Paul arrived at Rome under the protection of the centurion, who delivered his prisoners to the “captain of the guard.” However, “Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him.” (Acts 28:16).
Just three days after Paul arrived in Rome, he “called the chief of the Jews together: and when they were come together, he said unto them, Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the people, or customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans, who, when they had examined me, would have let me go, because there was no cause of death in me. But when the Jews spake against it, I was constrained to appeal to Caesar; not that I had ought to accuse my nation of. For this cause therefore have I called for you, to see you, and to speak with you: because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.” (Acts 28:17-20)
We call special attention to the fact that the above quotation makes it plain that Paul’s message was to the Jew first in Rome. He called “the chief of the Jews together.” His purpose of calling them together is clearly recorded in verse 20. He said unto them, “I call for you, to see you, and to speak with you: because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.” It is clear, therefore, that his burden was still a burden for his kinsmen according to the flesh. He was not calling the chief of the Jews together to discuss with them the truth concerning the calling out of the body of Christ, or the hope of the church which is Christ’s body. It was “the hope of Israel” that was uppermost in his mind as he unburdened his heart before his brethren, the Jews.
The chief of the Jews in Rome admitted that they had neither received letters out of Jerusalem concerning Paul, nor had any of the brethren that came unto them spoken any harm of him (Acts 28:21). They further stated their desire to hear from the lips of Paul concerning “this sect” which they knew to be spoken against everywhere (Acts 28:22). They looked upon Paul’s testimony concerning the risen Christ merely as another sect sprung up among the people.
“When they had appointed him a day, there came many to him in his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening” (Acts 28:23). If we expect to get the full weight of Paul’s message to these dispersed Jews in Rome, it will be necessary for us to carefully note the fact that he “expounded and testified the kingdom of God,” and that he persuaded these Jews concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses and out of the prophets. It is clear that this kingdom of God message was revealed through the law of Moses and through the prophets. Therefore, it is evident that the message did not concern the “mystery” of Colossians 1:25-27; because the mystery had been “hid from ages and from generations” and could not have been revealed through Moses and the prophets.
The reaction on the part of these Jews when they heard Paul’s message concerning the kingdom of God is both interesting and significant. Some of them “believed the things which were spoken” and some of them “believed not” (Acts 28:24). This proves that these Jews were no different from the rank and file of the peoples of the world throughout all generations. From the time of the entrance of sin unto the present day, God has faithfully delivered His message to the people, and it has always been the case that some believed and some have rejected. Truly, the gospel is the savour of life unto some and death unto others. “He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).
Paul’s Final Turn to the Gentiles
At the very beginning of Paul’s ministry, we find stern opposition on the part of the Jews to the testimony which he was called upon to hear. In the 13th chapter of Acts, verses 44 and 45, carried the record that because of envy the Jews “spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming.” It is evident from the following verses of this same chapter that Paul and Barnabas “waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the Word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth.” This move on the part of Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, did not mean that God’s program there and then set the nation of Israel aside, and that from henceforth the message should be given to Gentiles only. It did mean, however, that as the Jews of the various communities where Paul and his co-workers ministered rejected the testimony that they then turned to the Gentiles of those particular communities, giving them the opportunity to come in on the same basis that Cornelius and his household were brought in.
In the 18th chapter of Acts we find Paul ministering in Corinth. Here he was opposed again by the blaspheming Jews. “He shook his raiment, and said unto them, your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6). This means that in this particular locality Paul continued his ministry with the Gentiles and not with the Jews. However, as he moved on to other places we find him again entering into the synagogues, or calling the Jews of the community together in some other place and ministering the truth unto them first. Finally, he bears his last testimony “to the Jew first” in the 28th chapter of Acts.
After some believed the things which he spoke, and others believed not, and “when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word” (Acts 28:25). This “one word” which Paul spoke was a quotation from the prophecy of Isaiah, chapter 6, verses 9-10.
Note the straight-forwardness of Paul’s last words to national Israel. He said, “Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, saying, Go unto this people, and say, hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: for the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Acts 28:25-27). After quoting to them this passage from Isaiah, he said, “Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it” (Acts 28:28).
This 28th verse of the 28th chapter of Acts is a very important turning point in God’s program, which can not be overlooked by the student of the Word who endeavors to rightly divide the Word of Truth concerning God’s message to national Israel, and His message to the Gentiles. After Paul uttered the words of this verse we never hear of him giving another message “to the Jew first,” and we never hear of him speaking again of the Jew having the advantage, or of there being profit in circumcision. In Romans 1:16 and 3-12, he makes it plain that the Jew occupied the first place in the program of God, but after Acts 28:28, he stresses the fact that in the body of Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile (Ephesians 2:14-18 and Colossians 3:10-11).
After delivering this positive message to the Jews of Rome, and after declaring emphatically that the salvation of God was henceforth to be sent unto the Gentiles, and that the Gentiles would do what the Jews had not done, namely, “hear it,” Paul settled down for a two-year period of ministry “in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him” (Acts 28:29-30). During these two years Paul was busy “preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concerned the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him” (Acts 28:31). We are not told that during these two years he persuaded men concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses and out of the prophets; but he taught those things which concerned the Lord Jesus Christ.
So far as we know, the book of Ephesians was written during these two years, and in the 6th chapter, verses 18-20, of this book Paul declares himself to be “an ambassador in bonds” for the “mystery of the gospel.” In Acts 28:20, he was bound with a chain for the “hope of Israel,” but in Ephesians 6:18-20 he was in bonds for preaching the mystery.
Careful study of the closing years of Paul’s ministry brings to our attention the fact that after he began to emphasize the truth of the mystery he was opposed by the vast majority of those who had stood with him in the early part of his ministry. For instance, according to I Corinthians 16:9, “the churches of Asia” were standing with Paul and joining him in salutation to the believers of Corinth. However, as we read Paul’s second epistle to Timothy, chapter 1, verse 15, he declares that “all they which are in Asia be turned away from me.” It seems that the Corinthian believers were with him while he was an able minister of the new covenant (II Corinthians 3:6), but they did not advance with him into the truth concerning the mystery.
This same thing is largely true today. Many believers who will stand with the present day pastor and teacher while he preaches the gospel, will flatly refuse to go along with him in the study concerning the mystery. May God help us to be faithful preachers of the Word in its entirety, and may God help us to be quick to yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit that He may guide us into “all truth.”