His intention had been to go by sea to Syria, (Acts 20:3) as soon as the season of safe navigation should be come; and in that case he would have embarked at Cenchrea, whence he had sailed during his second missionary journey, and whence the Christian Phoebe had recently gone with the letter to the Romans. He himself had prepared his mind for a journey to Rome; but first he was purposed to visit Jerusalem, that he might convey the alms which had been collected for the poorer brethren in Macedonia and Achaia. He looked forward to this expedition with some misgiving; for he knew what danger was to be apprehended from his Jewish and Judaizing enemies; and even in his letter to the Roman Christians, he requested their prayers for his safety.
Paul had good reason to fear the Jews; for ever since their discomfiture under Gallio they had been irritated by the progress of Christianity, and they organized a plot against the great preacher when he was on the eve of departing for Syria. We are not informed of the exact nature of this plot; but it was probably a conspiracy against his life, like that which was formed at Damascus soon after his conversion (Acts 9:23, 2Corinthians 11:32), and at Jerusalem, both before and after the time of which we write (Acts 9:29, 23:12), and it necessitated a change of route, such as that which had once saved him on his departure from Berea (Acts 17:14).
On that occasion his flight had been from Macedonia to Achaia; now it was from Achaia to Macedonia. Nor would he regret the occasion which brought him once more among some of his dearest converts. Again he saw the Churches on the north of the Aegean, and again he went through the towns along the line of the Via Egnatia. He re-appeared in the scene of his persecution among the Jews of Thessalonica, and passed on by Apollonia and Amphipolis to the place where he had first landed on the European shore. The companions of his journey were Sopater the son of Pyrrhus, a native of Berea, - Aristarchus and Secundus, both of Thessalonica, - with Gaius of Derbe and Timothy, - and two Christians from the province of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus, whom we have mentioned before, as his probable associates when he last departed from Ephesus. From the order in which these disciples are mentioned, and the notice of the specific places to which they belonged, we should be inclined to conjecture that they had something to do with the collections which had been made at the various towns on the route. As Luke does not mention the collection, we cannot expect to be able to ascertain all the facts. But since Apostle Paul left Corinth sooner than was intended, it seems likely that all the arrangements were not complete, and that Sopater was charged with the responsibility of gathering the funds from Berea, while Aristarchus and Secundus took charge of those from Thessalonica. Luke himself was at Philippi: and the remaining four of the party were connected with the interior or the coast of Asia Minor.
The whole of this company did not cross together from Europe to Asia; but Apostle Paul and Luke lingered at Philippi, while the others preceded them to Troas. The journey through Macedonia had been rapid, and the visits to the other Churches had been short. But the Church at Philippi had peculiar claims on Apostle Paul's attention: and the time of his arrival induced him to pause longer than in the earlier part of his journey. It was the time of the Jewish passover. And here our thoughts turn to the passover of the preceding year, when the Apostle was at Ephesus. We remember the higher and Christian meaning which he gave to the Jewish festival. It was no longer an Israelitish ceremony, but it was the Easter of the New Dispensation. He was not now occupied with shadows; for the substance was already in possession. Christ the Passover had been sacrificed, and the feast was to be kept with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Such was the higher standing-point to which he sought to raise the Jews whom he met, in Asia or in Europe, at their annual celebrations.
Thus, while his other Christian companions had preceded him to Troas, he remained with Luke some time longer at Philippi, and did not leave Macedonia till the passover moon was waning. Notwithstanding this delay, they were anxious, if possible, to reach Jerusalem before Pentecost. (Acts 20:16) And we shall presently trace the successive days through which they were prosperously brought to the fulfillment of their wish. Some doubt has been thrown on the possibility of this plan being accomplished in the interval; for they did not leave Philippi till the seventh day after the fourteenth of Nisan was past. It will be our business to show that the plan was perfectly practicable, and that it was actually accomplished, with some days to spare.
The voyage seemed to begin unfavorably. The space between Neapolis and Troas could easily be sailed over in two days with a fair wind; and this was the time occupied when the Apostle made the passage on his first coming to Europe. (Acts 16:11) On this occasion the same voyage occupied five days. We have no means of deciding whether the ship’s progress was retarded by calms, or by contrary winds. Either of these causes of delay might equally be expected in the changeable weather of those seas. Luke seems to notice the time in both instances, in the manner of one who was familiar with the passages commonly made between Europe and Asia: and something like an expression of disappointment is implied in the mention of the "five days" which elapsed before the arrival at Troas.
The history of Alexandria Troas, first as a city of the Macedonian princes, and then as a favorite colony of the Romans, has been given before; but little has been said as yet of its appearance. From the extent and magnitude of its present ruins (though for ages it has been a quarry both for Christian and Mohammedan edifices) we may infer what it was in its flourishing period. Among the oak-trees, which fill the vast enclosure of its walls, are fragments of colossal masonry. Huge columns of granite are seen lying in the harbor, and in the quarries on the neighboring hills. A theater, commanding a view of Tenedos and the sea, shows where the Greeks once assembled in crowds to witness their favorite spectacles. Open arches of immense size, towering from the midst of other great masses of ruin, betray the hand of Roman builders. These last remains - once doubtless belonging to a gymnasium or to baths, and in more ignorant ages, when the poetry of Homer was better remembered than the facts of history, popularly called "The Palace of Priam" - are conspicuous from the sea. We cannot assert that these buildings existed in the day of Apostle Paul, but we may be certain that the city, both on the approach from the water, and to those who wandered through its streets, must have presented an appearance of grandeur and prosperity. Like Corinth, Ephesus, or Thessalonica, it was a place where the Apostle must have wished to lay firmly and strongly the foundations of the Gospel. On his first visit, as we have seen, he was withheld by a supernatural revelation from remaining; and on his second visit, though a door was opened to him, and he did gather together a community of Christian disciples, yet his impatience to see Titus compelled him to bid them a hasty farewell. (2Corinthians 2:13) Now, therefore, he would be the more anxious to add new converts to the Church, and to impress deeply, on those who were converted, the truths and the duties of Christianity: and he had valuable aid, both in Luke, who accompanied him, and the other disciples who had preceded him.
The labors of the early days of the week that was spent at Troas are not related to us; but concerning the last day we have a narrative which enters into details with all the minuteness of one of the Gospel histories. It was the evening which succeeded the Jewish Sabbath. On the Sunday morning the vessel was about to sail. The Christians of Troas were gathered together at this solemn time to celebrate that feast of love which the last commandment of Christ has enjoined on all His followers. The place was an upper room, with a recess or balcony projecting over the street or the court. The night was dark: three weeks had not elapsed since the Passover, and the moon only appeared as a faint crescent in the early part of the night. Many lamps were burning in the room where the congregation was assembled. The place was hot and crowded. Apostle Paul, with the feeling strongly impressed on his mind that the next day was the day of his departure, and that souls might be lost by delay, was continuing in earnest discourse, and prolonging it even till midnight, when an occurrence suddenly took place, which filled the assembly with alarm, though it was afterwards converted into an occasion of joy and thanksgiving. A young listener, whose name was Eutychus, was overcome by exhaustion, heat, and weariness, and sank into a deep slumber. He was seated or leaning in the balcony; and, falling down in his sleep, was dashed upon the pavement below, and was taken up dead. Confusion and terror followed, with loud lamentation. But Paul was enabled to imitate the power of that Master whose doctrine he was proclaiming. As Jesus had once said (Matthew 9:24; Mark 5:39) of the young maiden, who was taken by death from the society of her friends, "She is not dead, but sleepeth," so the Apostle of Jesus received power to restore the dead to life. He went down and fell upon the body, like Elisha of old, and, embracing Eutychus, said to the bystanders, "Do not lament; for his life is in him."
With minds solemnized and filled with thankfulness by this wonderful token of God’s power and love, they celebrated the Eucharistic feast. The act of Holy Communion was combined, as was usual in the Apostolic age, with a common meal: and Apostle Paul now took some refreshment after the protracted labor of the evening, and then continued his conversation till the dawning of the day.
It was now time for the congregation to separate. The ship was about to sail, and the companions of Paul’s journey took their departure to go on board. It was arranged, however, that the Apostle himself should join the vessel at Assos, which was only about twenty miles distant by the direct road, while the voyage round Cape Lectum was nearly twice as far. He thus secured a few more precious hours with his converts at Troas; and eagerly would they profit by his discourse, under the feeling that he was so soon to leave them: and we might suppose that the impression made under such circumstances, and with the recollection of what they had witnessed in the night, would never be effaced from the minds of any of them, did we not know, on the highest authority, that if men believe not the prophets of God, neither will they believe "though one rose from the dead."
There may have been other reasons why he lingered at Troas after his companions: but the desire for solitude was (we may well believe) one reason among others. The discomfort of a crowded ship is unfavorable for devotion: and prayer and meditation are necessary for maintaining the religious life even of an Apostle. That savior to whose service he was devoted had often prayed in solitude on the mountain, and crossed the brook Kedron to kneel under the olives of Gethsemane. And strength and peace were surely sought and obtained by the Apostle from the Redeemer, as he pursued his lonely road that Sunday afternoon in spring, among the oak-woods and the streams of Ida.
No delay seems to have occurred at Assos. He entered by the Sacred Way among the famous tombs, and through the ancient gateway, and proceeded immediately to the shore. We may suppose that the vessel was already hove to and waiting when he arrived; or that he saw her approaching from the west, through the channel between Lesbos and the main. He went on board without delay, and the Greek sailors and the Apostolic missionaries continued their voyage. As to the city of Assos itself, we must conclude, if we compare the description of the ancients with present appearances, that its aspect as seen from the sea was sumptuous and grand. A terrace with a long portico was raised by a wall of rock above the water-line. Above this was a magnificent gate , approached by a flight of steps. Higher still was the theater, which commanded a glorious view of Lesbos and the sea, and those various buildings which are now a wilderness of broken columns, triglyphs, and friezes. The whole was crowned by a citadel of Greek masonry on a cliff of granite. Such was the view which gradually faded into indistinctness as the vessel retired from the shore, and the summits of Ida rose in the evening sky.
The course of the voyagers was southwards, along the eastern shore of Lesbos. When Assos was lost, Mitylene, the chief city of Lesbos, came gradually into view. The beauty of the capital of Sappho’s island was celebrated by the architects, poets, and philosophers of Rome. Like other Greek cities, which were ennobled by old recollections, it was honored by the Romans with the privilege of freedom. Situated on the south-eastern coast of the island, it would afford a good shelter from the northwesterly winds, whether the vessel entered the harbor or lay at anchor in the open roadstead. It seems likely that the reason why they lay here for the night was, because it was the time of dark moon, and they would wish for daylight to accomplish safely the intricate navigation between the southern part of Lesbos and the mainland of Asia Minor.
In the course of Monday they were abreast of Chios (verse 15). The weather in these seas is very variable: and, from the mode of expression employed by Luke, it is probable that they were becalmed. An English traveler under similar circumstances has described himself as "engrossed from daylight till noon" by the beauty of the prospects with which he was surrounded, as his vessel floated idly on this channel between Scio and the continent. On one side were the gigantic masses of the mainland: on the other were the richness and fertility of the island, with its gardens of oranges, citrons, almonds, and pomegranates, and its white scattered houses overshadowed by evergreens. Until the time of its recent disasters, Scio was the paradise of the modern Greek: and a familiar proverb censured the levity of its inhabitants, like that which in the Apostle’s day described the coarser faults of the natives of Crete (Titus 1:12).
The same English traveler passed the island of Samos after leaving that of Chios. So likewise did Apostle Paul (verse 15). But the former sailed along the western side of Samos, and he describes how its towering cloud-capped heights are contrasted with the next low island to the west. The Apostle’s course lay along the eastern shore, where a much narrower "marine pass" intervenes between it and a long mountainous ridge of the mainland, from which it appears to have been separated by some violent convulsion of nature. This high promontory is the ridge of Mycale, well known in the annals of Greek victory over the Persians. At its termination, not more than a mile from Samos, is the anchorage of Trogyllium. Here the night of Tuesday was spent; apparently for the same reason as that which caused the delay at Mitylene. The moon set early: and it was desirable to wait for the day before running into the harbor of Miletus.
The short voyage from Chios to Trogyllium had carried Apostle Paul through familiar scenery. The bay across which the vessel had been passing was that into which the Cayster flowed. The mountains on the mainland were the western branches of Messogis and Tmolus, the ranges that enclose the primeval plain of "Asia." The city, towards which it is likely that some of the vessels in sight were directing their course, was Ephesus, where the Apostolic labors of three years had gathered a company of Christians in the midst of unbelievers. One whose solicitude was so great for his recent converts could not willingly pass by and leave them unvisited: and had he had the command of the movements of the vessel, we can hardly believe that he would have done so. He would surely have landed at Ephesus, rather than at Miletus. The same wind which carried him to the latter harbor would have been equally advantageous for a quick passage to the former. And, even had the weather been unfavorable at the time for landing at Ephesus, he might easily have detained the vessel at Trogyllium; and a short journey by land northward would have taken him to the scene of his former labors.
Yet every delay, whether voluntary or involuntary, might have been fatal to the plan he was desirous to accomplish. Luke informs us here (and the occurrence of the remark shows us how much regret was felt by the Apostle on passing by Ephesus) that his intention was, if possible, to be in Jerusalem at Pentecost (verse 16). Even with a ship at his command, he could not calculate on favorable weather, if he lost his present opportunity: nor could he safely leave the ship which had conveyed him hitherto; for he was well aware that he could not be certain of meeting with another that would forward his progress. He determined, therefore, to proceed in the same vessel, on her southward course from Trogylliurn to Miletus. Yet the same watchful zeal which had urged him to employ the last precious moments of the stay at Troas in his Master’s cause suggested to his prompt mind a method of re-impressing the lessons of eternal truth on the hearts of the Christians at Ephesus, though he was unable to revisit them in person. He found that the vessel would be detained at Miletus a sufficient time to enable him to send for the presbyters of the Ephesian Church, with the hope of their meeting him there. The distance between the two cities was hardly thirty miles, and a good road connected them together. Thus, though the stay at Miletus would be short, and it might be hazardous to attempt the journey himself, he could hope for one more interview, - if not with the whole Ephesian Church, at least with those members of it whose responsibility was the greatest.
The sail from Trogylliurn, with a fair wind, would require but little time. If the vessel weighed anchor at daybreak on Wednesday, she would be in harbor long before noon. The message was doubtless sent to Ephesus immediately on her arrival; and Paul remained at Miletus waiting for those whom the Holy Spirit, by his hands, had made "overseers" over the flock of Christ (verse 28). The city where we find the Christian Apostle now waiting, while those who had the care of the vessel were occupied with the business that detained them, has already been referred to as more ancient than Ephesus, though in the age of Apostle Paul inferior to it in political and mercantile eminence. Even in Homer, the "Carian Miletus" appears as a place of renown. Eighty colonies went forth from the banks of the Maeander, and some of them were spread even to the eastern shores of the Black Sea, and beyond the Pillars of Hercules to the west. It received its first blow in the Persian war, when its inhabitants, like the Jews, had experience of a Babylonian captivity. It suffered once more in Alexander’s great campaign; and after his time it gradually began to sink towards its present condition of ruin and decay, from the influence, as it would seem, of mere natural causes, - the increase of alluvial soil in the delta having the effect of removing the city gradually farther and farther from the sea. Even in the Apostle’s time, there was between the city and the shore a considerable space of level ground, through which the ancient river meandered in new windings, like the Forth at Stirling. Few events connect the history of Miletus with the transactions of the Roman Empire. When Apostle Paul was there, it was simply one of the second-rate seaports on this populous coast, ranking, perhaps, with Adramyttium or Patara, but hardly with Ephesus or Smyrna.
The excitement and joy must have been great among the Christians of Ephesus, when they heard that their honored friend and teacher, to whom they had listened so often in the school of Tyrannus, was in the harbor of Miletus, within the distance of a few miles. The presbyters must have gathered together in all haste to obey the summons, and gone with eager steps out of the southern gate, which leads to Miletus. By those who travel on such an errand, a journey of twenty or thirty miles is not regarded long and tedious, nor is much regard paid to the difference between day and night. The presbyters of Ephesus might easily reach Miletus on the day after that on which the summons was received. And though they might be weary when they arrived, their fatigue would soon be forgotten at the sight of their friend and instructor; and God, also, "who comforts them that are cast down" (2Corinthians 7:6), comforted him by the sight of his disciples. They were gathered together - probably in some solitary spot upon the shore - to listen to his address. This little company formed a singular contrast with the crowds which used to assemble at the times of public amusement in the theater of Miletus. But that vast theater is now a silent ruin, - while the words spoken by a careworn traveler to a few despised strangers are still living as they were that day, to teach lessons for all time, and to make known eternal truths to all who will hear them, - while they reveal to us, as though they were merely human words, all the tenderness and the affection of Paul, the individual speaker.
The close of this speech was followed by a solemn act of united supplication (Acts 20:36). Apostle Paul knelt down on the shore with all those who had listened to him, and offered up a prayer to that God who was founding His Church in the midst of difficulties apparently insuperable; and then followed an outbreak of natural grief, which even Christian faith and resignation were not able to restrain. They fell on the Apostle’s neck and clung to him, and kissed him again and again, sorrowing most because of his own foreboding announcement, that they should never behold that countenance again, on which they had often gazed with reverence and love (ib. 37, 38). But no long time could be devoted to the grief of separation. The wind was fair, and the vessel must depart They accompanied the Apostle to the edge of the water (ib. 38). The Christian brethren were torn away from the embrace of their friends; and the ship sailed out into the open sea, while the presbyters prepared for their weary and melancholy return to Ephesus.