The argument for Paul’s death at the end of Acts is two-fold. First, it is very likely that Luke-Acts was written after Paul’s death and, thus, that the author of Luke-Acts knew the outcome of Paul’s trial before Nero. For example, the overwhelming majority of experts on the gospels would say that the Gospel of Luke used some form of the Gospel of Mark as a primary source. Since they also date Mark to the late 60s or early 70s of the first century, Luke would have to be written later, which places it several years after Paul’s death.
However, the real clincher for a post-70AD date for Luke-Acts is in the way Luke 21:20 clarifies Jesus’ prophecy in Mark 13:14. Both Mark 13:14 and Matthew 24:15 have the ambiguous prediction of an “abomination that causes desolation” standing where it should not be standing, namely “in the holy place,” the temple (Matt. 24:15). Accordingly, we are a little surprised when we find Luke 21:20 speak of “Jerusalem surrounded by armies” and its desolation. Given where this statement comes in the prophecy and the fact that Luke is using Mark as a source, we can tell that this is Luke’s interpretation of the prophecy. After all, if Jesus said it this way instead of the way it is in Mark, why are Matthew and Mark so ambiguous? They almost seem to be saying different things!
By far the most likely explanation is that Luke has clarified the meaning of the Jesus prophecy because he already knows what the prophecy was referring to, because he is writing after it has happened. He has “translated” the prophecy dynamically, like The Message paraphrases the Bible in conversational English. Jewish translations we have from the time—including the New Testament itself—show that translators regularly rendered the Bible with this sort of freedom to paraphrase. And so it is overwhelmingly likely that Luke was written after Jerusalem’s destruction in AD70, and thus several years after Paul’s death.
So, secondly, if the author of Acts knows how Paul died, we have to take very seriously the way he foreshadows doom for Paul in the last chapters of the book. Particularly striking are some of Paul’s final words to the Ephesians in Acts 20:25: “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again” (NIV). If this statement is true—and surely the author of Acts would not have included it if it was not—then the popular evangelical reconstruction of a fourth missionary journey cannot be correct. For example, Paul would not have revisited Ephesus again to account for him leaving Timothy there as in 1 Timothy 1:3. Nor would it be likely that he had gone on from there to visit Colossae.
This sense of foreboding continues when Paul lands in Palestine. The prophet Agabas comes to Paul, ties his hands up with Paul’s belt, and predicts that “In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles” (Acts 21:11). Then the people there plead with Paul not to go to Jerusalem. They weep and break Paul’s heart, and Paul signals his willingness to die in Jerusalem (21:13). This build-up seems overly melodramatic if it is only foreshadowing imprisonment, when Paul has been imprisoned before. Acts thus seems once again to foreshadow Paul’s destiny when Herod Agrippa II tells the Roman governor Festus in effect that it is a pity Paul appealed to Caesar: “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar” (26:32). The possibility of death is again mentioned explicitly (26:31).
So if the author of Acts knew the outcome of Paul’s trial and implies it was negative, then it seems very likely that the outcome of Paul’s trial was negative. The question we then might hear is why Acts does not then tell us. The assumption is that if the author had known the outcome of the trial, he would have told us. But of course Acts was not written for us, and it is quite likely that the original audience did know the outcome of Paul’s trail. It was thus not necessary for Acts to say. Perhaps the author thought it would end Acts on a negative note, particularly when a consistent theme in Acts is to show that Christians had fairly smooth relationships with Roman officials.