Seventh-day Adventists have always had a great appreciation for the books of Daniel and Revelation. This is because these books are books of prophecy. It is prophecy that established us as a people. It gives meaning and understanding to us concerning end-time events. Those times, when they come, will bring the world into crisis and then to an end. We have studied and studied these books until the pages have become worn. We have interpreted and re-interpreted them until it seems that nothing new could come. But in our study of these books we have, to a great extent, neglected other books, which have great prophetic relevance to us also.
One of the books to which I am referring is the book of Acts. Have you ever thought of the book of Acts as a prophetic book, which deals with end time events? Normally, we do not see this book as apocalyptic. We only see it as the history of the early Christian church. We see it recording the acts of the elders, deacons, and apostles, showing the events of how the early church got under way through the power of the Holy Spirit.
I would like to take you on a journey through a passage of Scripture, which I believe has prophetic significance. I hope by doing this, it will help you to read the book of Acts with a greater degree of interest in the future.
It is the normal understanding that as we look at a book of prophecy, that as we get closer to the end of that book, the more relevant it is to us, as far as the time is concerned. The closer we come to the end of the book of Revelation, for instance, the closer we come to the end of time and its importance to us as a people. I believe the same is true of the book of Acts. With this in mind, we want to look at the next to the last chapter, Acts 27.
Paul’s Arrest and Arraignment
The setting for this chapter centers on Paul’s arrest and arraignment before Agrippa. It is here that we have Agrippa’s famous statement, after listening to what Paul had to say, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” Paul’s response was, “I would to God, that not only you, but everybody who has heard me today would be like me, except for these chains with which I am bound.” Acts 26:28, 29.
But no one was interested. Life had too much to offer. Why should they restrict themselves by becoming Christians? No, they would continue on just like they had before. But they had to deal with Paul. What are we going to do with this man? He has not committed any offense worthy of death. He has not killed anyone. He has not violated any law that we know of, and if he hadn’t appealed to Caesar, we could have set him free. (See Acts 26:31, 32.)
I will have to confess, at this point, that I do not understand everything that God does. But there is one thing that I do understand, and that is that God is working to save as many souls for the Kingdom as possible. And many times, the route that God takes is not the route that man would take to accomplish the same thing.
Here is Paul, at one time a criminal to the Kingdom of heaven, but now he is a converted man, one whose only desire is to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. And it seems, as a result of that service, that he has been arrested and charged with crimes that some have deemed worthy of death.
This is the way God works many times. Whatever trial we go through, however, He has promised to be with us. Jesus said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5. This was no easy occasion for Paul, but God was with him. Paul was a double prisoner. He was a prisoner of the state and a prisoner of Jesus Christ.
The reason that this event took place was so that Paul would have an opportunity to stand before the emperor of the world and confess his faith in Christ. Paul had appealed to Caesar, and it was to Caesar he would go. And so, preparations were made for the trip. Paul, along with a couple of hundred others, would make their way to Rome.
On a Ship Heading for Rome
We see in Acts 27:1, 2 that Paul is beginning his journey…on a ship taking the gospel to Rome, there to testify before the emperor of the world. As you read through this chapter, you will find some words that have been used to hold Seventh-day Adventists in bondage, which, if they are rightly understood, will free us to be and to do what God would have us to do. “Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, ‘Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.’” Acts 27:31. It is this concept that has been distorted and turned on its ear and made to say what it does not mean.
We have taken this idea of the “Ship” and applied it to the denomination, and made it out to mean that unless we stay with the denominational churches, we can never make it through. But the truth of the matter is, that the “Ship” is not the church. I hope before we are through with this article, we will be able to see this concept, and also understand what the “Ship” is.
We want to go back and look at chapter 27 now. We want to take it apart in such a way as to understand what it is saying to those of us who are living in these last days. We’ll begin with Acts 27:2. Here we are told that Paul and his fellow prisoners boarded a ship of Adramyttium. This ship was just a regular ship, which was known for its stability and its serviceability for plying the seas, carrying cargo safely to its destination. It was dependable. It had a crew who was used to all kinds of travel, experienced seafaring men, the crew had wisdom, and when the going got tough they pulled into port so that the ship, crew, and cargo were kept safe.
There were at least three on this boat who had a mission for the Lord. There was Paul, Aristarchus, and Luke. Even though Luke does not mention his own name, he is writing in the first person, so we know that he was there recording these events.
Mark it down. Any time you are traveling for the Lord, the contrary winds are going to be blowing. Have you found this to be true in your own life? The Bible says that the winds blow. Satan does not want them to arrive safely, but the boat is sound. It is a solid, seaworthy vessel. Nothing is mentioned about leaks or problems which would cause them difficulties, and so they finally arrive at Myra, a city of Lycia.
They could not go any further at that time because the wind was blowing contrary to them. They had not yet arrived at their home port. I hope you are following me here, because there are things in this narrative, which should be speaking to us.
Changing Ships in the Midst of the Journey
Now Julius, the centurion who was in charge of the prisoners, had a decision to make. He could wait to complete his journey, which might mean spending the winter in Myra, or he could catch another ship and continue on. Here is where the story begins to take on meaning for us. They left the ship that was safe and sound, the ship that would have carried them to the destination of their journey without any difficulty. They left it and they boarded another ship. Now notice, the centurion was in charge. This centurion was an agent of Rome, and he made the decision to put everyone on board another ship. It was a ship from Alexandria. (See Acts 27:6–10.)
I do not know if this has any meaning for you or not, but let me give you some background. Alexandria was a metropolis of great learning. Alexandria had universities of higher education; a place where those of a simpler education could go and become introduced to greater depths of philosophy and theories of knowledge and critical study; a place where you could learn how to question what you had been taught as truth. It was Alexandria and its universities that prepared the way for the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah at His first coming. This happened after the Babylonian captivity. The Jewish nation had learned its lesson relative to the worshipping of false gods and idols. They had been chastised so hard during this time away from their homeland, that they would never be caught again doing that which would call for such punishment. They became so repulsed by the Gentiles and their worship of false gods, that they would not even go over and tell their neighbors about the soon coming Messiah. It finally came to the place where, if they had the shadow of the unclean [Gentile] fall across them during certain times of purification, they believed themselves to be unclean.
The Church Divided
As time went on, there were various parties that developed within the church. One group was very conservative…fundamental in their beliefs. They were known as the Pharisees. They had their problems, to be sure, but it was the Pharisees who preserved what truth the church of that day had. They rejected all attempts to introduce the new theology that was running rampant in those times.
As time drew near to the birth of Jesus, there was great persecution of the Pharisees. A persecution so great, that many of them were not only kicked out of their church offices and their memberships taken away, but many of them paid the ultimate price with their lives, because they believed in standing up for the truth as they understood it.
The other main party in the church at that time was the Sadducees. This group developed about the same time as the Pharisees. They were theologically similar, but they had some very major differences. The Sadducees came into being because those who were leading out in the Jewish denomination of that day felt that the membership, and those who they were trying to win to the faith, could be better served by an educated clergy. As a result of the vote of the committee, certain ones were chosen to go to Egypt, to Alexandria, to receive the benefits of higher education. They went, and they got what they went after, and what they learned they brought back to the nation of Judah and taught to others.
First of all, they learned liberal philosophies. Where the Pharisees were fundamental, the Sadducees were liberal. They learned, what today is called higher criticism, and this led them to reject most of the Scripture. The only books they accepted were the five books of Moses.
The Sadducees had no problem being of the world. The Pharisees were called separatists. They did not believe in being of the world. They knew we had to be in the world, but not get involved in all the trappings which came with it, so, they opted for traditions instead. It was here
that they ran head long into the teachings of Jesus.
The Sadducees loved the world and all that it had to offer them. They became involved in the politics of the day. They loved to rule. They had given up most of those characteristics which made them stand out from the rest of the Jews.
If you looked at a Pharisee, you could tell that he was a Jew. With the Sadducees it was a different story. They not only wanted to be in the world, but they wanted to look like the world and be everything that the world wanted them to be. They did not want to be too peculiar. Not being peculiar called for them to give up certain fundamental doctrines for the newer theology. This meant that they would no longer believe in the resurrection of the dead. They did not believe in angels or devils, or the punishment of those who were sinners. They were progressive and modernist in their thinking.
The Sadducees were the ones who held the ruling positions in the headquarters building of the Sanhedrin when Jesus began His ministry. It was a Sadducee who stood up during the discussion about what to do with Jesus and said it is better that one man die, than the whole nation perish. The Sadducees were thoroughly soaked in their new theology which they had obtained from Alexandria, down in Egypt.
Under the Direction of Rome, They Changed Ships
We are looking at Acts 27 as prophetic instruction to us in these last days just before Jesus comes again. They had changed ships here, under the direction of the leader of Rome. They boarded a ship from Alexandria, and after they had gotten under way, Luke records for us what was going on. “Now, when much time was spent and when much sailing was not dangerous because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them 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.’”
Acts 27:9, 10. This is a very significant verse. Paul goes to those who are in charge and he is, we notice, very respectful. He addresses them as “Sirs.” We have taken a boat that is going to cause us damage. We are not going to come out of this thing without loss. Three things were going to be damaged. The cargo of the ship, the ship itself, and the lives of those on board.
Now, it is at this point that we need to ask, “What is the Ship?” Many have tried to convince us that the “Ship” is the denomination. If we stay with the denomination, we are going to sail right into the harbor without a scratch. Just stay with the “Ship.”
I would like to suggest to you that the “Ship” is not the denomination at all, but the “Ship” is the truth of God! Jesus is the captain of this “Ship,” and truth is what carries us along. Let me share some quotations with you which I hope will clarify this issue.
“God’s people must give to the world a representation of the character of God, in Jesus Christ. The Christian churches are fast losing their knowledge of God. His character has been misunderstood and misinterpreted. But a message has come from God which must be proclaimed. The trumpet must give a certain sound. ‘I, Jesus, have sent Mine angel to proclaim these things to the churches.’ The truth, the revelation which Jesus gave to John, must be sounded forth everywhere. ‘Lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him; Behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him. He shall feed His flock like a Shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.’” Signs of the Times, December 23, 1897.
“The only way in which men will be able to stand firm in the conflict, is to be rooted and grounded in Christ. They must receive the truth as it is in Jesus. And it is only as the truth is presented thus, that it can meet the wants of the soul. The preaching of Christ crucified, Christ our righteousness, is what satisfies the soul’s hunger.” General Conference Daily Bulletin, January 28, 1893.
The truth as it is in Jesus, is what carries us along in our experience of life as we go through this world. This is the only thing that makes any sense at all. We are not to depend upon anything here in this world to carry us through the various experiences of trial and torment as we go through life—it is only Jesus. We can depend upon the truth as it is in Jesus. It is with this in mind, that this next quotation can be understood.
“There is no need to doubt, to be fearful that the work will not succeed. God is at the head of the work, and He will set everything in order…” [Who is at the head of the work? God is!] “If matters need adjusting at the head of the work, God will attend to that, and work to right every wrong. Let us have faith that God is going to carry the noble ship which bears the people of God safely into port.” The Review and Herald, September 20, 1892.
The Noble “Ship” is the Truth!
The “noble ship,” which bears the people, is the truth! Nothing else can carry us into safe port, but the truth, and when we say that the “Ship” is the denomination, we have missed the whole point of what is being said. Denominations fail—the truth never fails. Men can disappoint us, but the truth never will. God will see to it. We need to get our thinking readjusted.
When we give up the words and counsels of inspiration we are going to get into trouble fast. I would like to suggest right here, that if this man from Rome had listened to Paul, they would not have had the problem that they did. (See Acts 27:11.) Even the truth, distorted as it may be, is going to run into winds designed to destroy it, and everyone who might be connected with it. Never forget that Paul is being held captive here. He is on board, but he is a prisoner bound, as it were, in chains. Unable to counsel, unable to reason, unable to take any kind of command over what is going on, the only thing left to do was to let the wind drive the ship.
Did Paul know what was going to happen? Of course he did. He told them that they would experience damage. They had changed from a sturdy ship to a ship from Alexandria. They had taken the word of Rome over the counsel of the prophet, and as they began to run into opposition because of this, they started throwing the tackling of the ship overboard. They are frantic to find a way to get out of the mess that they are in, and they do not know how. They are plunged into darkness. There is no light. They cannot tell what is going on. Theological darkness is a terrible experience to go through, but here they were, right in the midst of it all, and the situation was so bad that they thought, “This is it!” (See Acts 27:16-20.) All hope that they would be saved was taken away.
Does that say anything to us? Are we going to have an easy time of it? Are we going to sail into the harbor standing on the deck, with clowns and balloons and the band playing? I do not think that we will!
Paul begins to give them some counsel. No one is going to die, but the “ship,” the truth, is going to be broken up. I will not comment about that right now, but we will see how this works out as we continue. (See Acts:27:21, 22.)
Now they begin to listen to the prophet. We will see that counsel was the only thing which saved their lives. But when some of them saw the change in things, they wanted to abandon ship. These were not the ones in Paul’s party. They were not part of an offshoot, as such. Inspiration tells us that they were the heathen soldiers of Rome. They did not have any better wisdom than to leave. Paul tells the centurion about this, and says, “Except these abide in the ship, you cannot be saved.” Acts 27:30, 31.
Here is an important point to remember. God does not save heathens just because they follow the counsel of the prophet. Every person must have a personal relationship with Jesus as his Lord and Saviour. Truth, in and of itself, does not save. It is blessed by the Holy Spirit through the born again experience. Nicodemus had the truth. He was a Pharisee, but Jesus told him he had to be born again.
Staying With the “Ship”
To just stay with the ship was not enough. Sister White tells us that if these sailors had left the ship, it was certain death for them. They could not have survived the raging sea and the rocks where they would have ended up. Paul, wanting them all to be saved from death, said what he did. Staying with the ship was important. This was designed by God for giving them one last opportunity to see His wonderful grace. But seeing it still meant that they had to make their own decisions, not corporately, but individually!
In 1904, when the Alpha of apostasy was raging, Ellen White went to bed one night and God gave her a vision. She tells it this way, “A vessel was upon the waters in a heavy fog. Suddenly the lookout cried, ‘Iceberg just ahead!’ There towering high above the ship was a gigantic iceberg.
An authoritative voice cried out, ‘Meet it!’ There was not a moments hesitation.…The engineer put on full steam, and the man at the wheel steered the ship straight into the iceberg.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 205-208.
Under normal circumstances, if you tried that, you would go down for sure, but not with God. She says that the ship hit that iceberg with a tremendous crash, and it split the iceberg in such a way that ice thundered down upon the deck of the ship. The ship rebounded from the contact and was trembling like a living creature. It was damaged, but there were no lives lost, and it went right on through and kept on its course. Ibid.
The Iceberg of Error
Do you know what the iceberg represents? It represents error. What did the ship represent? The ship represents the truth. This comes through as you read the whole story. The ship had to meet error. The truth came into collision with error. Did the ship suffer some damage? Yes, it did, but she said that it survived. The “Ship” is the truth.
Paul and his shipmates’ problems were not over yet. It would take everyone at this point in time, working together, to pull this thing off. God makes it very plain, through inspiration, that the heathen will be used of God to further His cause, and here is another instance of it. They had been fasting, not eating anything, and now the time had come to take on some nourishment for what was just ahead. I believe this is prophetic. I believe we will experience this same thing before Jesus comes.
The Alexandrian ship had to lighten its load. That which had been taken on board, believing that it would be so profitable, now had to be abandoned, thrown overboard. The only way for truth to survive as truth, is to throw out all error. Cast it overboard, and then pray for God’s help.
I want to point out something else here. They began to cast out the ship’s load during the hours of darkness. That is when the search for truth seems to become the greatest. It is when it is the darkest. But even though they lightened the ship, they were still in a great deal of trouble. The darkness was beginning to give itself over to the light of day. Still, no one knew if they would be saved, even with all of the effort that had been put forth. (See Acts 27:33–38.) There comes a time when we have to take the words of the prophet, that we will make it through, by sheer faith. Pull the anchors, hoist the mainsail, and head for shore. (See Acts 27:39–40.)
This is going to be one of the most severe tests we ever endure at the time of the end. The Bible says that the just shall live by faith. It is not going to be because we have a clear picture before us. No! We are going to have to live by faith, because God said it.
The Broken “Ship” of Truth—A LifeSaver
And so, they hoist the sail and head for land. But notice what happens in Acts 27: 41–44. The ship runs aground. The truth is going to have to go through some terrible times. It is not going to go down to the bottom of the sea, but it will suffer some damage. The truth has already suffered damage. The only thing that went down to the bottom was the cargo and tackle. The ship, even though it was broken up, still served as a lifesaver to those who were willing to cling to it and who could not swim on their own.
What would have happened if no one listened to Paul, if his words fell on deaf ears? Evidently he made such an impression on the centurion, that this man from Rome was compelled, against the provision of the law, not to kill his prisoners. He spared their lives, and they all escaped to the safety of land. (See Acts 27:42–44.)
As we read this story, which I feel is prophetic, there is certainly enough here for us to make some intelligent decisions.
The “Ship” is not the denomination. The “Ship” is not even the people. The “Ship” is the truth of God, and it is this noble truth of God, which carries the people of God safely into port. The truth, as it is in Jesus, is the only thing, dear people, to which we need cling; we must cling, as we enter the raging seas of these last days. My prayer is that we will have the strength to cling to him in all things.