In Acts 28 Luke writes about the final leg of Paul’s amazing journey. After lengthy travel on various missionary treks; after a fateful trip to a hostile Jerusalem with two years of imprisonment; and after a catastrophic sea voyage, Paul at last arrives in Rome. This is the place the Holy Spirit has consistently indicated that he must go. Like the bullseye on a target, God had been aiming Paul at Rome for a long time. And his arrival brings about the completion of Luke’s story.
Many modern Christians are puzzled by why this conclusion to Luke’s epic account of the Apostles’ acts is so important and how it connects to our day and age. We cannot understand this without paying careful attention to significant events in the western history. The final chapter of Acts recounts Paul’s arrival in Rome and his efforts to convert the significant Jewish leaders there to Christianity. Acts tells us that he is successful in this, even though not everyone accepts his message.
But again, modern people are puzzled by why this is so important. God’s plan for his own people who accepted Jesus as messiah, and the many gentiles who joined them, was to establish true Israel on earth. He established it not as an earthly kingdom, but as a tool of the Holy Spirit by which God guides the development of civilization on our planet. Paul’s journey to Rome brought true Israel to the center of the greatest empire in history at precisely the perfect moment.
The Christianity Paul helped to establish in Rome suffered, but survived by the Spirit’s power for two hundred and fifty years. Then an emperor, by the name of Constantine, issued the “Edict of Milan,” which made Christianity an officially accepted religion of the Roman State. Less than a century later, Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the only legal religion of that same political entity. The outcry from the pagans who worshipped the old Roman gods was loud and angry. And in 410AD, when the barbarian Visigoths sacked Rome, they attributed the catastrophe to outrage from the gods at the Christians. In response to this, Augustine, a prominent Christian leader, wrote a book called “The City of God” which shined light on the follies of paganism and the aggressive nature of the old empire. This book became one of the spiritual and political cornerstones of our modern age.
An analysis of historical connections is complex, so the association of Paul’s arrival in Rome and our modern age may still be perplexing. Augustine’s highly influential work highlights significant outcomes that mark the journey of humanity from the cruelty of life in ancient Rome into our modern world. These outcomes include such things as a high value on human life with justice based on human rights, effective humanitarian care for those caught in naturalWe disaster, international respect for sovereignty and existing national borders, the cooperation of world powers for the good of our world, and the rise of the scientific age. It would be hard to prove that had Paul failed to arrive in Rome all these would have been lost. But the historical record shows God’s fingerprints toward all these products initiated by through Paul’s deft work in ancient Rome.
We would be foolish to think that Paul’s arrival in Rome was the end of the Spirit’s work. History itself is filled with traces of God’s work guiding civilization in our world from its ancient savagery to a much better understanding of his will. We know that the world is anything but perfect. But God has not abandoned it. He loves it enough to send his son. He is still very active through His Spirit in the lives of His Christians throughout the world. We can draw hope from history’s witness. Let’s give thanks for Paul’s safe arrival in Rome and all that it has come to mean.