inchains02Acts 21

1. Now it came to pass, that when we had departed from them and set sail, running a straight course we came to Cos, the following day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara.

So Paul and his companions, including Luke the human author of Acts, depart from Miletus and the Ephesian elders and continue on their journey towards Jerusalem. The ship runs on a straight course from Miletus to the island of Cos, which means “A Public Prison.” Apparently, however, this island was not known for its prisoners, at least not at this time, but for its fertility, particularly producing crops of corn and wine. They continue across the Aegean Sea, coming the next day to Rhodes. This was another island, its name meaning “Rosy.” It had a capital city with the same name of Rhodes. From Rhodes, they sail on to Patara, which means “Scattering” or “Cursing.” This time, this was a mainland city, and apparently was their ship’s last stop, as they leave the ship there to seek a new ship.

2. And finding a ship sailing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail.

Now they find in Patara a new ship sailing their way, planning to sail over to Phoenicia. Phoenicia means “Land of Palm Trees,” and was the land on the northwestern border of Israel along the Mediterranean Sea. The cities of Tyre and Sidon were located in Phoenicia. It will be a convenient stopping point for Paul and his companions, from which they can head south down to Judea and Jerusalem. So they go aboard this new ship and set sail.

3. When we had sighted Cyprus, we passed it on the left, sailed to Syria, and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload her cargo.

Now as they sail they sight Cyprus, the island that Barnabas calls home, and where Paul and Barnabas had first gone to proclaim the gospel when the Holy Spirit sent them on their mission. This time, however, Paul and his companions are not to stop there, and the ship passes by it on the left, which meant they passed around the island to the south, traveling with the island on their left. Then, they finish their journey, arriving at last at Syria. Syria means “exalted.” Remember that Syria was where Antioch was, the home base from which Paul had begun his journeys. Yet on this occasion he is not returning to Antioch, but is heading south to Jerusalem.

The place they actually landed was Tyre, a thriving port city on the coast of the Mediterranean. Tyre means “A Rock,” and the fortress was actually built on a rock off the coast accessed only by a bridge, which made it very hard to conquer. This was a very famous and rich city, and had at times been friends, at other times enemies, with the nation of Israel. Now, Paul arrives there, as this was where the ship was to unload her cargo. This was nothing unusual, for Tyre was a major city for trade.

4. And finding disciples, we stayed there seven days. They told Paul through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem.

At Tyre, Paul’s company finds disciples, and takes the time to stay with them for seven days. This was no short visit, but they must have made good time, and so did not have to hurry too quickly to make it to Jerusalem by the feast.

Now these disciples in Tyre tell Paul through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem. This seems odd, as Paul was determined to go to Jerusalem, and this message does not seem to have slowed him down in the slightest. Was Paul being disobedient? Could it be that God’s apostle was not listening to his Lord’s instructions, and was refusing to obey His directives? Why would Paul have done this? And could he have done it without earning the Lord’s wrath and punishment?

Ultimately, I do not believe that Paul would have disobeyed instructions from the Lord, nor could he have done so. As God’s apostle, if he had attempted to disobey direct commands, he would have immediately been subject to punishment. His fate would have been no different from Jonah’s when he tried to go the opposite direction from that the Lord told him to go. Jonah was quite forcefully turned back on the right course, and Paul would have been as well. No, this cannot be what is happening here. Yet what, then, is going on in this passage?

If we will look carefully at this passage, particularly reading down further in the chapter, we will find what we need to answer these questions. We see in verse 11 a statement of the Spirit made regarding Paul’s journey to Jerusalem. Agabus the prophet takes Paul’s belt, binds his own hands and feet with it, and says, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” The response of the other believers to this is immediate in verse 12. “Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem.” In this, we see a parallel of what must have happened in verse 4 here. The Holy Spirit revealed to these disciples that Paul was going to be imprisoned and delivered to the Gentiles in Jerusalem. These believers took this as a warning, and advised Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Paul, however, knew better. Jerusalem was on his itinerary, and he must go there. It was where God had for him to go next. Paul had been through many persecutions before, and even had been put to death, but it had not stopped him from continuing his ministry for the Lord Jesus. Surely such threats could not stop him now. So, he continued on his course unabated.

The best argument for this explanation is Paul’s actions. As pointed out above, he was God’s apostle, and was His to command. If God truly did not want him to go somewhere, he would not have gone. Paul knew better what his orders from the Lord were, far better even than these believers with a message from the Holy Spirit. He explains his attitude in verse 13, as he speaks to those pleading with him not to go. “What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Paul was not afraid of persecution. All he was afraid of was failing to serve his Lord as best he could. Knowing that persecution was coming because of that service did not slow him down one bit.

We always need to be very careful before we criticize any of the actions of the apostles in the Acts period. Unless the Word Itself tells us they were wrong, we should always assume these men knew what they were doing far better than we do. They were commissioned by God, and not their words only but also many of their actions were inspired by the Lord Jesus Christ. For us to find fault with their actions now two thousand years later is unwise. It is far better to acknowledge that these were God’s men, acting on His behalf, and to always assume they were right unless proven otherwise. I believe that Paul knew what he was doing when he went to Jerusalem. He was God’s apostle. He was not mistaken. The fault here was with his fellow believers, who did not understand the import of God’s message given to them to pass on to him. We should not take their side, or we will only prove that we too lack understanding.

5. When we had come to the end of those days, we departed and went on our way; and they all accompanied us, with wives and children, till we were out of the city. And we knelt down on the shore and prayed.

Paul and his companions come to the end of their week-long stay in Tyre. They depart from the city and go down to the sea, where their ship awaits them. The brothers with whom they have enjoyed this week of fellowship accompany (propempo) them, along with their wives and their children. On the shore, they all kneel down together and pray. This is a touching scene, and shows the love and care for God’s apostle that these believers of Tyre had. Even though it does not seem that it was through Paul’s ministry that these people had come to a knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and faith in Him, still they loved this great apostle, and had grown close to him even through the short amount of time he had been able to spend with them. Their hearts are revealed by this, and the fact that they truly do love and care for those whom God has sent.

6. When we had taken our leave of one another, we boarded the ship, and they returned home.

So the time for parting is complete. They take their leave of one another, with the apostles boarding the ship, and the believers of Tyre returning to their homes.

7. And when we had finished our voyage from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, greeted the brethren, and stayed with them one day.

Their journey takes them from Tyre to Ptolemais, which means “Warlike.” It was named after Ptolemy Lathyrus, who captured the city about 150 years before this and rebuilt and beautified it. This was another port city of Phoenicia, but down the coast south of Tyre, and so in the direction of Jerusalem.

As in Tyre, Paul and his companions find fellow believers in Ptolemais. Indeed, we can see how the word of the Lord had spread greatly throughout this region, and it is unlikely that there was a city left where Jews dwelt that did not have some believers in Jesus Christ in it at this point. They greet these brethren, and stay with them. However, this time their stay is only for one day, as they must continue to hurry onward towards Jerusalem to keep the timetable the Lord has laid out for His apostle.

8. On the next day we who were Paul’s companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him.

The following day Paul’s companions depart from Ptolemais. How they departed, by sea or by land, we are not told. However, they proceed south down the coast of the Mediterranean to Caesarea. This was about sixty miles from their starting point of Tyre, following the coast road. Caesarea was in Israel, but the name means “Severed,” and it was indeed severed from the rest of the land in that most of the inhabitants of the city were Greeks, either of the Gentile or the Jewish variety. It was another port town, and was named in honor of Caesar Augustus, although as I’ve already said this name was particularly appropriate.

Now we have the strange fact that it is said that “Paul’s companions” departed the next day, rather than saying that Paul and his company did so. Why it says this is uncertain. It may be that Paul remained behind in Ptolemais for a while, and joined his companions some time later. Since Luke tells us in verse 10 that they stayed there “many days,” it could be that during this time Paul traveled there and joined them, for he certainly was there in verse 11. However, Luke gives us no hint of such a thing in the narrative, so we can only guess that this is what he means.

While its Gentile character might make Caesarea seem a strange place for Paul and his companions to stay in the land of Israel, remember that it was still in the land, and there were definitely Israelites there who believed. Moreover we cannot forget that many of Paul’s companions are men of the nations, men who, though they have Israelite ancestry, have perhaps never even been in the land of Israel before. Some of them probably could not even speak Aramaic, and so a city like Caesarea where mostly all of the inhabitants could speak Greek would be a more welcome place for them than many other cities in Israel would have been. Though he can certainly speak Aramaic, Paul, too, was born outside the land, and has been outside the land for a long time now. In some ways, he and his companions fit better in Caesarea than they do anywhere else in the land.

Moreover, Paul’s companions do not have to search very long in Caesarea before they find a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ to stay with. In fact, this believer is no less a person than Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven from Acts 6. We last saw Philip in Acts 8, which followed the course of his travels and ministry for a time. In fact, he was our example of the actions of those who went out spreading the gospel after the stoning of Stephen, during the period I have called “the great scattering.” The last we heard of him was in Acts 8:40 when he arrived in Caesarea. It seems that that was the last we heard of him because that was the end of his travels, as years later we find him still in this same place.

Philip is here called “the evangelist.” We can understand what this means when we remember that the Greek word for “gospel” is evangelos. In other words, Philip was a “gospelizer” or a proclaimer of the gospel, the right message. Philip did proclaim the gospel, as he was commissioned by God to do so as part of the great scattering. We saw him doing that very thing when we followed his career back in chapter 8. So this is a good servant of the Lord indeed with whom Paul and his companions come to make their stay.

9. Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.

We learn that Philip at this time has four virgin daughters. So it seems that his reason for remaining in Caesarea so long could be revealed here. He settled down in this city, got married, and had children. Perhaps he met Miss Right here in this city and that caused him to stay. Or perhaps the Lord brought him here and told him to stay, and as he settled down here he sought a wife and found one. At any rate, the fact is that he is married, and has four virgin daughters.

Now what is the significance of the fact that these women are virgins? There could be quite a few things indicated by this. One could be that these women were quite young. The typical age for marriage for a women at the time was between 13 and 15 years old, and so if these daughters of Philip’s were less than this age, it means they were quite young. Depending on their age, this also speaks to their purity, which in a Greek city like Caesarea is a commendable thing. These young women had not indulged in the excesses of behavior that existed in a largely Gentile city like Caesarea. They had remained chaste, as they should have done.

Yet the fact that these girls are virgins also reminds us of Paul’s argument in I Corinthians 7. There, he advised virgins to remain unmarried, “because of the present distress.” While this distress may have had to do with the coming persecution in Corinth, for such a persecution apparently had happened by the time Paul wrote II Corinthians, I believe it also had to do with the closing out of the Acts period, when the crisis point would be reached, and the final determination as to whether or not the kingdom of God was to come fully in at that time would be revealed. In such an atmosphere, it was not the right time to think about marriage. So this could be telling us that these girls were focused on the Lord and His work at this time, waiting in anticipation for the possibility of the arrival of His kingdom, and so had been willing to postpone marriage for a time. If so, this too would be quite commendable of them. This could mean that the oldest might have been older than 15, though the time that has passed since Acts 8 would not allow her to be too old.

We also read that these girls prophesied. This fits right in with the giving of the gifts of the Spirit at that time. As Joel chapter 2 says, as Peter quoted it at the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2:17, “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.” Here, this is exactly what these young ladies are doing. They have become prophetesses, prophetesses of the Acts period, and right that they should have. When a word from God was necessary for the believers at that time, these four girls were among those who could be chosen by the Lord to speak it. This was the blessed condition of things in the Acts period. Of course, today when we need to hear from God, there is only one way for us to do so, and that is for us to turn to the pages of His book.

10. And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.

As Paul’s companions remain there, apparently now with Paul among them, a prophet comes down to them from Judea. We have met this prophet Agabus before, when he traveled all the way north to Antioch in Syria, and there gave the prophecy of the coming famine throughout the world that caused those of Antioch to send a collection to the poor believers in Judea. As we discussed there, Agabus means “Locust,” and this man seems to be a “bad news prophet,” at least the two times we see him in Scripture, as both times we see him he is carrying words of woe. Well, I suppose that there is nothing wrong with that, if that is what the Lord has sent you to say.

We see that Agabus “came down” from Judea. Again, we should not get confused by this, since Caesarea is north of Judea. Yet Caesarea is on the coast, whereas Judea is rather mountainous country, and so it is coming down in elevation about 2,000 feet to go from Judea to Caesarea. That was what they cared about as a society that traveled by walking: elevation, not points on a map. Caesarea is definitely down in elevation from Judea. It was probably also a moral step down as well, although this says nothing about the believers who were living there.

11. When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”

When Agabus has joined them, he goes to Paul and takes his belt. This seems like strange behavior, yet we realize that this was a symbolic act given him by the Lord to do. With Paul’s belt, he binds his own hands and feet, which was probably no easy task. It must have taken him quite a while to do this, with the believers looking on and watching. Then, he speaks, and he speaks the message of the Holy Spirit. The Greek here is to pneuma to hagion, or “the Spirit the Holy (Spirit,)” and so indicates the Person of the Spirit was speaking here. These were His words.

The Spirit says that the Jews at Jerusalem shall bind the man who owns the belt he has bound himself with. Of course, they would not use a belt to do it, but the belt points to Paul as the man of whom He is speaking. Then, He reveals, they will take Paul and deliver him into the hands of the nations. By nations, we understand that He means the Roman rulers, who would then deal with Paul using their own corrupt justice system.

12. Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem.

When Luke and the rest of Paul’s companions hear these words from the Holy Spirit, they along with the disciples from Caesarea begin to plead with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. This was no command from the Spirit, but was their conclusion based on the Spirit’s words. Well they might have remembered what happened to the Lord Jesus Christ when this very same thing happened to Him. They knew in that case that what was done had been the will of God, but still they had no desire to see such a thing happen to Paul.

So we see here an example of the very thing that must have happened back in Tyre in verse 4. The men there learned through the Spirit of the persecution Paul was soon to face. Based on this revelation, they begged him not to go up to Jerusalem. What the Spirit had revealed was only that Paul would face much trouble in Jerusalem. He had given no command that Paul must not go up there.

13. Then Paul answered, “What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Paul seems to be disturbed more by their weeping for him than he is by the prospect of persecution at Jerusalem. Paul has faced persecution before, and we know the bravery he had in these cases, and from whence his bravery came. The prospect of more suffering failed altogether to move him. Yet what the prospect of suffering could not do, it seems the heartfelt tears of his beloved companions, as well as the dear believers in Caesarea, succeeded in doing, and that is in disturbing the apostle. He hates to see his beloved companions thus moved for him.

So Paul admonishes his companions, as well as the saints from Caesarea. Why are they weeping in this manner, to break his sensitive heart? For he loves these people, and hates to see them feeling such sorrow for him. The prospect of captivity awaiting him in Jerusalem does not bother him, he reveals. He knows well what he must do, and he is prepared to do it, no matter the cost. He must follow the course God has laid out for him, and Jerusalem lies straight in his path. He is ready to serve God there, not only if it means being bound, but even if it means dying there for the name of the Lord Jesus. So let them not weep for him, for he does not consider such things to be any great or terrible thing. After all, he has been bound for Christ before, and this would not be the first time he would die for Him. To him, the overreaching goal is to glorify the name, that is, the true reputation based on the character of the Lord Jesus, and next to that goal, such considerations are trivial.

14. So when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, “The will of the Lord be done.”

When Paul’s companions and friends realize that his mind is made up and he will not be persuaded, they cease attempting to turn him from his course. At this point, they give it up to God, putting it in His hands, only asking that His will be done in the matter. This was a good thing, and perhaps was what they should have done in the first place.