Today in class, I played ‘Who am I?’…
Who am I?
- I did nothing against the Jewish people or against the customs of the Hebrew ancestors
- I was arrested in Jerusalem
- I was handed over to the Romans
- The Romans examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death
- My own people objected
The point of this little exercise was that, although this sounds like the way the Gospels depict Jesus, it is in fact Paul’s own words about himself in Acts 28:17-19. Surely this is intentional: as in many other instances, Luke is drawing a parallel between Jesus and his followers.
But could this also explain why Acts ends before reporting Paul’s trial before Caesar? Other explanations exist, of course, such as the idea that Acts was prepared as a brief for Theophilus, seeking his influential support for Paul in advance of his trial. But another possibility is that maybe Luke expects his readers to realise that we already know what the endpoint will be, because we’ve already seen it with Jesus: the initial endpoint is execution. And the ultimate endpoint is resurrection.
Indeed, because Jesus suffered and died, and yet was raised by God, those who belong to Jesus can have every expectation of suffering like him, and yet being raised by God when Jesus himself is revealed.
What sort of an ending would you want for the narrative of Acts? Would you want to see Paul vindicated by Caesar, and set free to go to Spain? Paul himself, perhaps surprisingly, was never so intent on immediate vindication, because he had his sights set on ultimate vindication, at the time of Christ’s return. So in Philippians, he wrote:
20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far…
Paul seems perhaps less desperate than we might be to have his earthly story end with vindication, because he is convinced that the gospel he lives to proclaim assures him that even if his earthly life does end in suffering and death, he remains in the hands of the God who raises the dead.