“We tore ourselves away from them…” (Acts 21:1). This is Dr. Luke’s description of Paul’s painfully emotional farewell as he left his friends in Ephesus and started toward Jerusalem.
“There were many tears shed by everyone. They embraced Paul and kissed him, grieving most of all over his statement that they would never see his face again” (Acts 20:37–38). Many of the Ephesian brothers feared that Paul would be martyred in Jerusalem.
Arriving at the port of Tyre, northwest of Jerusalem, Paul and his companions “sought out the disciples and stayed there seven days. Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4). Don’t go!
A few days later, in the city of Caesarea, “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” (Acts 21:10-12). Don’t go!
Some wonder: were these Divine prohibitions, or were they warnings?
If God’s commandment was “don’t go,” then Paul was guilty of prideful disobedience and overt rebellion. The Bible isn’t shy about describing the sins of other spiritual giants. David sinned with Bathsheba. Moses struck the rock. Abraham dishonored his wife. Did Paul thumb his nose at God and say, “I don’t care what You say! I’m going to Jerusalem”? If Paul had sinned, the Bible would have clearly disclosed it.
Don’t go! I believe that this was only a warning of the hardship awaiting him in Jerusalem as he obediently followed God’s direction.
Paul had experienced Divine prohibitions in the past, and he had been obedient to God’s directives. For example, on the second missionary journey, while traveling westward, “they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia; they had been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (Acts 16:6–7). Paul obeyed the prohibition. He didn’t go south, and he didn’t go north. He obeyed God.
On the contrary, Paul had received clear direction from the Lord. After completing his work in Ephesus, “Paul resolved by the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem” (Acts 19:21). He was traveling “to Jerusalem, compelled by the Spirit” (Acts 20:22) to complete the “ministry (he) received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).
Later, in Jerusalem, Paul testified before the Jewish high court. “Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience to this day’ ” (Acts 23:1). He had obeyed God. His conscience was clear.
Commissioned, compelled, and convinced, Paul comforted his friends in Tyre. “ ‘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 Lord Jesus.’ Since he would not be persuaded, we said no more except, ‘The Lord’s will be done’ ” (Acts 21:13–14).