The period of rapid expansion
In this big picture look at the book of Acts, I have been examining the book by dividing it up into the above four historical periods. This next historical period that we will consider, is the period of Rapid Expansion. This period extends from Acts 9:32 through the end of the book of Acts 28:31. In the previous section (The Period of Extension), Luke records for us that the Church had spread or “extended” beyond Jerusalem to the areas of Judea and Samaria, as a result of fear of persecution following the stoning death of Stephen.
It is during this very crucial third period of rapid expansion, that Luke gives us more expanded details on just how a small group of Jesus followers went from a small, confused and frightened group of disciples in the upper room, to in just a little over 35 years, become the universal Church that “turned the world upside down.” The Church was “established” in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, yet by the time we get to the end of the book of Acts, the Church had expanded all the way in Rome, the capitol of the empire.
Additionally, it is also during this period of rapid expansion that we get specifics on precisely how the Church went from being strictly Jewish, to becoming the universal Church. Initially, there were only 120 followers of Christ who were all Jewish, but by the time we get to Acts 28, the Church had become universal and consisted of both Jews and gentiles.
From this point, Luke records how the gospel began to spread, or “expand” from the areas of Samaria and Judea, and rapidly began to increase and impact citizens throughout the Roman Empire. Now, as we will see, a significant part of this continuous expansion of the Church, was the result of the Apostle Paul’s three missionary journeys. And while he was on these missionary journeys, he wrote epistles to strengthen and instruct those new Churches.
God’s providence on display
Now, as I begin to examine this important period in the growth of the Church, it is important that I briefly review something that I talked about in the my previous post regarding God’s selection of Paul to be His apostle to the gentiles. As I stated, the selection of Paul was absolutely no coincidence. In fact, by selecting Paul, God had chosen someone who was extremely and uniquely qualified to be God’s gentile spokesman in this heavily pagan Greek and Roman world like not many others in his time.
First of all, in addition to being a legal Roman Citizen which allowed Paul to have unencumbered travel access throughout the Roman world, Paul was also a “Jew from the tribe of Benjamin.” But in addition, Paul was also an elite level Jewish scholar, who was not only fluent in the Old Testament scriptures, but was also fluent in Greek language, culture and philosophy. In fact, Paul was so fluent in Greek literature, that he was able to recite Greek poems and philosophies when he was debating with the Greeks during his evangelistic journeys.
Furthermore, in addition the being relentless and completely committed, Paul had the unique ability and philosophy to meet and relate to people where they were or on their own level. In other words, he was able to be “all things to all people.” When he was around the Jews for example, he would keep their dietary laws, and when he was around the Greeks, he could recite their poems and their philosophies. And his deep understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures, allowed him to be able to argue with the Judaizers and demonstrate to them using the Old Testament Scriptures themselves, that Christianity was not a perversion of Judaism, but was to the contrary, the literal fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures.
Paul was also able to explain to the Jews that the New Testament was actually a completion to God’s salvation story. Paul uniquely understood that it was part two of God’s two-part story of His redemption historical narrative. In other words, Paul was able to persuade many, that Christ did not come to destroy the Law, but instead, He came to complete or fulfill the law. Because of Paul’s intimate understanding of the Old Testament, he was able to argue the case that Christ was the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament prophets, and that He was Israel’s true Messiah.
Now, it is important that we also consider the fact, that at the time, because of the combination of Paul’s brilliant analytical mind and the combination of his Jewish lineage and his Roman citizenship, there was arguably no other person better and more uniquely qualified to make those arguments to both Jewish audiences and Greek audiences than Paul. And of course, it is important to point out, that God’s selection of Paul, also demonstrates just another example of the amazing providence of God in orchestrating the affairs of history in order to facilitate His ultimate plan of redemption.
Subsequently, when you consider the fact, that not only did God divinely and providentially orchestrated world history in order the “prepare the way,” or set the stage for His son to be born in Bethlehem (see: Galatians 4:4-5), He also divinely and providentially selected and prepare this uniquely qualified and anointed individual to be the one who would boldly take the gospel to a pagan gentile world and to turn that world “upside down”, in addition to writing nearly two-thirds of the New Testament Canon.
The Gospel to the Ends of the Earth (acts 13–28):
The Journeys of Paul
Now as I alluded to above, this third major chronological section of Acts, which is by far the longest period, concerns the three missionary journeys of Paul and his arrest and journey to Rome. Luke’s primary purposes in spending so much time on Paul are to show that:
(1) Paul is not a traitor to his Jewish religion, but is faithful to his Jewish heritage through his allegiance to Jesus, the Jewish Messiah.
(2) the Gentile mission was all along part of God’s plan for Israel and was initiated by God himself, not by any human being.
(3) Christians are good citizens and are no threat to Roman authority.
First Journey: The Gospel to Cyprus and Galatia (acts 13:1–14:20).
Paul’s first missionary journey is recorded in Acts 13 and 14. After Paul witnessed the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58), he was confronted and converted by Jesus (Acts 9), and visited Jerusalem (Acts 9:26–30), the church leadership tucked him safely away in his home town of Tarsus on the southeastern coast of modern Turkey. Meanwhile, the persecution in Jerusalem grew, and believers fled to Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Syrian Antioch, which wasn’t too far from Tarsus (Acts 11:19–30). The dispersed Christians brought the gospel with them, and when the leaders in Jerusalem learned how quickly the church was growing, they sent Barnabas to Antioch to verify what was happening.
Barnabas confirmed that the gospel was spreading and that the church in Syrian Antioch was indeed a work of God (Acts 11:23). Barnabas then went to Tarsus to collect Paul, whom he had earlier mentored in Jerusalem. Paul returned to Antioch with Barnabas to provide leadership for the fledgling church. After about a year, the prophet Abagus foretold a great famine. The believers in Antioch raised support for the church in Judea and sent it to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Paul (Acts 11:19–30). After delivering the gift, Barnabas and Paul traveled back to Antioch with John Mark, Barnabas’s cousin (verse 25). While the church in Antioch was worshiping and fasting, the Holy Spirit called Paul and Barnabas to a special work in spreading the gospel (Acts 13:2). After more fasting and prayer, the church laid their hands on Paul and Barnabas and sent them off with John Mark (verse 3). Thus began the first missionary journey, led by the Holy Spirit (verse 4).
Paul and Barnabas first sailed to the island of Cyprus, which was Barnabas’ home territory. They arrived at Salamis and taught in the synagogues along with John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin. The three continued preaching across the whole island and finally arrived at Paphos on the opposite side. In Paphos, the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, summoned Paul and Barnabas because he “sought to hear the word of God” (Acts 13:7). However, a Jewish false prophet and magician named Elymas, tried to prevent the proconsul from coming to faith. Paul, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” struck Elymas blind thus performing his first miracle (Acts 13:9–11). Upon witnessing this miracle, the proconsul believed. Paul and Barnabas then set sail from Paphos to go into modern-day Turkey while John Mark set sail to return to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13).
In Turkey, Paul and Barnabas made their way to Antioch (the one in Turkey rather than the Antioch in Syria from whence they had come) where they taught in the synagogue and many believed. However, the following week when nearly the entire city gathered to hear their preaching, some Jews began contradicting them and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas. After this rejection of the gospel from the Jews, Paul said, “we are turning to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46). Acts 13:48 records that “when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”
Eventually being driven out of Antioch by the Jews, Paul and Barnabas went to Iconium and taught in the synagogue there. Many believed, and Paul and Barnabas performed signs and wonders during their stay in Iconium. Over time however, the city became divided between those who followed the Jews and those who sided with the apostles. When Paul and Barnabas learned that their opposition was planning to stone them, they fled to Lystra, Derbe, and the surrounding area (Acts 14:5–6).
Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark walked to Seleucia on the coast, then sailed southwest to Salamis on the island of Cyprus, where Barnabas was from. They preached in the synagogue there and traveled the whole island, apparently without seeing much fruit, until they arrived at the city of Paphos in the southwest. The island’s Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus, summoned the missionaries to listen to their message. Unfortunately, the proconsul’s associate, Bar-Jesus (aka Elymas), was a magician and Jewish false prophet who contradicted the gospel message and tried to keep Sergius Paulus from converting. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Paul made Bar-Jesus go blind, and Sergius Paulus believed in Christ (Acts 13:4–12).
Paul, Barnabas, and John-Mark sailed from Paphos to Perga in the region of Pamphylia in south-central Asia Minor. For reasons the Bible does not detail, John Mark left the other two missionaries and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). It doesn’t seem Paul and Barnabas spent much time in Perga but headed north to Pisidian Antioch and preached in the synagogue on the Sabbath. In his sermon, Paul, a credentialed Pharisee, gave a synopsis of the Israelites’ exile in Egypt, the judges, Kings Saul and David, and John the Baptist. He showed the Jews in Antioch how only Jesus, who died and rose again, fulfilled the Jewish prophecies. Many believed, and they asked Paul and Barnabas to return the next Sabbath. The next week, almost the entire city showed up, but the Jewish leadership was jealous of the crowds and tried to silence their message with abusive language. Paul and Barnabas pointed out that the Jews had had their chance and had rejected Jesus, so Jesus’ message was going to be brought to the Gentiles. The gospel spread through the whole region, but, eventually, despite the new converts’ enthusiasm, the Jews in Pisidian Antioch stirred up persecution of the missionaries, and Paul and Barnabas traveled east to Iconium in Galatia (Acts 13:14–52).
Paul and Barnabas stayed quite a while in the city of Iconium, preaching boldly and performing miracles. Many Jews and Greeks believed, but many didn’t. The missionaries caught word that the unbelieving Jews, Gentiles, and city leadership were planning on stoning them, so they fled to the nearby cities of Lystra and Derbe in Lycia (Acts 14:1–7).
Paul’s message in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch (13:13–52) is particularly important, illustrating the kind of message Paul brought to Jews and God-fearing Gentiles in the synagogue. He traces God’s covenants with Israel from the patriarchs to the coming of the Messiah. The passage also establishes a pattern of response by Jews and Gentiles. After an initial positive response, most of the Jews reject the message (13:44–45) and Paul turns to the Gentiles (13:46–48). This pattern will be repeated throughout Acts. While a remnant of Jews responds favorably, the majority reject the gospel, and many Gentiles accept it.
After returning to appoint elders in the churches they have established, Paul and Barnabas return to Antioch in Syria, reporting success: God has “opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (acts 14:27).
The Council of Jerusalem (acts 15:1–35).
After their return, a crisis occurs in the church at Antioch. Some Jewish Christians come from Jerusalem claiming, “Unless you are circumcised (referring to these new gentile converts), according to custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved” (acts 15:1). This question of whether Gentiles need to become Jews in order to be saved was one of the most challenging issues facing the early church. In what has been called the “Council of Jerusalem,” the leaders conclude that Gentiles do not need to be circumcised or keep Israel’s ritual laws to be saved, since both Jews and Gentiles are saved by faith alone. At the same time, they encourage Gentile Christians to abstain from certain practices highly offensive to Jews (15:19–21, 28–29).
Slotting Paul’s Epistles Chronologically
Now again, it is import that I continue to emphasize that I am overviewing the big picture of the New Testament from a chronological perspective as opposed to the traditional canonical standpoint. And chronologically speaking, the easiest way to slot each of Paul’s epistles in their actual chronological order, or in the order in which they were actually written, is to slot the books in conjunction with Paul’s three missionary Journeys.
So, for example, Paul left for his first missionary journey from Antioch and traveled to the region of Galatia and then he back to Antioch. And upon his return to Antioch, Paul wrote one epistle which was addressed to those new converts in Galatia. Which means that from a historical and chronological standpoint, the first epistle after the book of James, was the book of Galatians.
Paul’s Second Missionary Journey
Later, after the dispute with the Jerusalem council, Paul puts together a second missionary expedition where he travels through Asia and Macedonia. Paul’s plan was to return to the cities and churches that they visited in Asia Minor on their first missionary journey (Acts 15:36). Barnabas agreed, but he wanted to take his cousin, John Mark who had abandoned them shortly into that first trip (verses 37–38). Paul refused to take Mark with them, so Barnabas took Mark and set sail for Cyprus (verse 39). Paul took Silas, one of the leaders of the Jerusalem church who had accompanied Paul to Antioch (verse 40).
Instead of sailing, Paul started the second missionary journey overland, crossing one mountain range to Tarsus, then another to Derbe and Lystra as he and Silas moved west. In the area of Derbe and Lystra, Paul met up with Timothy again, whom Paul had mentored on his first trip. Timothy joined Paul and Silas as a ministry partner. Then Paul did something curious. Despite the fact that Timothy’s father was Greek and the church in Jerusalem had just decreed that Gentile believers did not have to be circumcised, Paul circumcised Timothy. Orthodox Judaism still holds that Jewishness comes from the mother’s line, and Timothy’s mother was Jewish. As far as the Jews in Asia Minor were concerned, Timothy was a Jew who did not respect his Jewish heritage. “Because of the Jews,” Paul made sure Timothy was in a position to receive respect as a Jewish believer (Acts 16:9).
Although Paul had planned on spending some time in the cities where he had earlier planted churches, the Holy Spirit guided him through Asia Minor quickly. On this second missionary journey, the Spirit forbade Paul to speak in the province of Asia, kept them out of Bithynia near the Black Sea, and led them directly to Troas, on the coast of the Aegean Sea. While in Troas, Paul received a vision of a man in Macedonia (in northern Greece) asking Paul to come and help them. Apparently, Luke joined the team at this point because he reports that “immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:10). The use of first-person pronouns indicates that Luke was at that point a fellow traveler.
Paul’s second missionary journey continued as the group sailed from Troas to the small island of Samothrace, then to the city of Neapolis on the Greek coast. They quickly made their way to the Roman colony of Philippi and stayed for a while (Acts 16:11–12). On the Sabbath, they went to the riverside where they supposed the Jews would gather and found a group of women who had come to pray. One of the women there was a merchant named Lydia. She and her household were converted and baptized, and she compelled the missionaries to stay in her home (Acts 16:13–15). Lydia thus became the first convert to Christianity on European soil.
Sometime later, while going to a place of prayer, the missionaries were accosted by a slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination. The girl followed them, saying, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation” (Acts 16:16–17), and after several days Paul commanded the demon to leave her (verse 18). When the slave girl’s owners found that their source of income was destroyed, they brought Paul and Silas to the magistrate and incited the crowd against them. The missionaries were stripped, beaten, flogged, and thrown into prison, and their feet were placed in stocks (verses 19–24). All of this was highly illegal, since Paul and Silas were Roman citizens and had the right to a trial.
Around midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns when an earthquake shook the prison, opening the prison doors and loosening the chains of all the prisoners (Acts 16:26). When the jailor found the doors open, he drew his sword to kill himself, thinking the prisoners had fled and he would be held responsible (verse 27). But then he heard the voice of Paul telling him all the prisoners were still there. The jailor immediately asked how to be saved (verse 30), and Paul and Silas answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (verse 31). The jailor took Paul and Silas to his home, where he fed them and bandaged their wounds. He and his household believed and were baptized that same night (verses 32–34).
The next morning, when the jailor received word from the magistrate that Paul and Silas were to be released, he told them they were free to leave Philippi (Acts 16:35–36). They refused. As Roman citizens, Paul and Silas had been treated in violation of Roman law, and they demanded a public apology. The authorities were alarmed and came to the prison to personally escort Paul and Silas out (verses 37–39). The missionaries left Philippi after visiting Lydia and the Christians there (verse 40).
From Philippi, Paul, Silas, and Timothy passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia before reaching Thessalonica. (It seems that Luke remained in Philippi.) Paul spent three Sabbaths in the synagogue, reasoning with the Jewish men (Acts 17:1–2). Some were persuaded, but some were not. When Paul found a following of Gentiles and leading women, the Jewish men who had rejected Christ incited a mob and accused Paul and Silas of promoting another king besides Caesar and of turning “the world upside down” (verse 6, KJV). Unable to locate Paul and Silas, the mob dragged the missionaries’ host, Jason, to the city authorities. That night, Paul and Silas slipped away to Berea (verse 10).
The Jews in Berea were much more accepting of Paul’s message; Luke says they had “more noble character” and “searched the Scriptures daily to ascertain the truth of Paul’s preaching” (Acts 17:11). Many respected Greeks, men and women, were converted. Unfortunately, the unbelieving Jews from Thessalonica soon tracked Paul to Berea and once again stirred up the crowds (verse 13). The Christians quickly sent Paul to Athens by sea while Silas and Timothy remained behind, with instructions to join Paul as soon as they could (verses 14–15).
Paul found an attentive audience in Athens, and he was invited to speak at the Areopagus to the philosophers gathered there. Paul explained that the true God is not made of gold, silver, or stone and did not originate from the imagination of man (Acts 17:29). The philosophers listened until Paul spoke of the resurrection of Christ, and then some began to scoff (verse 32). A few men and women believed, but there is no record of Paul being able to establish a church there. Athenians were known for their endless debates, and many just wanted to hear Paul’s new “philosophy” and pick it apart (verse 21).
What happened at Mars Hill ?
Arguably one of the most theologically significant occurrence during this second missionary expedition, was Paul’s famous confrontation with the Greek Stoic and Epicurean Philosophers in the City of Athens. Now, the political and cultural impact of the message of the Apostle Paul is incalculable. His impact was so profound, that not even Paul himself could have anticipated the ripple of affect of his famous speech on Mars Hill in the influential city of Athens to a group of Athenian Stoic and Epicurean philosophers in an Athenian counsel called, The Areopagus in response to the many idols that he had seen throughout Athens, and particularly to an alter with the inscription, “to the unknown God”:
22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26From one ancestor* he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27so that they would search for God* and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we too are his offspring.” 29Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’ 32 When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’ 33At that point Paul left them. 34But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
The Epicureans were atheists; they denied God’s existence. They denied a life after death. They were also materialists, and felt that this life was the only thing that really existed and that, therefore, men should get the most out of it. They felt that pleasure was the highest virtue, and that pain was the opposite. Their motto (and it still persists to this day) was “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” They were what we would call today “existentialists,” living for the experience of the moment. This is a widespread philosophy in our day, although it is no longer called Epicureanism.
The Stoics, followers of the philosopher Zeno, were pantheists. That is, they believed that everything is God, and that he does not exist as a separate entity, but is in the rocks and trees and every material thing. Their attitude toward life was one of ultimate resignation, and they prided themselves on their ability to take whatever came. Their motto, in modern terms, was “Grin and bear it.” They urged moderation: “Don’t get over-emotional, either about tragedy or happiness.” Apathy was regarded as the highest virtue of life. You will recognize there are many people today who feel that the best thing they can do is to take whatever comes and handle it the best they can. These Stoics were all proud fatalists, and there are many like them today. Luke gives us the initial reaction of these two philosophical groups to Paul:
And some said, “What would this babbler say?”[Those were the Epicureans.] Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities” — because he preached Jesus and the resurrection.[These were the Stoics.] And they took hold of him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you present? For you bring some strange things to our ears; we wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. (Acts 17:18b-21 RSV).
Paul’s speech is sophisticated and alert to context. He quotes from a well-known Greek poet and speaks the standard lines about images, idols, and true deity. He refers in a generous way to the religious convictions of the local population and speaks of a creator who made all nations to search for God. This is generous speech indeed and includes all his hearers as children of God. The references to the resurrection from the dead strike most of them, finally, as silly or superstitious, but some hear.
This passage is critical because it shows Paul adapting his speech to the level of his audience, seeking to address them in terms that are both open and familiar. Paul’s encounter points out the difficulty with understanding or accepting resurrection as a cornerstone of Christian belief. Finally, the passage shows us that even a few who hear positively can be seeds for local congregations to grow.
From Athens, Paul went to Corinth where he met fellow tentmakers Priscilla and Aquila. They were Jews who’d been exiled when Emperor Claudius commanded that all Jews leave Rome (Acts 18:1–3). Silas and Timothy joined Paul in Corinth, and the group stayed in that city for a year and a half, preaching, gaining converts, and reasoning with those who rejected the gospel (verse 11). “Many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized,” including Crispus, the leader of the synagogue (verse 8). Eventually, the Jews brought Paul before Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia, for trial. Gallio determined that, since it was an internal matter of a religious nature, it was not his concern, and he dismissed the case (verses 14–16).
Paul’s second missionary journey continued as the missionary team left Corinth and sailed to Ephesus in Asia Minor, taking Priscilla and Aquila with them. Paul stayed in Ephesus for a little while, reasoning in the synagogue, but when the Ephesians begged him to stay, he declined (verse 20). Priscilla and Aquila stayed in Ephesus (where they later converted and taught Apollos) but Paul sailed from Ephesus to Caesarea in Israel, traveled to Jerusalem, greeted the church there, and then returned to Antioch (verse 22). The second missionary journey had come to an end.
He then stops at Corinth where he stays for a year and a half, and while at Corinth, Paul wrote two epistles which were first and second Thessalonians. Now Paul previously had to leave Thessalonica because of the intense persecution, so Paul was concerned about what was happening to the Christians there. Paul eventually went back to Antioch and back to Jerusalem and then he went on his third Journey.
Paul’s Third Missionary Journey
The account of Paul’s third missionary journey begins in Acts 18. Paul spent some time at his home church in Syrian Antioch before going northwest over land again and traveling through Galatia and Phrygia in Asia Minor, visiting the churches in Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch, churches he had established during his first trip (Acts 18:23). Meanwhile, in Ephesus, on the southwest coast of Asia Minor, Priscilla and Aquila met Apollos, an educated and eloquent speaker who enthusiastically spoke of Jesus. Unfortunately, he only knew the story up to John’s baptism. Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos aside and taught him of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, and Apollos became a powerful Christian teacher, at times rivaling the influence of Paul (Acts 18:24–28; 1 Corinthians 3:4–5).
Apollos traveled to Corinth in Achaia, and Paul arrived at Ephesus where he apparently met some of Apollos’s students (Acts 19:1). These twelve men only knew of John’s baptism unto repentance (see Mark 1:4); they had not been born again by faith in Christ and had not received the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:2–3). Paul explained the complete gospel to them, pointing them to Jesus Christ as John had done (see Mark 1:7–8). The men were baptized, and Paul laid his hands on them. They immediately received the Spirit and, as a sign of their new life, began speaking in tongues and prophesying (Acts 19:4–7).
Paul spent three months teaching in the synagogue in Ephesus, reasoning from the Jewish Scriptures, but some in his audience not only rejected his message but they became abusive toward “the Way” (Acts 19:8–9). Paul took those who believed and moved from the synagogue to a school owned by a man named Tyrannus. There Paul preached daily to Jews and Greeks for two years (verses 9–10).
Despite the opposition in Ephesus, the Holy Spirit worked mightily through Paul. Luke says that “extraordinary miracles” were being performed (Acts 19:11) as people were being healed and evil spirits were being expelled (verse 12). Trying to get in on Paul’s work, the “Sons of Sceva,” seven traveling Jewish exorcists, tried to expel demons in Jesus’ and Paul’s names (verse 13). The demons responded that they recognized the authority of Jesus and Paul but did not know these men. The demons then attacked the men, beating, stripping, and chasing them out of the house (verses 14–16). After this incident, Jesus’ name was even more respected in Ephesus, Paul saw a great increase in his ministry, and many former magicians burned their magic arts books (verses 17–20).
After his extended stay in Ephesus, Paul realized that the Holy Spirit was leading him to travel on. Continuing his third missionary journey, Paul sent Timothy and Erastus ahead to Macedonia (Acts 19:21–22). But before Paul left, a silversmith named Demetrius, who made shrines of Artemis and resented the decrease in business he’d seen since Paul’s arrival, gathered other workmen and started a riot (verses 23–34). Eventually, the town clerk arrived and dispersed the crowd, telling them that, if they had something against Paul, they should bring him to court (verses 35–41). Paul left town quietly and went across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia where he traveled to Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea to encourage the churches there; then he went to Greece (Achaia) and spent three months there (Acts 20:1–3).
Paul had planned to board a ship in Corinth and set sail for Jerusalem via Syria, but he discovered that some Jews were plotting to waylay him on the voyage, so he returned to Macedonia by land. Paul retraced his steps from Corinth to Berea, Thessalonica, and Philippi, where he caught up with Luke again and observed Passover. From Philippi, Paul and Luke set sail for Troas, arriving there five days later and meeting Paul’s traveling companions who had gone ahead of them: Timothy, Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Tychicus, and Trophimus. These men represented various churches and were probably helping bring a monetary gift to the Jerusalem church (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:1). They all stayed in Troas for one week (Acts 20:1–6).
Paul made the most of his short stay in Troas. On Sunday when the believers met, Paul preached long into the night (Acts 20:7–8). A young man named Eutychus sat on a windowsill of the third-story room. About midnight, he fell asleep and fell out the window to the ground below (verse 9). Eutychus was declared dead, but Paul raised him, served communion, and resumed speaking until daylight (verses 10–12).
Instead of traveling inland to visit the established churches of Asia Minor or sailing more directly to Jerusalem, Paul continued his third missionary journey by taking a coastal route. Paul walked to Assos, while the rest of the party sailed to that port and picked Paul up there. Then they all traveled to Mitylene, Trogyllium, and Miletus, along the southwest coast of Asia Minor (Acts 20:13–15). Paul bypassed Ephesus because he knew if he stopped there he’d be kept longer than he liked, and he wanted to reach Jerusalem by Pentecost (verse 16). Paul asked the Ephesian elders to meet him in Miletus, and they did. Paul prayed with them, encouraged them, warned them against false teachers, and predicted the hardships he would face in Jerusalem (verses 17–35). After tearful good-byes, the Ephesian elders saw Paul to the ship (verses 36–38).
From Miletus, Paul and his entourage sailed to Patara, then to Tyre in Syria, where they stayed a week (Acts 21:1–6). The disciples there begged Paul, for his own safety, not to go to Jerusalem. But he sailed on, stopping briefly in Ptolemais before landing in Caesarea and staying with Philip the evangelist (verses 7–14). While in Caesarea, the prophet Agabus declared that Paul would be imprisoned if he went to Jerusalem, but Paul was resolute in completing his mission. After several days, a group escorted Paul to Jerusalem and to the home of Mnason, who hosted Paul and his companions (verses 15–16). Thus Paul’s third missionary journey came to an end.
Paul’s Journey to Rome
The circumstances that led to Paul’s imprisonment in Rome was quite interesting. Upon his return to Jerusalem following his third missionary Journey, Paul had been seen in the city with Trophimus, a Gentile from Ephesus, and so the rumor quickly spread that the apostle had taken “Greeks” into the temple and “defiled this holy place” (Acts 21:28), which was a capital offense. Before long, the city was aflame with the “lynch-him” mentality. Paul’s life was saved only when Roman officials intervened and took him to a place of safety.
Eventually, under heavy guard (470 soldiers; Acts 23:23), the apostle was taken to Caesarea over on the coast, where he was confined in Herod’s palace. Over some period of time, Paul was subjected to a series of interrogations. Finally, after two years had lapsed, and it appeared that “justice delayed is justice denied,” the noble preacher concluded that he would never receive a fair hearing under the present circumstances. And so, exercising his right as a Roman citizen, he appealed his case to Caesar (Acts 25:11-12).
Later, because of his Roman citizenship and his request to appeal to Caesar, he was taken to Rome where he was placed on house arrest. And while in house arrest in Rome waiting for his trial before Caesar, Paul wrote four “prison epistles” which were, Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon. Amazingly however, in spite of unimaginable physical persecution, in large part because of the ministry of the Apostle Paul, and in fulfillment of the great commission and Acts 1:8, in less than forty years, the church had spread from a small group of 120 disciples in the upper room in Jerusalem, all the way to Rome, the capitol city of Empire.
Finally, we believe that Paul did in fact enjoy a short period of freedom which enabled him to continue his apostolic journeys. We know, for example, that according to the Acts record, the apostle never visited Crete on any of his previous apostolic journeys. Paul did sail around the island on his way to Rome as a prisoner, but it was not until his release from his first Roman imprisonment that he actually visited Crete. The apostle’s brief stay on the island was long enough to see that the churches there were in a state of chaos (Titus 1:10-16). Consequently, Paul leaves Titus behind, his companion in travel, “to set in order the things that were wanting” (Titus 1:5).
Paul’s Second imprisonment
Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome from approximately 61 to 63 had been less severe. It seems then he was under a kind of house arrest and could receive visitors, had access to the Scriptures and could freely teach (Acts 28:16, 23, 30-31). Apparently, Paul was then released from prison and continued traveling and teaching, since his later letters mention travels that were not recorded in the book of Acts. But as the years moved along and Paul’s fame spread, Paul was again put in prison in Rome, perhaps from 66 to 68. This time he did not expect to be released.
Finally, not long before his death, Paul wrote this moving letter to Timothy, who was like a son to him. These last words had powerful meaning for Timothy and to us. The apostle Paul wrote this very intense and personal letter to his “beloved son” in the faith, Timothy, from his second imprisonment in Rome (2 Timothy 1:2, 8). It appears Paul’s final imprisonment was much more severe than his first stint in prison there. He was in bonds with few visitors, and he felt his death was imminent (4:6-9).
Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy realizing that his personal end was nearing. He gave some very specific instructions to Timothy covering our commitment to God and the way we should do God’s work. He also warned in a prophetic way what life will be like during the “last days.” As he concluded the letter, he encouraged Timothy to come quickly. Paul longed to see him and described his feelings of being abandoned by many. He explained that at his “first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me,” but Paul knew “the Lord stood with me and strengthened me” (2 Timothy 4:16-17). He was assured that he had “fought the good fight” and that a “crown of righteousness” was laid up for him (verses 7-8).
The book of Acts ends abruptly when he is arrested for the final time and imprisoned and executed in Rome. Probably from Crete, Paul made his way to Corinth where he writes to Titus to inform him that he planned to winter in Nicopolis (Titus 3:12). However, after about two years, Paul was arrested once again and returned as prisoner back to Rome. It could well be that the apostle was apprehended at Nicopolis and taken again to Rome for preaching Christ. This time however, the sentence would go against him. So, without hesitation he writes to Timothy, since it was nearing winter, to bring his cloak and also the Parchments (II Tim. 4:13).
Nero, who literally had become insane, had Paul executed along with a number of other Christians in Rome at the time around AD 67. According to tradition, Paul was beheaded because it was actually illegal to crucify a Roman citizen. Also, in 66 the Jewish wars began. Which means that Paul probably wrote both of his letter to Timothy sometime between AD 63 and 66. It was around this time also, that Peter is said to have been crucified upside down
It was a time of unrest for many reasons. In A.D. 64 Nero had allegedly burned sections of Rome and blamed the Christians. A generation after the death of Christ, Christianity had reached Rome in the form of an obscure offshoot of Judaism popular among the city’s poor and destitute. Members of this religious sect spoke of the coming of a new kingdom and a new king. These views provoked suspicion among the Jewish authorities who rejected the group and fear among the Roman authorities who perceived these sentiments as a threat to the Empire.
In the summer of 64, Rome suffered a terrible fire that burned for six days and seven nights consuming almost three quarters of the city. The people accused the Emperor Nero for the devastation claiming he set the fire for his own amusement. In order to deflect these accusations and placate the people, Nero laid blame for the fire on the Christians. The emperor ordered the arrest of a few members of the sect who, under torture, accused others until the entire Christian populace was implicated and became fair game for retribution. As many of the religious sect that could be found were rounded up and put to death in the most horrific manner for the amusement of the citizens of Rome. The ghastly way in which the victims were put to death aroused sympathy among many Romans, although most felt their execution justified.
This Roman mosaic shows prisoners put to death in the arena as part of a festival:
Beginnings of Christian Martyrdom
The following account was written by the Roman historian Tacitus in his book Annals published a few years after the event. Tacitus was a young boy living in Rome during the time of the persecutions.
“Therefore, to stop the rumor [that he had set Rome on fire], he [Emperor Nero] falsely charged with guilt, and punished with the most fearful tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were [generally] hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of that name, was put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, in the reign of Tiberius, but the pernicious superstition – repressed for a time, broke out yet again, not only through Judea, – where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, whither all things horrible and disgraceful flow from all quarters, as to a common receptacle, and where they are encouraged. Accordingly first those were arrested who confessed they were Christians; next on their information, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much on the charge of burning the city, as of “hating the human race.”
In their very deaths they were made the subjects of sport: for they were covered with the hides of wild beasts, and worried to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when the day waned, burned to serve for the evening lights. Nero offered his own garden players for the spectacle, and exhibited a Circensian game, indiscriminately mingling with the common people in the dress of a charioteer, or else standing in his chariot. For this cause a feeling of compassion arose towards the sufferers, though guilty and deserving of exemplary capital punishment, because they seemed not to be cut off for the public good but were victims of the ferocity of one man.”
His End is Drawing Near
Paul sums up his life of some 30 years of service to God and Christ in verses 6-8 as he looks forward to the resurrection to eternal life and to receiving his reward when Christ returns to establish His Kingdom. He singles out members for special note. In fact, Onesiphorus (a member from Ephesus who had not abandoned Paul, but had refreshed him) is mentioned twice in the letter: 1:16 and 4:19. Finally, Paul looks as always to his Savior, who will not let him down and who will deliver him to the Kingdom. John R.W. Stott explained: “Paul issues to Timothy a fourfold charge regarding the gospel—
To guard it (because it is priceless)
To suffer for it (because it is a stumbling block to the proud)
To continue in it (because it is the truth of God)
To proclaim it (because it is good news of salvation)” (Guard the Gospel, p. 126).
Paul’s final days, tells us how one of the most influential men in history “finished the race”. His conversion from being a persecutor of Christians, to a fervent ambassador of Christ shows the great power of Christ in us. The letters he wrote from prison to the churches he established give us a glimpse of what was on his mind: the unity of believers in the love of Christ and under the Lordship of Christ.
Recommended Resource: Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit by Charles Swindoll