Early Church History: Part 20--Paul's Prophetic Shipwreck
Aug 20, 2007
After Paul appealed to Caesar, Festus had to send him to Rome, rather than to Jerusalem to face trial. So in the late summer or early autumn of 60 A.D., Paul was put into the custody of Julius, a centurion of Augustus' cohort. It is likely that his favorable treatment of Paul was because he had heard the story of Cornelius over 25 years earlier and how the Christians had broken past the narrow exclusiveness of Judaism and had treated the Romans as equals. Julius was now the centurion in Caesarea, and he probably had had personal contact with Paul and his Gospel for two years. And now on the trip to Rome, Julius was about to see the power of the Gospel demonstrated in real life.
The ship sailed from Caesarea to Sidon, about 70 miles north along the coast of Phoenicia. Paul was accompanied by Luke and Aristarchus. The centurion allowed Paul to visit with friends in Sidon (Acts 27:3), though probably under guard. Then, because the wind was blowing directly from the West, they had to sail Northwest and go around the north side of Cyprus, finally landing in Myra, a city of Lycia on the southern coast of Asia Minor (Turkey). From nearby Patara, Paul had taken a ship to Jerusalem a few years earlier, so he was quite familiar with the area.
To picture this better, see the map at http://www.gods-kingdom.org/Maps/Paul4.pdf .
At Myra, they changed ships, and sailed with an Egyptian grain ship coming from Alexandria. Egypt was the bread basket of Rome. This ship was carrying wheat (Acts 27:38), which, of course, immediately connects it prophetically with Pentecost and the Pentecostal Age.
Realize that the ships in those days did not maintain regular schedules. Anyone wishing to travel simply had to wait until a ship came through that was going in the direction they wished to travel. About six years later, when Vespasian was fighting the war in Palestine, his troops proclaimed him Emperor, and he then went to Rome, leaving his son Titus as head of the army. But Vespasian himself had to travel on a simple grain ship to Rome, much like Paul had done. Life was tough, even for an emperor.
The ship left Myra late in the year, for it was now past the Day of Atonement (i.e., "the fast" in Acts 27:9) "when sailing was now dangerous." Paul perceived that the Day of Atonement had not been observed--that is, there was no repentance for refusing to enter the Kingdom. And so he warned the centurion,
"Men, I perceive that the voyage will certainly be attended with damage and great loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives. But the centurion was more persuaded by the pilot and the captain of the ship than by what was being said by Paul."
The captain and pilot of the grain ship represents the denominational church leadership, those who guide the "wheat company," that is, the Church under Pentecost. The centurion was Rome's representative--that is, the world system of the day.
From the day that the grain ship left Myra, they seemed to run into problems with the weather. The wind was blowing against them from the West, and to make any headway, they had to sail to the Northwest to the island of Cnidus.
Finally, when the wind seemed favorable, they sailed from Cnidus to Crete, proceeding along the southern coast. But suddenly, probably during the feast of Tabernacles, they were struck by a hurricane coming out of the Northeast, and this slow-moving system drove them West for two weeks, wrecking the ship on the shores of Malta (Melita).
When the hurricane struck the ship, they did not have time even to eat (27:21). On the second day they lightened the ship, and on the third day they threw out the tackling (sail, yard, and furnishings). Then Paul had a Tabernacles visitation by an angel. Acts 27:21-26 says,
" (21) Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail from Crete, and incurred this damage and loss. (22) And yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there shall be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. (23) For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong, and whom I serve, stood before me, (24) saying, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.' (25) Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God, that it will turn out exactly as I have told you. (26) But we must run aground on a certain island."
The hurricane continued to blow for two weeks, and then one night around midnight, as they checked the depth of the sea, they discovered that it was becoming shallower and that they were coming to some kind of land or island. This was bad news, because it meant certain shipwreck. The sailors became frightened, and verses 30-32 tell us,
" (30) And as the sailors were trying to escape from the ship, and had let down the ship's boat into the sea, on the pretence of intending to lay out anchors from the bow, (31) Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, 'Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved.' (32) Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship's boat, and let it fall away."
It seems that by this time the soldiers were beginning to become believers. Paul then told them to eat, since apparently they had not eaten in two weeks (27:33). Paul then gave thanks for the food and began to eat in order to set an example.
Finally, we are told that there were 276 souls aboard this grain ship (27:37). Remarkably, if we convert each of the Greek letters to their numeric equivalents, the numeric value of the verse totals 11 x 276. There must be something about this number that is important to us from a prophetic standpoint.
The numeric value of the Hebrew word for "evil" in Gen. 2:9 is precisely 276. The Greek term ("evil") in Matt. 5:39 has a numeric value of 276 x 8.
In Gen. 6:12 we read of "all flesh" corrupting itself. The numeric value of "all flesh" is 276 x 2. In the New Testament, Heb. 12:9 speaks of "the flesh." It too has a numeric value of 276 x 6.
The number 276 speaks of the "evil" of "all flesh," and so the 276 souls aboard the ship represent "all flesh" in this prophetic story. All are in danger of utter destruction, but the promise of God is that all will be saved, even though the structures of man's governments (i.e., the ship) will be cast away. And sure enough, we read in verse 44,
"And thus it happened that they ALL were brought safely to land."
The "land" was Melita (from meli, "honey"). It represents the land flowing with milk and honey, that is, the Kingdom of God. The Greek term used is diasozo, "to save thoroughly." This is a parable of the Restoration of All Things, which occurs after this present evil age.
Galatians 1:4 says "out of this present evil age," and this Greek phrase carries a numeric value of precisely 276 x 14. This is most remarkable because it suggests the reason why the shipwreck occurred after the 276 souls were blown in the hurricane for 14 days.
When they came to shore safely, they built a fire, typifying the "lake of fire" in Rev. 20. As Paul was carrying sticks for the fire, a viper (serpent) came out and bit Paul (Acts 28:3). He then shook it into the fire, and no harm came to him. This speaks of the great serpent being cast into the lake of fire at the end of this evil age.
This is the twentieth part of a series titled "Early Church History." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones