The Narrow Gate for Paul (Mt. 7:13-14)
Paul’s appeal to Caesar in Acts 25:11 is another excellent biblical example of God’s foresight and intervention in guiding the fine details of the lives of people who are in the midst of a walk of faith with Jesus Christ.
Paul is under arrest in Caesarea for the tumultuous uproar that occurred in Jerusalem. Paul does not know that the sympathetic Roman ruler, King Agrippa, will arrive in Caesarea in the near future. Agrippa apparently would have released Paul (Acts 26:32).
The Jewish authorities want Paul to be returned to Jerusalem for trial. Paul knows that there are forty Jews sworn to attack his escort of Roman soldiers conducting him back to Jerusalem, but even if Paul makes it safely back, any hearing in Jerusalem would be prejudicial against him.
But Festus, the Roman official having jurisdiction over Caesarea, suggests in an open hearing, for political reasons, that Paul be brought to Jerusalem to be judged before Festus regarding the accusations against Paul. Before Agrippa arrives, Paul has no choice but to appeal to Caesar.
This is a fascinating and instructive development in the story of Paul. It provides all Christians with a window into how God works in our lives if we will follow Him completely and not lose faith.
As events narrowly unfold in this account of Paul in Caesarea, Paul is compelled to appeal to Caesar for a hearing in Rome. This changes the entire nature of the ministry of Paul from being a man of action…planting new churches in Asia Minor…to a man with quiet time to contemplate and compose the upcoming “prison epistles” written while in Rome (Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians).
At this late stage in Paul’s career, more new churches in Greece and Italy are probably not needed. History shows that the number of churches in existence when Paul set off for Jerusalem for the last time, were enough in number and quality to create a strong foothold for the spread of Christianity in the first century.
If left up to Paul, he would have continued to faithfully pursue his original calling, traveling and planting new churches in Greece, Italy, and he hoped even in Spain (Rom. 15:24). But it was the God-appointed quiet time in Caesarea and in Rome that enabled the writing of these crucial last epistles to the churches that completed his inspired New Testament contribution of Christian doctrines and practices.
It is also this abrupt change in plans that provides the narrative story for the distinctly different final four chapters in the book of Acts, providing us with a look into the customs of Roman public hearings, an ancient shipwreck, and Luke’s unfinished history of Paul in Rome that enables conservative scholars to date the ending of the book of Acts as a milestone event sometime in the early to middle 60’s A.D.
This has enormous apologetic value in validating the authenticity of the New Testament gospels in relation to the activities of Paul, placing the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts so close to the time of the ministry of Jesus as to remove the possibility of legendary development or exaggeration entering into the New Testament.
It took God intervening in the situations and circumstances during this period of Paul’s detention in Caesarea for this change-in-mission to occur. Through these tightly inter-related events, God closed one door and opened another door in the ministry of Paul.
The lesson here for every Christian is that no matter how fierce are the winds and the seas of the storm of circumstances around us, the eye of the hurricane is in the center of God’s will. God sets up, guides, and molds events in the life of Paul, above anything that Paul could manufacture on his own, which results in the optimum final outcome for a life that is totally and completely surrendered to Jesus.
What is uniquely instructive about this episode in the life of Paul is that after this final visit to Jerusalem, he is under Roman arrest for most of his remaining years. Not only is solitude imposed upon him for the purpose of quiet reflection about all that he has learned and experienced, but Paul is also made safe from the external threat of harm that he daily lived with while he was out on the road, from the Jews or from any of his other enemies. Tradition does say that Paul was released for some period of time in Rome between a first and second imprisonment.
But from Caesarea onward, Paul was for the most part within God’s bubble of protection through the use of Roman officials and the Roman judicial system. Paul could not be safer (other than eventual martyrdom by Nero around 62-65 A.D.) in the Roman world of the first century than to be under house arrest in Rome in the care of a Roman soldier. Paul no longer had to worry about hostile Jews from a previous city showing up suddenly, with deadly intentions, in the city he was currently ministering in (Acts 13:50; Acts 14:5; Acts 14:19; Acts 17:5; Acts 17:13; Acts 18:12; Acts 19:26).
Through the clarity of hindsight, we see that God accomplished two things at the same time…first a change in the nature of the ministry of Paul…and second in the protective environment for Paul to compose his final letters to the churches.
This is a clear-cut demonstration of the narrow gate that Jesus is referring to in Matthew 7:13-14. It is an example of the benefits and outcomes that God would like to perform in our lives through experiential faith.