The earlier work which Paul and his co-workers had done in Philippi resulted in Lydia and her household obeying the gospel (Acts 16:11-15). After that, as Paul and Silas continued to preach there, some people rose up against them. As a result, those two preachers had their clothes torn off, they were beaten, and they were put in prison, where their feet were fasted in stocks (16:19-24). It was there that they encountered “the keeper of the prison” (16:27).
As the prisoners Silas and Paul prayed and sang praises to God at midnight, a great earthquake struck. The prison keeper, fearing that the prisoners would escape and he would be held accountable for such, prepared to kill himself. At Paul’s beckoning, the jailer changed his mind. He asked the preachers a question, they answered, and in the end, he and his family were baptized (16:25-34). Let us look further.
- The jailer was blessed to have an opportunity to hear the gospel. Why did he have such a chance? Because God wants all people to be saved, and He sent His servants into Macedonia to proclaim His message of salvation. He had such an opportunity because Paul and Silas loved the souls of men. Such a blessing came to the prison keeper because Silas and Paul did not commit suicide when they faced persecution and unfair imprisonment. Rather than forsake God during their challenging hour of trial, His two servants were ready to teach the word! Thank God that those two men did not think, “There is no way that we will ever convert a jailer, so there is no use even trying.”
- The jailer asked the question of questions: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (16:30). There could not be a more important question for the human mind to contemplate! This question far outweighs the importance of all other questions, including where to live, how much money we will make, and where our bodies will be placed after we leave this world.
The man’s question showed interest. Sadly, many people do not care about such a question or the right answer to it. This man was different. He wanted to know. When you and I find people with such interest in spiritual matters, we need to be prepared to take advantage of the opportunity and try to teach them the truth. This man’s question implies that he understood that he was lost. Until people see their lost status, they will never see the need for Jesus, repentance, and submission to the Savior. The jailer’s question showed, too, that he recognized that he needed to do something. God’s salvation is a gift, but it is a conditional one.
- The jailer received God’s answer to his question: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (16:31). What Paul and Silas gave him was the Lord’s answer, not their own personal thoughts and not some handed-down tradition. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” In this case, the word “believe” is in the form of a command. The message was not, “If you believe . . .”; rather, it was a command to believe, just as Jesus had commanded the Jews to believe the gospel (Mark 1:15).
The answer “Believe on the Lord . . .” gave the general terms of salvation. To a number of individuals from non-biblical backgrounds, I have set forth the simple truth that if they desire to be saved, they must be believers in Jesus. If they expressed interest, we looked deeper into the matter. If one is going to become a follower of the Christ, he must know whom He is. A former blind man understood this truth, so he asked: “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” (John 9:36).
The jailer heard the basic terms of salvation, then the preachers continued and “spoke the word of the Lord to him” (16:32). Though not stated directly in the text of Acts 16, Silas and Paul’s message must have included the need for repentance (Acts 3:19; 17:30). The jailer’s salvation certainly was not the “faith only” salvation that the denominational world propagates. The kind of faith that saves is the faith that submits to Jesus in obedience (Hebrews 5:9).
The jailer and his family were baptized (16:33). When? After they heard the gospel message. Again, when were they baptized? The Bible says they did so “immediately” (16:33). Immediately in connection with what? Here is the order of events: the earthquake came at midnight, the preachers commanded the jailer to believe on Jesus, they further taught him and those who were in his house, at the same hour of the night the jailer took Silas and Paul and washed their stripes, then “immediately” the baptisms took place. When? After they understood and believed God’s message of salvation. When was that? Sometime well after midnight. There was no waiting on a good night’s rest, there was no delay to assemble everyone whom they knew, and there was no tarrying until a humanly selected “Baptism Day” could be scheduled and announced for all baptism candidates. Nope. They were baptized at that late hour (or early hour, depending on how you look at it). Why? Because until they did so, they were still lost in sin (Acts 22:16).
What a changed man the jailer was! He went from being ready to commit suicide to rejoicing in his salvation. The gospel calls people out of darkness into light. The gospel brings hope to the lives of lost people. What about your personal salvation, my friend?
— Roger D. Campbell