From the very first verse of this chapter, I see hints of metaphoric content. When allegory is truly present, meaning it was God-intended and God-inspired, there will be key words which will, once you get the hang of it, stand out like subtle hues of a beautiful sunset.
For example, in the above verse, the phrase "certain other prisoners" tipped me off. When I see words like this which don't seem to be particularly necessary with regards to the plain thrust of the passage, I immediately wonder if there is information beneath the surface which can only be unveiled through application of the Law of Double Reference.
Let me set the center-stage this way: I think these "certain other prisoners" are symbolic of all
believers throughout the Church age. And Paul, being the main character in the natural story,
represents Church leadership(1). He symbolizes the fulfillment of Ephesians 4:11&12, which Paul
himself would later write: "And he [i.e., Christ] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets, and
some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints for the work of
the ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ." So, in our story, Paul pre-figures all these
offices; and the "certain other prisoners" picture the rest of the body of Christ, the Church.
In Part I, I've already stated my convictions that the Roman Catholic Church is the organization which has deceived many to think it is the Church; but it cannot be considered so, because of its man-conceived presumptions and atrocities, erroneous beliefs and practices. Despite this, I do believe that there are true Christians caught up in the web of this structure, perhaps including even some leaders God has sovereignly placed there for the protection and benefit of unwitting, although saved, Catholics.
The "centurion", Julius, was the guard over Paul and the "certain others" in their voyage to Italy. Even though he was a member of the evil Roman empire, I believe he represents God's protection of Paul and the others. This may seem weird, Rome being the opposition to Paul and all, but actually shouldn't be considered strange. You see, the Holy Spirit is sovereignly directing the true Church. And it doesn't matter how difficult the conditions the Church goes through, the Holy Spirit is not bound or frustrated by earthly borders or evil powers of any kind.
When I first began to see the metaphors in this story, I thought of the Holy Spirit as being the "Centurion" of Paul. I drew this conclusion because one of the implications of the name of the Holy Spirit is "one who comes alongside". I picture this as one ship coming up beside another in distress. The Holy Spirit's guidance of the Church could accurately be thought of this way. [I actually witnessed this sort of thing when I was in the Navy. The ship having sailed most recently from a nearby, friendly port would come alongside other ships in the fleet, bringing food, mail and other supplies to those having been at sea longer than they.] But then I discovered another aspect to this. Let me explain:
Paul was delivered to Julius. It was when I learned the meaning of this name that triggered in my mind another personality which better fits the scenario, an emissary of the Holy Spirit but not the Holy Spirit Himself. The name Julius means downy---like feathers. What does this suggest to you? My first impression was wings. And when you think of wings, what next comes to mind? Angels? Of course. When God gave instructions on the building of the Ark of the Covenant, He said to cover the ends with cherubs, and that the "...cherubim shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings,..." (See Exodus 25:20.)
Now I don't know if God's angels have real wings or not. But they are certainly pictured this way in Scripture, and tradition has [correctly] maintained this imagery. And, I'm convinced, because of the perfect agreement that we shall see throughout Paul-and-his-fellow-prisoners' plight, that Julius symbolically represents a particular, strong angel of God; one who has been the Church's main angelic-overseer throughout the Christian age.
Another supportive argument here is found in the fact that this particular centurion, Julius, was of "Augustus' band". Now what is so important about this? The Augustus' band was a special guard which normally would protect the likes of Caesar himself. In the natural realm of things, Paul was a Roman citizen and, as such, Rome was extending special courtesies to him. But why would Paul and the "certain others" have been so well-thought-of and protected by such an elite group? The better sense comes out when viewed metaphorically. Julius and the Augustus' band symbolized the regality and watch-care of God as He watches over His earthly treasure, the Church. This "band" implies all the other angels who act as ministering spirits of the "heirs of salvation". (See Hebrews 1:14.)
So, to sum up verse 1, in the prophetic sense, we have the Church's leadership (Paul), the Church flock ("certain other prisoners"), being protected and guarded by the centurion, Julius, and his band (God's angels), all getting ready to "sail to Italy". And when thought of in the long-range sense, the final destination [Rome] is as fitting for the whole Church age as it was for Paul and the few that went with him almost 2,000 years ago. As we saw in Part I, the world will yet see a restoration of the old Roman Empire. And the Church has been headed in that direction from the beginning of the Christian era. We, the Church, are all in that "boat" and, I believe, not far from the destination in this very hour. But, I'm getting ahead of myself; let's get back to our voyage.
If you will look in the back of your Bible, you may find a map showing a tracing of Paul's journey
to Italy. My Bible has a blue line drawn all the way from Jerusalem, where Paul's plight started,
connecting all the key places on both land and sea touched upon throughout the entire voyage, up
to and including Rome. This helps tremendously in the visualization of my overall presentation.
The places and incidences which happen all along the way are all part of the allegorical picture of
the Church as it has existed and changed course from Paul's day until now. Before going on,
please find and study a map such as the one I just described. As the saying goes, "a picture is
worth a thousand words". Never has this been more true than with regards to this story. Study
and remember this map.
"And entering into a ship of Adramyttium, we put to sea, meaning to sail by the coasts of
Asia, one Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, being with us."
Adramyttium was a port on the northeast coast of the Aegean Sea. Doubtless, Julius expected to find another ship bound for Italy at some other port in Asia Minor. Later, we'll see that's exactly what happened. Surely the fact that there were two ships necessary to make this voyage has prophetic meaning.
I believe it refers to the fact that the Church has had two main groups of people involved in its establishment---Jews and Gentiles. Even though Israel's leadership, and the nation as a whole, rejected Jesus as Messiah, Christians must remember that all Scripture was written by Jews; all Jesus' disciples were Jews; and the Church began totally out of the Jewish community. Their first commission is summed up like this:
"But ye (i.e., Jews) shall receive power, after the Holy Spirit is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." Acts:1:8.
Thus, Christian Jews were the first missionaries in the Church age. But, beginning as far back as the Abrahamic Covenant, God purposed to bless all nations, Jews and Gentiles alike.
"And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing."
"And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all
families of the earth be blessed." Genesis 12:2&3.
The inclusion of Gentiles with Jews, to both bless them and later use them in ministry, continued from early in the Church age. Jesus confirmed it. (See Matthew 15:21-28.) Not to take away from the Jews, but, regarding faith, it was a Gentile [a centurion] who received from the Lord the highest praise found in Scripture:
"When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turned around and said to the
crowd that followed Him, 'I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!'"
The fact that faith would be found among Gentiles as well as Jews would continually be manifested in the Scriptures, thoroughly documented in the earlier chapters of Acts as well as all the epistles. Paul himself was "appointed" to the Gentiles. (See II Timothy 1:11.) And the Biblical evidence shows just how seriously Paul took his responsibility in that he established many churches in the Gentile nations surrounding Israel.
Yes, Gentiles would also wear God's mantle of ministry. The first "ship" (i.e., the vessel which would house the firstfruits of souls harvested) of the Church age would be the work of born-again Jews; the second "ship" would be the work of born-again Gentiles.
The early disciples catapulted the Gospel into the surrounding nations with such great impact that that fire would never be extinguished. Not discounting the spiritual value of the firstfruits of the Jews, but their "ship" ended early in the Church age. The "baton" would next be handed to believing Gentiles. Recall from Part I that Israel, as a nation, would go "on-hold" shortly after the cross. From then until now, the main evangelizing has been done by Christian Gentiles. Remember though, the Jews will yet have another day [after the Rapture] to "glean" more souls when the fullness of the Gentiles is accomplished.
Continuing now with verse 2, note that the ship's company planned to "...sail by the coasts of Asia...". I'll talk more about this in verses 5 & 6. I just wanted to emphasize here that this was in the plan from the beginning. The metaphoric meaning is clear: just inland from the coasts of Asia is where the early Gentile churches were planted. And that, I'm persuaded, is the main reason 'Dr.' Luke so cogently, in his very special style, provided these little details in the "shadows". (Later, I'll discuss the significance of some of those churches.)
The final point of verse 2 concerns one named Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica. I am so glad Luke included this fact. A little fact, really, but as to relevance in our story---gigantic!
In Acts 19:29, Aristarchus is said to be a "companion" of Paul; and now here in Acts 27, we again find him operating in this capacity. What's the value in knowing this fact? Metaphorically, it is of enormous proportion. Thessalonica was the first city where Paul's preaching achieved a numerous and socially-prominent following. (See Acts 17:4.) Thessalonica was a major city in Macedonia [another name for Greece].
Now let's put all these facts together: Paul is on the first leg of his journey (the first "ship" being a Jewish one) with other "prisoners" (the saved) headed for Rome. What else must Paul take along on his journey? The Bible, of course. Likewise, Church leadership, pictured by Paul, must also have the Bible as a "companion" during their voyage. Without it, there would be no "compass" to keep on course during the voyage.
In Paul's day, what was his Bible? Well, it was the Septuagint. And what was the Septuagint? It was the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures. Paul surely spoke both Hebrew and Greek, and probably Aramaic. But the New Testament was written in Greek. Put the two together, the Septuagint and the Greek New Testament (in which Paul himself would be a primary, contributing author), and you've got the Bible from which all modern translations were derived.
These facts show clearly that God would use Greek as the key-language to spread the Gospel message into the whole world. What I am saying is that the Bible, written in Greek, has been the "companion" of the Church from its inception until this day. And, this is precisely the inference of Luke's extreme care of including the fact of Aristarchus being a "Macedonian (a Greek fellow) of Thessalonica, being with us".
Do you see these elements in the dark shadows, my friend? It's on the "negative". If it didn't transfer to the "print", then the problem lies in my poor "development". There are yet-to-come some bolder metaphors, though, which will help identify the smaller details in the shadows.
In my "darkroom days", I would often make several prints before seeing the results I knew were on the negative. Sometimes it would be necessary to dodge [under-expose] the highlights and burn [over-expose] the shadows to bring out the proper balance between them. We are following that same pattern here. The point is, never forgetting the plain message of a Scripture, the obvious (highlights) must sometimes be de-emphasized in one's thinking in order to see the metaphoric content (the shadows). Remember that God authored both.