Wednesday, April 22, 2009

When Was the Philippian Jailer Saved...And How?

A Roman jail was not a place anyone wanted to go. They were places where people went in…and never returned more often than not. You may recall the jail scenes in the movie Ben Hur for example. Not only were they dark, unsanitary and cruel, one was considered guilty until proven otherwise, most likely by the use of outside money and influence of a benevolent third party. To add insult to injury, the inhabitants of these jails were many times brutally beaten within an inch of their lives before they were thrown into prison. After a prisoners deposit into one of these pits, their only sustenance had to come from outside. All food, clothing and other life sustaining items had to come from the outside from family or friends.

All this describes the plight of Paul and Silas as they found themselves inside the Roman prison in Philippi. They were thrown into the jail after the locals rioted at the proclamation of the gospel. Denominational missionary W. P. Nicholson once said that “…when a mission was begun it was not long before they had either a riot or revival.” Such was the scene at Philippi upon the arrival of these two brave souls. After establishing the church of Christ in that city along the riverside with Lydia and her companions, Paul and Silas had “went to prayer” (Acts 16:9) and met a slave girl possessed “with a spirit of divination” who was aggressively used by her masters for “much profit by fortune telling.” This slave girl followed Paul and Silas “many days” proclaiming aloud that “these men are servants of the most high God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” Finally, Paul being “greatly annoyed”, cast the evil spirit out of her by the power of God. When her masters saw that their source of income was gone they stirred the locals to riot. (Acts 16:18-22) Such rioting caused the magistrates to come to the scene where “they tore off their (Paul and Silas) clothes and commanded that they be beat with rods.” Roman “justice” not only presumed guilt before innocence, it also instituted punishment before trial! Afterwards, Paul and Silas had their feet locked in stocks in the most secure area of the prison. Under normal circumstances, their lives would have been very short one way or the other. God, however, had other ideas!

As we all know from those wonderful summer VBS days of days gone by, Paul and Silas were praising God with prayers and hymns about midnight with the other prisoners as an attentive audience. Never, we suppose, had Roman prisoners heard such a response to an arrest, beating and imprisonment! While this was taking place, a great earthquake shook the place to the point that “all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.” What happened next was even more amazing!

The jailer, whose name is still unknown, was awakened. He saw that the doors of the prison were thrown open and he assumed the worst…the prisoners were all gone and he would be held responsible by Rome. Though the text does not tell us his motivation, he took out his sword and was about to kill himself. Seeing this about to take place, Paul “called out with a loud voice…”Do yourself no harm for we are all here!” At this point we come to one of the great question and answer interchanges in Scripture. “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” -- “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Wanting very much to “pound a round peg into a square hold,” much of the religious world today strives to point to this passage as a “salvation” passage that supports the Calvinist presupposition that salvation comes only from “faith alone through Christ alone.”

This passage teaches just the opposite! The jailer was NOT saved at this point! Let’s look at the facts: 1) The jailer had no knowledge of who Paul and Silas even were at the point of his question. Just minutes before they were just another couple of prisoners and he was comfortably asleep in the comfort of his bed. 2) The jailer had no idea who Jesus Christ was as he had never yet heard the gospel! 3) The jailer was stopped in the midst of a suicide attempt and was interested SOLELY in the preservation of his life, family and livelihood. His question regarding salvation, therefore, had to do…not with eternal salvation…but physical and career salvation. It is impossible, therefore, that the jailer was saved at this point for we know from Romans 10:17 that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” No one has ever been saved prior to hearing the gospel, not then and not now.

Since the jailer was not saved at the point of this interchange, when was he saved? Let’s examine the continuing chain of events. 1) Paul and Silas, AFTER the exchange “spoke the Word of the Lord (the gospel) to him and all who were in his house.” (Acts 9:32) 2) The gospel was preached and believed for “in the same hour of the night he washed their stripes.” (Acts 9:33) 3) “Immediately (upon hearing the gospel) he and all his family were baptized.” (Acts 9:33)

The Philippian jailer was saved the same way everyone was or ever will be saved…by hearing, belief, repentance, confession and baptism. He and all his family were saved at the point of their baptism into Christ and not a moment before. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

1) All quotations are from the New King James Version (KJV)
2) The W. P. Nicholson quote is from:

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