The Philippian Jailer: A Shaken Man

KEY VERSE: “When he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.” —Acts 16:34


WHEN the Apostle Paul came to Troas after his visit to Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15:6-18, he received a vision. “There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us.” (Acts 16:9) The account continues, stating that Paul (and Luke according to some commentators) immediately went to Philippi which was the chief city of that part of Macedonia. And on the Sabbath they “went out of the city by a riverside, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spoke unto the women which resorted thither.” (vs. 13) The Jews usually held their assemblies, either by choice or restraint, at a distance from the heathen on the bank of a river. It was here that the Jews and Jewish proselytes assembled for prayer.

Apparently most of the worshipers were women. Among them was Lydia, a seller of purple, who worshiped the true God. After Paul had witnessed to her, the account states that the Lord opened her heart and she received the things which were spoken to her. Lydia and her household were later baptized, and subsequently she invited Paul and Luke to stay with her while they were in Philippi. As Paul and his companions went to the place of prayer by the river, they encountered a young woman who was possessed of an evil spirit. She brought her masters considerable gain by her soothsaying. She followed Paul and his little group, consisting of Luke, Silas, and Timothy, apparently crying in a loud voice, “These men are the servants of the most high God, which show unto us the way of salvation.” (vs. 17) This was repeated on several successive days and at length Paul commanded that the spirit come out of her.

When her masters saw that the means of their ill-gotten gains was gone, they drew Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke to the marketplace where they were accused of inciting trouble. The multitude rose up against them and they were cast into prison after they had been beaten with rods. The prison keeper was instructed to keep them well guarded and so they were placed in the innermost cell and their feet placed in stocks. The penalty for a jailer who allowed his charges to escape was very severe and apparently this jailer was doing all he could to prevent an escape.

The Romans used stocks made of heavy wood which not only bound the legs of the prisoner, but kept them extended in a very painful manner. In addition, as the result of the beating with rods, their backs and legs must have been covered with wounds. But these faithful servants of the Lord, being aware that they were privileged to be accounted worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake, and enjoying the realization of divine favor, began to pray and sing praises unto God. “Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bands were loosed.”—vs. 26

When the jailer realized what had happened, he felt certain the prisoners had escaped and drew his sword and would have killed himself had not Paul cried in a loud voice, “Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.” (vs. 28) The jailer was overwhelmed by the honesty and extraordinary faith these servants of the Lord had displayed, and as a result he was interested in learning more about what they believed. In gratefulness he washed their stripes and listened as they spoke to him, and all who were present, the Word of the Lord. As a result of this witness, the jailer and all his household were baptized. “When he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.”—vs. 34

When it was day the magistrate sent word that the jailer was to let these prisoners go. But Paul refused to go, on the grounds that he was a Roman citizen who had been abused without due process of the law, and he demanded that the magistrates themselves come and release them. Perhaps Paul did this to make the way easier for the brethren in the future against such unjust persecution.

When Paul and his companions were released they sought out the brethren, because they knew the friends would be worried and concerned. We can imagine that every detail of their experience was recounted and discussed and that they all praised the Lord for his overruling providence in their lives.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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