23 And when they had laid many stripes upon them[Paul and Silas], they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely:An odd thing about this story is the jailer’s immediate question about what he must do to be saved, once he learns all the prisoners are still present and accounted for. It seems to happen without warning or gospel introduction; the jailer was asleep when Paul and Silas were singing hymns. It’s almost unprecedented.
24 Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.
25 ¶And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.
26 And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed.
27 And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.
28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.
29 Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,
30 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
32 And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.
33 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. (Acts 16:23-35)
Recently I realized Paul and Silas’s jail visit must have been suffered to happen just to reach the jailer. (Yes, that sounds a bit obvious, but hear me out..) I suspect that the jailer had heard of Paul and Silas’s preaching before this. I suspect that the jailer had previously held back from joining the church, thinking that he had plenty of time in life to repent.
Fast forward to when the jailer awakes and finds the prison doors wide open. He knows the consequence would be execution for dereliction of duty if any of the prisoners are gone. It is a shock that shows him that he has hardly any time left to his life at all.
When Paul and Silas tell him everyone is there, which removes the immediate prospect of death, he becomes willing to stop procrastinating repentance, and he immediately asks how to obtain salvation.
Seen in this way, the story shows that the Lord knows when we are procrastinating our repentance, and He has ways of showing us there is no time to waste. The time of reckoning may come sooner than we think, so it is best to begin repentance now.
If you’re interested, here is another post about this story from a different perspective—Spiritual freedom allows us to transcend physical captivity.