Am I ready to die for Jesus? That is a serious question to address. It gets to the core of my dedication and commitment. I’d like to think I am that committed but I have never encountered that prospect as a follower of Jesus. There are those who do every day.
When we completed our voyage from Tyre, we reached Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed with them for a day. The next day we left and came to Caesarea, where we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the Seven, and stayed with him. This man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.
After we had been there for several days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. He came to us, took Paul’s belt, tied his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him over to the Gentiles.’ ” When we heard this, both we and the local people pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem.
Then Paul replied, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Master Jesus.”
Since he would not be persuaded, we said no more except, “The Master’s will be done.” | Acts 21:10-14 (CSB)
The men stayed with Philip, one of the original deacons who also served as an evangelist. It was now some twenty years since he had come to Caesarea and made it his headquarters. Since Philip had been an associate of Stephen, and Paul had taken part in Stephen’s death, this must have been an interesting meeting.
While Paul rested in Caesarea, the Prophet Agabus came to give him a second warning message from the Master Jesus. Some fifteen years before, Paul and Agabus had worked together in a famine relief program for Judea, so they were not strangers. Agabus delivered his message in a dramatic way as he bound his own hands and feet with Paul’s girdle and told the apostle that he would be bound in Jerusalem.
As did the saints in Tyre, so the believers in Caesarea begged Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Surely the men chosen by the churches could deliver the love offering to James and the Jerusalem elders, and it would not be necessary for Paul to go personally. But Paul silenced them and told them that he was prepared (“ready”) not only to be bound, but also to die if necessary for the name of the Master Jesus the Messiah.
Now we must pause to consider whether Paul was right or wrong in making that trip to Jerusalem. If it seems improper, or even blasphemous, so to examine the actions of an apostle, keep in mind that he was a human being like anyone else. His epistles were inspired, but this does not necessarily mean that everything he did was perfect. Whether he was right or wrong, we can certainly learn from his experience.
On the con side, these repeated messages do sound like warnings to Paul to stay out of Jerusalem. For that matter, over twenty years before, the Master had commanded Paul to get out of Jerusalem because the Jews would not receive his testimony. Paul had already written to the Romans about the dangers in Judea, and he had shared these same feelings with the Ephesian elders; so he was fully aware of the problems involved.
On the pro side, the prophetic utterances can be taken as warnings (“Get ready!”) rather than as prohibitions (“You must not go!”). The statement in Acts 21:4 does not use the Greek negative ou, which means absolute prohibition, but me, used “where one thinks a thing is not” Agabus did not forbid Paul to go to Jerusalem; he only told him what to expect if he did go. As for the Lord’s command, it applied to that particular time and need not be interpreted as a prohibition governing the rest of Paul’s life. While it is true that Paul avoided Jerusalem, it is also true that he returned there on other occasions: with famine relief; to attend the Jerusalem Conference; and after his second missionary journey —“going up to greet the church” refers to Jerusalem.
In view of Paul’s statement, and the Master’s encouraging words, it is difficult to believe that the apostle deliberately disobeyed the revealed will of God. God’s prophecy to Ananias certainly came true in the months that followed as Paul had opportunity to witness for the Messiah.
Instead of accusing Paul of compromise, we ought to applaud him for his courage. Why? Because in going to Jerusalem, he took his life in his hands in order to try to solve the most pressing problem in the church: the growing division between the “far right” legalistic Jews and the believing Gentiles. Ever since the Jerusalem Conference, trouble had been brewing; and the legalists had been following Paul and seeking to capture his converts. It was a serious situation, and Paul knew that he was a part of the answer as well as a part of the problem. But he could not solve the problem by remote control through representatives; he had to go to Jerusalem personally.
- Christian Standard Bible. (2017). (Ac 21:1–40). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
- Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, by G. Abbott-Smith, p. 289.
- Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, pp. 489–490). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.