Chapter 53.1 Mission Accomplished!
Acts of Christ through his apostles, A.D. 46 to 100
Apostle Peter at Rome, original digital image by L. Lovett, January 2008
Apostle Peter at Rome, original digital image by L. Lovett, January 2008
Apostle Peter at Rome, original digital image by L. Lovett, January 2008
(CLICK on the image above for a LARGER version)

Sailing for Rome

In the autumn, when Paul was in his late fifties, everything for the trip was arranged. Cornelius had retired, and the apostle and several other prisoners were placed in custody of another centurion named Julius, also of the elite Italian regiment in Caesarea. Paul was accompanied by Luke and Aristarchus, a brother in the Lord from Thessalonica, and Julius brought a detail of soldiers to guard the prisoners. The passengers boarded a small coastal ship whose home port was Adramyttium in Myra, and they began their journey.

When the vessel was under way, Paul leaned against the rail and looked out to sea. Julius, a man of humane character, came up beside him and whispered, “Cornelius told me about your faith in Christ. You are not the same as the other prisoners. Your charge sheet says you are a Roman citizen, not condemned, yet on your way to a hearing before the emperor. Why?”

The apostle told him the whole story, beginning with his dramatic turnaround on the Damascus Road and all that had happened to the present.

Then Julius opened his heart to Paul, “The change in Cornelius’ life impressed me and I also am a secret believer in Jesus. Festus was kind enough to assign me to be your military escort. I will use whatever influence I have when we arrive to see that you are set free.”

The next day when the ship docked up the coast at Sidon, Julius was very kind and let Paul go ashore with a soldier to visit with friends so they could provide for his needs.

Putting out to sea from there, the ship encountered headwinds that made it difficult to keep on course, so they sailed north of Cyprus between the island and the mainland, then across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, and reached Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Egyptian grain ship from Alexandria that was bound for Italy, and he put the passengers on board.

After several days of rough sailing, they finally neared Cnidus. But the wind was against the ship, so they sailed down to the leeward side of Crete, past the cape of Salmone, then struggled along the coast with great difficulty and finally arrived at Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea. A lot of time was lost and the weather was becoming dangerous for long voyages because it was so late in the fall.

Paul spoke to the ship’s officers about it. “Sirs,” he warned, “It will be disastrous if we go on—shipwreck, loss of cargo, injuries, and danger to our lives.”

The owner of the ship and the captain contradicted what Paul said. They reasoned that Fair Havens was an exposed harbor and a poor place to spend the winter, and most of the crew wanted to go farther up the coast of Crete to Phoenix and spend the winter there. Phoenix was a good harbor with only a southwest and northwest exposure. Julius had not known Paul long enough and paid more attention to the sailors’ advice. He told the captain, “Go ahead with your plan.”

When a southerly breeze sprang up, they forgot about Paul’s warning and thought their purpose was as good as achieved. Weighing anchor, the ship sailed along the coast of Crete hugging the land. But the weather changed abruptly and a wind of typhoon strength that sailors called a “northeaster” came blasting from the landward side. It caught the ship broadside and blew it out to sea. There was no way to turn the vessel into the wind, so they yielded the helm and let it run downwind.

As they sailed behind a small island named Cauda, there was a brief time of shelter. With great effort the crew hoisted aboard the lifeboat they had been towing. Then they undergirded the hull with bracing cables to strengthen it. The sailors were afraid of being driven across to the sandbars of Syrtis off the African coast; so to slow the ship down they lowered the mainsail, put out a sea anchor, and let her be driven before the wind.

The next day, as gale force winds continued to batter the ship, the crew began throwing cargo overboard. The following day they threw out the ship’s equipment and anything else they could lay their hands on. For days on end there was no sign of either sun or stars, the storm was raging unabated, and there was no time to prepare food or find time to eat it. The cold, wet, and weary mariners’ last hopes of coming through alive began to fade. It was a test for Paul, even when God had already promised him he would arrive safely in Rome. His faith was being tried once more.

Throughout the storm he had been praying for the lives of all on board. In the midst of this hopeless situation, encouragement finally came to him. He struggled up to the main deck and called the crew together. With Luke and Aristarchus holding him fast, Paul shouted above the gale, “Men, take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ I believe God, so have no fear! It will be just as he said, but we will be shipwrecked on an island.”

He spoke with assurance of one who had proved God in many trials, and knew by experience that God would keep his word. The men were cheered by the radiance of the apostle as he said this!


It was now the fourteenth night of the storm. As they were being driven across the Sea of Adria in the central Mediterranean, about midnight the trained ear of the lookout heard a new sound above the roar of the wind and groaning of the ship. It was the boom of breakers on the rocks. The crew took soundings by heaving a weighted line overboard and found the water was only 120 feet deep. A little later they sounded again and found only 90 feet. Then, fearing that they might be driven against the rocks along the shore, the crew threw out four anchors from the stern that would reach the bottom and prayed for daylight to come.

But a mutiny was about to take place. The sailors who did not believe Paul’s words tried to abandon ship by using the lifeboat they had brought in, with false pretense of putting out anchors from the prow. As the apostle watched them lower it into the water, their scheme was revealed to him by the Spirit. He warned Julius, “You will all die unless these men stay aboard.” As a seasoned seafarer, Paul knew there would be no way for the remaining passengers to handle such a large cargo ship.

By now Julius realized it was best to heed his special prisoner’s warnings; so before the mutineers had a chance to board it, the centurion ordered the soldiers to cut away the ropes holding the boat, and it was blown into the sea.

As darkness gave way to early morning light, Paul’s leadership surfaced with more support, “You have lived in suspense and gone hungry. You haven’t touched food for two weeks. So have something to eat; your lives depend on it and you will need all your strength to make land. Remember, not a hair of your heads will be lost.” Then he took some bread, gave thanks to God before them all, broke off a piece and ate it. Instantly everyone was encouraged and all 276 on board began eating. Afterwards, the crew lightened the ship by throwing the cargo of wheat overboard so that it would ride high in the water and glide up into the beach.

At sunrise, Julius asked the captain, “Where are we?”

The captain was honest in his answer, “I don’t recognize this coastline. I’m not sure.”

“What are your plans now?”

“See that bay with a sandy beach? We could run the ship safely to shore between the rocks.”

This time before giving the go-ahead, Julius turned to Paul for advice. When he nodded in agreement, the centurion said, “Do it.”

The crew lowered the rudders, raised the foresail, then cut the anchors free and headed toward shore. But they found themselves caught between cross currents from a hidden inlet and ran the ship aground on a submerged sandbar between the bay’s entrance and the island’s beach. The bow stuck fast, while the stern was repeatedly smashed by the force of the waves from behind and began to break apart. They were still too far away from land to walk to shore.

The soldiers would pay with their own lives if any of the prisoners escaped by swimming ashore. Their instinctive reaction was to draw their swords and kill the prisoners before they attempted it. But Julius called out, “I know all of our lives were spared because of Paul, and I believe what God has told him. Put your swords away! All our lives will be saved!” The centurion had faith he would fulfill his commission by bringing all the prisoners safely to Rome; and as a personal favor to Paul, help him be cleared of charges before the emperor.

Julius now took command. He ordered all who could swim to jump overboard first and make for land, and he told the others to try for it on planks and debris from the broken ship. And thus it was that all came safely to land, fulfilling God’s promise that no lives would be lost, only the ship!

Rescue on Malta

When the natives helped them safely ashore, the weary voyagers learned that they were on the island of Malta, 60 miles south of Sicily—amazingly not all that far from their original destination of Rhegium on the toe of southern Italy. The people of the island were of Phoenician and Carthaginian ancestry and spoke a dialect of the Semitic language. They did not speak Greek, but Paul’s experience with languages allowed him to communicate with them. The Maltese natives were very kind to all the passengers. When they saw them shivering in the continuing rain, the people hurriedly built a large bonfire on the shore and invited them to come and warm themselves.

Paul gathered an armful of sticks, not knowing a poisonous snake mingled among them. Because of the cold, the serpent was in a dormant state. However, when the wood was laid on the fire, the heat stirred it to life. While he arranged the wood, the viper moved quickly enough to fasten its fangs onto his hand. The natives, seeing the snake hanging from the apostle’s hand, said to one another, “The man must be a murderer; he may have escaped from the sea, but divine justice would not let him live.”

Paul shook off the snake into the fire and was unharmed. The people stared at him as he sat there and waited for him to swell up or suddenly drop dead. When they had waited a long time and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds and said, “He is a god.” It was clear that God miraculously stayed the normal effects of the bite and saved his servant from a painful death.

News of this came very quickly to Publius, a Roman and chief magistrate of the island. His estate was near the shore where they landed, and with Julius’ approval he welcomed Paul, Luke, and Aristarchus, courteously treating them as guests for three days. Publius’ father continually suffered from bouts of Malta fever and dysentery, and on this occasion he was confined to his bed. Paul went in to be of comfort. After praying for him, he laid his hands on the older man and healed him.

When news of this miracle spread, all the other sick people on the island came and were cured. As a result, the apostle and his companions were showered with honors. When it was time to leave, the people put all the supplies needed for the trip on board another grain ship from Alexandria that had wintered at the island.

After an almost disastrous voyage and a winter layover in Malta, the following spring they sailed north to Syracuse in Sicily, then on to Rhegium, and finally arrived in Puteloi on Italy’s west coast, south of Rome. It was not by the way the apostle expected, but the Lord had worked in mysterious and wondrous ways. He had achieved his goal and was there.

Church at Rome

It had been three years since Paul had written to the Romans and he didn’t know how they would receive him. At Puteloi his fears were laid to rest and the believers invited him to stay a week with them. The Christians in Rome heard he was coming, and one group of brothers and sisters came to greet him as far as the market town of Appii Forum, and on the way into Rome another group joined them at Three Taverns. The apostle’s heart was warmed by their effort and offer to be his escort. Even though he must be chained to Julius until they reached Rome, he thanked God and took courage for what lay ahead.

After reaching the city, Paul was immediately placed under house arrest. Julius delivered the letter to Nero and they waited for a trial date. While awaiting trial for two years, A.D. 61-63, the apostle was permitted to have his own private lodging, though chained to other Roman soldiers who took turns guarding him. He was not allowed to leave his quarters to visit the synagogues or work at his trade, but was able to write letters to friends in other cities and counsel those who came to see him. With these few restrictions, he used his valuable time to strengthen the Christian church in Rome.

Three days after the apostle’s arrival, he called together all the local Jewish leaders to his quarters for a meeting. When they were assembled, he explained his situation, “Brothers, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Roman government, even though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors. The Romans tried me and wanted to release me, for they found no cause for the death sentence. But when the Jewish leaders protested the decision, I felt it necessary to appeal to Caesar, even though I had no desire to press charges against my own people. I asked you to come here today so we could get acquainted and I could tell you that I am bound with this chain because I believe that the hope of Israel—the Messiah—has already come.”

They had good news for him, “We’ve heard nothing against you and have had no letters from Judea or specific charges from anyone who has arrived here. The only thing we know about Christians is that they are denounced everywhere. Now we want to hear what you believe.”

A time was set, and on that day a large number of people came to Paul’s house. He revealed the meanings of the prophecies from the five books of Moses and books of the prophets, how they all pointed to Jesus the Messiah and the Kingdom of God. The people listened from dawn to dusk, but Paul saw that his words produced a mixed blessing; some believed and some didn’t. Before they left his house, he gave them this final word, “I want you to realize that this salvation from God is also available to the Gentiles—and they will accept it.”

For the next two years, he welcomed all who visited him, proclaiming the Kingdom of God with boldness and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. He found great favor with the Roman officials and no one tried to stop him. Luke joyfully closed his account on a high note with the Gospel blazing in the heart of the Roman Empire. The beloved physician was always close by, and Paul’s aides Aquila and Priscilla had already returned to Rome after the death of Emperor Claudius in 54. The apostle always kept in touch with the churches he had founded in other cities, and was heartened by the arrival of Timothy, Aristarchus, and Silas.

Apostle Peter had earlier visited Antioch, Corinth, and other cities in Asia Minor and Europe, and was now in Rome with Mark at his side busily writing down his gospel. Peter and Paul were familiar with each other’s ministries and worked with some of the same brethren.

Paul’s Prison Epistles

During his time in Rome, Paul wrote four “Prison Epistles.” They are abiding fruit of the period which afforded him opportunity to meditate and write. The first epistle was probably to the church at Colossae, founded during his long stay in Ephesus. This letter was a denouncement of heresy with a scholarly defense of Paul’s teaching of the atonement—that Jesus is the only mediator necessary between man and God. A second letter, addressed to the church at Ephesus following the same theme, may have been written for general circulation to the Christian communities throughout the region. Both these letters were sent by Tychicus, as was the personal letter to Philemon begging for the life of his runaway slave Onesimus who had been so useful to Paul in his captivity. In the fourth letter, he thanked the Philippians for the gift they had sent, and strengthened them by showing that true joy comes from Christ alone.

After two years, Julius came to him with good news, “There will not be a trial. No one from Jerusalem has come to press charges and the statute of limitations has expired. You are free to go!” In the spring of A.D. 63, Paul was released from house arrest and left Rome. He visited churches in Greece, Asia Minor, and was working in Spain at the outbreak of the fire in Rome on July 19, 64 and Nero’s subsequent persecution of Christians.

Mission Accomplished!

Later Paul wrote his “pastoral epistles” First and Second Timothy, and Titus. In his second letter to Timothy—his last—he wrote, “The time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the Righteous Judge, will award me on that day—not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

Nothing else is heard of Peter until the writing of the two epistles that bear his name. His first epistle, probably written in Rome about A.D. 64, was addressed to the five provinces of Asia Minor. His shepherd’s heart sought to fortify the saints in their sufferings for Christ. The second was possibly written a few years later when he was expecting the end, and warns against dangers from within. In closing, he told his dear friends, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise. Live holy and godly lives as you look forward to that day and a new heaven and earth, the home of righteousness. To him be glory both now and forever!”

Most scholars believe the final arrest and martyrdom of Peter and Paul took place during Nero’s persecution of Christians in Rome A.D. 64-68. There are traditions of how they died, but what’s most important is that their lives are a triumph for all the people of the world!

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