Sunday: Acts 28:30-31
vs30-31 (continued): Paul was still under arrest when Luke ended his history of the early church, so we can only speculate as to whether or not his case finally went to trial, and if so, whether or not he was found guilty or released. But given the facts that he was allowed to stay in his own rented quarters and preach the gospel unhindered, his circumstances indicate that it was likely that he was going to be released. Two and a half years had passed since he left Caesarea (Ac 27:1), but it appears no one had yet arrived from Jerusalem to press charges. As we noted earlier (Ac 28:19), tensions were growing between Judaism and the Roman government in Israel, and its likely that the religious leaders there preferred to keep their internal conflicts out of sight. In the meantime Paul was receiving very favorable treatment as a prisoner, and there is no indication that the government was hostile toward him.
Epilogue: These are only a few of the reasons that many students of the Bible are convinced that Paul was released soon after the Book of Acts ends and that he spent the next several years continuing his apostolic ministry. In support of this theory are his pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus. None fit anywhere in the order of events as Luke recorded them. Of course, its possible that he omitted whole seasons of Pauls ministry, but nothing in his narrative gives that impression. He presents a consistent, logical sequence of events. For example, in Acts, when Paul left Ephesus, Timothy went with him (Ac 20:1-4), but in First Timothy, Paul specifically states he left Timothy in Ephesus (1Ti 1:3). If Paul was released, then a visit to Ephesus would have made perfect sense, as would leaving Timothy to pastor the church. But if Paul was not released, then were left to wonder when he wrote this letter.
Epilogue (continued): Pauls second letter to Timothy also presents a problem. The Book of Acts concludes with Paul happily ministering in an apartment in Rome, but his second letter to Timothy was written when he was facing inevitable execution (2Ti 4:6-8). He wrote to Timothy during a time of great hardship. There were no witnesses willing to testify on his behalf (2Ti 4:16); winter was approaching and he was without his cloak (2Ti 4:13, 21); when Onesiphorus came from Ephesus to help Paul, he had to eagerly search for him, probably because he was locked away in a prison cell somewhere (2Ti 1:16-17); and when he wrote he had just recently faced a preliminary trial about which the best he could say was that he had an opportunity to proclaim the gospel, and thankfully, had not been sentenced to die by being thrown into an arena with vicious animals (2Ti 4:17). Acts ends with no hint of this kind of hostility, but Second Timothy ends in a dark season of anti-Christian persecution.
Epilogue (continued): After a massive fire swept through the city of Rome in AD 64, there was wide spread suspicion that the emperor himself had arranged for the fire to be set so that he could reconstruct the city. In order to turn this suspicion away from himself, Nero looked for someone to blame and chose the Christians as his scapegoats. As a group, they were already unpopular because they did not worship the Roman gods, but the level of cruelty he unleashed on them was staggering even by Roman standards (F.F.Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, Eerdmans, 1977, pp.441-444). Christian tradition tells us that both Paul and Peter were executed during that terrible season. The Book of Acts ends about AD 62, but Neros persecution didnt begin until AD 64/65, so again, the evidence points to the fact that Paul was initially released and then later re-arrested. Nero became so unpopular that he left Rome and went to Greece in AD 66, and then finally committed suicide in AD 68 by ordering one of his servants to kill him (W.E. Caldwell, The Ancient World, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, reprint 1962, pp.456-457). So Paul would have been executed somewhere between AD 65 and AD 68. Tradition says he was beheaded outside the city of Rome at a milestone beside the road to the port of Ostia.
Epilogue (continued): Pauls letter to Titus provides even more evidence that he was released soon after the Book of Acts closes. It was written after he had planted numerous churches on the island of Crete (Titus1:5), but nowhere in Acts does he evangelize Crete. Luke tells us he stopped in Crete on his way to Rome (Ac 27:7-13) but that the ship only remained in the harbor to seek shelter from the wind. Its likely the passengers disembarked while they were there, but Luke makes no mention of ministering to anyone, let alone planting churches in every city (Titus 1:5).
Epilogue (continued): Yet it was in Crete that Paul received a prophetic warning that the ship must not leave the safety of the harbor (Ac 27:9-12). He said it was Gods will that they remain there during the winter months. And as we know, his advice was not followed, so they were shipwrecked on the island of Malta (Ac 28:1-10). But after seeing all that took place on Malta, were left to wonder at what might have happened had they spent those same months on Crete instead. If indeed Paul wrote this letter to Titus after his release, it would mean that he believed God still had an assignment for him on that island, and once he was free he had returned. Titus was with him during that time, and after Paul left, he stayed behind to organize the churches and appoint elders. Its also interesting to note that Paul wrote to Titus from Nicopolis, a city mid-way up the western coast of Greece, which was nowhere near the cities he visited during his journeys in the Book of Acts (Titus 3:12).
Epilogue (continued): Though Luke stopped writing the Book of Acts while Paul was still under house arrest, when we look at these pastoral letters were left with the feeling that there was one more chapter in this great apostles life. If so, it might have looked something like this: Paul went to trial but was found innocent, or his accusers never arrived so his case was dismissed. Once free he returned to visit the churches in Corinth, Miletus and Ephesus (2Ti 4:20). Then he left Timothy in Ephesus while he continued on to visit the churches in northern Greece (Macedonia) (1Ti 1:3). It was from there that he wrote his first letter to Timothy. Sometime later, he was finally able to return to Crete and ministered on that island long enough to evangelize all its cities (Titus 1:5). Titus went with him to Crete and stayed behind to see that the newly-planted churches were given healthy leadership. From Crete, Paul sailed north to Nicopolis, a city on the west coast of Greece which had probably not yet been evangelized. From Nicopolis he wrote the letter to Titus giving him instructions on how to set up churches and encouraging him to come to Nicopolis as soon as possible (Titus 3:12). We dont know where he went after leaving Nicopolis, but sooner or later he visited the church in Troas (Ac 20:6-12; 2Ti 4:13), and it appears that it was there that he was arrested so suddenly that he was not even able to take with him his coat and books. Alexander the coppersmith, from Ephesus (Ac 19:33; 2Ti 4:14-15), may have been the person responsible for this. Paul was then taken to Rome and imprisoned, and it was from there that he wrote his second letter to Timothy, who was still pastoring in Ephesus, urging him to come before winter (2Ti 4:21).