10. Paul's Imprisonment, Release, and Death (Acts 24-28, 57-65 AD)

Audio (1:09:49)

Rembrandt, 'St. Paul in Prison' (1627), oil on panel, Staatsgalarie, Stuttgart, Germany.

In Lesson 9.2 we saw Paul has been assaulted in the temple at Jerusalem. Only the intervention of a detachment of Roman soldiers saves him from death. Paul addresses the crowds -- under Roman protection. And when a plot against his life is revealed, a strong band of cavalry and foot soldiers takes him at night to safety in Caesarea (Acts 21:27-33). That's where we pick up the story.

10.1. Imprisonment in Caesarea (57-59 AD)

For the next two years (57-59 AD), Paul is kept under guard in Herod's palace in Caesarea (Acts 23:34-35) as the politicians -- Roman governors and Jewish kings -- seek to use Paul to gain political advantage with the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. His imprisonment isn't about justice, but about preventing discontent from turning into open rebellion among the Jews. So Paul is neither formally charged nor released. Acts spends several chapters on this which I'll try to summarize and interpret.

Trial before Governor Felix (Acts 24)

Five days pass before a contingent from Jerusalem comes to present its charges before Felix the Roman governor.

The high priest, Ananias (47-59 AD), son of Nedebaeus leads the delegation. Ananias had a reputation for greed and gluttony. He had been appointed by King Herod of Chalcis in 47 AD, a political appointment by a Jewish king. Ananias, according to F.F. Bruce, "was one of the most disgraceful profaners of the sacred office."[425] For example, he seizes tithes intended for the common priests and uses them to increase his own wealth, a paragon of greed. He had been sent to Rome, accused by the governor of Syria of acts of violence in 52 AD, but was acquitted by emperor Claudius and returned to the high priesthood. Even after he is deposed from office, he uses his great wealth to get his way through violence and assassination. Because he is pro-Roman, however, he is put to death by Jewish zealots at the beginning of the Jewish rebellion against Rome in 66 AD.

The high priest's spokesman is a Jewish lawyer, Tertullus, evidently a Hellenistic Jew, since his name is a common one in the Greek world. He is a skilled orator.

The governor, Antonius Felix, is procurator of Judea (52-59 AD), filling the position once held by Pontius Pilate (26-36 AD). He is a Roman of common origins, but elevated because his brother happened to be in the court of Emperor Claudius. As governor, in a time of increased uprisings among the Jews, he becomes known for his ruthlessness. Roman historian Tacitus (56-120 AD) says about the man: "Antonius Felix, indulging in every kind of barbarity and lust, exercised the power of a king in the spirit of a slave."[426]

Charges against Paul

The lawyer Tertullus begins his presentation with a flourish of undeserved flattery of the corrupt Felix. Then he lays out the charges. According to Tertullus, Paul is a:

  1. Troublemaker,[427] a public menace, stirring up riots[428] among the Jews wherever he goes. While "troublemaker" sounds overly general to us, one who causes riots and sedition is a threat to the Roman peace. It would be a serious charge before a Roman procurator, if it could be substantiated.
  2. Ringleader of Nazarene sect. The term "sect" as  used here is not a pejorative term. It means "party, school, faction," a group that holds tenets distinctive to it,[429] also applied to the Sadducees (Acts 5:17) and the Pharisees (Acts 15:5).
  3. Attempted to desecrate[430] the temple.

Paul offers a few nice words of his own towards Felix, and then explains the details, denying that he was "arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city" (Acts 24:12). Paul asserts that his accusers can't prove their charge of him being a "troublemaker" (charge #1). Paul admits being "a follower of the Way" (charge #2), but asserts that he is a conscientious Pharisee, was ceremonially clean when he entered the temple, and didn't cause a disturbance (charge #3). Felix puts off any decision until he hears from Lysias, the Jerusalem tribune.

"He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs." (Acts 24:23)

Paul is under guard, but not in a dungeon. His food is supplied by Christian friends in Caesarea.

Felix, a corrupt governor, isn't interested in justice, but in what will benefit him. So he keeps Paul around, hoping Paul or his friends will come up with a bribe (Acts 24:26). Luke notes that Felix is "well acquainted with the Way." But Felix and his wife Drusilla, who is Jewish, enjoy talking with Paul. It's entertaining. And Paul uses the opportunity to tell the governor about Jesus.

"[Felix] sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, 'That's enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.'" (Acts 24:24-25)

Felix is uncomfortable when Paul talks about righteousness and judgment. Such talk is not "convenient."[431] But then Felix brings him back "frequently"[432] for discussions over the next two years, so long as Felix remains as governor. Paul's passion for Jesus fascinates him, but he never commits to faith in Christ. Felix fits Paul's description to Timothy as one who is "always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 3:7, ESV).

Instead of releasing Paul, as would be just, Felix keeps Paul in prison "to grant a favor to the Jews." To Felix, Paul is a political pawn in the Roman occupation of Judea -- and an interesting fellow to converse with. Little more.

Paul's Hearing before Governor Porcius Festus (Acts 25:1-12)

Governor Felix is succeeded as procurator in 59 AD by Porcius Festus. According to Josephus, Festus is a prudent and honorable governor. He succeeds somewhat in ridding the province of the Sicarii, robbers who would descend upon a village, plunder it, set it on fire, and murder whomever they wish. However, he is governor for only two years, and then is succeeded by a new and hapless governor, Albinus.[433]

Soon after Festus arrives as governor of Judea, he spends several days in Jerusalem, where the Jewish leaders present their charges against Paul. They want Paul returned to Jerusalem because, Luke tells us, "they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way" (Acts 25:3). Festus invites the Jewish leaders to Caesarea to present their charges before him officially. Luke says that they brought "many serious charges against him, which they could not prove" (Acts 25:7).

Festus wants to do a favor to the Jews and cement good relations with them, so he asks Paul if he is willing to go to Jerusalem to face the charges -- before Festus, not the Sanhedrin, but in Jerusalem. Paul is aware of the Jews' plot to ambush him, so he refuses to go to Jerusalem. With Festus wanting to go along with the Jews' request, Paul feels he has no choice. Roman justice in Caesarea has been subverted by the Romans' desire to keep the Jews happy, thus easier to govern. Paul won't find justice here. So he declares:

"If the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!" (Acts 25:11b)

Paul now officially invokes his right as a Roman citizen to have his trial before Caesar (or Caesar's representative) in Rome. Festus confers with his advisors, and seeing no way to get around Paul's rights and still please the Jews, declares officially, "You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go" (Acts 25:12).

Paul's Hearing before King Agrippa and Bernice (Acts 25:13-26:32)

The next official to appear on the scene is King Herod Agrippa II and his sister Bernice. The Roman procurator is the highest authority in Judea, but he rules through Jewish kings who have been set in place by Rome. Agrippa is the eighth and last king of the Herodian dynasty. After ruling the kingdom of Chacis (50-53 AD), Claudius grants Agrippa II the tetrarchy of Philip -- Abilene, Trachonitis, and Arca in 53 AD. A couple of years later, Nero gives him further cities in Galilee and Perea. It is rumored that he has an incestuous relationship with his sister Bernice, who is widowed and lives in his palace. Later, she becomes the mistress of Emperor Titus, creating a scandal in Rome. Since King Agrippa II has the right to appoint high priests, the Romans consult him on religious matters. When the Jews revolt against the Romans in 69 AD, Agrippa sides with Rome against the Jews.[434] That's his background.

In Acts 25, the new governor Festus explains to King Agrippa what happened when he consulted with the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. They haven't charged him with any real crimes, he says. "Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive" (Acts 25:19). Festus isn't sure what to do with him.

King Agrippa II and Bernice express a desire to hear Paul's defense, so Festus welcomes them to help him decide what to write when he sends him on to Rome.

Paul addresses King Agrippa directly, acknowledging his acquaintance with Jewish customs and controversies. He identifies himself as a Pharisee and mentions his hope of resurrection (verses 7b-8) as one of the reasons he is being accused by the (mainly Sadducee) Jewish leaders and chief priests.

Then he relates his story -- how he persecuted Christians and how he was converted on the road to Damascus, which we considered in detail in Lesson 1.2. He tells of the bright light, Jesus' words to him, and his commission to the Gentiles,

"... To open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me." (Acts 26:18)

Paul explains that he has been obedient to Jesus, preaching everywhere that people "should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds" (Acts 26:20). For this, Paul says, the Jews seized me and tried to kill me, but God has helped him.

"So I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen -- that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles." (Acts 26:22a-23)

Paul is stirred as he proclaims the good news of the Messiah to the king and governor and assembled officials. But Festus, the pagan Roman governor, interrupts Paul by shouting:

"You are out of your mind, Paul! Your great learning is driving you insane." (Acts 26:24).

Though he uses the Greek word mania, Festus isn't making a psychiatric diagnosis.[435] Rather, in an attempt to stop Paul's powerful witness, he suggests that Paul has become a fanatic, a way of discrediting what he is saying.

Paul, the veteran of many dialogs in Jewish synagogues over the years, counters respectfully,

"I am not insane,[436] most excellent Festus. What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner." (Acts 26:26)

In other words, as a Roman, Festus, you may not understand Jewish history, but King Agrippa does. So now Paul appeals to the Jewish king himself, questioning him directly about his faith:

"King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do." (Acts 26:27)

The questioners are becoming the ones questioned. Agrippa pushes back.

"Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?" (Acts 26:28)

Paul doesn't miss a beat.

"Short time or long -- I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains." (Acts 26:29)

Notice that King Agrippa uses the word "Christian," which had become a term to describe believers some years before in Antioch (Acts 11:26). While the term "Christian" is rare in the New Testament, Peter also uses the term (1 Peter 4:16).

The interview is over. Paul has turned it around to calling both the governor and the king to faith. Rather than continue, they get up and leave. They agree, however, on Paul's legal status:

"This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment... This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar." (Acts 26:31-32)

Should Paul Have Appealed to Caesar?

This raises the question of whether it was really wise for Paul to appeal to Caesar. I think it was necessary. No matter how the governor and king speak in legal niceties, neither of them is a just and righteous man. Governor Festus and Felix before him use Paul as a political pawn in their quest to maintain peace in Judea by placating the Jews. Nor does King Agrippa defend Paul. They maintain the corrupt status quo. Paul needs to appeal to Caesar to avoid being assassinated by the Jews. I don't think Paul had much choice.

But in it all, God is working out his will that Paul will testify before Caesar in Rome, as the Lord has already revealed to him (Acts 23:11). This might not be the way Paul would have chosen, but it is God's way. I recall Joseph's words to his brothers just after the death of their father Jacob. Of course, Joseph's brothers had sold him into slavery:

"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." (Genesis 50:20)

Paul himself teaches us,

"We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)

No matter what situation you find yourself in, God knows, and God is able to work out his wonderful will as you continue to love and trust him, and seek his purposes rather than your own.

10.2. Voyage to Rome (59-60 AD)

Map: Paul's Voyage to Rome (Acts 27-28, Sep 59 to Feb 60 AD).
Map: Paul's Voyage to Rome (Acts 27-28, Sep 59 to Feb 60 AD). (larger map)

Paul sails to Rome under the watch of a centurion named Julius, part of the Imperial Regiment. He seems to be a legionary centurion with several soldiers under him on the voyage, in charge of Paul and other prisoners headed for Rome.

Bruce notes that the ship they embark on is a "coasting vessel," sailing from port to port along the Mediterranean coast, rather than a sea-going vessel that would venture out into the sea.

Paul's ship sails from Caesarea, stops at Sidon, and then goes north of Cyprus, landing at Myra. At the port of Myra in the province of Lycia, the centurion secures passage on "an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy" (Acts 27:6). This ship is part of Rome's state-owned grain fleet, bringing much-needed grain from Egypt to Rome. Since it is a state-owned enterprise, Julian the centurion is the highest ranked person aboard, and has some say in the voyage.[437] Paul, as a Roman citizen who has appealed to the emperor, also seems to have a high status whose voice is often heeded.

It is late in the season for such a voyage. By now, a strong northwest wind is blowing, making it difficult for them to move west along the coast of Asia Minor. They reach as far the port of Cnidus.

Shelter at the Island of Crete (Acts 27:7-15).

Map: Paul's voyage to Crete (Acts 27:7-15, September 59 AD).
Map: Paul's voyage to Crete (Acts 27:7-15, September 59 AD). (larger map)
Fair Havens, Crete (Kaloi Limenes; Acts 27:8-12).
Fair Havens, Crete (Kaloi Limenes; Acts 27:8-12) (larger map)

Instead of waiting there for a fair wind, they sail due south to Crete, clearing Solmone, the eastern-most part of Crete (present Cape Sidero), and then sail along the lee[438] of the island to be sheltered from the strong northwest wind. The first harbor from the wind they find is at Fair Havens, a small bay protected by two islands. They wait for favorable winds, but it becomes clear that they won't be able to complete their voyage to Rome this season. Luke notes that it is already past "the Fast," that is, the Day of Atonement, which in 59 AD fell on October 5th. Paul warns them of impending disaster if they continue, but they don't listen.

Fair Havens doesn't provide enough protection for the ship to winter in. The only suitable location in the south of Crete is at Phoenix, the present Loutro Bay. And so the majority decide to sail west along the coast of Crete in an attempt to get to that harbor. A few miles west of Fair Havens is Cape Matala. Beyond the Cape a ship would have to turn sharply north to maintain its protection from the northwest wind.

Phoenix Harbor, Crete (Loutro Bay; Acts 27:12).
Phoenix Harbor, Crete (Loutro Bay; Acts 27:12). (larger map)

The Storm and Shipwreck (Acts 27:13-44)

When they set sail from Fair Havens there seems to have been a gentle breeze, since they are protected by the island, but as soon as they pass Cape Matala, and lose the protection of the nearby shore and cliffs, a hurricane-force wind hits them and drives them away from Crete and safety. In the lee of the island of Cauda (or Clauda, present Gavdos), they are able to pull their lifeboat aboard, and put ropes around the ship's hull to keep it from coming apart. They lower the gear (the main mast, or, perhaps, sea anchor), [439] fearing that if they are blown along at this rate they will run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis (which lie to the west of Cyrene, along the North African coast).

But having done what they can, they are at the mercy of the storm. The next day they begin to throw cargo overboard to lighten the ship, then the tackle.[440] They are blown across the Mediterranean for two weeks. (Note: In earlier times this part of the Mediterranean was referred to as the Sea of Adria, Acts 27:27.)

Then, when all hope is lost, an angel appears to Paul and says:

"Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given[441] you the lives of all who sail with you." (Acts 27:24)

Paul shares this with those on board and they are encouraged to take food and prepare for grounding on some island.

Luke tells the exciting story of the shipwreck -- soundings showing the water growing shallow, the sailors trying to escape in the lifeboat, and then Paul's encouragement:

"For the last fourteen days, you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food -- you haven't eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head." (Acts 27:33-34)

They believe him and take food. Then they throw the grain -- their most valuable cargo -- overboard, having thrown other cargo overboard weeks before. The ship strikes a sandbar and begins to break up in the surf. But all 276 souls on board swim or grab onto floating planks and make it to shore. All are saved!

They come ashore at "a bay with a sandy beach," on Malta, known today as St. Paul's Bay.

Healing Ministry in Malta (Acts 28:1-10)

Map: Paul's Shipwreck on Malta (September 59 AD, Acts 27:27-28:10).
Map: Paul's Shipwreck on Malta (September 59 AD, Acts 27:27-28:10). (larger map)

They are well-received by the islanders. Paul is bit by a viper believed poisonous by the natives, but when he suffers no ill effects, they begin to think he is a god.

Since the centurion has considerable rank, he and Paul's associates are entertained at the estate of Publius, the chief official on Malta. Luke relates:

"8  His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. 9  When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured." (Acts 28:8-9)

When Paul heals Publius's father, word spreads and the whole island brings its sick to be healed. I have no doubt that Paul uses the opportunity to preach the good news of Jesus, Savior and Healer.

When it is time to sail, the islanders supply them with what they need, since everything they own has been lost in the shipwreck. They take passage on another grain ship that had wintered in Malta, probably in one of the two good harbors at Valletta. It is now about February 60 AD.

On to Rome (Acts 28:11-16)

Map: Paul's Voyage to Rome (Acts 27-28, Sep 59 to Feb 60 AD).
Map: Paul's Voyage to Rome (Acts 27-28, Sep 59 to Feb 60 AD). (larger map)

The rest of the trip to Rome is uneventful. Their ship stops at Syracuse, a port on the east coast of Sicily. Then on to Rhegium, at the tip of the "boot" of Italy. Then on to Puteoli (present-day Pozzuoli), the Roman port for the Alexandrian grain ships. After a week's stay with friends, the centurion and Paul's party travel along the Appian Way towards Rome. Christian believers, who hear they are coming, travel to the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to greet Paul. Paul is not a convicted criminal, so when they get to Rome, Paul isn't housed in a jail, but rather in a house he has rented, though he is constantly guarded by a soldier (Acts 28:16, 30).

Paul Preaches to the Jews in Rome (Acts 28:17-29)

There is a Christian congregation in Rome that Paul had addressed in his Letter to the Romans. But apparently it is primarily a Gentile congregation. So the first thing Paul does when he arrives is to reach out to the Jewish community.

Paul can't go to the synagogue, but they can come to him. He explains what had happened in Jerusalem and blames his arrest on "the Jews" of Jerusalem, forcing him to appeal to Caesar. The Roman Jews seem genuinely interested.

"We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of the brothers who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. But we want to hear what your views[442] are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect."[443] (Acts 28:21-22)

Paul assures them that he is a loyal Jew, not a heretic.

"It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain." (Acts 28:20)

The "hope of Israel" would include both that the Messiah would be the king of the world and the resurrection of the dead.[444] So he invites the Jews to come and hear the whole story. On the appointed day, even larger numbers come to hear what he will say.

"From morning till evening he explained[445] and declared[446] to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince[447] them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets." (Acts 28:23b-24)

Just as he has done in city synagogues in Syria, Galatia, Macedonia, Greece, and Asia, Paul preaches Christ as the one who fulfills the Old Testament prophecies, who has died for our sins and raised from the dead.

Jewish Unbelief (Acts 28:25-28)

In the end, some believe, but most don't.

"24 Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. 25  They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: 'The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your forefathers when he said through Isaiah the prophet:

"26  Go to this people and say,
You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
27  For this people's heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn,
and I would heal them." [quoting Isaiah 6:9-10]

28  Therefore I want you to know that God's salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!'" (Acts 28:17-28)

Structure of the Book of Acts

This is almost the end of Acts. The book, of course, begins with an outline verse:

"You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

Acts 1-8 describe the gospel being declared to the Jews in Jerusalem and Judea. In Acts 9 the Jews reject the gospel, and persecution begins, led, ironically, by Paul himself. In Acts 10-12, then the gospel goes to Gentiles in Caesarea, to Samaria, and to Gentiles in Antioch. Then in Acts 13-28, the focus is on Paul and his companions as they bring the gospel to the great Gentile cities of the known world in Galatia, Macedonia, Greece, and Asia, and now finally to Rome. Acts 1:8 has been fulfilled.

Luke uses this prophecy from Isaiah 6:9-10 about "ever hearing but never understanding," as a kind of concluding statement. Indeed, Jesus quoted the same passage to explain why he spoke in parables (Matthew 13:14-15 = Mark 4:12 = Luke 8:10 = John 12:40).

By and large, the Jews have heard the gospel -- "to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16) -- but have rejected it. As Peter puts it:

"They stumble because they disobey the message -- which is also what they were destined for." (1 Peter 2:8).

All Israel Will Be Saved (Romans 11:25-32)

But this isn't the last word on the subject. In Romans 9, 10, and 11, Paul suffers anguish because his people, the Jews, have rejected the gospel, but he holds forth the hope and promise of the Scriptures that in the end they will receive the Messiah. Not now, but eventually, in God's time. As we saw in Lesson 4.5 (The New Israel of God), God isn't finished with Israel.

"I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved...." (Romans 11:25-26a)

The great apostle to the Gentiles has hope for his people, the Jews, in spite of all the suffering he has experienced at their hands. That time will take place, I expect, in conjunction with the Second Coming of Christ.

Paul's First Imprisonment in Rome (Acts 28:30-31, 60-62 AD)

Paul is under house arrest in Rome. "Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him." (Acts 28:16). But within these constraints, he is free to conduct his ministry in person and by letter. The book of Acts concludes:

"30  For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31  Boldly[448] and without hindrance[449] he preached[450] the kingdom of God and taught[451] about the Lord Jesus Christ." (Acts 28:30-31)

For these two years, he is chained to a Roman guard, one of several who rotate through shifts. As a result, over time, many soldiers are converted. If Philippians was written during Paul's Roman imprisonment (as I think likely), then he not only had a letter-writing ministry, but also a personal ministry to those around him.

"As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ." (Philippians 1:13)

But in spite of the inconvenience of being chained to a guard, Paul carries on a rather active ministry, with many people coming and going. This is how the Acts of the Apostles ends: Paul is in the heart of the Roman Empire, declaring the gospel openly, with the full knowledge of the Roman government -- a victory!

10.3. Paul's Release in 62 AD

Presumably Paul would have had a hearing before Caesar (Acts 27:24) at the end of this period. The possible results might be: (1) conviction and execution, (2) conviction and much stricter confinement, (3) exile from Rome, or (4) Paul's accusers don't appear and his case is dismissed.[452] Perhaps the significance of the "two years" of Acts 28:30 is that it is the statutory time that Paul's accusers have to bring their case before the emperor before the case is dismissed. We're not sure.[453]

At any rate, there seems to be a firm Christian tradition that Paul was released for a time before his final execution. Eusebius, writing around 300 AD says:

"After pleading his cause, he is said to have been sent again upon the ministry of preaching."[454]

Jerome writes in 392 AD, that at the end of his first imprisonment,

"Paul was dismissed by Nero, that the gospel of Christ might be preached also in the West."[455]

I think Paul's release in 62 AD is likely. If, as Christian tradition holds, Paul is executed by Nero following the great fire in Rome (64 AD, which we'll discuss in a moment), then Paul has at least two years unaccounted for, from 62 to 64 AD, and perhaps more.

Paul's Ministry from 62 to 64 AD

 What is Paul doing after his supposed release from prison in 62 AD? Here it gets pretty fuzzy, since there are only hints in the New Testament, and specifics in early Christian tradition are rather general -- and sometimes conflicting.

Map: Paul's Possible Mission to Spain (63 AD?, Romans 15:24, 28).
Map: Paul's Possible Mission to Spain (63 AD?, Romans 15:24, 28). (larger map)

Ministry in Spain. One tantalizing possibility is that Paul goes to Spain, and preaches there in fulfillment of his wish expressed in Romans 15:24, 28. Clement, bishop of Rome 88-99 AD, says:

"After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects" [or "given his testimony before the rulers"].[456]

The "extreme limit of the west" probably indicates Spain. There is evidence of early Christian work in Spain.[457] This is also supported by the Muratorian Canon (170 AD). The apocryphal Acts of Peter, a gnostic work dated about 180 AD, provides some detail about St. Paul departing to Spain from the Roman harbor of Ostia.[458] As capital of the Roman province of Spain, Tarragona would have been the most likely city for Paul's mission to Spain, and there are some late traditions in that city that support this scenario.[459]

Map: Paul's Aegean Ministry following his first Roman imprisonment (62-65 AD).
Map: Paul's Aegean Ministry following his first Roman imprisonment (62-65 AD). (larger map)

Ministry Around the Aegean Sea. The Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus) seem to have been written after Paul's Roman imprisonment, and offer some tantalizing clues to Paul's activities.[460] We're not sure of Paul's location when he writes 1 Timothy and Titus (though 2 Timothy is written from prison in Rome at the end of his life[461]). Here are some snippets that suggest a ministry around the Aegean Sea:

"As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer" (1 Timothy 1:3)

 "Although I hope to come to you [in Ephesus] soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed...." (1 Timothy 3:14-15)

"The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you." (Titus 1:5)

"As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there." (Titus 3:12)

"When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments." (2 Timothy 4:13)

"Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus." (2 Timothy 4:20)

Exactly where Paul goes and when is a mystery we can't unravel. But it seems to me that probably Paul went to Spain and conducted a ministry in the Aegean area from about 62 to 64 or 65 AD.

10.4. Paul's Final Days and a Christian View of Death

Rome Burns; Christians Are Blamed

Now an event occurs that has a major impact on the Christian movement -- especially in Rome. Rome burns! On the night of July 18-19, 64 AD a fire begins in the region of the Roman circus and consumes half the city before it is brought under control after six days. Various stories circulate about its cause. Several have Nero responsible. Some record him playing his lyre as he watches the fire. Others have him out of town in Antium. Others credit it to an accident.[462] Roman historian Tacitus tells us that after the fire, Nero brings in food supplies and opens places to accommodate the refugees. Of Rome's fourteen districts only four remain intact. Three are leveled to the ground. The other seven are reduced to a few scorched and mangled ruins.

It is a terrible tragedy! But then it gets blamed on the Christians. According to Roman historian Tacitus (56-120 AD), the public believes that the fire is the result of an order by Nero. Here is Tacitus's conclusion, penned about 117 AD:

"Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace.

Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.

Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.

Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed."[463]

Paul apparently isn't convicted by accusations of the Jews that brought him to Rome to be tried before Nero about 60-62 AD. But after the terrible fire that consumes much of Rome, anyone considered as a leader of the Christians in Rome would be subject to arrest and death, whether or not he is a Roman citizen. We assume that Paul is arrested and is in custody in Rome sometime in 64 or 65 AD.

The film, "Paul, Apostle of Christ" (2018, Sony Pictures), depicts with stark vividness the Christian community in Rome undergoing this horror. The film opens with Paul, condemned and confined in a dungeon underground in the infamous Mamertine Prison in Rome. According to tradition, prisoners were lowered through an opening into the lower dungeon.[464] Both St. Peter and St. Paul are imprisoned there, according to tradition.

Enduring Hardship (2 Timothy)

Paul's final letter is 2 Timothy, probably written from this Mamertine Prison. It is addressed to Timothy, who is still leading the church in Ephesus. Paul seeks to encourage his protégé Timothy, who may have been wavering, perhaps cowed a bit by the prospect of persecution.

"Do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner." (2 Timothy 1:8)

Paul knows the reason why he is suffering and is unashamed.

"Of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day." (2 Timothy 1:11-12)

Nor is suffering new to him. Suffering has been part of Paul's life since his calling in Damascus some thirty years before, when the Lord had told Ananias about him: "I will show him how much he must suffer for my name" (Acts 9:16) Paul reminds Timothy that God is faithful even in tough times.

"10  You ... know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11  persecutions, sufferings -- what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12  In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Timothy 3:10-12)

And so Paul calls on Timothy not to be afraid. Suffering is something soldiers must endure.

"Endure hardship[465] with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 2:3, NIV)

"Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 2:3, ESV)

Dear friends, we so pamper ourselves. We avoid persecution by being silent, and then tell ourselves we are being prudent. God help us to act like soldiers, not wimps!

Q1. (2 Timothy 2:3; 3:10-12; 4:7) Why are we quieted so quickly by mild societal disapproval of our witness? What would enduring hardship "like a good soldier of Christ" look like in your life? What would it look like to "fight the good fight" for you?

Paul's Loneliness at the End (2 Timothy 4:9-11, 16-18)

Paul is feeling alone. He calls Timothy to come to him, and to bring a cloak and some parchments he had left behind in Troas.

"9  Do your best to come to me quickly, 10  for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. 11  Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry." (2 Timothy 4:9-11)

Paul describes his first hearing before his accusers.

"16  At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. 17  But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion's mouth. 18  The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (2 Timothy 4:16-18)

Nobody speaks favorably about Paul at his first hearing, no doubt fearful that anyone associated with him will be subject to death as well. Though he is condemned, yet he is able to declare the message of the gospel on this occasion, to witness to Jesus.

The Time for My Departure Has Come (2 Timothy 4:6)

Paul compares his death to a drink offering before the Lord.

"For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure." (2 Timothy 4:6)

This figure of "being poured out like a drink offering"[466] comes from the Old Testament (Numbers 28:7; Philippians 2:17). Paul is willing to be poured out to the last drop for his Lord.

The word for "departure" means "loosening up," and carries images of breaking up a camp or loosening a ship from its moorings for departure. It is a euphemism of "departure from life, death." [467] Paul senses that the time has come. 

Finishing the Race Well (2 Timothy 4:7)

US 2004 postage stamp by Richard Sheaff and Lonnie Busch reminiscent of ancient Greek black-figure vases, such as a terracotta panathenaic amphora (ca. 530 BC) attributed to the Euphiletos painter, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
US 2004 postage stamp by Richard Sheaff and Lonnie Busch reminiscent of ancient Greek black-figure vases, such as a terracotta panathenaic amphora (ca. 530 BC) attributed to the Euphiletos painter, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

A few years earlier, he had said to the Ephesian elders on the beach at Miletus,

"I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me -- the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace." (Acts 20:24)

Now he has come to the end of this long and arduous race. His life has not been a sprint but a marathon.

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:7)

Paul uses athletic metaphors in these passages. "Fought" is originally, "to engage in a contest," then is used generally as, "to fight, struggle."[468] The contest referred to is probably a race, so "fight the good fight" would mean "that he ... has been running in the noblest, grandest race of them all -- the ministry of the gospel."[469] He has finished[470] his racecourse.[471]

The phrase, "I have kept the faith" uses the word tēreō, "to cause a state, condition, or activity to continue, keep, hold, reserve, preserve someone or something," of holding on to something so as not to give it up or lose it.[472] I think of the stirring exhortation in Hebrews that refers to the stadium filled with observers eagerly watching the outcome:

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." (Hebrews 12:1)

I have often thought that Paul's words, along with the words of Jesus, would make a good epitaph for a Christian man or woman at the end of a life well lived. A report and the response:

The Report: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:7)

The Response: "Well done, good and faithful servant.... Enter into the joy of your master." (Matthew 25:21, RSV)

The Crown of Righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8)

Paul's vision is now future, towards heaven which awaits him soon:

"Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day -- and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." (2 Timothy 4:8)

Greek athlete being crowned by Nike. Detail on red figure krater, unknown provenance.
Greek athlete being crowned by Nike. Detail on red figure krater, unknown provenance.

The metaphor continues on the athletic theme. The "crown" in this image is not a kingly coronet, but the laurel or olive wreath that is placed on the heads of the victors at the ancient Olympic games.[473]  The "crown of righteousness" is the crown that consists of righteousness,[474] purchased at great cost by the blood of Jesus.

This crown of victory is reserved[475]  for Paul. The reward of righteousness is being kept aside to be given to him on that day. Paul is not the only one who will receive this anticipated reward.

"... and not only to me, but also to all who have longed[476] for his appearing." (2 Timothy 4:8b)

You have an award of victory waiting for you, too. I've wondered: Do I really "long for" Christ's appearing or Second Coming? I do want to know him better and serve him with all my heart. Perhaps that's the same idea.

Paul Dies, 64-65 AD

Eusebius records his death: "After a second visit to the city, that he finished his life with martyrdom."[477]  Jerome wrote:

"He then, in the fourteenth year of Nero on the same day with Peter, was beheaded at Rome for Christ's sake and was buried in the Ostian way, the twenty-seventh year after our Lord's passion."[478]

Jerome's dating may be a bit off, since Nero reigned 54 to 68 AD, but the tradition of Paul being beheaded by order of Nero is sound.

10.5. At Home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6-10)

Paul's death is a good occasion to review a couple of other passages from his writings where he talks about death and how he faces it. Of course, he faces it by meeting each day with the willingness to die -- that's what it means to be "crucified with Christ" (Galatians 2:19-20) and to "take up his cross daily" and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23), as we studied in Lesson 9.3. We also considered in Lesson 6.4 our destiny to be raised from the grave when Christ returns (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:51-56). But two additional passages also give us hope in the face of death: 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 and Philippians 1:19-25.

Longing for Home (2 Corinthians 5:6-8)

When Paul writes his second letter to the Corinthians about 55-56 AD, he has been talking about some extreme sufferings he has just undergone, and is reflecting on the transitory nature of our lives (2 Corinthians 4:8-12), which brings him to topics of death and resurrection. Then we come to this remarkable passage about death.

In 2 Corinthians 5:6-9 Paul sets up a dichotomy between life in our bodies here on earth, and life in Christ's immediate presence in heaven. Paul uses two compound words built around a single root: dēmos, "a country district, people of a country."[479]

  1. Endēmeō, "to be in a familiar place, to be at home."[480]
  2. Ekdēmeō, "leave one's country, take a long journey," here, "leave, get away from."[481]

"6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home (endēmeō) in the body we are away from (ekdēmeō) the Lord. 7 We live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer[482] to be away from (ekdēmeō) the body and at home (endēmeō) with the Lord. 9  So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it." (2 Corinthians 5:6-9)

You can't be both places at once. For a believer, it's either one or the other. Of course, Christ is with Paul in Spirit now. But Paul longs for something even closer, to be in Christ's immediate presence in heaven.

The Problem with the Doctrine of 'Soul Sleep'

This brings up a question about the timing of heaven. Our Seventh Day Adventist brothers and sisters have a doctrine sometimes known as "soul sleep."[483] Essentially, it teaches that when a believer dies, he isn't immediately with Christ, but his soul sleeps or is unconscious until the resurrection of the dead when Christ returns. Then suddenly he awakes, unaware that any time has passed.

The confusion comes from a common euphemism of death as sleeping (for example, John 11:11-14) and a lack of full understanding by some Old Testament authors of eternal life (Psalm 146:4; Ecclesiastes 9:5-6), a truth only fully revealed in the New Testament. But Paul's teaching here in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 makes it pretty clear that "soul sleep" is an inadequate explanation. There is no intermediate "sleeping" state. We're either in the body or with the Lord! As Jesus said to the dying thief on the cross:

"I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43)

When you die, your spirit immediately goes to be with God. You will enjoy the time between your death and the resurrection (if chronological "time" has any meaning in heaven). In Lesson 6.4 we saw that at Christ's coming, "God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep" (1 Thessalonians 4:14). At that time "the dead in Christ will rise first" (1 Thessalonians 4:16). In Revelation 6:9,11 we see Christian martyrs in heaven prior to the resurrection.

An old Fanny Crosby hymn draws on the wording of 2 Corinthians 5:4 to express this:

When He comes in the clouds descending,
And they who loved Him here,
From their graves shall awake and praise Him
With joy and not with fear;
When the body and the soul are united,
And clothed no more to die,
What a shouting there will be when each other's face we see,
Changed in the twinkling of an eye.[484] 

What this intermediate state is like -- after death but before the resurrection -- we aren't told much, but we look forward to resurrection bodies when Christ returns. And we praise God that our fellowship with Jesus will continue uninterrupted!

Walk by Faith, Not by Sight (2 Corinthians 5:7)

In light of this understanding of death, being "at home with the Lord," we live in confidence and faith. "We live[485] by faith, not by sight"[486] (2 Corinthians 5:7, NIV). We can't see heaven with our eyes, but we walk believing in its reality, and that it is our "home."

"We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:18)

Q2. (2 Corinthians 5:8; John 14:2-3) In what ways is heaven like your "home"? Which is eternal? Which is temporary? What kind of faith would it take for you to walk or live with this as your belief, rather than holding on to your earthly possessions, status, and life?

The Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:9-10)

Since we are confident that our life is "hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3) and since our citizenship is securely established in heaven (Philippians 3:20):

"So we make it our goal to please[487] him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it." (2 Corinthians 5:9)

Pleasing God is now our aim, our ambition in life.[488] Just like pleasing your mom or dad brought joy as a child, now we find joy in pleasing the Lord (Ephesians 5:8b, 10). For the disciple, life isn't about us anymore, but about him.

Having said that, however, we never lose sight of the fact that we are accountable to God. There will be a judgment.

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." (2 Corinthians 5:10)

The term "judgment seat" is bēma, "a dais or platform that required steps to ascend, tribunal." A magistrate would address an assembly from a chair placed on the structure. Here, it refers to the "judicial bench."[489] We also see this term in Paul's letter to the Roman church (Romans 14:10). There, each person will "receive what is due" (NIV, ESV) or "receive recompense" (NRSV)[490] from the Lord.

There is a fearful passage in Revelation about the judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). Fortunately, our names have been written in the Lamb's Book of Life (Revelation 13:8). We are saved from condemnation (Romans 8:1). We have already "passed from death to life" (John 5:24; 1 John 3:14).

We shall appear before him, but, praise God, our judgment will not be for salvation. That issue was settled when we put our faith in Christ, received the Holy Spirit, and our position became "in Christ." Our judgment there will be for rewards that we will receive for faithful service.

"Each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14  If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15  If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire." (1 Corinthians 3:13-15)

Q3. (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10) Why should appearing before Christ as Judge make us fearful? Will we be condemned at that judgment? What saves us (Romans 8:1; Revelation 20:12)? How will our works be judged on that day (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)?

10.6. To Live Is Christ, to Die Is Gain (Philippians 1:19-25)

One more passage helps us see the peace of dying "in Christ." Paul is writing to the Philippian church from prison -- probably from his first imprisonment in Rome.

Rejoicing that Christ Will Be Exalted (Philippians 1:18b-19)

"18b Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance." (Philippians 1:18b-19)

He thanks them for their prayers, and fully expects to be delivered or set free from prison, but he doesn't take that for granted.

Notice Paul's rejoicing (verse 18b). The issue of rejoicing, of course, is one of control. Worry and fear, anger and resentment are responses to out-of-control situations. But to the extent we believe that God is in control, then we can rejoice freely.

To Live Is Christ, to Die Is Gain (Philippians 1:20-21)

While Paul is in prison facing trial and possible sentence of death, he sees "deliverance"[491]  to be the conclusion, that he will be set free. The pressure of life or death could cause a defendant to lose his nerve. But Paul talks about courage.

"20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:20-21)

Paul is confident that through prayers for him and the help of the Spirit he will be able to speak the word clearly and boldly at his trial. The goal is that Christ receives glory, or as Paul puts it, "that ... Christ will be exalted in my body." "Exalted" (NIV), "honored" (ESV), "magnified" (KJV, NRSV) is megalunō, "to make large," here, "to cause to be held in greater esteem through praise or deeds, exalt, glorify, magnify, speak highly of."[492]

Whether Christ is glorified by his death or by his life, Paul doesn't care. Either way is okay with him, so long as Christ is exalted.

The reason for Paul's seeming unconcern about death is that he is convinced that either way it goes, he wins personally! And God's side wins, too.

"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21)

Even if you don't like to memorize scripture, please commit this one to memory. It will energize you! Paul is saying:

If I live, I get to enjoy Christ's presence as I do now. As Paul writes to the church at Colossae, "For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3). He has already settled the matter of death (Matthew 16:25).

If I die, things get better yet! Paul considers death as "gain," kerdos, "that which is gained or earned, a gain, profit."[493] In fact, death is "far better" (verse 23). Whereas we might be afraid of death, not quite certain that beyond death is Christ's presence, Paul is sure of it. He has seen glimpses of heaven (2 Corinthians 12:1-4). It is "far better," he tells us.

To Be with Christ Is Far Better (Philippians 1:22-26)

Now Paul underscores the reasoning behind his audacious statement in verse 21 -- "to die is gain":

"22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me." (Philippians 1:22-26)

It's almost as if Paul is now reasoning out which of two courses would be more beneficial:

To go on living physically. Benefits: (a) fruitful labor for Paul and (b) benefit to the Philippians and other churches, to help them towards "progress and joy in the faith," and  (c) to increase their joy in Christ.

To die physically. Benefits: Paul would "be with Christ," that is, in Christ's immediate presence -- which would be of immense advantage to Paul personally.

Paul is "torn between the two" (NIV) or "hard pressed" (ESV, NRSV), "in a straight betwixt" (KJV).[494] But I don't really think he gets to choose.[495] I think the NRSV translation makes the most sense: "I do not know which I prefer." Paul comes to the logical conclusion that he will be released from prison and restored to the believers.

Paul assures us in verse 23 that "to depart and be with Christ ... is better by far" than life in this body. This is expressed by a string of three Greek words[496] that each have to do with greater advantage. Combined together, the words help us understand just how much better. "Much better indeed" is the idea, but even that understates the strength of these combined Greek words.

Sometimes we fear death -- probably because it is often painful, and is outside our own personal experience. It is unknown. But not unknown to Christ -- or to Paul to whom Christ has revealed its nature.

Death is:

  • Being "at home" with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8)
  • "Gain" (Philippians 1:21)
  • "Far better" (Philippians 1:23)

Until Jesus comes, we will all face death. But at the moment of death we will step into a new reality, something more powerful that we could ever imagine: the immediate presence of Christ! And after that, who would want to go back?

Q4. (Philippians 1:20-23) In what way is death "gain" for Paul? (verse 21). Which is better for him? Life or death? (verse 23) How does Paul decide which he prefers -- life vs. death -- according to verses 22-24?

Jesus understood his disciples' fear of him leaving them. But it'll be okay, Jesus tells them:

" 1 Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Trust in God; trust also in me.
2  In my Father's house are many rooms;
if it were not so, I would have told you.
I am going there to prepare a place for you.
3  And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come back and take you to be with me
that you also may be where I am." (John 14:1-3)

Paul's life has had its high points of great victory and low points of struggle and imprisonment. Now he has come to the end. But he can see in the distance that crown of glory that he -- and we -- will receive at Christ's hand. We may fear death, but we need not. There's an old African American spiritual that catches our great hope of death in Christ:

"Come and go with me to my Father's house,
To my Father's house, to my Father's house.
Come and go with me to my Father's house.
There is joy, joy, joy."

Another hymn chorus captures our hope:

"It will be worth it all when we see Jesus! 
Life's trials will seem so small when we see Christ. 
One glimpse of his dear face, all sorrow will erase. 
So, bravely run the race till we see Christ."[497] 

Lessons for Disciples

Available in paperback, PDF, and Kindle formats.

Lots to think about. These are the lessons that pop out at me.

  1. Paul speaks to governors and kings about Christ about righteousness, self-control and judgment to come (Acts 24:24-25; Acts 26). We must be winsome when that is required. But we must also be willing to speak the clear, unwelcome truth when it is time, at whatever personal cost.
  2. Paul is restricted to house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:16, 30-31), yet he has an active ministry. We all have various limitations and handicaps, but we must not let those keep us from serving Christ to the greatest extent possible.
  3. Paul quotes to the unbelieving Jews of Rome the words of Isaiah about calloused hearts that refuse to hear, and closed eyes that refuse to see (Acts 28:25-28, quoting Isaiah 6:9-10). We should not blame ourselves when people aren't open to the gospel. This is a spiritual battle. We do our part and God does his. But if people still want to resist God, they can do that.
  4. Persecution and hardship are the lot of all faithful Christian soldiers (2 Timothy 2:3; 3:10-12). We must not be afraid to follow Christ in this. We must fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).
  5. Paul looks beyond his impending death to seeing Christ and to receiving a "crown of righteousness" (2 Timothy 4:8). We must move our eyes from the pain to the promise.
  6. Paul sees death as being "at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8), just as Jesus talks about inviting his disciples to "my Father's house" (John 14:2-3). He sees heaven as "far better" than our earthly life (Philippians 1:23).
  7. We will all stand before the "judgment seat of Christ" and give an account of our lives (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10). Fortunately, we are not condemned for our sins (Romans 8:1), but saved by Christ, since our names are written in the "Lamb's Book of Life" (Revelation 20:12; 13:8). This judgment is for rewards for works of faithful service.
  8. Paul doesn't prefer life over death, but whichever gives Christ the most glory (Philippians 1:20, 22-24). Since, heaven is "far better" (Philippians 1:23), he believes that "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:20-21).


Father, let the word of God settle into our hearts and produce faith. Help us rise above a fear of death to a place where we desire your will more than any comfort or ease for ourselves. That Christ might be our all in all. Forgive us our timidity and fear and do your great work in us. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me." (Acts 26:17b-18, NIV)

"Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you." (Acts 27:24, NIV)

"For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him.  Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ." (Acts 28:30-31, NIV)

"As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ." (Philippians 1:13, NIV)

"Do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner." (2 Timothy 1:8, NIV)

"Of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day." (2 Timothy 1:11-12, NIV)

"Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Timothy 3:12, NIV)

"Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 2:3, ESV)

"For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure." (2 Timothy 4:6, NIV)

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. "Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day -- and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." (2 Timothy 4:7-8, NIV)

"We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord." (2 Corinthians 5:6b-8, ESV)

"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:18, NIV)

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." (2 Corinthians 5:10, NIV)

"I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:20-21, NIV)

"I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far." (Philippians 1:23, NIV)


[425] Bruce, Acts, p. 449.

[426] Tacitus, Histories, V.9.

[427] "Troublemaker" (NIV), "pestilent fellow" (NRSV, KJV), "plague" (ESV) is the adjective loimos, "pertaining to being diseased, pestilential, diseased," then, of humans "public menace/enemy" (BDAG 602, 2).

[428] "Riots" (NIV, ESV), "agitator" (NRSV), "sedition" (KJV) is stasis, here, "movement toward a (new) state of affairs, uprising, riot, revolt, rebellion" against the civil authority (BDAG 940, 2).

[429] Hairesis, BDAG 27, 1a.

[430] "Desecrate" (NIV), "profane" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is bebēloō, "to cause something highly revered to become identified with the commonplace, violate sanctity, desecrate, profane" (BDAG 173).

[431] "Convenient" (NIV, KJV), "opportunity" (NRSV, ESV) is kairos, "a point or period of time," here, "a moment or period as especially appropriate, the right, proper, favorable time" (BDAG 497, 1b).

[432] "Frequently" (NIV), "often" (ESV), "very often" (NRSV), "the oftener" (KJV) is pyknos, comparative adjective, "occurring freq. at intervals, frequent, numerous," here, used as an adverb, "more often, more frequently," and, in an elative sense, "very often, quite frequently" (BDAG 897).

[433] Colin M. Kerr and N.J.O. [James Orr?], "Festus," ISBE 2:300. The authors cite Josephus, Antiquities, 20.8.10.

[434] H.W. Hoehner, "Herod," ISBE 2:697-698.

[435] Festus uses two related words here: the verb mainomai, "be mad, be out of one's mind" (BDAG 610) and the noun "mania" (from which we get our English words, "mania," and "maniac"). BDAG paraphrases it: "You're out of your mind, you're raving," said to one whose enthusiasm seems to have outrun better judgment." Mania means, "madness, frenzy, delirium," frequently in a non-diagnostic sense of eccentric or bizarre behavior in word or action (BDAG 615).

[436] Greek mainomai.

[437] Bruce, Acts, pp. 502-503.

[438] Hypopleō, "sail under the lee of" an island, that is, in such a way that the island protects the ship from the wind (BDAG 1040).

[439] "Lowered the sea anchor" (NIV, NRSV), "lowered the gear" (ESV), "strake sail" (KJV) is two words. The verb is chalaō, "let down" and the noun skeuos, a general word for "thing, object," here, perhaps "kedge, driving-anchor," or "gear," or "sails" (BDAG 927, 1).

[440] "Tackle" is skeuē, "a collective for a variety of items, "equipment" (used elsewhere of attire, military gear, chorus props, etc.) in our literature of a "ship's gear or equipment" (BDAG 927).

[441] "Graciously given" (NIV), "granted" (ESV), "given" (KJV), "granted safety to" (NRSV) is charizomai, "to give freely as a favor, give graciously" (BDAG 1078, 1), from charis, "grace, gift."

[442] "Views" (NIV, ESV), "what you think" (NRSV, cf. KJV) is literally, "what you think about ..." The verb is phroneō, "to have an opinion with regard to something, think, form/hold an opinion, judge," here, "the views that you hold" (BDAG 1065, 1).

[443] "Sect" is hairesis, "a group that holds tenets distinctive to it, sect, party, school, faction" (BDAG 28, 1a). The word can be neutral, but here is inclining towards a negative connotation, "heretical sect."

[444] Wright, Paul, p. 388.

[445] "Explained" (NIV, NRSV), "expounded" (ESV, KJV) is ektithēmi, "to convey information by careful elaboration, explain, expound," also Acts 11:4; 18:26 (BDAG 310, 2).

[446] "Declared" (NIV), "testifying" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is diamartyromai, "to make a solemn declaration about the truth of something, testify of, bear witness to" (BDAG 233, 1).

[447] "Trying to convince" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "persuading" (KJV) is peithō, "to cause to come to a particular point of view or course of action," here, "convince." Since this is in the present tense, it suggests an ongoing "trying to convince them about Jesus" (BDAG 791, 1a).

[448] "Boldly" (NIV), "with all boldness" (ESV, NRSV), "with all confidence" (KJV) is two words, pas, "all," and parrēsia, "a state of boldness and confidence, courage, confidence, boldness, fearlessness," but here, the word carries something of "openness to the public," before whom speaking and actions take place," in our verse, "quite openly and unhindered" (BDAG 781, 3 and 2).

[449] "Without hinderance" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "no man forbidding him" (KJV) is akōlytōs, "without hinderance," found often in papyri as a legal technical term (BDAG 40). This is a compound verb, a-, "not" + kōlyō, "to hinder, prevent, forbid."

[450] "Preached" (NIV, KJV), "proclaiming" (ESV, NRSV) is kēryssō, "to make public declarations, proclaim aloud" (BDAG 543, 2bβ).

[451] "Taught" (NIV), "teaching" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is didaskō, "to provide instruction in a formal or informal setting, teach" (BDAG 241, 2c).

[452] These are discussed by Bruce, Paul, p. 443-444.

[453] Bruce, Acts, pp. 534-535, cites William Ramsay, The Teaching of Paul (1913), pp. 346ff, but this seems more supposition than documented fact from Roman sources.

[454] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2.22.2.

[455] Jerome, De Viris Illustribus (On Illustrious Men), 5.

[456] 1 Clement 5.6-7.

[457] Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.10.2;  Tertullian, Answer to the Jews 7.

[458] See discussion of these in Bruce, Paul, pp. 449; E. E. Ellis, "Pastoral Epistles," DLP  661-662. 1 Clement 5:7; Acts of Peter (Vercelli) 1-3, 40; the Muratorian Canon; Eusebius, Church History 2.22.1-8.

[459] Otto F. A. Meinardus, "Paul's Missionary Journey to Spain: Tradition and Folklore," The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 41, No. 2 (Jun., 1978), pp. 61-63. Several late Spanish legends as earl as the 8th century describe his mission to the Catlans. John Chrysostom (398 AD) mentions, "Paul, after his residence in Rome, departed to Spain" (Sermon on 2 Timothy 4:20). Jerome writes that the apostle reached Spain by sea.

[460] Though many scholars don't see the Pastoral Epistles as coming from Paul's hand, I accept them as genuine.

[461] 2 Timothy 1:17.

[462] "Great Fire of Rome," Wikipedia.

[463] Tacitus, Annals, 15.44.

[464] "Mamertine Prison," Wikipedia.

[465] "Endure hardship" (NIV), "share in suffering" (ESV, NRSV), "endure hardness" (KJV) is a single verb synkakopatheō, "suffer together with someone" (BDAG 951), from syn- "together with" + kakopatheō, "bear hardship patiently" (2 Timothy 4:5), which, in turn, is from kakia, "trouble, misfortune" + patheō, "to suffer."

[466] "Poured out like a drink offering/libation" (NIV, NRSV), "be offered" (KJV) is spendō, "offer a libation/drink-offering, be offered up" (BDAG 937).

[467] Analysis, BDAG 67; Gordon D. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (New International Biblical Commentary; Hendrickson, 1984, 1988), p. 289.

[468] Agōnizomai (from which we get our word, "agonize"), BDAG 17. "Fight" is agōn, "a struggle against opposition, struggle, fight" (BDAG 17)

[469] Gordon D. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (New International Biblical Commentary; Hendrickson, 1984, 1988), p. 289.

[470] "Finished" is teleō, "to complete an activity or process, bring to an end, finish, complete" (BDAG 997, 1).

[471] "Race" (NIV, NRSV), "course" (KJV) is dromos, "movement on a path from one point to another, course" (BDAG 261, 1). We get our English words "dromedary" and "hippodrome" from this word, hippos, "horse" + dromos, "race course."

[472] Tēreō, BDAG 1002, 2c.

[473] Stephanos, BDAG 493.

[474] Dikaiosynē, "the quality or characteristic of upright behavior, uprightness, righteousness," here, "the crown of uprightness (with which the upright are adorned), a common theme in honorary inscriptions recognizing distinguished public service (BDAG 248, 3a).

[475] "In store" (NIV), "reserved" (NRSV), "laid up" (ESV, KJV) is apokeimai, which means, "to reserve as award or recompense, reserve, a common term in honorary documents expressing appreciation for a sense of civic or other communal responsibility." "'be put away, stored up" (BDAG 113, 2).

[476] "Longed for" (NIV, NRSV), "loved" (ESV, KJV) is agapaō, "love," here with the sense, "to have high esteem for or satisfaction with something, take pleasure in," hence, "long for something" (BDAG 6, 2).

[477] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2.22.2.

[478] Jerome, De Viris Illustribus (On Illustrious Men), 5.

[479] Dēmos, Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1889).

[480] Endēmeō, BDAG 332.

[481] Ekdēmeō, BDAG 300, 1.

[482] "Prefer" (NIV), "rather be" (NRSV, KJV) is eudokeō, "wish rather, prefer" (BDAG 404, 1).

[483] The doctrine is also known as "Christian mortalism," or by Seventh Day Adventists as "conditional immortality" and is part of their belief on the "state of the dead." For more on this, see the Wikipedia article on "Christian mortalism."

[484] "In the Twinkling of an Eye," words: Fanny Crosby (1898), music: William J. Kirkpatrick.

[485] "Live" (NIV), "walk" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is peripateō, "walk," used figuratively, as "to conduct one's life, comport oneself, behave, live as habit of conduct" (BDAG 803, 2aδ).

[486] "Sight" is eidos, "the act of looking/seeing, seeing, sight" (BDAG 280, 3).

[487] "Please" (NIV, NRSV), "be accepted" (KJV) is euarestos, "pleasing, acceptable," in the Greco-Roman world commonly said of things and especially of persons noted for their civic-minded generosity and who endeavor to do things that are pleasing (BDAG 403).

[488] The phrase, "make it our goal/aim" (NIV, NRSV), "labor" (KJV) is philotimeomai, "have as one's ambition, consider it an honor, aspire, with focus on the idea of rendering service" (BDAG 1059).

[489] Bēma, BDAG 175.

[490] The word is komizō, "to come into possession of something or experience something, carry off, get (for oneself), receive," frequently as recompense (BDAG 557, 3).  Used in this sense in 1 Peter 5:4; Colossians 3:25; Ephesians 6:8.

[491] "Deliverance" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "salvation" (KJV) is sōtēria, used here as "deliverance, preservation from impending death," with focus on the physical aspect (BDAG 985, 1).

[492] Megalunō, BDAG 623, 2.

[493] Kerdos, BDAG 541.

[494] The Greek word synechō means, "to cause distress by force of circumstances" (BDAG 971).

[495] The KJV, ESV, and NIV translate the Greek verb haireō as "Yet what shall I choose? I do not know." The Greek verb can mean either "choose" or "prefer" (BDAG 28).

[496] Polus, "much," here "pertaining to being high on a scale of extent ... great, strong, profound" (BDAG 849). Mallon, "to a greater or higher degree, more" (BDAG 613-614). Kreitōn, "pertaining to having a relative advantage in value, more useful, more advantageous, better" (BDAG 566).

[497] "When We See Christ (It Will Be Worth It All)" (1941), words and music by Esther Lydia Kerr Rusthoi (1909-1962).

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