AN EXPOSITION OF ACTS 16:22-34
22 And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them.
In the providence of God, the missionary travels of Paul and Silas brought them to Philippi in Macedonia, which is a small country, located in the continent of Europe. Only 49 countries in the world, out of a total of 200, are smaller. In 2017, Macedonia made the news in the United States when former presidential candidate, Hilary Clinton, accused computer experts there of robbing her of the presidency. Who knew? Macedonia shares land borders with four countries: Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, and Serbia.
Historically, Macedonia has proven to be an important country, for it gave to the world a man history calls, Alexander the Great. (July 20, 356 BC – 11 June 323 BC) As a military genius, Alexander conquered many foreign lands which included Persia, Judea, Syria, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and others. He also conquered lands as far east as Punjab, India.
23 And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely:
It was in the city of Philippi, named after the father of Alexander the Great, that Paul and Silas preached Christ. Their message was not well received, to the point they were physically assaulted. The fundamental right of free speech was unheard of in the ancient world. People would pay a high price for what they said.
Socrates (c. 470 – 399 BC), the Greek philosopher, was forced to drink hemlock, when the rulers of Athens decided he was corrupting the youth with his teachings. Socrates taught the young people that might does not make right, and that they should question their elders if they wanted to gain knowledge.
John the Baptist was beheaded, when he spoke out against the marriage of Herodias and Herod Antipas.
Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, for proclaiming the kingdom of God, and for claiming to be the Messiah.
24 Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.
Not only were Paul and Silas stripped of their clothing as a form of public shame, physically beaten for the words they spoke about Jesus, they were falsely imprisoned with popular approval.
The people pretended to have a great zeal for the honor of the Law, and yet were among the first to disregard it.
The magistrates, those who should have been the protectors of Paul and Silas until they had a fair trial, approved of the injustice being done. Many stripes were laid upon the backs of Paul and Silas by lictors who beat the men with rods. Three times in his ministry Paul would be beaten in this manner. (2 Cor. 11:25) After their public punishment, Paul and Silas were turned over to a jailer. The jailer was extremely conscientious of his responsibility to hold these prisoners secure. He placed Paul and Silas in stocks, and then cast them into an inner prison. Today, we would call such a place a maximum security prison.
25 And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.
Most people would be very depressed if they were beaten for telling others the good news of the gospel, and then placed in prison in stocks. However, special grace was given to Paul and Silas as they embraced their sufferings. At midnight, Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God. Other prisoners listened in amazement. Prayer and praise are not common in prison.
26 And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every ones bands were loosed.
While Paul and Silas were singing and praising God, the Lord was not indifferent to the suffering of His saints. Suddenly, there was a great earthquake. This was a controlled shaking of the earth.
It shook open the secure prison doors, and shook off the cords that bound the prisoners. Christ had come to set the prisoners free. That is what the Lord does physically, sometimes, and it is what He does spiritually, all the time. The Messiah came “to preach deliverance to the captives.” (Luke 4:18)
27 And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.
The trembling of the foundations of the prison awakened the keeper of the prison who had fallen asleep, which he probably was not supposed to do. Alarmed and disoriented, he thought the worst. The prisoners have escaped.
Drawing out his sword, the jailer was prepared to commit suicide, knowing his own life was doomed if the prisoners had escaped on his watch.
It was a common, and approved practice, among the Greeks and Romans, for a man to commit suicide when he was surrounded with dangers from which he could not hope to escape.
For example, in October, 42 BC, following the decisive Battle of Philippi, Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar, committed suicide after being defeated by the avenging forces of Marc Antony and Octavian. It was the honorable action to take.
28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.
Seeing the intent of the jailer to commit suicide, Paul cried out, “Do thyself no harm.” The gospel calls upon people to stop hurting themselves by acts of self-destructive behavior, be it suicide, some form of addiction, or just being mean spirited. There was a good reason why the jailer should not hurt himself, for none of the prisoners had escape. The reason for a self-inflicted injury was removed.
29 Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,
The jailer could not believe what he had just heard. But he did put down his sword, called for a light, and leaped into the innermost part of the prison with fear and trembling.
In a state of tremendous emotional relief, the jailer fell down before Paul and Silas. After a moment, he regained his composure.
30 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
Bringing Paul and Silas out from the innermost part of the dark and damp prison, the jailer still thought he was in trouble. He was no longer in control of the situation.
Showing them a renewed respect, the jailer asked Paul and Silas a logical question. “What must he do to be saved?” The jailer was not thinking in spiritual terms, but in a practical way. How could he be delivered from being falsely accused of aiding and abetting a prison break?
31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
Though the jailer was not thinking in spiritual terms, Paul and Silas were. Led by the Holy Spirit, their reply to the jailer led to his conversion, and countless others besides, for this message has gone to the ends of the earth. With just a few words, the gospel was summarized. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” The jailer was told to believe at once, to commit his agitated and guilty, and troubled spirit to the Lord Jesus Christ, with the assurance that he would be saved, not just for time, but for all eternity. Had this been all that Paul and Silas said to the jailer, it would have been sufficient, provided the words were illuminated by God the Holy Spirit. But, this was not all that was said. More information was provided.
32 And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.
The extent of the gospel message preached at midnight is not given. Nor is the number given of the other people who heard the gospel that night. What is known is that the jailer found a way to take Paul and Silas to his house, and introduce them to his family. After tenderly helping the former prisoners wash, the jailer and his entire household were baptized.
It was the custom to baptize people on the day of their conversion, even in the middle of the night. Such was the importance of baptism.
33 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.
34 And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat [food] before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.
Not only did the jailer believe in God, but so did his entire household. Care must be taken not to read more into the text than is warranted. Some Bible teachers insist that infants were to be found in the jailer’s household. They say this so that the practice of infant baptism can be justified. That is a false assumption.
The text plainly says that the gospel was preached to all that were in the jailer’s house, and all who were in the house were baptized. The promise of the gospel is salvation for all who hear and believe. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” Salvation is personal.
A parent cannot believe on behalf of a child and then arbitrarily give the child the sign of salvation. That is not authorized in Scripture, and never commanded to be done in the New Testament Church.
Let there be joy because men, women, and young people believe, and are baptized. Individuals are baptized, not apart from personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but because of it.