The Coming Storm

Norbert Lieth

What the events of Acts 27 and 28 teach us about the Church, and what they say about the future, both prophetically and symbolically.

The Church exists in the middle of the sea of the world. That’s why it has also been referred to as a ship. The Latin word for ship has become our word for the main body of the church building: the nave. The metaphor has also continued in song lyrics; for example:

You know, this ship’s been through battles before
The storms and the tempests and all the rocks on the shore
Though the hull may be battered 
Inside it’s safe and dry
It’s gonna carry its cargo to the port in the sky
(Bill and Gloria Gaither, “The Church Triumphant”)

In light of this, it’s worth observing that Jesus is reported to have traveled quite often by boat.

This imagery is well suited to current circumstances. We’re noticing that skies are becoming overcast, and the waves are roaring around the world. Someone once said that we don’t have to imagine end-time scenarios; they’ve long been a sad reality caused by human hands! It’s true that there’s a storm coming, and very few are prepared.

The Apostle Paul is the Apostle to the Nations and to the body of Christ. His story is, to some degree, analogous to that of the Church itself. The Acts of the Apostles tells us of his conversion, his mission, and his eventual arrival in Rome, where the book ends. In chapters 27 and 28, we read of his arrest and his journey to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. It is disputed whether he was actually released again, or whether he was placed on death row after two years.

The events at sea and rescue on land described in Acts 27 and 28, can now shed a symbolic-prophetic light on redemptive history and underscore its results. So, let’s take a journey with Paul.

The Prisoners
“And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners unto one named Julius, a centurion of Augustus’ band” (Acts 27:1).

What kind of prisoners were they? They were probably people who were being brought to Rome to die in the arenas. Aren’t they like the people of this world? The devil’s prisoners, prisoners of sin, bondage, and wickedness, but also helpless and greatly afflicted. “Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter” (Prov 24:11, ESV).

The prisoners traveling with Paul were all saved from the storm. We read how the Apostle was able to tell them, “And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee” (Acts 27:22-24).

Paul wasn’t traveling with the others; they were traveling with him. In a way, they became his prisoners! To apply this to us today, I believe that everyone who believes the Gospel of the Apostle to the Gentiles and who walks with Jesus, will be saved. The ship is sinking, and church buildings, traditions, and denominations will go down with it. But the true believers within the body of Christ are saved.

The special Gospel of the Apostle Paul is based on the Gospel of Jesus, but carried further into perfect grace. Paul’s Gospel was given to him by Jesus and complements the other Apostles’ letters. There is no question that Paul’s Gospel is supreme. We’re not ignoring the other letters; it’s that the revelations that God gave Paul for the Church in particular, are the ones that strengthen us in the assurance of salvation. For anyone who travels with Paul has:

Calm Before the Final Storm
“And, hardly passing it, came unto a place which is called The fair havens; nigh whereunto was the city of Lasea” (Acts 27:8).

The journey there was slow; headwinds made it difficult for the ship to move forward. This symbolizes the long period of grace: a fair haven, up until the Great Tribulation. The wind of the Spirit blows during this time; sometimes more strongly, sometimes less so. Sometimes the ship of the Church doesn’t seem to be moving, and other times there are revivals and reformations. This has occurred often enough in Church history, as well as in our personal life.

Entry into the Last Stage
“Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them” (Acts 27:9).

A great deal of time has gone by since then; it’s now 2023. Suddenly, times have become uncertain. Since World War II, those of us here in the West have experienced a “fair haven” almost exclusively. Economic boom, everyone owns a car, there is plenty of food and clean water. Most of us can afford what we need. We are socially secure, and medical care is at its peak. But suddenly, everything is becoming uncertain, as if the entire system is on its last leg. The whole world is unsettled.

An economic crisis is looming, and inflation is increasing. Groceries are gradually becoming more expensive, harvests are failing, and there are supply chain bottlenecks. Warnings of blackouts, and the fear associated with that, are increasing. The autonomy of the individual citizen is being chipped away bit by bit. Factions and divisions have emerged, which go all the way down to the community and family level. And then there are the waves of migrants. Nobody knows where all this is headed. There is talk of a new world and economic order. First, the old has to be dismantled, and then the new assembled.

The end-time events foretold in Revelation are taking shape. We have never before been so reminded of the future events in Revelation as in the last few years.

The Saving Power of Prophecy
“And said unto them, Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives. Nevertheless the centurion believed the master and the owner of the ship, more than those things which were spoken by Paul” (Acts 27:10-11).

That’s precisely the problem we have today. God’s immovable, prophetic Word warns us and this world. It gives us insight into circumstances, and points to the new earth that will come about through Jesus’ return. The Bible offers us the most reliable statements about the future. And it tells us where salvation is to be found, namely in Jesus. But the Word of God is being believed less and less. “Nevertheless the centurion believed the master and the owner of the ship, more than those things which were spoken by Paul.”

The captain and master of the ship were the ones who set the course. They represent today’s rulers and economic leaders. And who was Paul, this prisoner? They had knowledge, experience, and their own plans. They had the best of intentions; they had their own concerns, and wanted to reach their destination as soon as they could. But they didn’t rely on the Word of God. And because they didn’t look to Him for direction, they received no guidance. In the same way, everyone who doesn’t orient himself to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus is in mortal danger. Our age needs the firm prophetic Word, even if we are laughed at. It needs Spirit-bearers like Paul, heralds who call into time, “Behold, the bridegroom cometh!”

In Acts 27, Paul then offers prophecy, encouragement, and consolation. He lives out what he preaches. He trusts, prays, and eats. As Christians, are we people that others can lean on? Do we have something to say? Do we speak truth and consolation? Are we courageous, living out what we preach?

In the absence of true meaning—life in Christ—humanity is fearful. But those who belong to Jesus, rest in the certainty of His future. As Paul says elsewhere, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor 4:17).

But Paul wasn’t believed when he spoke. So, what happened?

The Storm Erupts
“But not long after there arose against it a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon” (Acts 27:14).

The term Euroclydon is composed of “Euros,” meaning the southeast wind, and “Klydon,” meaning the waves of the sea. In other words, a surging, southeasterly wind. It was a real hurricane. It’s amusing that this word contains “Euro”; who knows what mighty storm is about to break out over that continent? As the Swiss magazine Weltwoche (“World Week”) states, “Our heyday is behind us. We may as well enjoy the colorful sunset […] Europe’s night has long since begun.”

The storm caused the ship’s crew to lose complete control (vv. 14-21). There was no rescue in sight. The sailors were frantically searching for help, and wanted to gird the ship to keep it intact. Eventually, they threw the cargo overboard. They couldn’t see the sun or the stars … not a glimmer of hope until they finally gave up all hope of rescue.

This in turn reminds us of our Lord’s prophecy: “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26). A somewhat looser translation reads: “Strange things will happen to the sun, moon, and stars. The nations on earth will be afraid of the roaring sea and tides, and they won’t know what to do. People will be so frightened that they will faint because of what is happening to the world. Every power in the sky will be shaken.”

Whoever lacks firm ground throughout the storms of life is literally groundless. Psychotherapists testify that patients have been flocking to see them. But Jesus gives us the support we need. We can withstand the storms of time with His help.

The Encouragement
“But after long abstinence Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss. And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me. Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island. But when the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven up and down in Adria, about midnight the shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country” (Acts 27:21-27).

Yes, they should have heeded “biblical prophecy” (Paul’s words), the Lord’s admonishing message. But they completely ruled it out, content with the communication from the captain and the ship’s owner. But in the end, God’s Word will always be right. And even in their situation, the Lord proved merciful.

God is in control of it all: storm, ship, crew. Right when man has lost all control, the Lord is using things for His purpose. In the midst of Paul’s story, an angel appears. In the current Church Age, angels don’t deliver messages to the Church. But it will happen again during the Great Tribulation. Related to this, it’s interesting that midnight is mentioned in our passage. Are we likewise headed for midnight? Are the contours of new land in sight? Is Jesus’ return imminent?

The Anchors of This World, and God’s Anchor
“Then fearing lest we should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day” (Acts 27:29).

Even today, people are longing for a different, better time, when  there will once again be light in this world and in our personal lives. But nobody can achieve it on their own. Four anchors are thrown into the sea, representing the four ends of the earth. People are looking for stability in the great ocean of the world. We try to help ourselves, but our helplessness increases. A “Yes, we can!” attitude quickly wears thin and proves ineffective.

Organizations, political policies, and church buildings all pass away. The four anchors are useless, and the ship is damaged (v. 41). At that, the captives should be put to death (v. 42). But God promised Paul that everyone with him would be saved, and so it happens. All 276 people from the ship reach shore safely (vv. 37, 44).

Paul had another anchor, the anchor of faith. He said, “Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me” (Acts 27:25).

In these difficult times, it’s so important to trust God’s promises. That’s why holding tightly to God’s Word can be likened to navigation. “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip” (Heb 2:1). Mankind needs an anchor fixed in heaven, in God Himself, and we have one! “That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” (Heb 6:18-20).

The “two immutable things” are God’s promise to Abraham to bless him abundantly, and the additional affirmation of the oath God swore by Himself. For us, this means that God cannot lie. Therefore, everyone who believes in Jesus and is anchored to Him will reach the goal.

Christ, the sure and steady anchor
In the fury of the storm
When the winds of doubt blow through me
And my sails have all been torn.
In the suff’ring, in the sorrow,
When my sinking hopes are few,
I will hold fast to the anchor;
It shall never be removed.

So, Paul received the promise that he was going to Rome, and that nothing could prevent him from getting there. His confidence was rock solid. Not the judges in charge in Caesarea … not the devout Jews from Jerusalem, who wanted to kill him … not the arbitrary soldiers, who wanted to kill the prisoners … not the wind and waves of the storm … not the shipwreck off Melita … not the venomous snake that followed—nothing could stop him. The whole journey led to the fulfillment of God’s route. For, “Thus saith the Lord, which maketh a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters” (Isa 43:16).

Uncharted Territory
“And when they were escaped, then they knew that the island was called Melita [possibly Malta or the western Greek island of Cephalonia]” (Acts 28:1).

Verse 2 tells how those who were shipwrecked were kindly received by the islanders. “And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand” (Acts 28:3). This snake was probably the sand viper, which can grow up to 90 cm (35 in) long and is the most venomous snake in Europe. “And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm” (v. 5). “And it came to pass, that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and of a bloody flux: to whom Paul entered in, and prayed, and laid his hands on him, and healed him. So when this was done, others also, which had diseases in the island, came, and were healed” (vv. 8-9).

These connections are a prophetic and redemptive-historical reminder of the time to come, and point to the great necessity of Jesus’ return. His coming brings a new day. More details in Acts 28:1ff. recall the messianic kingdom.

At midnight, new land was within view. After the shipwreck and a long night at sea, came the new day and the new land, Melita (which means “Honey River”). The 276 people on board were all rescued. If we consider this number symbolically, then we find that 276 days correspond to nine months. That is the normal length of a pregnancy, before the labor pains and delivery of a new birth occur. So, we can say that these 276 people were pushed out through the storm to something new. In the same way, the world will go through a period of labor pains before rebirth (Matt 19:28). 

The serpent that is thrown into the fire and which couldn’t harm Paul (cf. Mark 16:17-18) symbolizes Satan, who cannot harm the Church. He may bite it, but he can’t really injure it. His end will be the lake of fire. The islanders’ friendliness foreshadows peace on earth. And the miracles (signs and wonders) show “the powers of the world to come” (Heb 6:5b). When Paul finally arrives in Rome, he proclaims Israel’s messianic hope (Acts 28:20).

Moreover, in Acts 28, we no longer see any distinction between the three groups: the military, the ship’s crew, and the prisoners. Nothing is said of the fate of the prisoners, who were en route to their deaths in Rome. Even when Paul arrived there, we learn nothing about them. It’s possible to conclude that these doomed men actually found life. It’s hard to imagine that they were rescued from the sea, only to be thrown to the lions after all. In this respect, the ship of the Church is full of the doomed who were formerly in bondage, sinners who have come to believe the Gospel. And they are all saved.

Today, it’s becoming more and more clear that we are heading into the night. The Church Age is approaching its goal, and the Lord Jesus is coming again soon for His Bride. The mystery of the Rapture had not yet been proclaimed in Acts. But Paul says later on that we do not belong to the night (1 Thess 5:5). Our path leads us through every hardship toward the kingdom of God. That’s why we don’t want to let our courage slip.

Let’s grab onto the anchor of God! And if you haven’t already, put your trust in Him. You won’t be disappointed.

Midnight Call - 07/2023

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