For years Paul had wanted to visit the capital city of the Roman Empire. He’d planned to come as a missionary church-planter and pastor, but he arrived as a prisoner.
The charges against Paul were relatively minor, and no one expected them to end with an execution (Acts 28:18), so Paul was not sent to the dungeon at the notorious Mamertine Prison. Paul was held in house arrest. “When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself with the soldier who guarded him” (Acts 28:16). He may have been chained to his guard (Acts 28:20), but he enjoyed relative freedom. “Many came to him at his lodging. From dawn to dusk he expounded and testified about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 28:23).
He reported to his friends at Philippi, “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually advanced the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is because I am in Christ. Most of the brothers have gained confidence in the Lord from my imprisonment and dare even more to speak the word fearlessly” (Philippians 1:12–14). The Roman soldier to whom Paul was shackled repeatedly heard the Gospel. Apparently, many of the elite guards were converted to Christianity. Hallelujah.
Dr. Luke’s report to Theophilus (Acts 1:1) concludes with this: “Paul stayed two whole years in his own rented house. And he welcomed all who visited him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30-31).
Just as Paul had done in other places, he made his first audience the Jewish residence of Rome. He didn’t waste any time setting up housekeeping or getting acquainted with his new neighborhood. “After (only) three days he called together the leaders of the Jews” (Acts 28:17). “He tried to persuade them about Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets. Some were persuaded by what he said, but others did not believe” (Acts 28:23-24). After a mixed response by the Jews, Paul soon was proclaiming the Gospel to the more-receptive Gentiles (Acts 28:28).
After two years in a Caesarean prison, the shipwreck voyage through the Mediterranean, and two more years under house-arrest in Rome, Paul was likely released after an anticlimactic court appearance. Luke’s account ends, and we’re left to piece the rest of Paul’s travel together from other sources.
During Paul’s fruitful two-year stay in Rome, he mentored several younger missionary-ministers. Timothy was by Paul’s side as he wrote the Epistles to the churches at Philippi and Colossae, and the personal letter addressed to Philemon. Mark, who had abandoned Paul on the first missionary journey, spent time with Paul in Rome (Colossians 4:10, Philemon 24). “Luke, the dearly loved physician” (Colossians 4:14) was also at Paul’s side.
Paul had written, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). That precious promise was evidenced by Paul’s authorship of the four “prison epistles” ... Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. We wouldn’t have those priceless documents if Paul hadn’t spent time in Roman imprisonment.