The ancient city of Rome was something for the eyes to behold. The center of the Roman Empire, if you wanted it, Rome had it, good or bad. The writer of the book of Acts went there. Hear him: “Now when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him” (Acts 28:16; emphasis mine, rdc). What was Paul doing in Rome? Long story short: Paul was taken into custody by Roman officials in Jerusalem, transferred to a prison in Caesarea (where he stayed at least two years),appealed to have his case heard by Caesar, and was transported by ship to Italy. A brother named Aristarchus and the writer of Acts were on that ship, too (Acts 27:1,2).
What happened when they arrived in Rome? I am encouraged by many of the answers that I find in my Bible in Acts 28:16-31. For instance:
“When we came to Rome,” one of Paul’s personal dreams was fulfilled. Paul had “often planned” to go to Rome, for many years “having a great desire” to visit it (Romans 1:13; 15:23). This man was no globe-trotting tourist. He wanted to preach the gospel there and encourage the saints (Romans 1:11-15). Not all of our dreams come true, but in this case, Paul’s did. It makes us smile.
“When we came to Rome,” prayers were answered. Paul had been praying about making it to Rome, “making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come” there (Romans 1:10). Note the words “by some means.” He most likely never imagined that by God’s providence he would travel there free of charge, as the Roman government foot the bill! He himself had prayed and had begged the saints in Rome to pray about it (Romans 15:30,32). And what do we read in Acts 28:16? “. . . we came to Rome.” Paul’s great God answered his prayer.
“When we came to Rome,” Paul was blessed. But was he not still a prisoner? He was. A soldier still guarded him (Acts 28:16), and he was still bound with a chain (28:20). Yet, he was blessed greatly. In what way? While the other prisoners who had been on the same ship were turned over to the authorities, “Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him” (28:16). In Rome, Paul dwelled for two whole years in his own rented house and was allowed to have visitors (28:30). Yes, he had restrictions, but he also had great blessings. He was able to continue to teach God’s word, and all spiritual blessings were still available to him in the Christ (Ephesians 1:3).
“When we came to Rome,” the leaders of the Jews were blessed, too. How? They got to meet this great man of God, Paul, got to hear his “side of the story” about “the hope of Israel,” and got to hear the gospel (Acts 28:17-23). Now that is being blessed!
“When we came to Rome,” open doors were available. Paul exhorted others to pray for open doors (Colossians 4:2,3), and now he had them. He was given the chance to speak to the Jews in Rome, including their leaders, about the Kingdom and Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies (Acts 28:23). And, when he remained a prisoner for two more years, he kept on teaching. Onesimus was one of his converts during that time (Philemon 10). Let us learn from Paul (1) to have a longing to teach others, (2) to be grateful for teaching opportunities, and (3) to take advantage of open doors.
“When we came to Rome,” there was an intense examination of the Scriptures. Many came to hear Paul proclaim and explain the word of God, and the teaching went on “from morning till evening” (Acts 28:23. That was a whole lot more than having one song, a prayer, and a 35-minute Bible study! The folks in Berea were searchers of the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). The people of Samaria pleaded with Jesus to extend His stay with them. He did, and many believed (John 4:40-42). When people have a desire to listen and learn, let us seize the moment.
“When we came to Rome,” people there responded to the message of the gospel just like we would expect. When they heard Paul teach the truth about Jesus and God’s Kingdom, what happened? “And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved” (28:24). Throughout the book of Acts, we see that scenario repeated constantly; we see it as well in the accounts of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Let us not be naïve: not all will accept the truth. At the same time, let us not be disheartened: not all will reject it, either. God’s word will not return to Him void (Isaiah 55:11).
“When we came to Rome,” plans were made to proclaim the salvation of God to lost people. When Paul sensed the Jews’ rejection of the gospel, even as Isaiah had foretold, the apostle said, “Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it” (Acts 28:28). One door might be closed, but another one will open! Every lost person deserves to hear about “the salvation of God.” How much effort are you and I putting into sharing that great message?
“When we came to Rome,” God’s work continued. In that city of unrivaled fame, no chain on Paul’s body, no Roman soldier, no group of religious leaders, and no scoffers could cause the faithful saints of God to sit down, be quiet, and do nothing! The work of the Lord must go on, and praise God, it did!
“When we came to Rome,” great and exciting things occurred. Lord, help us to learn these lessons.
— Roger D. Campbell