Paul and Silas are in prison after exorcising a demon from a slave woman who made her owners large amounts of money by telling peoples’ fortunes. While in prison, a great earthquake shook the prison foundation and opened all of the prison doors. The guard was ready to commit suicide knowing he would be severley punished for allowing all of the prisoners to escape, but instead, the prisoners called out to the jailer telling him they were all still there and didn’t run away. Having experienced all of this, the jailer immediately wanted to know how he could be saved, to which the reply was to believe in Jesus. He was baptized, as was all of his family.
The next day, the magistrates sent officers to release the prisoners. Paul refused to be released unless the magistrates themselves came to release them because they had been beaten publicly, despite being Roman citizens. The magistrates were fearful because they didn’t realize that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens.
Being a Roman citizen was important, because with that citizenship they had certain rights that non-citizens didn’t have. For example, Roman citizens could vote in the assembly. In this case, though, being a citizen made it illegal for the government to torture, whip, or put to death unless they were charged with treason. So when the magistrates realized that they had Roman citizens beaten publicly, they as a result could be punished for doing this.
As I have said before, I don’t believe in coincidences, but instead believe that things happen for a reason as determined by God. In this case, I believe that God choosing Paul as one of his main missionaries in the early church was important for many reasons. One being Paul’s way with words that convinced people he knew what he was talking about. Add also Paul’s persistence and seeing all of his orders carried out to their fullest extent possible. But one last one that maybe can be overlooked is choosing a Roman citizen to do a lot of God’s dirty work. I could be completely wrong on this assessment, but it is something to be considered at the very least. Being a Roman citizen gave Paul lots of extra leeway that a non-citizen wouldn’t have had when forming Christian churches throughout a pagan region. In Rome, the emperor was elevated to god status, so to refuse to worship the Roman gods would be to refuse to accept the emperor’s status. According to those laws, Paul should have been imprisoned and put to death way sooner than he ended up being. And yet, because of his status as a Roman, he was spared on more than one occasion. God’s plan? I don’t know about you, but I say yes.