Then, in ancient Israel's day, there was the Ark(1) of the Covenant. This was not a boat but was still called an ark, and it too was used by God in His plan of salvation for another remnant of mankind. This ark was a special box-like structure with two cherubim (angelic replicas) spreading their wings over it in a protective manner. In the ark was placed the ten commandments, the golden pot of manna (the food God provided for Israel while they wandered in the wilderness), and Aaron's rod that budded. God had covenanted with Israel and He manifested Himself by being in and about this ark from time to time in mighty and special ways.
And finally, we have what I call the Ark of Christ. While the Bible does not use this term specifically, the New Testament is replete with language, incidences and parables which clearly reveal the implications of this understanding. The Ark of Christ is a spiritual "ship", into which the Holy Spirit places every born-again believer. It is the Church of the living God.
The Gospels are filled with incidences involving ships and boats. Jesus preached from boats; Peter stepped out of a boat and walked on the water to Jesus; Jesus calmed a raging storm when the disciples thought they would perish; He taught the disciples that He would make them "fishers of men"; Jesus likened the end of this age to the days of Noah; the metaphors go on and on. But my favorite is found in John 21:6-11. I'll quote here only verses 6 and 11:
"And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and ye shall find. They
cast, therefore and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fish." "...Peter went
up, and drew the net to land full of great fish, and hundred and fifty and three; and although
there were so many, yet was not the net broken."
Jesus was teaching here on the fruitfulness which results from Christ-directed service. The net full of "great fish" pictures the saved of all the Church age. In God's geography, I believe there are 153 nations in the world. And for 2,000 years now, under the supervision of Christ, the net has been cast into the sea. We'll see later exactly how this ties in perfectly with our current study.
Since the ark-picture is found throughout Scripture, surely God does not desire that we should
miss out on the understanding. So, let's recap the three arks:
First was Noah's Ark, a huge physical vessel with precise dimensions dictated by God. God was dealing with the sin issue of those days in a very physical way, having singled out one family to save from the penalty of sin, by having them float safely in a boat above the ravaging waters during the Great Flood.
Second was the Ark of the Covenant(2); still physical, but a bit more spiritual insight is necessary to see the connection. God broadened His plan of salvation, this time choosing one nation to reveal again to man even more about the nature of sin and its consequences. A few men and women of faith saw God in this Ark, and were thus saved. But the sin issue still lacked a lasting solution.
The third Ark would be perfect. God Himself would take on flesh and become man's haven of safety. All the wooden arks merely foreshadowed the incarnation of Christ. The Ark of Jesus is spiritual, universal and large enough to contain all who are willing to come and be saved in it. The apostle Paul often used the expression "in Christ" to describe the saved. To be in Christ is to be in the ultimate Ark. It's designed to hold those in it above the ravages of sin: first, from the penalty of sin; next, the power of sin; and finally, even the presence of sin.
If you live in one of the "153" nations [and you can be sure that you do!] and are not presently in
the boat (saved), you can right now come aboard and receive eternal life and avoid the destruction
which will come upon all who are unwilling to join this holy vessel. Let me invite you to become
a member of God's "prisoners". The ship is sailing and God is calling you to Himself. Put your
trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior. His shed blood was God's requirement as the
perfect, eternal solution to the sin issue. It's foolish to drown in the sea of sin when such a
marvelous rescue is available. I urge you, if you haven't done so already, please accept God's gift
while time remains.
Now let's continue on our journey with Paul and the others:
"And there the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing into Italy; and he put us on board."
"And when we had sailed slowly many days, and scarcely were come off Cnidus, the wind not
permitting us, we sailed under the lee of Crete, off Salmone;"
Recall from the previous chapter, the transition from the first ship boarded at Caesarea, to the "ship of Alexandria" at Myra, pictures a shift from a period of Hebrew- Christianity to Gentile-Christianity. This is precisely what happened historically. Jesus had predicted it when He cursed the "fig bush" (a metaphor of Israel) saying no fruit would grow on it henceforth. Israel would not be the vessel through which God would save the vast majority of people during the Christian era. But, it was a God-designed, two-part series in terms of Church responsibility.
Notice that all the ships are headed to Italy. We need to look at the prophetic implications of this. The Church was formed during an age of Roman rule. The picture of this fact in our present story is that the first ship left from Caesarea, a city named in honor of the Roman Caesar. The Church has been sailing towards Rome ever since.
A little history is in order here. The Roman Empire of Jesus' day was the 6th in a string of
significant empires which reigned in the Middle East---Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian,
Grecian and Roman. The apostle John speaks of these in Revelation 17:10:
"And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come;..."
The "one is" [6th] refers to the kingdom in power then: the Roman Empire. But John alludes to
the death of the Roman kingdom and its return to life in Revelation 13:3:
"And I saw one of his heads as though it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was
healed, and all the world wondered after the beast."
This deadly wound that "was healed" refers to the Roman Empire when it returns to life again. The current coalition of nations which are coming together in Europe today started out in 1958 under what was called the Treaty of Rome. Rome may not be the final capitol of the EEC, but that their role was key to the establishment of the organization of nations which comprise the renewed empire is unmistakable. All this is pictured in Acts 27:6 (our study verse) in that they were "sailing into Italy".
In verse 7, we see that the ship sailed "slowly many days". This refers to the first persecution of the Church and its Gospel message. You see, at first, the Church moved with explosive-like force. But then opposition set in. Satan wasn't just sitting on the sidelines watching the ship sail. He and his demon followers created dissension among believers as well as inspiring and infiltrating the Church with false doctrines, resulting in its slow-down. This is seen in Luke's account in that the "ship sailed slowly many days". (Prior chapters in Acts, some of the epistles, and Rev. 2&3, spell out this actuality.)
Cnidus was the last city of mainland-Asia-Minor that this second ship would see before entering
The Great Sea. At the time, Cnidus had the status of being a free city. This pictures the Gentile
Church at last being allowed to move freely into the "market place". From here on, the ship's
movements in the Mediterranean Sea is likened to the Church spreading the Gospel into all
regions of the world [into the sea of humanity, if you will].
"THE WIND NOT PERMITTING..."
We must keep in mind that there are two kinds of winds on this journey---"contrary" winds
(Satanic blowings) and "the" wind---the Holy Spirit's breath. Recall that earlier we saw "contrary
winds" forced the ship to sail on the leeward side of Cypress. This "contrary" wind was satanic in
origin. But we see it was "the wind" which did not permit a direct sailing out to sea. I think this
wind refers to the Holy Spirit, not Satan. You see, we have to be very careful in analyzing words
and phrases. Correct interpretation will result in Scriptural harmony. There were times when the
Holy Spirit would not allow Paul and others to go just anywhere they wanted to. For example,
look at Acts 16:7:
"After they were come to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia; but the Spirit suffered
Also, Paul had a strong desire to visit Spain (see Romans 15:24&28), but we have no Scriptural evidence that God ever permitted him to go there. These facts prior to Paul's last voyage---the voyage currently under study---establish a pattern which we must regard carefully as the ship sails throughout its journey. I believe "the wind not permitting" in verse 7 is one of the primary places that we must apply this principle.
This particular wind caused the ship to sail under the lee side (the eastern side away from the westerly winds) of Crete. Cretans were at Pentecost and I suspect many of them became saved and took the Gospel back to their island. Crete has changed hands many times throughout the Christian era but has remained largely Christian, while Greek in speech and sentiment. I believe we are again seeing the importance of the role which the Greek Bible would play in the Church's future.
I also believe that the ship being protected by being on the "leeward" side of the island refers to another national power which God would raise up and use to great advantage during the Church's movement into the Great Sea of humanity. I'm referring to Great Britain. For it was, you recall, Bede, in the 8th century who translated the first portion of the Bible from the Greek language into English(3).
As stated in the footnote, I can't be dogmatic that Crete symbolized Great Britain. But in light of
my other two studies in Revelation 11 and John 11, the picture is just too obvious to ignore.
Also, it just can't be mere coincidence that Luke was so careful to include such precise
information which says that on three different occasions, the ships had to sail on the "lee" side of
three certain islands. I believe it is imperative that we understand here that God is showing us
three particular national powers that He would use to protect His two ships during their voyage
through the sea of time. Remember, history is HIS STORY.
"And passing it [i.e., the leeward side of Crete] with difficulty [due to the winds], we came
unto a place which is called Fair Havens, near to which was the city of Lasea."
We must pay close attention to every word in this Scripture passage. Fair Havens is a port city on the south side of Crete. I believe this island represents Great Britain, the name of the city they docked at, "Fair Havens", signifying that the Church and its Gospel would have a certain safety there---i.e., a fair haven.
"Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them,"
"And said unto them, Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with injury and much damage, not only of the cargo 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."
"And because the haven was not commodious to winter in, the greater part advised to depart from there also, if by any means they might attain to Phoenicia, and there to winter; which is an haven of Crete, and lieth toward the southwest and northwest."
"And when the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their purpose,
loosing from there, they sailed close by Crete."
To minimize this writing as much as possible, from here on I shall sometimes use larger blocks of Scripture. For this reason, you may want to look back and re-read the passage I'll be commenting on to refresh your memory. Recall our methodology here is to see a large picture formed by developing key parts of a picture. As we look at some of these smaller parts, to keep the big picture in mind, it is extremely helpful to reflect on the things already stated, plus re-reading the block under scrutiny and also, occasionally, all of Acts 27. I can't over-emphasize that there is no substitute for multiple readings of the Word of God when you are trying to see any truth, plain or implied. Now let's look at the above verses.
The Alexandrian ship [the second of the two] had pulled into Fair Havens, Crete, when "sailing was now dangerous". Luke also referred to the "fast" which was then past. This was the Jewish Day of Atonement [end of September or early October]. In other words, wintertime was approaching and Paul "admonished them" with the suggestion that they 'stay put' for the season. He probably said this because of the severe winter conditions in the seas during that time of the year.
But I see the spiritual side of this as follows: The "dangerous" sailing would refer to the widespread, satanically-inspired opposition and persecution of the early Gentile Church. And the "fast" could be referring to the time of the Dark Ages. History records that this period was so bad throughout the world that almost all learning ceased, and the Church was likewise somewhat dormant during the time. In a certain manner of speaking, it could certainly be thought of as a universal "fast".
Verse 10 is very significant in that even the great apostle Paul weakened, saying that he feared not only loss of their ship and cargo, but their lives as well. [Later, we will see that Paul changes his mind about this.]
Recall that Paul symbolizes Church leadership. I believe there is a very important metaphor here. Paul's weakening pictures a time of apostasy; a period when it looked as if Church leadership was going under. This might possibly refer to the period in Europe when the Church was very divided. I'm uncertain of the specific situation this passage portrays but I'm convinced of the principle implied by Paul's slipping in his own personal faith in God to sustain him and the others at that time.
But look at verse 11. The "centurion" chose to "believe the master and the owner of the ship".
This is one of the clearest pictures of the metaphoric sense you're ever going to find. Surely the
reader has already identified the "master" and the "owner". If the "centurion" pictures a guardian
angel over Paul and the "prisoners", then who could possibly be the "master" and the "owner"
other than the Lord Jesus and the Heavenly Father, in whom the centurion had a higher trust?
You see, even though angels are responsible to the heirs of salvation, they can never violate God's
omniscient wisdom and authority over them. When the Church is at fault, angels will obey God
[to our ultimate good] over our cries if our pleas are wrong. Paul weakened in faith (see verse
10), so the centurion stuck to the orders from his superiors. In like manner, the angels will obey
God when the Church backslides or requests the wrong thing.
Verses 12 and 13 make the point that Fair Havens was not commodious to winter in. I presume this means Fair Havens did not have the ordinary necessities of life and the accommodations which the ship's company needed. So, they decided to get underway and try to make Phoenicia, which is on the southwest of Crete.
For a while, sailing was smooth on the south side of Crete. This gave them the idea that they would certainly reach Phoenicia with no problem. Spiritualized, this surely alludes to a period of time when the Church thought everything was A.O.K. I think some of the great British revivals are in view here. And maybe it refers to the time when the Bible was first being published; or perhaps it is a reference to the time when the printing press was first developed so that Bibles could be duplicated in greater numbers. It likely pictures all of this, and more.
There are still tough times ahead for the Church before she reaches her destination. Nevertheless, this "Ark" is certain, because it's God's vessel and nothing is going to prevent its ultimate destiny.