SOURCE FOR QUESTIONS
Acts 21:18 through 28:31
KEY VERSE FOR MEMORIZATION
“And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.” (Acts 23:11)
This final portion of the Book of Acts centers on Paul’s long-desired visit to Rome. At the conclusion of his third missionary journey, Paul went to Jerusalem to deliver relief money gathered by the Gentile churches. Once his mission there was complete, he intended to visit Rome, capital of the Roman Empire and the natural base for his next missionary endeavor because of its strategic location and political importance. This would take his missionary effort further west.
The Holy Spirit was the source of Paul’s desire to evangelize, and the Holy Spirit divinely orchestrated the means by which the Apostle reached Rome. Within days of his report to the church elders at Jerusalem regarding what God was doing among the Gentiles, opposition arose. Paul was falsely accused and arrested at the Temple, setting the stage for a series of trials before various religious and government officials. These trials gave Paul the opportunity to give his testimony and proclaim the Gospel of salvation for both Jew and Gentile in a variety of locations, including Rome.
First, Paul was given an opportunity to speak to the mob of angry Jews in Jerusalem who were determined to kill him. The next day, he was brought before the Sanhedrin, where he gave his second defense. After a plot to kill him was foiled, the Apostle was taken to Caesarea, where he witnessed initially before Felix (the procurator of Judea), then before Festus (the governor who succeeded Felix), and finally before Agrippa (King of Judea). In each case, Paul skillfully wove together a tapestry of his own experiences, doctrinal elements, and in some cases, even a call to decision.
After his hearing before Agrippa, the king and those with him concluded that Paul was not guilty and could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar. However, Paul’s steps had been ordained by God, and He had promised Paul that he would testify in Rome (see Acts 23:11). Paul being sent to Rome for trial was simply the next step in God’s plan.
Luke concluded his account of the Acts of the Apostles by detailing Paul’s journey to and arrival in Rome. Chapter 27 through 28:15 relate Paul’s experiences aboard ship on the voyage to Rome as a prisoner, including a stay on the island of Malta after a storm caused their ship to be wrecked. After a description of the last leg of their journey to Rome, the final verses of chapter 28 tell of Paul living under house arrest in Rome, where he remained for two years preaching, teaching, encouraging, and visiting with those who came to him while he awaited trial.
The Book of Acts ends with Paul’s first Roman imprisonment; Luke states that Paul lived two years under house arrest. According to tradition, Paul was set free for a time after this. Historians indicate that charges had to be brought within two years, so he possibly was released when that time ran out. His letter to the church at Philippi, which was written during this first imprisonment, records Paul’s expectation of being released shortly (see Philippians 2:24). Later, Paul was imprisoned again, most likely in Rome, and under much more strict conditions. It was then that he wrote his final epistle, 2 Timothy. The New Testament does not say when or how Paul died, but historians believe he was martyred sometime after the Great Fire of Rome in A.D. 64 and before the last year of Nero’s reign in A.D. 68.
SUGGESTED RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS
- At the conclusion of his third missionary journey, Paul returned to Jerusalem, where he met with the leaders of the church. Soon after, opposition arose when a group of Judaizers accused him of encouraging the Jews to “forsake Moses” — to put aside the traditions of the Law. In response, what did the elders of the church ask Paul to do, and why? Acts 21:23-24
The elders asked Paul to join four men in completing a vow — likely a Nazirite vow — which was a form of dedication. By definition, the Hebrew word nazir simply means “to be separated or consecrated.” This type of vow typically involved ritual purification for thirty days and concluded with shaving of the head.
The elders asked this of Paul in order to prove he was not guilty of teaching the Jews to forsake the Law. They stated that taking this step would prove “that thou thyself also walkest orderly [a military term that meant keeping in step] and keepest the law” (verse 24). Explain to your group that although the Early Church was growing, for Jews there had not yet been a clear break with the traditions of their religious heritage. Most Jewish converts still observed the Law of Moses, not seeing any conflict between it and faith in Christ for salvation.
Point out that Paul assented to the elders’ request — a step that prompted unity. He knew a right standing with God came by faith alone, but he was willing to concede on non-essential matters. Follow up by asking your group to suggest ways we can help preserve unity in the church in our day. Their suggestions may include such thoughts as:
• Understand the importance of unity.
• Practice qualities such as patience, long-suffering, forbearance, etc.
• Put others before yourself.
• Talk to people, not about people.
• Be willing to relinquish your own ideas.
• If differences arise, be the first to seek peace and reconciliation.
• Look to God rather than at people.
- In spite of Paul’s action in taking the vow, a riot was started by some “Jews which were of Asia” — the area where Paul had been so violently opposed. Paul was arrested, but the chief captain allowed him to speak to the people, and Paul used this opportunity to share his testimony. Based on the Apostle’s words in Acts 22:13-21, give a brief description of this former persecutor after his conversion.
Your students’ descriptions should bring out that after Paul’s encounter with Christ, he became a commissioned witness for Christ (verse 15), a baptized believer (verse 16), a man of prayer (verse 17), and an appointed missionary (verse 21).
Your group’s summary of the change in Paul could be a springboard for a discussion of the transformation that takes place when a person is converted. That change may not always be as dramatic or apparent as it was in the life of Paul, but it will be very real. Paul’s own words written to the saints in Corinth affirm this: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
- Acts 23 describes Paul’s appearance before the Sanhedrin. His defense resulted in a furious dispute between the Pharisees and Sadducees — a conflict so uproarious that the chief captain ordered Paul to be removed from the scene, “fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them” (verse 10). With his future in jeopardy and his life hanging in the balance, Paul no doubt needed some extra support. How did the Lord comfort and encourage the Apostle? Acts 23:11
The Lord whom Paul loved, and for whom he was suffering, stood by him in the night and spoke words of consolation and encouragement. Paul had long hoped to go to Rome and had made plans to travel there, but at this point, he was not even certain he would survive. However, the divine message assured Paul that not only would he live, but just as he had testified for God in Jerusalem, he would also have the privilege of bearing witness for God in Rome. What an encouragement that must have been to the imprisoned Apostle!
Follow up by asking your class to share times and ways they have been encouraged by the Lord.
- After his appearance before the Sanhedrin, the Apostle was transferred in the darkness of night to Caesarea where he was to appear before Felix, the procurator (or governor) of Judea. Chapter 24 records the accusations made against Paul before Felix, and the Apostle’s response. What are some words you would use to describe how he made his defense, given in verses 10-15?
Your group will likely respond with a variety of descriptive words. Ultimately, they should conclude that Paul’s defense was cheerful and pleasant in tone (verse 10), addressed each accusation with facts (verse 11), was firm (verse 12), forceful (verse 13), and affirmative (verses 14-15). Amplify this summary by pointing out that Paul was accused of being a renegade who incited trouble, of being the ringleader of an unauthorized religious sect that rebelled against Roman law, and of profaning the Temple. Though these accusations were false, he responded in a manner that could be a model for Christians of every era to follow when they are unjustly criticized or condemned.
- Felix had been governor of Judea for six years, so he undoubtedly already knew about the Christian faith. Building upon that, Paul presented to him the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and when Paul finished his defense, Felix had a “more perfect knowledge of that way” (Acts 24:22). Subsequently, Felix met with Paul again, and listened to the Apostle concerning faith in Christ. When Paul “reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come,” how did Felix respond? What parallel can you see between his response and the way many respond to the Gospel invitation in our day? Acts 24:24-25
Felix trembled, but he avoided making a spiritual decision by putting it off. He knew Paul was innocent, yet he did not want to identify himself with Paul’s Gospel and the Christians, so he delayed, saying that when he had a “convenient season” he would call for Paul again. Though Felix was undoubtedly under conviction, the Bible does not record that he ever surrendered his heart to the Lord.
In response to the second question, your group should see that many respond to the Gospel in the same way Felix did; they simply put off yielding. However, procrastination is in fact rejection.
- Paul was imprisoned for two years in Caesarea. When Festus replaced Felix, Paul’s accusers again brought charges against the Apostle and pressed for a trial to be held in Jerusalem. At that point, Paul requested a hearing before Caesar, which was the right of every Roman citizen. In Acts 25:14-21, Festus explained Paul’s case to the visiting King Agrippa. What great doctrinal truth did Festus point to in his summary of the accusations against Paul? (Acts 25:18-19). Why did the Jewish religious leaders so vehemently resist this truth?
According to verse 19, Festus told Agrippa that the real contention surrounding Paul’s teaching related to the doctrine of the Resurrection — a doctrine that was (and is) vital to the Christian belief. The Jewish religious leaders vehemently denied this great truth because accepting it would mean admitting that the Man they had killed was their own long-awaited Messiah.
Ask your group why it is so important for us to hold firmly to our belief in Christ’s resurrection. Discussion should bring out that it validates Jesus’ claim that He was the Son of God and provides irrefutable proof that He is the Savior of the world. It also proves the validity of the Old Testament prophecies that foretold of Jesus’ suffering and resurrection (see Acts 17:2-3), thereby showing that unfulfilled prophecies will be fulfilled one day. Finally, if Jesus Christ was not resurrected, we have no hope that we will be resurrected either. In fact, if we deny Christ’s resurrection, we have no Savior, no salvation, and no hope of eternal life. A supporting passage can be found in Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:12-20.
- Paul’s defense before Agrippa is recorded in chapter 26. For the third time in the Book of Acts, the Apostle recounted how his life was turned around through his experience on the road to Damascus. Based on verses 19-20, what was the outcome of that experience?
Verses 19-20 indicate that Paul followed through with unhesitating obedience. Initiate follow-up discussion by asking your group what the benefits of immediate obedience to God are. Answers should bring out that we will have confidence in God, and our lives will be a testimony to others of true commitment. The Bible teaches that those who walk in obedience are blessed of God, and ultimately, God will be glorified. Paul certainly saw these benefits worked out in his life as he continued to follow the leading of God’s Spirit.
- In chapter 27, Paul was taken by ship toward Rome. As winter approached, the weather became more and more dangerous for traveling by sea. The ship made a good start from Crete, but in time, they encountered great difficulty in a storm. When the weather became so tempestuous that a shipwreck was certain, Paul stepped forward and offered words of encouragement and comfort to the terrified sailors. What was his message, and on what basis was he able to offer it so assuredly? Acts 27:20-26
His comforting message was that there would be no loss of life, though the ship would be wrecked. He was able to offer this reassurance because an angel of God had appeared to him and made that promise. God had promised that he “must be brought before Caesar” (verse 24), so he knew that he would survive. Included in that promise was the statement that “God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.” The verb in the phrase “God has given” implies that the lives of those on board were “granted as a favor,” and suggests that this promise was in response to Paul’s prayers that their lives would be spared.
Bring out to your group that often people pray when they find themselves in great peril. While God may respond to a sinner’s desperate cry for help, it is much better to have a relationship with Him that assures us of His care for us in every situation.
- Paul carried on his ministry even while imprisoned in Rome. According to Acts 28:23, “There came many to him into 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.” The final verse of the Book of Acts relates that Paul continued “preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.” As we come to the close of this book, what are some of the key lessons that we can learn from the life of Paul?
Your students’ responses to this question should be a good way to wrap up our study of the Book of Acts. Some of the thoughts brought out could include:
• No one is beyond the saving grace of God.
• God has a plan and a place in His service for everyone.
• The Holy Spirit will direct and empower a life that is fully yielded to God.
• We may face persecution and opposition in our ministry efforts, but God can sustain and encourage us.
• It is important to stay focused on our spiritual goals.
The Spirit of God inspired Paul’s longing to carry the Gospel to Rome and provided the means for the Apostle to get there, orchestrating a sequence of events that put him in contact with government officials who wanted him to tell them about Jesus, and enabling him to preach Jesus Christ in many locations. Though opposition was fierce, Paul was reassured by the knowledge that God would bring him safely to his goal. His example of commitment, and his willingness to suffer and die for the Gospel if need be, were widely imitated in early Christianity, and helped the Early Church grow despite periods of intense persecution.