Those on the journey to Rome are shipwrecked, and experience hospitality in their time of need, and also witness miracles done by God through Paul. After this, they’re finally able to arrive at Rome for Paul’s trial, and the whole book ends in a rather surprising way.
28:1-2, 7 Those that live on this island called Malta welcome the travellers. Hospitality, while it’s valued to a certain degree in our culture today, was (and is) more significant in some other cultures. Though we don’t have much detail about this particular island culture at this particular time of Acts 28, ancient near and middle eastern culture in general highly valued hospitality. It’s been a theme especially throughout Luke’s Gospel account, but also to a degree in Acts, that table fellowship is a big deal. Hosting, which would have included eating and drinking, is a significant thing in that culture; it is also a significant theological thing (e.g. the Lord’s Supper).
28:3-10 Perhaps this was a more primitive culture; perhaps this idea of judgment by nature was simply a part of their local customs and beliefs. Whatever the case, because this snake attacks Paul as he’s gathering wood for the fire, the local people believe it’s a sign of judgment upon him. And when no harm comes, they believe he must be some sort of god. Notice that Luke doesn’t endorse this view; he simply records that this is what happened. And then we hear about miraculous healings done by God through Paul. We hear echoes here of similar events and reactions to other Apostles earlier in Acts (e.g. 3:1-16, 5:12-16).
Though this stop was completely unplanned by those on this journey to Rome, God never stops being at work, bearing witness to His power and grace.
28:11-13 The group now is able to find their way towards Rome, resuming their journey and bringing us closer to its focal point: Paul’s trial in Rome.
28:14-15 “Brothers” is a common way of talking about groups of Christians. Most often, unless the context dictates otherwise, the word includes males and females. (This is a good opportunity to reflect on translation issues for a moment. Translators make different choices in English translations to reflect the sense of Greek and Hebrew words and phrases. The actual Greek word here is adelphoi, which literally translated means “brothers” but most often the context gives the sense of “siblings” or “brothers and sisters”. So some Bible translations may use the literal word and give a short explanation of the context, whereas some will veer away from a stricter translation and offer a phrase that tries to capture the meaning even if the word choice isn’t strictly literal.)
28:16 Again we hear about a sort of house arrest arrangement. It’s not prison in the sense that we would normally think of it, but neither is it complete freedom. This seems to have been a common arrangement under Roman rule for certain kinds of situations.
28:17-28 Though now in Rome and not in a centre of Judaism such as Jerusalem, Paul again calls for the leaders of the Jewish people. Their conversations occupy almost the whole rest of the chapter and ending of the book.
28:17 This would be one instance where the word “brothers” does have the context of males only; the local leaders of the Jews would have all been male. The other interesting note is that Paul calls them “brothers” indicating the fellowship they had as Jewish people, though now there is something new that Paul is proclaiming.
28:20 Paul emphasizes “the hope of Israel” to them. In other words, this is Jesus, though we don’t have it recorded that Paul has yet spoken His specific name.
28:21-22 The Jewish leaders don’t really know much about the situation. Notice they consider Christianity to be a “sect”, a sub-group within Judaism.
28:23 Again his strategic method is on display; when proclaiming to Jewish people, Paul’s basis is “the Law of Moses and the Prophets”, in other words, what we know as the Old Testament.
28:24 The reaction is again similar; some respond favourably and some don’t (e.g. Acts 17:32).
28:25-28 In the midst of this disagreement, it’s rather ironic that they might ultimately leave Paul after a word of rebuke from the Old Testament; Paul quotes and applies Isaiah 6:9-10 to them to tell them (at least those who are rejecting it) that they are those who Isaiah was speaking about. They hear the Word from Paul but are blind and deaf to it. They hear the Gospel of Jesus but reject it.
28:30-31 This is a huge surprise, and an example of excellent narrative writing! The whole of the last few chapters has been building up to Paul’s trial at Rome, and now the book finishes without a word about it! We’ve been expecting a big showdown between Caesar and Paul (and probably the Jewish leaders too). But we don’t get that. We get the “showdown” between Paul and the Jewish leaders, but there’s nothing about the Romain trial.
And so we are reminded that the purpose of the Bible is theological, not simply storytelling. The point of Acts is how Jesus continues to be at work even after His Ascension. And so, Acts ends with the Word of God going beyond Israel, Judea, and Samaria as it starts to go out even to the ends of the earth, beyond the nation of Israel (ref. Acts 1:8).
The absence of the trial narrative has led some to think that it never happened. That’s possible. It’s also possible that it did happen and that Paul was acquitted; the language of “without hindrance” as the last words of Acts are maybe a hint at either of those two things. Other possibilities exist too, but we aren’t given the record of what actually happened.
But the point is that the trial wasn’t the point of the narrative. The spread of the Word of God and the proclamation of the Gospel is the point. We could apply John 20:30-31 here: many other things happened which are not written, but what is written here (and in all the Scriptures) is written so that you might know that Jesus is the Messiah, and that by believing you—and all people—may have life in His name.