An Abrupt End To Acts; Or Is It?

Acts 28:16-…?

And when we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him. And it happened that after three days he called together those who were the leading men of the Jews, and when they had come together, he began saying to them, “Brethren, though I had done nothing against our people, or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. And when they had examined me, they were willing to release me because there was no ground for putting me to death. But when the Jews objected, I was forced to appeal to Caesar; not that I had any accusation against my nation. For this reason therefore, I requested to see you and to speak with you, for I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel.” And they said to him, “We have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren come here and reported or spoken anything bad about you. But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere.” And when they had set a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God, and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening. And some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe. And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word, “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, saying, ‘GO TO THIS PEOPLE AND SAY, “YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; AND YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE; FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL, AND WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR, AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES; LEST THEY SHOULD SEE WITH THEIR EYES, AND HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN, AND I SHOULD HEAL THEM.’ Let it be known to you therefore, that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.” [And when he had spoken these words, the Jews departed, having a great dispute among themselves. {Many mss. do not contain this verse​.}] And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters, and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.

I will not leave you in suspense; this is not an abrupt end to the book of Acts–far from it. To the astute observer, every title in our series on the book of Acts has begun with the definite article, however today’s missive begins with an indefinite article. The reason is because many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers argue an abrupt end to Acts because, in a way, it certainly does end abruptly but not for the reasons they believe. I wanted to showcase this assumed aspect of Acts right from the get-go. However, this angle of approach is manipulative and misleading to say the least. It is reading something in to the Scriptures rather than drawing out what was written. Let’s look at the context with a long view, putting aside our presumtions, presuppositions and preconceived notions, using the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics where; Context is King, Author’s Aspirations to his Audience are Apex, Genre is the General, Expository Exegesis of Examples Enlightens and Dividing Rightly the Word of Truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions.

The first agrument for an abrupt end to Acts is that the saga continues. That is, we live in a continuation of the book of Acts. All of the power and anointing of the apostles is available to us. Problem; Acts 28:11- the end of the book takes place well over the span of two years of time and neither tongues are heard nor miracles seen. Rather we we something similar as we have seen before but in its final consummation. But first, we see what unfolds in the final few paragraphs in this historical narrative. Keeping Luke’s words in there genre is important to ascertain his aspirations to his audience.

“And when we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.” Paul had more freedom in Rome as a prisoner than he did in Israel as a former Pharisee, sent to them by their God–who wasn’t their God at all. We read more about Paul’s imprisonment in Philippians: “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice.” This is not a pass for the mega-church pastors. We will come back to this; for now, we will keep considering the context.

“And it happened that after three days he called together those who were the leading men of the Jews, and when they had come together, he began saying to them, ‘Brethren, though I had done nothing against our people, or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. And when they had examined me, they were willing to release me because there was no ground for putting me to death. But when the Jews objected, I was forced to appeal to Caesar; not that I had any accusation against my nation. For this reason therefore, I requested to see you and to speak with you, for I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel.” Out of Israel, Paul makes one last plea to those who are from Israel–Jewish leaders living in Rome. He first gives them his testimony and is expecting them to have heard from Jerusalem about their judgement against him. Paul tells them his side of the story and awaits their response. Yet their response is somewhat startling from the response Paul had in Jerusalem–they had heard nothing. Paul was smuggled out of Jerusalem surronded by 270 men and imprisoned in Caeserea because assassins were laying in wait to murder Paul. The priests pursued Paul and tried to persuade Felix and Festus to kill him. But not a word of this reached Rome.

“And they said to him, ‘We have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren come here and reported or spoken anything bad about you. But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere.'” Don’t be decieved by their words, or words of mega-church pastors, or a cursory reading of this passage. The context is clear; the leading Jewish men in Rome are quite ignorant concerning the sect called “the Way,” and now, “christians.” As they are also ignorant about Paul and his views. Consider closely the continuing context; “We have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren come here and reported or spoken anything bad about you.” Like Sergeant Shultz in Hogan’s​ Heroes, they know nothing. Notice that they have heard rumors but know nothing concrete concerning this sect of christians; “for concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere.” The only inkling of knowledge they have is that the sect is spoken of negatively, everywhere. Nevertheless, they want to hear what Paul has to say. Without healings, miracles, signs, wonders or tongues, Paul gives them the facts.

“And when they had set a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God, and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening.” Once again, notice; no tongues or miracles but something else is missing–no New Testament. Yes, I know, that should go without saying. But here’s the but and it’s a big but; we have the New Testament. Once again, we have the New Testament. Paul continues to write in Rome and has seen marvelous signs and wonders, and testifies to these things but he uses the Law and the prophets to (notice this again) “persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening.” Surely Paul spoke of signs and wonders but Luke doesn’t tell us this, specifically. Rather his focus is on Moses and the prophets. From morning until the evening Paul reasoned with them. How long is that; 12 hours, 15 hours? Let’s assume for argument’s sake that they arrived before sun-up and left after its setting. Let’s also assume that Luke’s dates in Acts were incomplete so that we have no idea when this meeting took place. Let’s assume that it was on the summer solstice and that they were meeting for 16 hours. Is this a long enough time for Paul to preach Jesus from Leviticus alone, aside from Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Genesis, Judges, Ruth and the rest? I believe that we can safely assume that most of what Paul preached was from their sacred Scriptures. Again, no speaking in tongues, no miracles and no signs are recorded but what is recorded is the reasoning of Christ, from the incomplete Bible. How much easier do we have it because of Paul, Peter, John, Jude, James and the Gospels?

Even though he reasoned with them for a long time, ironically enough, Paul retained one reading in reserve, notice: “And some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe. And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word, “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, saying, ‘GO TO THIS PEOPLE AND SAY, “YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; AND YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE; FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL, AND WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR, AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES; LEST THEY SHOULD SEE WITH THEIR EYES, AND HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN, AND I SHOULD HEAL THEM.’ Let it be known to you therefore, that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.”

Do we listen or do we need signs and wonders? Remember Doubting Thomas? Poor guy, he said one thing which ended up defining him in our minds as “the doubter.” Do you remember the exchange between Thomas and Jesus after Thomas said that he wouldn’t believe until he felt the nail wounds of Jesus after an alleged resurection? It proves that there was a resurection and that Jesus is the Lord God. “And after eight days again His disciples were inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst, and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing.’ Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.'” It’s a small stab at the unbelief of Thomas but Jesus did appear to him and the other ten, showing them his wounds. Nevertheless there is also the beatitude towards those who haven’t seen and yet believed. My question is why are we so obsessed with signs and wonders that we resemble apostate Israel? Think about what Mark wrote concerning this; “Jesus sighed deeply in His spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation demand a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” In an utterly undeniable irony of ironies, the dogmatic dispensationalists argue, rather, dogmatically demand, that “this generation” spoken of by Jesus, is this generation alive now, after the rebirth of the Nation Israel and they tell us to look at all the obvious and undeniable signs. Matthew and Luke tell a similar story as Mark does; hence the synoptic gospels. However, what does John write about this? Not in his gospel but in the letters to the seven churches which were spoken by Jesus.

“I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false.” “The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.'” Jesus was referring to the people present at his crucifixion and those who mislead and persecuted the early church. If one insists on ignoring the strong internal evidence and stronger external evidence that Revelation was written prior to 70 AD, and rather chooses to believe the ambiguous evidence recorded by one a person who claims that Jesus was 50 years old when he was killed, consider; John was still alive and he witnessed the crucifixion. Let the Bible interpret the Bible. Paul was still preaching the cross to Jewish people but he will never return to Jerusalem. Paul no longer uses signs and wonders to prove Jesus was the Messiah but uses reasoning from an exegesis of the Old Testament, letting the Bible interpret the Bible and some believe while others don’t.

Notice another interesting tidbit that we know, that we see, but we rarely put the pieces together; Paul was charged with a capital crime but was not behind bars or thrown into a deep, dark, dank dungeon. Rather he was guarded in his own, rented space. “And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters, and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.” We have also read, “And when we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.”

Paul’s last stand recorded with the leaders of the Jewish people is bookended by a description of Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. Yet as a prisoner in Rome he has not only more freedom than he had as a former Pharisee in Jerusalem but he is actually guarded. Yes, it is so that he can’t escape but it is also so that the emporer can preserve his prized prisoner. Paul is protected from outside foes because he has appealed to Caesar. We in the west could learn a thing or two from Rome, good and bad. Those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it and history repeats itself because we don’t learn from history. Acts is a historical narrative in which we see the early, Jewish believers building a body of other believers, from the Jews first and then to Samaria and then to all peoples. We see speaking in tongues in the early church as it relates to the judgment against Jewish nonbelievers, as well as signs and wonders. We have seen those in Jerusalem sell property to help other struggling believers. We have seen persecution, famine, rumors of wars, fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and signs in the heavens. We have seen death and resurrection, the overthrow of leaders and the absolute hatred of Christians. While we have not seen the culmination of Matthew 24, the Olivet Discourse, we certainly have seen the beginning of birth pangs. Yet we have also seen the end of recorded tongues and miracles but the beginning of Biblical hermeneutics and exegesis being forefront. Acts does not end abruptly but takes place over two years time.

“And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters, and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.” It is short, sweet, to the point and ends without an apparent apex, climax or crescendo. Nevertheless it covers two, full years. Look again; “And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters, and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.” Paul was not recorded as speaking in tongues or performing miracles but as preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. Simply because a statement is short neither means that it is abrupt or unimportant. Look at it for what it is an see Luke’s aspiration to his audience. Rather than an abrupt ending, Luke recalled historically that after the dust settled in Paul’s life, he had peace and freedom for a period in which he welcomed many people and preached Jesus and the kingdom in his own rented home. We look back to the hiatus on Malta after the shipwreck in the middle of Paul’s journey and realize that the rest he received was probably to pivot Paul’s priorities, preparing him to preach in Rome.

The historical book of Acts ends with Paul, a prisoner, leading a simple life in Rome, far from Jerusalem. In Rome Paul lives in his own rented home, under the praetorian guard, no less. He writes to people from this place and preaches to Jew and Greek alike and has appealed  to Caesar to defend himself before him. Does this remind you of anyone or another time? Perhaps more than one Biblically historic person comes to mind. However we see a huge difference between Paul and the other historical figures. Perhaps this is why we believe that Acts comes to an abrupt end. The book of Daniel comes to an abrupt end as well. Yet we still see the similarities in situations between Daniel and Paul but also the differences. Both wrote, both were taken prisoner from Jerusalem, both prophesied about a man of lawlessness, both conversed with the king’s gaurd, both stood before kings, both saw visions and both are also similar to Joseph. Sometimes, even being an astute observer of history doesn’t mean history doesn’t repeat itself. But Daniel was different than Joseph and Paul was different from Daniel, and Joseph and Paul differ from each other, even though the similarities are stunning. The biggest difference is that Paul chose to leave Israel as a prisoner. Think about this as you…

Now that would be an abrupt end. But we have to understand that the book of Acts does end with preaching and teaching and not tongues and miracles. Miracles and healings happen everyday but not as we have seen them in Acts. The mega-church pastors promise healings and miracles of increase but don’t preach the word of God. Sure some are saved regardless of the improper and false teachings of the mega-church pastors. As the praetorian guard and others spread the name of Jesus in Rome, whether by good pretensions or bad, it doesn’t make the false teachers true teachers. On the contrary; they will be held to the highest of standards–“let not many of you be teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgement.” Paul uses the Old Testament tutor to point to Jesus and his kingdom, according to the aspiration of Luke. Think about it, these are Luke’s last words and he simply states, after all that he has seen and recorded; “And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters, and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.” That’s apex, that’s climax and that is the crescendo–Jesus and his kingdom. It’s not a “to be continued” but an absolute end. There is nothing left but learning about Jesus and proclaiming Christ, building his kingdom through his Spirit. Everyone wants to experience God. If you desperately desire to experience God, pray for patience and then you will experience God. We don’t need tongues or signs, we have the completed Scripture and this includes the book of Acts, which we have now read and considered the context therein, certainly not exhaustively but hitting the highlights.

I know what you are thinking, “Russell P, you can’t stop there, surely you have more to say about mega-church pastors and dogmatic dispensationalists.” Of course I do and have no intention of ending abruptly but consider the context and then think about the mega-church pastors proclamations and the dubious dogma of the dispensationalists. Signs, wonders, healings, and wealth on the one hand and Jesus is right at the door to rapture his church on the other hand. Yet Luke’s aspiration and conclusion of his great book about the Acts of the apostles is Paul, away from Jerusalem, preaching Jesus and the kingdom, unhindered for two years in the beast of Revelation. The culmination of Luke’s aspiration is for the reader to see this and not that. Old Testament = Jesus. New Testament = Jesus. Stop worshiping tongues and signs and start worshipping Jesus. Or we too will likewise perish like the Pharisees and Sadducees. Once again notice; “he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God, and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.” See the Law and prophets fulfilled in Jesus not by headlines from the middle east.

 

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