Acts 28:17 NRSV “Three days later he called together the local leaders of the Jews. When they had assembled, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors, yet I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans.”
Paul, although the Apostle to the Gentiles, to the very end continued the pattern we have seen at every step in his travels— he begins in the Jewish community. As he put it in Romans 1:16, “…to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
As always, Paul asserts that he is innocent of the charges brought against him. It is helpful to remind ourselves about those charges and Paul's earlier defense. Acts 21:28 NKJV “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the law, and this place; and furthermore he also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.”” Acts 25:8 NKJV “… “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything at all.””
Each charge against Paul and a specific response follows:
- teaches against the people (the Jews)— “I had done nothing against our people”
- teaches against the law— “neither against the law of the Jews… have I offended in anything at all”, “I had done nothing against… the customs of our ancestors”
- teaches against this place (the temple)— “neither against… the temple… have I offended in anything at all”
- brought Greeks into the temple— Acts 21:29 (For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.)
Paul denies that God has rejected Israel. Romans 11:1-2 ESV “I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.…” Paul makes it very clear what he means by Israel— “a descendant of Abraham”, Romans 9:3-4 NIV “… my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.” Romans 11:28-29 NIV “… as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” There is no room here for a “spiritual Israel” that replaces Israel. Paul does not teach a message against Israel— as he puts it, “I have done nothing against our people”.
When Paul said “neither against… the temple… have I offended in anything at all”, what did he mean? Could he have honestly said that if he was teaching that the rituals in the Torah must be stopped? Could he honestly say that he was not teaching against the temple if he was teaching people to abandon Passover observance or fasting on Yom Kippur? No. We conclude that he did not teach these things if we believe he was honest.
Paul did not bring Gentiles to the temple, but he had a burden for Gentiles. Here Paul explains his mission. Acts 26:19-23 ESV ““Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.””
Acts 28:20 NET “So for this reason I have asked to see you and speak with you, for I am bound with this chain because of the hope of Israel.”
Paul wants to explain himself. Although he is imprisoned because of charges brought against him by Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, he believes that his message is loyal to all that Judaism stands for— he claims that Jesus is the Messiah, the “hope of Israel”.
Acts 28:22 CEB “But we think it’s important to hear what you think, for we know that people everywhere are speaking against this faction.”
The local Jewish leaders are interested in hearing more from Paul. They don't know much about this group that has been developing within the Jewish diaspora, but they have heard about it— wherever it is introduced there are some who oppose it. They consider it a topic relevant to the Jewish community.
Acts 28:23-24 ESV “When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved.”
A large number came from the Jewish community to hear Paul. This was a topic of interest to them as it was a Jewish matter— it was influencing Jewish communities everywhere. Paul teaches about Jesus using the Hebrew Scriptures— the Torah and the writings of the Prophets. The situation in Rome was similar to what happened everywhere else Paul had traveled— the Jewish community was divided. Some were persuaded. The text does not say a few were convinced; we can conclude then that a significant portion of the Jewish community came to believe that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel.