We finally come to the end of the book of Acts. Paul arrives at Rome after a harrowing shipwreck and some unpleasant business with a snake. He does what he always does - meeting with the local Jewish congregation before expanding out to the Gentiles.
And then the book just… ends. Luke’s pen lies abandoned, the rest of the story untold. You could hardly be blamed for wondering “What happens next??” and “Why does the book end this way????”
I will address the first question and then the second. We are fairly certain - based on the written records of several early church figures - that Paul is beheaded by Nero in Rome. There is some debate as to whether this happens immediately after the events of Acts, or whether Paul is released, goes on another journey - this time to Spain - and is eventually recaptured and then beheaded. There are early proponents of both stories, and a number of Spanish churches claim to have been originally founded by Paul. My guess (and it isn’t much more than a guess) is that Paul is executed in Rome with no possibility of another journey.
So why doesn’t Luke tell us what happens? There are a couple theories here, all revolving around when you think Acts was written. The first theory - the “skeptic” theory - is that Luke is writing decades after the events and he leaves the final details out for… some reason. Perhaps he didn’t want Paul’s story to end too much like Jesus’, maybe he couldn’t bring himself to write out the last chapter. Possibly he didn’t know how the story ended (though that seems far fetched to me in this scenario).
The other theory - the “traditional” theory - is that Luke doesn’t “finish” because he is writing during Paul's imprisonment in Rome and the events haven’t happened yet. In this version, Luke is writing Acts primarily to assist in Paul’s defense before Caesar - creating a written account that can be distributed to officials or even used at the trial itself.
I suspect if Paul himself could weigh in on this, he would tell us that the ending hardly matters. In his words, “...to live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21, ESV) How did Paul die? The same as he lived - serving the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus until the very end. Paul was never terribly concerned with when his death would come - after all, death wouldn’t be the end of his story anyway. And perhaps that makes the ending we have the best ending of all; the story of Acts lacks a proper ending, because Paul’s story hasn’t ended either - merely changed scenes.
This bring us to the end of Acts! Starting tomorrow, we will explore the book of Colossians - one of the letters that Paul wrote during his time in prison. Please check back here, or subscribe below, to keep following along!
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