In the year 59 C.E., the centurion Julius and his tired soldiers led a group of prisoners into Rome. They came into the city through the Porta Capena gate. On Palatine Hill they could see the palace of Emperor Nero, which was protected by Praetorian soldiers armed with swords. * (See footnote.) The prisoners walked by the Roman Forum and up Viminal Hill. They went past a garden with many altars to Roman gods and then past a large area used for parades and military training.
One of the prisoners was the apostle Paul. Some time earlier, during a storm at sea, an angel had told Paul: “You must stand before Caesar.” (Acts 27:24) Paul might have been wondering if these words would soon come true. As he looked around at the city, he may have remembered what Jesus had told him at the Tower of Antonia in Jerusalem years earlier: “Be of good courage! For as you have been giving a thorough witness on the things about me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness in Rome.”
Perhaps Paul looked at the Praetorian camp, called the Castra Praetoria. This was a large fortress with high red-brick walls and towers. It housed 12 cohorts of the Praetorian Guard and several cohorts of the city’s police, including cavalry. * (See footnote.) This building reminded the people of how powerful the emperor was. Because the Praetorian Guard was also responsible for prisoners from other parts of the Roman Empire, Julius led these prisoners into the Praetorian camp. After a trip that lasted several months, the prisoners were finally in Rome.
PAUL DID NOT STOP PREACHING
Amazing things had happened on the way to Rome. During a storm at sea, Paul foretold that the ship would be destroyed but that everyone would survive. A poisonous snake bit Paul, but he was not harmed. Later, he healed sick people on the island of Malta, and some began to say that he was a god. Other members of the Praetorian Guard may have heard about these events and may have been talking about them.
Paul had already met brothers who had come from Rome to the Marketplace of Appius and Three Taverns to meet him. (Acts 28:15) Paul was eager to continue preaching in Rome. But how could he do that now that he was a prisoner? (Romans 1:14, 15) Some think that the prisoners were first taken to the captain of the guard. If that is true, Paul was probably taken to the leader of the Praetorian Guard, Afranius Burrus, who may have had almost as much power as the emperor. * (See footnote.) Instead of being guarded by officers, Paul was now guarded by one ordinary Praetorian soldier. Paul was allowed to find his own place to live and to receive visitors and preach to them.
PAUL WITNESSED “TO BOTH SMALL AND GREAT”
Burrus perhaps questioned Paul at the Praetorian camp or at the palace before taking him to Nero. Paul did not miss this opportunity to preach to someone who had great authority. (Acts 26:19-23) We do not know if Burrus thought Paul was guilty or not, but we do know that he did not send Paul to prison in the Praetorian camp. *
Paul invited the Jewish leaders and many others to his house and witnessed to them. The Praetorian soldiers also received a witness. They heard as Paul gave a thorough witness to Jews about Jesus and the Kingdom “from morning till evening.”
Every day, there was a different group of Praetorian soldiers guarding the palace. Paul may also have had a different soldier guarding him each day. As a result, many guards received a witness. They heard him dictate the letters to the Ephesian, Philippian, Colossian, and Hebrew Christians and saw him write a letter to a Christian named Philemon. While in prison, Paul helped Onesimus, a slave who had run away. He had become like a son to Paul, but he later returned to his master. (Philemon 10) Paul probably also showed interest in the soldiers who guarded him. (1 Corinthians 9:22) For example, Paul may have had a conversation with a guard about what different pieces of armor were for and then used what he learned in one of his illustrations.
“SPEAK THE WORD OF GOD FEARLESSLY”
Those in the Praetorian Guard were in contact with people everywhere in the Roman Empire, including the emperor and his family members, servants, and slaves. So not only the Praetorian Guard but also many others had the opportunity to hear the good news, and some of these became Christians. (Philippians 1:12, 13; 4:22) Paul’s example encouraged the brothers in Rome “to speak the word of God fearlessly.”
Paul’s example also encourages us to preach the good news both in good times and in difficult times. (2 Timothy 4:2) For example, we may be in a nursing home, in a hospital, or in prison because of our faith. Whatever our situation, we can preach to those we meet. Perhaps we can speak to those who come to care for us or who come to do some kind of work for us. When we courageously use every opportunity to preach, we show that nothing can stop the good news from spreading.
^ par. 2 See the box “The Praetorian Guard in Nero’s Day.”
^ par. 4 A Roman cohort was a group of up to 1,000 soldiers.
^ par. 7 See the box “Sextus Afranius Burrus.”