Acts 28

Chapter twenty-eight concludes Luke’s account of Paul’s journey to Rome. Because it does not contain the details of what happened after Paul’s two-year imprisonment, and because Acts was already part two of Luke’s work, some think that he intended to write a third volume, but that is only speculation. There is nothing in Acts or Church history to confirm it as fact.

All the people on board safely reached the shore of an island called Malta (Acts 28:1-6). The locals saw them come ashore (276 of them, Acts 27:37) and built fires to dry them out and warm them. Famously, a viper bit Paul’s arm, but he shook it off into the fire. When he did not drop dead as they expected, they began to believe that Paul was a god rather than a criminal.

Some people use this example in conjunction with Mark 16:18 to prove that Christians can handle poisonous snakes without being hurt. Paul, though, was not “handling” the snake, and God did the miracle so Paul could gain a hearing with the local official. It was not like the self-serving “snake handling” events we see today.

When Paul learned that the official’s father was very sick, he prayed over him and laid his hands on him, and the man was healed (Acts 28:7-10). After this, many others were brought to Paul and were healed as well. Although Luke does not specifically mention it, Paul certainly took the opportunity to preach the gospel while he was there.

They remained on Malta for three months before being picked up by another ship (vs. 11-16). After a few more weeks they made it to Rome. Because of Paul’s situation, he was not taken to the prison, but “WAS ALLOWED TO LIVE BY HIMSELF, WITH THE SOLDIER WHO WAS GUARDING HIM.” Because he could not make it to the synagogue, Paul asked the Jewish leaders to come to him, and he told them his story in defense of his accusations (Acts 28:17-22). They were surprised because they had heard nothing about his case, but they were very interested in hearing his message.

On the appointed day a large group came to hear him teach and discuss the gospel with him, which lasted all day long (Acts 28:23-28). As was normal, the response among the Jews was mixed. As they left, Paul declared that the Gentiles would certainly accept the gospel, even if the Jews would not.
Luke closed this volume with a note that Paul remained in that situation in Rome for two whole years, teaching everyone who would come to him. The final words in the NET translation state that he taught “WITHOUT RESTRICTION,” an accurate translation of Luke’s Greek. Acts ends Paul preaching the gospel, unhindered and with full Roman protection, from the capital of the known world.

Mark 16

Chapter sixteen requires some examination. Due to a series of variants between Greek manuscripts, this chapter could end with verse eight, verse eight plus a closing tag, or include all twenty verses. Most conservative scholarship agrees that Mark 16:9-20 were not included in Mark’s original writing. This causes concern for some, though, because, while the first eight verses do record Jesus’ resurrection and the angelic appearance, none of the detail in the other gospels is included, and verse eight ends in fear, not what the resurrection was meant to convey.

However, that is not to say that the other verses are not authentic. The writing style does not match the rest of Mark, but it is possible that Mark wrote the ending later. This would account for some manuscripts having the ending. However, another explanation is possible as well. It may be that someone, with or without Mark’s approval, compiled a few “good” events to finish the story with a happier ending.

Although the final verses were definitely not written at the same time as the rest, and it is impossible to know for sure if they are authentic, a quick look over them reveals nothing that contradicts the rest of Scripture. Mark 16:9-11 records the unbelief of the disciples upon receiving word of Jesus’ resurrection, as attested in the other gospels. Mark 16:12-14 match Luke’s account (24:13-43) of Jesus’ appearance on the road to Emmaus and his subsequent appearance to the Eleven. The commission in Mark 16:15 is similar to Matthew 28:19. Mark 16:19-20 records his ascension and the disciples’ obedience in preaching the gospel.

Only Mark 16:16-18 is specifically unaccounted for, and they have caused a great deal of debate over the centuries. However, if we approach them in their context, without the need to build entire doctrines out of them, they still do not contradict clear Scripture. In Mark 16:16 it sounds as if baptism is necessary for salvation along with belief. However, even the verse itself singles out faith alone in the second half. Additionally, the apostles preached the importance of baptism alongside salvation (though not for salvation) throughout the early years of the Church, especially to the Jewish people. A comparison of Mark 16:16 with Acts 2:38-41 could show Peter’s influence on the later addition.

Even Mark 16:17-18 does not contradict other revealed Scripture. The fact that we do not have record of Jesus saying these things elsewhere does not mean that he did not. In fact, in the Upper Room he told the Eleven that they would continue to perform miracles (John 14:12), and throughout the Apostolic Age of the Church, some people did do miracles under the direction of the apostles. Although these verses should not be used to say that these miracles would continue indefinitely, it is true that they did happen for several decades.

The final point of note in this chapter is the singular mention of one apostle, Peter (Mark 16:7). Mark alone records the angel saying, “Go, tell his disciples, even Peter.” It is impossible to know if the women told him this privately, but Peter certainly held dearly the knowledge that Jesus called him back by name. That the Holy Spirit allowed Peter’s apprentice, Mark, to record this forever was an act of extraordinary grace.

Mark 15

Chapter fifteen begins “early in the morning” on Friday (Mark 15:1-5). The Jewish leaders had done all they could do. Rome allowed them to carry out any kind of punishment they wanted against their own people, except for the death penalty. Only the Roman governor could do that. Because of the Passover that day and the Sabbath the next, they had no time to lose. Right after daybreak, they took Jesus to Pilate to have him executed.

Pilate had made it a policy to release one prisoner at Passover (Mark 15:6-20), and he had in custody Barabbas, a revolutionary and murderer. He thought the people would certainly rather have Jesus released than Barabbas, so that was the choice he gave them. Pilate also had personal issues with the Jewish leaders, so he thought he could use this to take a jab at them (Mark 15:10). He did not expect that they would be able to incite the whole crowd to push against Jesus. Even though Pilate could find nothing wrong with him, he capitulated to their demands, released Barabbas, and handed Jesus over to the crucifixion guard. After a torturous flogging, the soldiers took Jesus inside where they continued to beat and mock him, placing a robe on his shredded back that they would later rip off again.

On the route to the crucifixion site, they pressed into service a traveler named Simon to carry Jesus’ cross (Mark 15:21-32). Only Mark records the names of Simon’s sons, Alexander and Rufus, and Rufus is later addressed by name by Paul in Romans 16:13. Reaching Golgotha, they offered Jesus a numbing agent, which he refused, then nailed him to the cross and hoisted him up. In fulfillment of Psalm 22:18, they threw dice to divide his personal effects. Mark noted that “it was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him,” meaning that everything that happened with Pilate (and Herod; Luke 23:6-12) took place in a matter of only about three hours that morning. For three hours Jesus hung there, exposed and suffocating, while people walked by, shaking their heads and mocking, along with the mercenaries who were being crucified at the same time.

At noon, a supernatural darkness covered everything and lasted for three more hours (Mark 15:33-41). Mark recorded only one of Jesus’ famous last statements, the quote from Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Thinking he would hang there for a while longer yet, they offered him sour wine again, but it was time. He cried a final loud word and died. At that moment, the curtain in the temple hiding the Most Holy Place was torn from the top to the bottom, a feat humanly impossible. Having watched all the events of the day, the centurion in charge realized that Jesus was completely different from anyone he had crucified before. Mark noted that several women who followed Jesus were watching from a distance, but he did not mention any of the other disciples.

With the beginning of Sabbath only hours away (Mark 15:42-47), there was not much time to take care of the body. Joseph of Arimathea, who was a member of the council who had just condemned Jesus, asked Pilate for Jesus’ body in order to bury it. With permission, they took down the body, wrapped it quickly, and put it in Joseph’s own tomb, closing it with a large stone.