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Third Millennium Study Bible
Notes on Romans 15:19-22

Signs and miracles - Romans 15:19

See "Miracles: Do miracles happen today?" below. Christ acted in the power of signs and miracles. This is a phrase rooted in the authentication of Moses' ministry at the time of the exodus (Exod. 7:3; Deut. 4:34; 6:22; 7:19). Paul's ministry among the Gentiles was accompanied by miraculous events. He regards them as "the signs of an apostle" (2 Cor. 12:12), as attested in Acts (cf. Acts 13:6-12; 14:3, 8-10; 19:11, etc.). Hendriksen states:

These "signs and wonders" were great in number and enormous in effect. At this point the reader should turn to Acts and read the following sections: Acts 13:6-12; 14:1-3; 14:8-10; 16:16-18; 16:25 f.; 19:11-16. As a result of the first of these miracles when the proconsul saw what had happened he believed " And as a result of the last " the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified."

However, as Paul makes clear, many of the miracles that occurred during his lengthy pre-Romans ministry were the immediate results of preaching (note "by what I have said and done") applied to hearts and lives by the Holy Spirit. These successes were gospel triumphs. Cf. 2 Cor. 2:14. In fact, in the book of Acts the emphasis is placed on these spiritual victories. See the following passages; Acts 13:42-44, 48, 49; 16:5, 14, 15, 32-34; 17:4, 11, 12; 18:4, 8, 27, 28. In spite of fierce opposition from the side of both Jews and pagans, even the enemies had to admit that Paul and his companions "were turning the world upside down" (Acts 17:6). The apostle's own inspired phraseology is much better: "Christ was leading the Gentiles to God."

God periodically gave such signs and miracles at critical junctures of redemptive history (e.g., the exodus, the establishing of the prophetic ministry of Elijah and Elisha, the preserving of his people in the time of Daniel, and the ministry of Christ and the apostles). In Scripture, such events were unusual rather than typical and pointed to the stages of redemptive history and the new revelation that accompanied those stages. Compare with the "counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders" of the man of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:9).

Not told . . . have not heard - Romans 15:20-22

See Isaiah 52:15. There the prophet spoke of the servant, ("speaking of the kingdom of Messiah, among other things he predicts, that the knowledge of Christ would be spread among the Gentiles throughout the whole world, that his name would be declared to those by whom it had not been heard of before" - Calvin) reaching the Gentiles. It was because of this prophetic expectation - scriptural grounding - that Paul moved farther and farther into Gentile lands. Hendriksen adds:

Paul considered himself to be a trail-blazer for the gospel, a pioneer missionary, a founder of churches. He planted. Now let an "Apollos" come to water the seeds! See 1 Cor. 3:6. That this basic program did not in any way prevent the apostle from visiting an already flourishing congregation in order to enjoy and impart the blessings of Christian fellowship and even to preach a few sermons there, must be granted. But the apostle's main aim was to proclaim the good tidings to those who had not yet heard this uplifting message. His ambition was to establish new foundations (churches), not to build upon someone else's foundation.

He justifies this method of operation by very appropriately quoting Isa. 52:15, according to the LXX text, which in this case is a faithful rendering of the original Hebrew.

This portion of Scripture deserves a more detailed consideration than is generally given to it. It should be borne in mind that the fifty-second chapter of Isaiah immediately precedes Isaiah's most famous and familiar chapter, the fifty-third. The chapter division between Isa. 52 and Isa. 53 is not a happy one. Better would have been making the new chapter begin at Isa. 52:13. That new chapter (what is now Isa. 52:13-53:12) could then be given the title "From Suffering to Glory in the Life of the Coming Messiah." What are now the closing verses of Isa. 52 contain a brief summary of this path from Humiliation to Exaltation, and what is now Isa. 53 develops this theme in far greater detail.

There can be no question about the fact that, according to the New Testament, this prophecy refers directly to Jesus. See John 12:37; Acts 8:26-35; Rom. 10:16; 1 Peter 1:11; 2:24. In fact, Jesus himself so regarded it (Luke 22:37).

In describing Messiah's humiliation Isa. 52:14 predicts that "many will be appalled at him because of his disfigurement."

Fulfillment: the physical abuse and mockery suffered by Jesus. But this humiliation gives way to exaltation: "He will be raised, lifted up, highly exalted." Think of Christ's resurrection, ascension, and coronation (taking his seat at the Father's right hand in heaven).

Isa. 52:15 shows that many nations will marvel because of his glory. Out of respect and reverence for him kings will keep silence before him. What follows is quoted by Paul here in Rom. 15, namely, "Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand."

That was the glorious prediction. Though many of his own people would reject the Messiah, Gentile kings and nations would listen to the wonderful tidings of salvation and would, by God's sovereign grace, hear and understand.

What Paul is saying, then, is that his prediction was being fulfilled in his own day; even more, that an important element was being realized in him as the apostle to the Gentiles.

The question remains, "What was it that enabled Paul, writing from Corinth, after the completion of the first part of the third missionary journey - the part from Syrian Antioch, by way of Galatia, Ephesus, and Macedonia to Corinth - to believe and to state that he had now finished the great task of planting the gospel in the Jerusalem to Illyricum part of the Roman Empire? What was it that made it possible for him to say this now and not earlier; for example, after the completion of the second missionary journey? This belief and statement must have resulted from that which was accomplished on the third journey, during the lengthy ministry at Ephesus. It was from Ephesus that, by means of Paul and his helpers, one of them being Epaphras (Col. 1:7), the gospel had spread to the surrounding cities and towns; in all probability to Colosse and the other places located in the Lycus Valley, about 100 miles east of Ephesus (see the sketch), and to the seven cities mentioned in Rev. 1:11.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the results of the work of these church planters during this three-year period: "All the residents of [the province of] Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks" (Acts 19:10. "In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power" (Acts 19:20). Not until this had been accomplished did Paul feel free to go to Rome. Or, in the words of Paul himself: "That is why I have often been hindered from coming to you" [Rom. 15:22].

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