Paul's First Benediction and Plans
Romans 15:13 is Paul's first hint that he is beginning to contemplate the end of his epistle, as it almost sounds like the start of his benediction.
13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Their "hope" is based upon Paul's previous assertion that Christ came as a servant both to the circumcision and to the nations, for "in Him shall the nations hope" (Is. 11:10).
14 And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able also to admonish one another.
This church in Rome did not consist of new and immature believers in Christ. In fact, in 16:7 he greets people "who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me." This explains also why Paul would expound on such profound and deep matters in this epistle. He had confidence that they were mature believers who could understand the meat of the word and the deep things of God.
Paul's Ministry to the Nations
15 But I have written very boldly to you on some points, so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the ethnos, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, that my offering of the ethnos might become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
To be "a minister of Christ Jesus" was a New Testament priesthood. Paul was preparing the sacrifice to God. The people as a body form the "living sacrifice" (12:1), which Paul was preparing to offer to God. He therefore labored to make that offering "acceptable" and "sanctified by the Holy Spirit."
Both "the circumcision" and "the nations" were being offered here. This was pictured under Moses as the offering of both sheep and goats. The Passover could be celebrated with either a lamb or a goat (Ex. 12:5). We also see later that if a ruler sinned, he was to offer a male goat (Lev. 4:23), but if the common people sinned, they were to offer a female goat (4:28).
Goats were as acceptable as lambs on the altar of sacrifice. The difference is that a lamb represents the ruler, while the goat represents the non-ruling public. It shows us that the overcomers, who are destined to reign with Christ, have the character of lambs, while the rest of the church has the character of goats. Yet both are clean animals, and both are acceptable as living sacrifices on the altar of God.
Likewise, in the Old Testament context, Israel was chosen to rule the nations. They were disqualified and failed, of course, because the nation as a whole did not manifest the lamb-like character of Christ. So in the New Testament we see Christ leveling the playing field, giving all men opportunity to be either lambs or goats, according to their character.
If we take this one step further, we see that simple believers join the tribe of Judah by faith in the King, while the overcomers go beyond simple faith and are inheritors of the Birthright of Joseph. The church was the continuation of the tribe of Judah, while the overcomers are those who are inheritors of the birthright of Joseph, Ephraim, or Israel. This goes back to our earlier discussion on Romans 2:28 and 29.
17 Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. 18 For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the ethnos by word and deed, 19 in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit….
We have no reason to boast in ourselves, but we have every reason to boast of the work that Christ has done through us. The "signs and wonders" are accomplished by "the power of the Spirit," confirming the Word as He said (Mark 16:17). These are the manifestations of the Spirit which prove the Word to be true. It is therefore proper to boast about the love and power of our great Anointed One, Jesus Christ.
The Spread of the Gospel
19 … so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
Illyricum was located east of Macedonia and included what is now Bosnia and to the north. Paul's journeys took him north of Greece and even beyond Macedonia.
20 And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build upon another man's foundation;
In one sense, it did not matter where Paul preached. His ministry to the ethnos was quite distinct and unique. Most of the others had focused upon the synagogues and "the circumcision." Not wanting to offend the Jews, they tended to perpetuate the inequality of the ethnos. Paul's ministry tore down those dividing walls, angering many Jews and upsetting even those Jews who believed in Christ.
For this reason, Paul's message seemed to lay better and stronger foundations than had been laid by many others. Paul did not have to preach the gospel in far-away places to avoid building on the foundation of others. He often laid good foundations alongside of the faulty ones.
21 but as it is written, "They who had no news of Him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand." [Isaiah 52:15]
The verse Paul quotes here is from the introduction to Isaiah 53. It is the great messianic passage of the suffering Messiah. Chapter 53 should have begun with Isaiah 52:13. Verse 14 speaks of the fact that "his appearance was marred more than any man," a prophecy of the terrible beating that He endured at the cross. Verse 15 then says,
15 Thus He will sprinkle many nations, kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; for what had not been told them they will see, and what they had not heard they will understand.
This verse was fulfilled as the gospel began to be preached to "many nations," and believers began to be baptized (by the law of sprinkling, or "various baptisms" in Heb. 9:10).
The Ethiopian eunuch was one of the first to fulfill this prophecy in Isaiah 52:15, for he was reading this very passage when Philip spoke with him in Acts 8:26-38. The eunuch did not understand what he was reading, so Philip explained it to him. Hence, "what they had not heard, they will understand."
When he understood its meaning and how it applied to him personally, he requested to be baptized. "Thus He will sprinkle many nations."
Paul referred to this same verse in support of his statement that he was laying foundations in places where the gospel had not yet been preached. He was referring to Isaiah's prophecy that the gospel would be preached to "many nations" who had not previously been told, nor had they understood the Word.
22 For this reason I have often been hindered from coming to you; 23 but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you 24 whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while— 25 but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints.
Paul does not finish his sentence, but lets us know that his work in Greece and Asia had largely been completed. He had ministered for ten years and three missionary journeys in that region. He was now free to go to Spain by way of Rome on his fourth missionary journey. But first he believed that he had to go to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost (58 A.D.). He was to take financial contributions to Jerusalem.
Paul's Final Mission to Jerusalem
25 but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 27 Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the ethnos have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things.
Just before Paul was first commissioned in Antioch, he and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to bring contributions to the saints there. This was in preparation for a soon-coming famine that was prophesied by Agabus (Acts 11:28-30).
It is interesting that when Paul had largely finished his missionary work in Asia, Greece, Macedonia, and even up to Illyricum, he knew it was time to go to Spain. But first, he had a final mission to accomplish. It was to bring a second contribution ten years after the first from Achaia and Macedonia to the poor saints in Jerusalem.
Paul's explanation of this Greek generosity is this: The Greeks had shared in the spiritual blessings coming from Judea, so they were now reciprocating by sending material blessings to the saints in Jerusalem. This is based upon the principle of priesthood, wherein the priests were to be supported by the people that they served. In essence, it was payment for services rendered, though voluntary and not by compulsion. Paul does not call this a "tithe," but a "contribution," which correlates to the voluntary offerings under Moses.
28 Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you [in Rome] to Spain. 29 And I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
Paul did not know that it would be three years before he would finally reach Rome. When he reached Caesarea, Paul was shown by prophecy through Agabus that he would be imprisoned in Jerusalem (Acts 21:11).
Indeed, this came to pass, for Paul was arrested at the temple in Jerusalem at the feast of Pentecost (58 A.D.) Then because of a plot against his life, which was exposed by Paul's sister's son (Acts 23:16), Paul was taken back to Caesarea, where he could be protected in this Roman city.
Thus, in the very city where Agabus had prophesied of his imprisonment, Paul was detained for two full years (Acts 24:27).
When Paul wrote his epistle to the saints in Rome, he was yet unaware of the long imprisonment that would delay his travel plans. He only knew that Christ had told him that he would be sent "far away to the ethnos" (Acts 22:21), which included Spain. He also knew that he was to go to Rome as well (Acts 23:11). He does not mention Britain, but we know that from Spain he did indeed go to Britain before returning by land route back to Greece.
Paul continues his letter in Rom. 15:30-33,
30 Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, 31 that I may be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; 32 so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company.
Paul understood the threat against his life coming "from those who are disobedient in Judea." These "disobedient" ones were those who did not believe in Jesus Christ, but opposed the gospel and anyone preaching it. Even so, as I have said already, when Paul wrote this letter, he had not yet received the revelation from Agabus that he would be imprisoned.
Paul then seems to end his epistle with his second benediction in verse 33,
33 Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.
The final chapter is devoted to greeting many of the saints in Rome.