May 26, 2011

Prisoner For Christ I: Don't Pass Rome, Don't Collect $200, Go Straight To Jail

I've decided to do a series on the Prison Epistles: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. It will be entitled "Prisoner For Christ". I will begin here. The Prison Epistles are so titled because they are written by Paul during his first imprisonment in Rome. God had brought Paul to Rome to complete the mission strategy that Jesus gave to his disciples just before his ascension. Acts 1:8 says that Jesus told his disciples they were to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Paul was brought to Rome under house arrest for having done just that. The roots of his imprisonment stemmed from his evangelism and spreading of the Gospel. So he is brought to plead his case in Rome (he is a Roman citizen and given this right). In reality he is brought to complete a portion of the mission of bringing Jesus' gospel to the ends of the earth. This fact becomes obvious when reading the Epistles. With the coming of Paul to Rome the gospel was brought from the Jewish capital of Jerusalem to the Gentile and secular capital of the world in Rome.

His imprisonment begins in Caesarea years earlier. At the end of his third missionary journey, during which time he spent more than two years working in Ephesus, Paul revisited the churches he had established in Macedonia, a northern province of Greece, on his second missionary journey. From there he traveled to Jerusalem by way of Troas and Miletus (Acts 20). In Jerusalem the Jews mobbed Paul, because they thought he had desecrated the temple by bringing a Gentile into it. Roman soldiers (of all people) came to Paul's rescue and took him into their custody (Acts 21) Paul then became entangled in the Roman judicial system. Strangely, this is not unlike our own judicial system nowadays. He was taken to the Roman governor Felix in the provincial capital of Caesarea. Felix kept Paul imprisoned there for two years, hoping for a bribe from Paul for his freedom (Acts 24). Festus then succeeded Felix as governor and intended to appease the Jews by having Paul transferred for trial in Jerusalem (Festus tried to throw Paul under the bus). It is at this point Paul resorted to his right as a Roman citizen and appealed his case to Caesar in Rome (Acts 25). Paul jumps from proverbial pan to proverbial fire to save his skin and buy time to do what Jesus has commanded.

Paul was transferred by ship under guard to Rome. Enroute his ship was wrecked in a storm off the island of Malta. Paul finally arrived in Rome around A.D. 59 to 60. There he was held under house arrest and guard for the next two years. His Roman imprisonment, or captivity, has been dated as A.D. 59-61, and even as late as A.D. 61-63.

Under house arrest Paul had enough freedom to proclaim the gospel and receive visitors and even send and receive letters. Paul received messages from people like Epaphras (Col. 1:7), who brought him news about the congregations in Colossae, Hierapolis and Laodicea. Though there was a lot of stuff to be joyous about, Paul was concerned to learn that a heresy threatened the church in Colossae. Paul wrote Colossians to deal with the disturbing news he received from Epaphras. He wrote Philemon to return Onesimus to his master. The letters were to be sent with Tychicus (Col. 4:7), along with Onesimus, to Colossae. Since Tychicus didn't leave right away, Paul was also able to complete a third letter, Ephesians, to be sent with Tychicus (Eph. 6:21) and Ephesians was most likely sent to Ephesus and all the churches throughout Asia province for general circulation. Philippians was written later, not long before Paul’s release.

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