What were the Apostle Paul's famous last words?
James Walker, the president of Watchman Fellowship, leads a ministry that is devoted to identifying and monitoring cultic and occultic groups and also false religions. He made a presentation at our conference based upon the last sermon that Paul delivered to the leaders of the church at Ephesus in Acts 20. Mr. Walker's topic at our conference was "The Challenge of Apostasy" (watch).
Paul's Last Words
The next famous last words I want to share with you are actually the words of the Apostle Paul. These are not Paul's actual last words, as Paul died according to Church history as a martyr in Rome. We don't actually have his very last recorded words, but we do have Paul's famous last words to the leaders of the church in Ephesus. And so, Acts 20 is considered Paul's famous last recorded words.
In Acts 20 beginning in verse 17 Luke records, "From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church." Paul was calling the leadership of the Church in Ephesus together. Back in chapter 19, Paul had spent three years training, mentoring, equipping and disciplining the young church there at Ephesus. Paul then continued on with his missionary journey, but now he's on his way back to Jerusalem. On his way back he gets close enough to Ephesus again in the nearby town of Miletus. The town is close enough where he can send a messenger to get the elders down to him for one last message, for some famous last words.
Looking now at verses 26-27, Paul says, "Wherefore, I take to you to record this day that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God." Paul wants to introduce his last words by letting everyone know he is pure of the blood of all men. Now, that's kind of an odd thing to say. Of all the things that Paul could share, he wants them to know that he is pure and innocent of the blood of all people. What in the world could he mean by that? Does he mean he never hurt anybody? Or, he never drew blood? Or, he never physically harmed anyone? Is that his last words he wants these Ephesian elders to know?
We know that none of the above is the case, because we know Paul's story earlier in the book of Acts. We know before his name was Paul his name was Saul. He wasn't innocent of everyone's blood in that regard, because this same Paul was once a co-conspirator in the stoning death of the first recorded Christian martyr, Stephen. He was guilty of that. Paul knew that, so he wasn't meaning he was innocent of blood in that regard.
So, what's Paul really talking about in Acts 20:26-27? He also said, "For I've not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God." Almost without hesitation the commentators agree that Paul is making a reference to Ezekiel 33. "Innocent of the blood" is a reference to Ezekiel 33 concerning God placing a watchman on the wall.
Ezekiel recorded that the duty of the watchman was to scan the horizon for any kind of danger and any kind of attack that was going to impact that community or that city. The watchman was to pray for the city, but he was to pray with one eye open because he was also looking. The idea is to watch and and see if danger was coming. The watchman's first responsibility was not to fight the battle, but to blow the horn, sound the trumpet, or blow the shofar.
The shofar has many purposes in the Bible. For instance, the Second Coming of Christ is going to be announced with the sound of a trumpet which is most likely the shofar. But, the other purpose is that the shofar was used by the watchman.
Ezekiel 33 says that if the watchman sees danger coming but he doesn't blow the shofar to sound the alarm and the city is overrun, the Lord said the blood of those people who were destroyed under the watchman's watch, "I will require at the watchman's hands." The watchman's duty was to blow the shofar, and yet the watchman failed, so he was responsible for all those deaths.
That's what Paul means. Paul was saying he was innocent and pure of the blood of all men because Paul was referring to himself as a good watchman. Here's what Paul meant. Anytime God gave Paul an opportunity to share the whole counsel of God, to give the whole Gospel, anytime God opened a door like before the kings like Agrippa and Festus and the philosophers at the Areopagus at Mars Hill, whether he was in chains between two Roman guards or he was at the Agora in the market place, wherever God gave him an opportunity — he shared that whole Gospel. What did Paul specifically share? He preached repentance towards Gods and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul could therefore say to the people in this respect that he was innocent and pure of the blood of all men. Would it be that we could also be so pure!
The Real Watchman
So, who is the watchman? You can make the case that Paul is the watchman because he is obviously referring to himself to Ezekiel 33, or you could try to argue that Ezekiel was the watchman because that is the Bible reference we are looking at. Or, you could try to put the blame on me and declare, "James, you are the president of Watchman Fellowship, so that makes you the watchman."
But really, God calls every one of us who claim the name of Christ to be that kind of watchman. These are Paul's last words in the following verses of Acts 20 in summary, "You've got to be a watchman." So, who is the watchman? I am. You are. All believers in Christ are.
In the final segment of this series on the challenge of apostasy, James Walker will answer three questions on how to become an effective watchman.