Fourteen Days of Peril
Not long after, there arose … a tempestuous wind called Euroclydon … and when the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the wind, we let her drive” (Acts 27:14,15).
by David Rice
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For some years, the history narrated in Acts has engaged our attention as containing pictorial lessons about the progress of the Gospel through the age.
For example, the martyrdom of Stephen under Jewish hands, the death of James by Herod, and the near death of Peter by the same represent for us perils faced by the first three periods of the Church: Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum (Revelation 2).
(1) The first church was persecuted by the Jewish leaders who had also rejected Jesus. “As then he that was born after the flesh [Ishmael] persecuted him that was born after the Spirit [Isaac], even so it is now,” with natural Israel persecuting spiritual Israel (Galatians 4:29).
(2) The second church suffered martyrdom in the arenas, being persecuted unto death by Pagan Rome. “The devil shall cast some of you into prison [death] … ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Romans 2:10).
(3) The third church seemed fated to die, until the “iron gates” of Roman oppression swung open of their “own accord,” releasing the saints after passing “the first and the second” periods (Acts 12:10). This occurred when Constantine ceased the Roman persecution of the Church, but more trials would come.
The three missionary tours of Paul, narrated later, take us in picture through three broad phases of the Gospel work during the age. (1) Churches 1-4, ending in the dark ages where martyrdom under Papacy was the major threat. Paul’s first missionary journey was stopped when he was stoned and left for dead, as a picture of that persecution.
(2) Paul’s second missionary journey, following the Council at Jerusalem, pictures the work from the Reformation forward (Sardis and Philadelphia in Revelation 3), going over the churches of Christendom with fresh information and new encouragement. Later in this same venture, Paul was called to go over the sea, westward, just as the Gospel went over the sea, westward, to the new world where Christianity flourished in preparation for the Harvest.
(3) Paul’s third missionary journey represents the harvest activity. In this journey, Paul encountered disciples of John the Baptist, the forerunner of the first advent, representing that the harvest work found many supporters from participants in the Adventist movement, which was a forerunner of the second advent work. Paul’s three years of intense activity at Ephesus, from which the Truth went out with remarkable success, parallels the center of activity in the eastern United States, from which the Truth went out to far places in the Christian world.
Many details incident to these narratives could be discussed, but we pass by these in order to focus on the 27th chapter of Acts, which records Paul’s voyage to Rome. We find in this narrative a picture of the voyage of the saints through the Harvest toward the center of world rulership in the Kingdom, represented here by Rome.
We will discuss especially the 14 days of the storm that preceded a shipwreck. The ship perished at the isolated island of Melita (Malta).
This island represents the small independent state of Israel,1 where nations will assemble for judgment as described in Joel chapter three. Thereafter, the sweet call of the Kingdom will influence Israel first, and then flow out to others. After wintering at Melita, Paul traveled from place to place toward Rome, representing the gradual expansion of the Kingdom, until the saints become the recognized authority at the center of world government.
The Stop at Sidon
In Acts 27, Paul departed from Caesarea under the jurisdiction of Julius, “a centurion of Augustus’ band” (verse 1). The names Caesarea, Julius, and Augustus, remind us that the Church during the harvest is still under the powers of this world.
Paul’s first stop was at Sidon. There Paul was given liberty to go ashore “unto his friends to refresh himself,” apparently with pleasant Christian fellowship among brethren (verse 3). The first part of the harvest was a blessed time of fellowship among saints of the kindred spirit. Tyre represents Papacy (Ezekiel chapter 28), and its sister city Sidon may represent the Protestant branch of Christianity, from which most of the early harvest work drew followers. After this, the journey fell into three phases before the storm began.
(1) It is an engaging observation that Malta was the site of the “Malta Conference” of Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in 1945, discussing the disposition of things that would follow the war. One of the results of that war was the establishment of Israel, the very nation represented in Acts 27 by the island of Melita, which is Malta. This island was also the site of the “Malta Summit” between George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989, marking the close of the second phase of the time of trouble.
Launching from Sidon, Paul’s ship encountered two seas of winds causing them to sail cautiously, “because the winds were contrary” (verse 4). Sometimes in the scriptures winds represent war, as in Daniel 7:2. The two periods of wind encountered after leaving Sidon represent two world wars, in 1914 and again in 1939. These slowed the progress of the harvest work, but the saints continued and sailed onward. Paul stopped at Myra, on the underside of the Turkish mainland, and there changed ships. This represents a change of the “ship of state” as the older European governments were “changed” through two wars to the relatively better governments that followed.
Present world governments will give way to the superior arrangements of the Kingdom. But the democracies now ruling in the place of old Christendom do seek better conditions for their people, than governments of previous times. The departure from Myra represents the new status of things from 1945 onward, after World War II.
Thereafter, Paul and the ship he was on “sailed slowly many days” (Acts 27:7), with further winds preventing better progress. After World War II other hot conflicts surfaced in Korea, Vietnam, and elsewhere, during the period otherwise known as the Cold War.
At last, the ship reached Cnidus, the furthest extremity westward before launching out across the Adriatic Sea for the Roman peninsula. This farthest extremity of the “old world” perhaps represents the end of the second part of the time of trouble. Following 1945 the number of independent nations began to multiply as India, Israel, and nations in Africa and Indochina became independent. The last major part of this process takes us to 1989 with the breakup of the Soviet bloc.
Leaving Cnidus, the ship launched out beyond the mainland, representing a “new world order.” But further conflicts would rise in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere, delaying the progress of the world toward the Kingdom. In the voyage of Paul, they diverted southward for the protection of Crete (Acts 27:7).
Passing Crete’s northeastern coast by a place called Salmone (“billows”), they arrived with difficulty at “a place which is called the Fair Havens,” where they paused for some time. The winter approached, as the Day of Atonement “fast” had passed, and sailing in the open sea had risks (verses 8, 9). The fact that the Atonement Day had passed may indicate symbolically that the high calling may begin to wind down about this time.
However, the captain and the centurion denied Paul’s advice to winter there for safety. Waiting for a favorable occasion, they launched out, aiming for a short passage to Phenice, which was another port westward on the same island. They thought that Phenice would be a more commodious location for wintering.
The Storm Surprises Them
“Not long after” launching from Fair Havens, “there arose … a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon. And when the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the wind, we let her drive” (Acts 27:14,15).
That storm would control the vessel for 14 days. This danger caught up the crew and passengers with a fearful dread so deep that “all hope that we should be saved was then taken away” (verse 20). They were in darkness, without the light of “sun nor stars in many days” (verse 20). Ultimately the ship would be lost, but all the souls on board would be saved by swimming ashore to the island of Melita, or clinging to pieces of cargo or wreckage and being carried ashore. Similarly, mankind will be saved, though the “ship of state,” the governments of this world, will be dashed.
It is this storm that engages our attention. We have never personally experienced a storm at sea. But reports from those who have, show it to be harrowing. Br. Ralph Gaunt, of blessed memory, in his youthful days in the Merchant Marine, experienced such a storm, so dreadful that it induced him to declare before God that were he saved out of it, he would devote his life to God — which he did. God can turn even an apparent disaster into a cause of blessing. He did so for Br. Gaunt, and God intends to do the same for the world of mankind. The fact that the experienced crew in Paul’s case deemed their situation irrecoverable, suggests that the distresses for the world in the closing years of the present harvest period will be frightening. Jesus spoke of a time when “men’s hearts” would be “failing them for fear … looking
after those things which are coming” (Luke 21:26). Paul twice consoled the crew, perhaps representing the last messages of the Church and Great Company, respectively. In each case the message seemed to be well received.
The Final Years of the Harvest
Brethren have long supposed that a generation or two would take them to the Kingdom. Early in the harvest, many supposed that 1914 might see a rapid introduction of the Kingdom. Even in the 1916 foreword to Volume Three, we have the hopeful opinion expressed that “before a very long time — perhaps a year or two or three — the full number of the Elect will be completed, and all will have gone beyond the Veil and the door will be shut” (Studies in the Scriptures, Volume Three, page ii).
It was not apparent then, that following the “Great War” of 1914, an armistice would be signed and then another 21 years would pass before a second and even greater conflict would begin in 1939. That would last six years until 1945, 31 years after the earlier expectations. By 1989, perhaps the end of the “earthquake” phase of the time of trouble, another 44 years had passed, a longer duration than the former.
It seems to many that Revelation chapter 16 takes us through the harvest in a series of seven plagues. Some think these began with the time of trouble in 1914 — others, the writer included, consider that this series began from the return of Christ forward. In either case, it seems to many that five of these plagues came to a close about 1989, more or less, with the end of the Cold War. Armageddon, which is the name associated with the opening of the last plague, will come after the saints have been completed in glory.
This means that only one plague intervenes — the sixth plague of Revelation. The plagues are not equally spaced so we cannot calculate some ratio here with predictive power. But it does give us a sense that a generation forward, before the last plague, would be an entirely reasonable expectation for the completion of the Church.
The Western world has passed through some harsh economic “billows” in the market declines, and buffets to Western economies suffered in 2001 and in 2008. Presently, things are going well. At this time, the Western world is experiencing a time of prosperity. Will another hardship strike soon? Or are we now enjoying the benefits of “Fair Havens”? More time may be necessary to determine. Our current belief suggests more turbulence, unforeseen at this time, to occur before arriving at the relative stability of “Fair Havens.”
The storm that broke open in Acts 27 lasted for fourteen days before the ship was lost on the shores of Melita. Sometimes days in prophecy are fulfilled as years, and it could be so here. A
vibrant distress of 14 years, rocking the core of western society, may be the right agent for causing mankind to look upward. World Wars I and II, by comparison, as destructive as they were,
consumed 4 and 6 years respectively. The sixth plague in Revelation is precipitated by the drying of the Euphrates, the river that brought commerce and prosperity to ancient Babylon. The drying of the Euphrates might represent an economic withering in the western world leading to social unrest driven
by a lack of ability to fund the public welfare.
Such a scenario would be consistent with the reaction that follows in Revelation’s sixth plague. Namely, a cooperative endeavor of the Dragon (political authority), Beast (Papacy),
and False Prophet (often considered to be the Church of England with her Protestant allies), in order to maintain order.
Revelation 16:13 says of this, that “three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.” It seems that this is in reaction to the drying up of the Euphrates (verse 12).
In Acts 27:14, the wind that caught the boat up in the storm is named “Euroclydon.” This name is from two parts, “Euro” (east) and “clydon,” or kludon, Strong’s 2830, “a surge of the sea.” The sea is sometimes a symbol of restless peoples (Psalms 65:7, Isaiah 57:20). Judging from the participants in the coalition,
the trouble might be most pronounced in the lands formerly governed by old Christendom, which would be Europe. The name of the wind may link to this area as well.
Acts 27:16 says that after letting the boat yield to the forces, they sought protection “under a certain island which is called Clauda.” The earlier names Caesarea, Julius, and Augustus remind us of the powers that be, and this name Clauda, reminding us of Claudius, may represent the coalition of the Dragon, Beast, and False Prophet, in an effort for some protection against the surging storm. At this point the shipmasters apparently used ropes to undergird the ship, to prevent it from pulling apart in the strain (verse 17). This effort might represent that coalition.
“Being exceedingly tossed with a tempest, the next day they lightened the ship” (verse 18), perhaps by dispensing some of the cargo. In further desperation, “the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship” (verse 19). Thus three days are specially marked out at the beginning of this storm.
During this time “neither sun nor stars … appeared” (verse 20).
All of this pertains to the plague just before the last one in Revelation — and coincidentally, the plague just before the last one in Exodus also involved “thick darkness in all the land
of Egypt [Christendom] three days” (Exodus 10:22). Jesus said of this time, “shall the sun be darkened and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken” (Matthew 24:29).
Leading to Armageddon
In Revelation 16:13-16, the tripartite coalition, it seems to us, is a coalition born of fear and weakness, each facet leaning on the others for support. It does not seem to be a period of persecution of the saints, as in past times. Revelation 10:1 mentions a “bow,” suggests that the former dire persecution of the saints, ending with Papacy’s rule of 1260 years, will
not be repeated.
Paul was on board the ship the whole time and suffered the consequences common to them all, but he did not suffer any special discrimination against himself. Toward the last days of
this experience, in the height of the common despair, Paul was moved to address those in control. “Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to
have gained this harm and loss. And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship. For there stood by me this night the
angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of
good cheer … Howbeit, we must be cast upon a certain island” (Acts 27:21-26).
It seems that this last message of Paul before the approach to Melita represents the last message of God’s people, one of hope. The Church class knows that the Kingdom is coming and
that mankind will be saved. They know that the ship of state will be lost and that the Kingdom will begin at a small island state, Melita representing Israel. They know this because this was stressed in the message that God gave us through the seventh “angel” or messenger.
The 14th night of the storm arrived, and “about midnight” the shipmen realized that they were approaching land. The first sounding showed 20 fathoms, a little later 15 fathoms. The first number suggests that the first age of the Spirit, the Gospel Age, is coming to a close, and the second number expresses a hope of deliverance.
Midnight was the hour of crisis in the last plague in Exodus (Exodus 12:29), and it is an hour of crisis here. “Fearing lest we should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day” (Acts 27:29). The winds were blowing the ship forward, and the four anchors symbolize protection against the “four winds” of Revelation 7:1. At midnight the firstborn were passed over, evidently referring to the completion of the Church. From this point forward we think that Paul represents those of the Great Company class who are left after the Church has gone to glory. These will pass through the “great tribulation” of Revelation 7:14, in order to cleanse
their robes, in preparation for their later reception to glory.
Acts 27:30-32 show that matters could be worse if the shipmen” controlling present institutions did not make their best efforts for the welfare of all involved. The leaders of the countries cannot control the storm. But their actions can ease the peril to some extent. We can be thankful that God will bless their best efforts toward order and civility. The wisdom of man is insufficient, but applying the best judgment they can to the extreme conditions will be better than otherwise. We can be sympathetic to their efforts.
As dawn approached, Paul addressed the people again. He noted that they had “taken nothing” for so many days, and advised them to eat “for your health,” adding “there shall not
a hair fall from the head of any of you” (Acts 27:33, 34). This must have been a wonderful encouragement for the forlorn passengers, appreciative of the steadfast hope of Paul.
Having encouraged them thus, Paul “took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat. Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took some meat” (Acts 27:34, 35). In Western culture, there has been more and more a disposition to turn away from faith. It has been a long time since many even in the west have thought to appreciate the “bread” from above. The last message of the Great Company may be a call to people to look upward,
and apparently the message will resonate with many in the hour of need.
The number on the ship is given as 276 persons. Perhaps in this is a link to the episode of the flood. For 6000 years mankind has been under sin and death, and the persons on the ship represent mankind at the end of this experience. If we multiply this number by six, as though to represent all the world from Adam to our day inclusively, the number is 1656. This is the number of years from Adam to the Flood, and the Flood in Matthew 24:39 is a picture of the final judgments ending a long night of sin.
In the end, all made it safely ashore. The spread of the blessings of the Kingdom are pictured thereafter in Acts chapter 28.