In a shameful miscarriage of justice, the missionaries “suffered and were treated outrageously in Philippi” (1 Thessalonians 2:2). Without a trial and without the opportunity to offer a defense, an angry mob “seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities” (Acts 16:19).
“The chief magistrates stripped off their clothes and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had severely flogged them, they threw them in jail, ordering the jailer to guard them carefully. Receiving such an order, he put them into the inner prison and secured their feet in the stocks” (Acts 16:22–24).
First-century Roman guards knew the penalty for allowing a prisoner to escape. If Cool Hand Luke went over the fence, then the prison guard would receive the punishment originally meant for the escapee. Prisoners rarely escaped.
When Herod incarcerated Peter, he was securely “bound with two chains … between two soldiers, while the sentries in front of the door guarded the prison. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the cell. Striking Peter on the side, he woke him up and said, ‘Quick, get up!’ And the chains fell off his wrists” (Acts 12:6–7). When God orchestrates a jailbreak, it doesn’t matter how heavy the chains are or how many soldiers are on duty.
When Paul and Silas were remanded into the custody of the Philippian jailer, he put the prisoners deep in the dungeon where he shackled them with heavy chains. Houdini couldn’t have broken out. But at about midnight, as Paul and Silas were praying and praising, “suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the jail were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains came loose” (Acts 16:26).
The jailer, upon seeing the prison doors ajar, immediately “drew his sword and was going to kill himself, since he thought the prisoners had escaped” (Acts 16:27). In a flash, he contemplated the lengthy torture and painful death that awaited him, and then he chose suicide. Drawing his sword from it sheath, he stuck the sharp point just below his ribcage. When he fell face forward, the sword would quickly penetrate his heart causing a quick death.
Before the jailer fell, he heard a voice from deep in the darkness. “Don’t harm yourself, because we’re all here!” (Acts 16:28). The prisoners hadn’t escaped?!?! He threw his sword aside, grabbed a light, and climbed through the rubble until he looked into the missionaries’ still swollen and blood-streaked faces.
Their chains lay next to them, and they were smiling. The prisoners were obviously free to run, but they sat contentedly, patiently, waiting to see God’s next great miracle. Immediately, the jailer “fell down trembling before Paul and Silas” (Acts 16:29).
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).
“There’s nothing for you to do, but there is Someone you must know.” … “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved!”(Acts 16:31) … by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus alone!
Years later, when Paul addressed the church at Philippi, was he thinking about the jailer? “I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:3–5).