four hours or so, but for Paul there was no comparable relief. The result, however, was that he became a talking point among members of the praetorian guard (cf. Phil. 1:13). [ref]
    ■ Keener: "Two soldiers normally guarded dangerous prisoners; the single soldier (cf. also the single chain of Acts 28:20) suggests that Paul was considered a minimal security threat." [ref]
  • (Acts 28:17-22) Paul calls together the leading men of the Jews and explains how it is he came to be in his current predicatment. Toussaint:
    In his presentation Paul made several significant points: (1) He was innocent of damaging the Jews or their customs (Acts 28:17). (2) The Roman authorities in Judea thought Paul was innocent (v. Acts 28:18; cf. Acts 23:29; 25:25; 26:31–32). (3) Paul’s only recourse was to appeal to Caesar because the Jews refused to deal with Paul justly (Acts 28:19; cf. 25:11). (4) This fourth point is a major one: he was not pressing charges against Israel; he only wanted to be acquitted (Acts 28:19). (5) His primary objective in calling the leaders was to talk with them about the hope of Israel. This term and concept was used by Paul a number of times in the last part of Acts (cf. Acts 23:6; 24:15; 26:6–7). The hope of Israel was more than a resurrection; it meant fulfillment of the Old Testament promises to Israel (cf. Acts 26:6–7). Paul firmly believed Jesus is the Messiah of Israel who will return someday and establish Himself as the King of Israel and Lord of the nations (cf. Acts 1:6). [ref]
    For their part, the Jewish leaders claim to have received no word regarding Paul, and they express a desire to hear more about the Christian faith (this sect) that is greeted with much controversy everywhere it is taught. Witherington: "[C]larifying Paul's relationship with Judaism was extremely important to Luke. It was crucial to make clear that Paul's missionary work (and that of those who followed in his footsteps?) was not anti-Jewish in character; in fact, in a tour de force argument Paul is going to argue that he is in chains for the sake of Israel's hope and people, not because he opposed them." [ref]
  • (Acts 28:23) So a time is set, and on that day a large number of people come to Paul’s lodging. He explains and testifies about the Kingdom of God and tries to persuade them about Jesus from the Scriptures. Using the law of Moses and the books of the prophets, he speaks to them from morning until evening (Acts 28:23, NLT; some verbs changed to present tense).
    ■ Peterson:
    First, [Paul] witnessed to them about the kingdom of God, thus fulfilling the prediction in [Acts 23:11]. Second, he tried to persuade them about Jesus (the same verb is used with connotations of successful persuasion at Acts 17:4; 19:26; 26:28). These two themes -- the kingdom of God and Jesus -- are interwoven at various points throughout Acts (Acts 1:3; 8:12; 20:24–25; 28:31). As in previous encounters with Jewish audiences, Paul's argument for believing in Jesus was taken from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets (cf. Acts 13:16–41; 17:2–3). By implication, it was an argument about the fulfillment of Scripture in the person and work of Jesus. The expression from morning till evening comes at the end of [Acts 28:23], indicating a whole day of intensive testimony and discussion. [ref]
    ■ Toussaint: "The term 'kingdom of God' includes the death and resurrection of Christ as its basis but also looks ahead to Christ’s reign on earth. It is clearly eschatological in significance (cf. Acts 1:3–6; 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; Luke 1:33; 4:43; 6:20; 7:28; 8:1, 10; 9:2, 11, 27, 60, 62; 10:9, 11; 11:2, 20; 12:31–32; 13:18, 20, 28–29; 14:15; 16:16; 17:20–21; 18:16–17, 24–25, 29–30; 19:11; 21:31; 22:16, 18, 29–30; 23:42, 51). To the Jews the concept of the Messiah dying for sins as an atonement and the teaching of justification by faith as the way of entering the kingdom sounded strange." [ref]
  • (Acts 28:24-28) The Jewish response to Paul is mixed, with some beginning to be persuaded by the things spoken, but with others refusing to believe. Paul's own response is to channel the OT prophet Isaiah in denouncing their lack of belief, ending by putting them on notice that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.
    ■ Toussaint: "The disagreement among the Jewish leaders in Rome about Paul’s message showed that they were not amenable to the gospel. With prophetic insight Paul applied the words of Isaiah (Isa 6:9-10) to his own contemporaries. Obstinate refusal to believe results in calloused hearts, deafened ears, and spiritually blinded eyes. This had happened to Israel both in Isaiah’s day and in Paul’s (cf. Rom 11:7-10)." [ref]
    ■ Witherington: "The one mission, as outlined clearly at the beginning of Luke-Acts (cf. Luke 2:29–32; 3:6; cf. Acts 1:6), was the spreading of the universal gospel universally to the Jew first and also to the Gentile throughout the Empire. This mission neither Paul nor Luke ever gave up on, though the final remark of Paul, "they will listen," would no doubt ring true in the ears of Luke's listeners. It was overwhelmingly Gentiles who would henceforth respond positively to the gospel. The great tragedy was that the majority of Jews continued to respond negatively to and even reject the message about Jesus and the kingdom." [ref]
  • (Acts 28:30-31) Paul lives for two years in his rented house. He welcomes everyone who comes to visit. He urgently presents all matters of the kingdom of God. He explains everything about Jesus Christ. His door is always open (The Message; some verbs changed to present tense). 
    ■ Polhill:
    With [Acts 28:30–31] Acts comes to a rather abrupt ending. In [Acts 28:30] Luke told us that Paul stayed in Rome for a period of two years, evidently living under free custody in his rented dwelling. He graciously received "all" who came to visit him there, probably including Jews as well as Gentiles. [Acts 28:31] gives the content of his conversation with those who came to him. He "preached boldly" to them in the power of the Holy Spirit -- "without hindrance." This is perhaps a quasilegal term, meaning that the Romans put no obstacle in the way of his testimony to the gospel. This in itself would be significant, an implicit evidence to the fact that the Romans found nothing dangerous or subversive in his message. Surely as F. Stagg has so convincingly demonstrated, this final word of the text of Acts points to even more -- to the unbound gospel, triumphant over every barrier of superstition and of human prejudice. The content of Paul's message forms the conclusion to the message of Acts. He preached "the kingdom of God" and taught about "the Lord Jesus Christ." The two belong together: the good news of God's kingdom is the good news about Christ. This was the same message Paul shared with the Roman Jews (Acts 28:23). It is ultimately the central message of Acts. The book begins with Jesus sharing the message of God's kingdom with his disciples (Acts 1:3). It quickly raises the burning question, "Are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). That question has now been answered. God has indeed restored his kingdom -- in the Messiah, in Christ. And it is open to all who will receive him, Jew and Greek. In Christ, God's kingdom is realized as he comes to rule in the hearts of his people. The gospel proclaims the kingdom, and the gospel has triumphed. The final note of Acts is a triumphant one. The word of God has triumphed -- but not Paul. Paul was still in chains, still a prisoner. Throughout Acts the triumph was never with the bearers of the gospel. They were rejected, beaten, reviled, imprisoned, and killed for their witness. But the gospel was unfettered, triumphant. Perhaps Luke deliberately ended on this note to remind his readers that with witness often comes suffering and trial. But when the witness is faithful, the gospel triumphs, the word of God's salvation strips all its bonds. And it is to that kind of witness we are called, even if, like Paul, the witness is in chains. [ref]
    ■ Toussaint:
    One question commonly raised pertains to Paul’s activities after this two-year captivity. What happened? Perhaps no charges were filed in Rome and Paul was released. The Jews would know they had no case against Paul outside of Judea and so would be reluctant to argue their cause in Rome.

    Probably Paul returned to the provinces of Macedonia, Achaia, and Asia and then turned west to Spain according to his original plans (Rom. 15:22–28). Then he ministered once more in the Aegean area where he was taken prisoner, removed to Rome, and executed.

    During this two-year period Paul wrote what are commonly called his “Prison Epistles” -- Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians.

    While Paul was in Rome during this incarceration the gospel was not bound. He spoke boldly. The last word in the Greek text of Acts is the adverb akōlytōs which means without hindrance. Men may bind the preachers, but the gospel cannot be chained!

    And so it was that the kingdom message under God’s sovereign control went from Jew to Gentile, and from Jerusalem to Rome. [ref]
The Unstoppable Word Of God
Ben Witherington:
However things ultimately turned out with Paul (and it is my view that he was released from house arrest but was later taken captive again and executed during the reign of Nero, probably during the Neronian crackdown following the fire in A.D. 64), Luke's main concern is to leave the reader a reminder about the unstoppable word of God, which no obstacle -- not shipwreck, not poisonous snakes, not Roman authorities -- could hinder from reaching the heart of the Empire, and the hearts of those who dwelled there. It was a universal message that was proclaimed, and yet it was from the start of Acts to its conclusion the same story over and over again about the coming of the kingdom and of Jesus (cf. Acts 1:6–8 and Acts 28:31). It was a message that asserted that God in the end was sovereign, and that God was faithful to both his word and his people. It is this same message and mission that galvanizes the church today, giving it its marching orders and calling us to emulate the behavior of those like Paul who spoke boldly and freely, believing no external obstacle was too great for the God who raised Jesus to overcome in saving the world. [ref]

God’s Providential Care (Acts 27:13-28:31)
Though we may face difficult and painful circumstances in our spiritual journey, we are to trust God to accomplish His divine purposes in our lives. (Video link) [ref]


*Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, © Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.