I have been studying the life of Paul for ten months. I have read and taught a Sunday School lesson on this passage of Scripture. Until this week, I never realized the number of people involved in Paul’s return to Jerusalem after his third missionary journey. Let us walk through this passage together and discover an interesting truth.
First, a refresher is necessary on what is occurring in Paul’s life at this time. Before, Paul along with Barnabas, Luke, Silas, Timothy, John Mark, and others traveled to many cities in the Roman Empire telling people of the salvation Jesus Christ provided for sinners by His death and resurrection. By the time we intercept Paul in this passage, he finished his third missionary journey, met major resistance from Jews as he traveled, and heard the Holy Spirit tell him to return to Jerusalem. In Acts 19:21, after Paul stayed many days in Ephesus and performed many miracles, Luke recorded for the readers, “Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, ‘After I have been there, I must also see Rome.’” This passage marks the point of Paul’s return to Jerusalem for the final time. What does it mean that Paul “purposed in the Spirit?” The Greek definition of the word used here, tithemi, is putting in place or setting forth. By the prompting of the Holy Spirit, Paul ran toward the next goal God placed before him - return to Jerusalem.
In Acts 20:22-23, Paul explained more of God’s plan for him in Jerusalem when he stated, “And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.” Paul confirmed this return to Jerusalem was in obedience to the Spirit of God, not his own idea. He stated he felt “bound by the Spirit.” The word "bound" in Greek means put under obligation. Paul many times told people he was a bondservant of Christ. Paul’s new venture to return to Jerusalem continues his confession of being a bondservant. He obeyed God even to returning to a place where “affliction awaits” him.
With this history in place, let us embark on our study of Acts 21:1-14. Paul went to Jerusalem because of the Holy Spirit’s prompting and his obedience to God’s will. In these fourteen verses, I find it interesting that Luke, the writer or Acts, records so many different people interacting with Paul about his return to Jerusalem. First, in verse 4, we find the disciples in Tyre heard from the Holy Spirit about what Paul would encounter in Jerusalem. Luke said, “Through the Holy Spirit” they heard and told Paul what they heard. They, who loved Paul and did not want him to experience persecution, asked him not to go to Jerusalem. These people were disciples. The word "disciples" in Greek is mathemetes, which means to be a learner or pupil. These people became Christians under Paul or another Christian preacher and did not want to see him hurt. The verse further states, “they all kept telling Paul.” The disciples and the people in their households listened to what God said through His Spirit about what Paul would find when he arrived in Jerusalem.
As we go further in these verses, we see Paul arrived in Tyre, stopped in Ptolemais for a night, and then went to Caesarea. When Paul came to Caesarea (verse 8), he went to the home of Philip, the evangelist. Philip was one of the seven set aside and consecrated by the other apostles to aid the widows and orphans of Jerusalem church (Acts 6:1-3). An evangelist is euaggelistes in Greek and means the bringer or good tidings of salvation through Christ to people who are not disciples. Philip’s four daughters were prophetesses. Prophetesses were women who spoke by divine inspiration things only known by divine revelation. Paul encountered disciples, evangelists, and prophetesses in verses 8 and 9. These people came from every level of Christian knowledge and understanding. They listened to the Holy Spirit when He said what awaited Paul’s return to Jerusalem.
In verse 10, a prophet named Agabus came from Judea and entered the scene of Paul’s return to Jerusalem. Prophets are people, moved by the Spirit of God, to declare to humankind what he received from divine inspiration, especially about future events and particularly those things relating to the cause and kingdom of God. Agabus listened to what the Holy Spirit declared awaited Paul and acted it out using Paul’s belt. The people, even the ones who did not hear from the Holy Spirit themselves, experienced for themselves, through God’s prophet, Agabus, Paul’s future persecution (vs. 10-11). After this powerful demonstration, the people begged Paul not to go to Jerusalem.
In these eleven verses, people from many levels of Christian development received word from the Holy Spirit of Paul’s immediate future in Jerusalem. This is the main point I learned. The disciples or evangelists were not the only ones who listened to God. The apostles and prophets were not the only ones who heeded what God said. The regular people, ordinary disciples of Christ, listened to and heeded God in their own time with Him either during their day or through the prophets and evangelists. God speaks to anyone who cares to listen to Him. He seeks a relationship with everyone. Paul is the main person in this passage. What I found upon reading this passage this time is that God made each of these different Jesus followers aware of Paul’s immediate future of return to Jerusalem, imprisonment, and persecution. God wants a close relationship with everyone for two reasons: 1) He wants to be acquainted with people and for people to be acquainted with Him in such a way that they receive eternal salvation, and 2) He wants people to understand how to pray for His obedient servants as they walk in obedience to His call. Each person has an active call to be in a relationship with God and be in ministry/walk with Him by doing and by praying.
The second lesson of this passage comes in the final two verses. Verses 13-14 tell us:
Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent remarking, ‘The will of the Lord be done.’ [NASB]
Even though the Holy Spirit revealed to the people what awaited Paul, Paul’s conviction to continue his journey came from the Holy Spirit’s compelling him to go to Jerusalem, which we saw in Acts 19:21. The weeping and pleading by these people, who loved Paul and whom Paul loved, did not dissuade him from being an obedient servant for the purpose of God. Each of these people understood from the Holy Spirit, in one way or another, the truth about the future of Paul in Jerusalem. Each asked him not to go there. Paul probably sweated tears as he remembered Jesus Christ also dealt with this in the garden before His arrest. They both could have turned away from God’s path. If Jesus had turned away, humankind would not have salvation from their sins. If Paul turned away from God’s path, the Roman guards, commanders, governors, and emperor would not have known about God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. The people who looked up to both Jesus and Paul would have lost a role model in the faith. Each of these two men had a purpose to go to Jerusalem for the good of God’s kingdom. Each of them chose to follow God’s calling on their life.
God’s calling on each of our lives may not be so dramatic. That does not make it less important. Whatever that call is, it becomes our Jerusalem, the point where we decide to be obedient or turn away. God has a purpose for each thing He calls His disciples to do. If God calls one person to be a corporate manager and another as a sewer digger, both have the opportunity to influence people by the testimony of their actions and words. They can influence for good or evil. Each of us must choose if we will follow God’s call for our lives. If we choose not, then it will influence others negatively. If we choose to follow God’s calling and commands, it influences people around for us for the good. Whether we heed God to go or to pray, when we hear from Him, that is the time to take a stand for Him. Pray for His workers as He brings them to mind. You do not know what they are soon to encounter. Work at the task God has placed before you. You do not realize how your work will influence the next person or the person watching. This is your Jerusalem. This is where you decide to follow God’s will or not. Jerusalem can be life-threatening like it was for Jesus and Paul or it can be a place of renewal, growth and guidance.
God calls each one of us to follow Him. This means having a relationship with Him. It also means praying, studying His Word, and enacting in life what God calls us to do. You have to make the decision. God will not force it. He gave you free will as a gift when He created humankind.
Will you choose to be acquainted intimately with God
and walk according to His purpose even if it means going to your Jerusalem, a place of suffering and persecution?
Or, will you listen to people begging you not to follow God’s call
and walk without Him.
God calls everyone to come to Him and receive His love, redemption, salvation, and
life with Him forever.
You must choose.