Around A. D. 60, Luke, the “beloved physician” (Col. 4:14), writes, “…and when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard: but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him” (Acts 28:16). Paul had long planned and prayed for an opportunity to visit his fellow Christians in Rome (Rom. 1:9-13; 15:23-29).
He had not planned, however, to come to Rome as a prisoner to account for a series of false charges brought against him in Jerusalem more than two years earlier (Acts 21:28). Nor had he counted on an opportunity to present the good news of Jesus Christ to the infamous matricide Nero.
Nero, emperor AD 54-68
But here he was, in Rome, allowed to live in his “own hired dwelling” and receive visitors from among his fellow Jews (Acts 28:16). He spoke with them fervently of the “hope of Israel” for which he was “bound with this chain” (Acts 28:20).
Paul’s Chain ca. AD 60-62
Preserved at Church of St. Paul Outside the Walls
This “chain” was the one with which he would have been bound throughout the day and night to a member of the Praetorian Guard, the elite protectors of the emperor and keepers of imperial prisoners. This aspect of his confinement must have been very hard to bear, yet Paul says, in one of his “prison epistles,”* that he rejoices in the opportunity it has given him to proclaim Christ. He says,
“Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment (Grk. bonds) in the cause of Christ has become well-known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord, because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear” (Phil. 1:12-14).
Paul, chained to a Praetorian Guardsman
It is, of course, interesting to learn that during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment** not only did the good news of Christ circulate within the “whole praetorian guard” but it is far beyond interesting to learn that during this same period the gospel would invade Nero’s palace. Paul concludes his epistle to the Christians in Philippi,
“Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen. Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” (Phil. 4:20-22; emph. suppl.).
More to come, DB
* I. e., the epistles that he wrote and sent to the Ephesians, the Philippians, the Colossians, and Philemon during this two year detention in Rome.
** There was a second Roman imprisonment, of which we’ll speak in a coming blog.