While Paul had endured long journeys evangelizing as far as Macedonia and Achaia, his journey to Rome was perhaps the most difficult. Paul and company had to endure turbulent seas, shipwreck, and ignorant mariners—yet even in these circumstances God used Paul to minister to those in need. While awaiting trial in Rome, Paul called for a meeting with the local Jewish leadership, hoping to win their favor and win them to Christ. They rejected the offer of salvation and Paul interpreted their response in light of what the Lord said to Isaiah when the Lord called Isaiah to prophetic ministry.
Luke reported that not long after Paul and company arrived in Rome Paul was permitted to stay by himself with soldiers guarding him. Paul called together the leaders of the Jews and informed them of his arrest and arrival at Rome (Acts 28:17-20). They told Paul that they had not heard of him and knew nothing of the circumstances surrounding his arrest in Jerusalem or his lengthy imprisonment in Caesarea. But since they had heard about the sect of Christianity, they agreed to hear Paul’s message (Acts 28:22). Paul thus had the chance to preach to an unbiased Jewish audience—something he had not enjoyed in years. On an appointed day, the Jews in Rome came to Paul and he exhorted them to believe in Jesus, citing texts from both the law and the prophets. “Some were persuaded by what he said, but others did not believe” (Acts 28:24).
When Paul preached to the Jews in Rome—an audience that had no prior knowledge of him or how other Jews reacted to his preaching—he witnessed a familiar reaction. Just as Jews rejected him on his journeys, so in Rome. Paul immediately recalled the ministry of Isaiah. In Isaiah 6, the prophet recorded his call to ministry. The Lord gave Isaiah a vision of heaven where he saw the Lord sitting on His throne and angels surrounding Him crying out, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; His glory fills the whole earth” (Isa 6:3). Isaiah recognized his need to be cleansed and the Lord atoned for his iniquity (Isa 6:4-7). When Isaiah responded to the Lord’s call to go and speak His word, the Lord informed Isaiah that the people would reject his message. In Acts 28:26-27, Paul quoted Isa 6:9-10, saying, “Go to this people and say: ‘You will listen and listen, yet never understand; and you will look and look, yet never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown callous, their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their heart, and be converted—and I would heal them.’” Jesus quoted Isa 6:9-10 to explain to His disciples that His parables kept spiritual truths hidden from unbelievers (Matt 13:14-15//Mark 4:11-12//Luke 8:10). When summarizing Jesus’ ministry in John 12:37-41, John cited Isa 6:9-10 to explain why so many Jews had rejected Jesus. Paul noted that his gospel message affected the Jews in Rome the same way that Jesus’ message affected many of His hearers.
But Paul’s situation differed from Isaiah’s. Paul’s sphere of influence went well beyond the bounds of Israel—and he thus exclaimed, “Therefore, let it be known to you that this saving work of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen!” (Acts 28:28). The closing scene of Acts confirmed what Paul had earlier written in Rom 11:11-25, that God had hardened the majority of Jews for a time, until the Gentiles would be welcomed into the people of God.