Paul’s Great Meeting at Rome with Nero
We have a reference from the scribe Luke, concerning one meeting we all would have like to have attended, the great meeting at Rome. When the apostle Paul was shipped to prison from his run in with Felix, he came for his trial before Nero. Imagine, the greatest living human being coming in judgment before one of the most depraved!! Luke writes: “And it came to pass, that after three days Paul called the chief of the Jews together and when they were come together, he said unto them, ‘Men and brethren (no, this was not an interdenominational meeting of the denominational preachers in Rome called the Ministerial Association like some of our brethren), though I have committed nothing against the people (Israel), or customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.” Acts 28:17 Here, he set the terms of his defense and of the debate that would follow!!
We have a short account of a long conference which Paul had with the Jews at Rome about the Christian religion. The Jews appointed the time, a day was set for this dispute, and all parties concerned might have sufficient notice. Those Jews seemed well disposed to receive conviction and yet it did not prove that they were so inclined. It is probable that these Jews at Rome, being men of larger acquaintance with the world and more generally of rank and power even in Rome, were more free to inquire than the bigoted Jews at Jerusalem and would not have had to answer to anyone else for this gathering. Though they were so far prejudiced against “the sect that everywhere was spoken against,” they seemed willing to give it a hearing. Moses had said of this people: “the Lord has not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear…” Deuteronomy 29:4
Paul, with a great deal of expense and hazard, is brought prisoner to Rome, and when he has come nobody appears to prosecute him or lay anything to his charge; so he advances the situation by calling, at his own danger, those who were his qualified enemies. It was not long since, by an edict of Claudius Caesar, that all the Jews were banished from Rome, and kept out till his death; but in the five years since that time, many Jews had come again, regained the ground of influence they had lost (because of their abilities and financial connections in trade and commerce), and formed a little association of believers under the banner of the Mosaical Law. Although, they were never allowed (as far as we know) to build a synagogue in Rome or a public place of worship; these “chief of the Jews” were those of highest prominence among them. In interest of fairness, the victim most of the time does not call the victors to a summit! Their side had won the day, they had nothing to lose, only Paul was the prisoner. Paul wanted to “set things right” as we use to say at home, so no vicious rumors could get around town before Paul had unpacked his belongings!!
His opening remarks distinguish the fact that he was NOT guilty of the charges and had already been released of all charges which would bring death. He speaks to them respectively with respect, calls them men and brethren, and intimates that he expects to be treated by them both as a man and as a brother, and engages to treat them as such and to tell them nothing but the truth; for, says he “we are members one of another-or all of us are brethren.” Advancing his own innocency, and that he had not given any just occasion to mar the Jewish name or alter its standing; his own people would have no reason to afflict him or the ministry he was advancing-for they, too, had recently been run out of Rome! He also wanted them to to know that he was not intending to take advantage of their present distress by “piling on“!! After all, if anyone could join the blame game crew, it could have been Paul-nobody had thrown the Church of Christ out of Rome!! It was important for them to know that he had not advanced any position that would them to cause them to fear him as a Haman nor that he had imposed customs of the Jews upon the Gentiles, yet he seemed a little irritated that he had been delivered as a prisoner by the Jews at Jerusalem (although they would have murdered him had the Roman chief captain not stopped them)! Having already passed through four tribunals (the chief captain, Felix, Festus, and Agrippa), the only people that NOW condemned him were those who had never heard his defense; having often been tried, never denied, he was willing to be tried, again!! Conclusion: the only people that condemned him were the prejudiced-and there was no way to reason with prejudice, their minds were already made up. He had charged the Jews at Jerusalem and found them guilty!!