Luke will spend last third of the Book of Acts, chapters 21-28, chronicling the Apostle Paul’s voyage to Rome. This raises an important question as to the purpose of this. Why does Luke, who has previously recorded 20 years or so of Paul’s missionary travels, devote so much space to Paul’s one journey to Rome?
There are two reasons. First, Luke sees in Paul’s journey the fulfillment of the OT prophecies that God would advance his saving kingdom to the ends of the earth. Rome, though not geographically the farthest city west, will symbolically picture the ends of the earth. As the Book of Acts moves from Jerusalem for the last time, the attempt of the Jews to kill God’s apostle will signifying the end of the old covenant between God and Israel. As Paul begins his final journey we say goodbye to Jerusalem. In 12 years or so final judgment will come upon the nation in the form of the Roman armies.
Paul’s journey to preach the gospel in Rome signifies the new covenant fulfillment of the promises of a new and better Israel, one without human boundary markers of Jew and gentile, slave and free, etc., and one where the people serve the Lord from renewed hearts.
So for Luke, the final section in Acts is not only about Paul’s voyage, it is Luke’s way to exhibit the glory of the new covenant and the fulfillment of God’s OT promises to establish his kingdom everywhere and among all types of people. In Paul’s journey the transition from Old to New covenant is about complete.
But there is one more important theme in this last section of Acts. Luke wants us to see how God expands his kingdom – and the answer is – through suffering. Paul would be used to expand God’s kingdom while in chains. From chapter 21 on, the Apostle is a prisoner; a sufferer. We’ve seen this before of course. God secured and established his eternal kingdom through the suffering and death on his beloved Son. And now he would expand his kingdom through another suffering servant – the Apostle Paul.
This is counter-intuitive to the way we normally think. We might think – Lord, if you want people to join your kingdom, then make your servants successful so that others would want to be a part of all this. Make them healthy, wealthy, and always joyful. Make their churches places of excitement, incredible love, and exultant worship services.
But the Lord does not choose to expand his kingdom this way. He gives his people sadness mixed with joy, along with sickness, loneliness, and failure. He gives his churches conflict, weakness, and means of grace that are downright boring to unbelievers he is not drawing to himself. All this, at the least, so that all may see that God expands his kingdom not by human might, power, or wisdom, but by his Spirit.
So do not miss the forest for the trees in the third section of Acts. As you read about Paul’s final voyage to Rome, you are seeing the promised expansion of God’s eschatological kingdom as it transitions from the type that is Old Israel to the reality that is the New Israel, all through the other-worldly means of suffering, all to God’s astonishing glory.