Rome was genuinely the centre of the ancient world. Many kingdoms have risen and fallen, but Rome dominated the then known world for longer than any other nation.
This is a brief history of the impact of the other-worldly message, the Mystery of the Gospel in the great city of Rome.
The Gospel in Rome before Paul arrived
There were an estimated 50,000 or more Jews living in the city of Rome during the time of Jesus and the book of Acts. There were Jewish schools and synagogues and they sought to follow the laws of the Old Testament. It is therefore very reasonable to believe that Jews from Rome were in Jerusalem attending Passover (their most cherished celebration) at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. Some of those would have stayed on longer and were there the following month for the big feast of Pentecost. Indeed, we know for a fact that a group from Rome were there and heard Peter’s sermon on Pentecost, there were “visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism)” Acts 2:10. This was the start of the Gospel activity in Rome. These visitors to Jerusalem brought the news, the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ back with them to the capital of the World.
Paul wrote a long letter to the Christians in Rome (Romans) about 4 years before he arrived there himself. There were already a fair number of Christians there, some Jews and some Gentiles. He was planning to visit them and have some time there before he went further west to Spain (Romans 15:20-24). He was looking forward to assisting them spiritually and being helped by them physically as a partnership in the “Gospel in Action”. Things didn’t go quite as Paul planned, though. He was arrested and imprisoned in Jerusalem for two long years and then taken as a prisoner to Rome (Romans 15:25-29, Acts 21:15-36; 24:7; 27-28).
At the end of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome he greets, by name, 27 Christians, and refers to many more as members of the church and family members of the ones he names (16:5, 10, 11, 14, 15).
Some of these men and women were gospel VIPs. There was a prominent married couple, Priscilla and Aquila, who were powerful leaders (Romans 16:3-5; Acts 18:1-3,18,26) and who catered for a church in their home. There was Epenetus, a very early believer in Christ (16:5), and another married couple, Andronicus and Junia, who knew the Lord before Paul did (16:7) and were highly respected by the Apostles. There was a woman, Mary, who worked hard for the Christians in Rome (16:6), and an elderly woman that Paul would have called “mama” (16:13).
This all shows that Paul had reason to believe that he wasn’t needed in Rome. He didn’t plan to spend much time there. But God’s plans were different. God knows far more than we do (Isaiah 55:8-9).