Paul at Caesarea with Philip the Evangelist: Part 2 of 4 (series: Lessons on Acts)
by John Lowe
4 And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.
“And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days.” There was a Christian church in this historic old Phoenician city, probably established there at the time of the great persecution instigated by Saul following the death of Stephen— “Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, spreading the WORD only among Jews” (11:19). The missionaries knew about the church and hunted it up. The word for “finding,” which occurs only here and in Luke 2:16, implies “to find by searching.” Christian hospitality was extended to the travelers, and a week’s warm fellowship followed.
Paul used the time spent in unloading the ship (7 days) to meet with the “disciples.” His week in Tyre probably included a meeting similar to the meeting at Troas, for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (20:7-12). It is highly likely that Paul would have visited this church before (11:30, 12:25; 15:3), and the use of the term “disciples,” bears this out—these were the Christians Paul knew to be there. Their presence went back to the events of 11:19— “Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews.” While he was with them a warning came (perhaps through a Christian prophet) that he should not go to “Jerusalem.” This was probably similar to the incident a few days later in Caesarea, in which the “Spirit” made it known that Paul’s future was fraught with danger. Others saw this as a reason for urging him to turn back, whereas Paul himself seems to have viewed the warning as God’s way of preparing him for what lay ahead. Paul is not to go up to “Jerusalem” unless he is prepared to make the required sacrifice. Paul keeps saying that he is willing to lay down his life for the Lord Jesus. He did not want to send some representative to “Jerusalem”; he wanted to go to “Jerusalem” himself. That is the way I think it should be understood.
“Who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.” The gift of predicting prophesy was still active in the church at that time, and some of the believers who had the gift were shown by “the Spirit” the dangers that lay ahead for Paul at “Jerusalem.” Not that that was news to Paul. He had faced the issue long before coming this far— “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (20:22-24). Paul was warned in Acts 20:23, not to go, but now he is commanded not to go to “Jerusalem.”
A casual reading of this last part of verse four might seem to indicate that the apostle was willful and headstrong, acting in deliberate defiance of the Spirit. However, a more careful reading might indicate that Paul did not actually know that these warnings were given through the spirit. Luke, the historian, tells his readers that the advice of the Tyrian “disciples” was spirit inspired, but he does not say that the apostle knew this as a definite fact.
The fact remains that Paul had ample warning of what to expect at “Jerusalem.” He was a godly man, spiritually sensitive and guided by the Holy Spirit. It hardly seems possible that Paul’s decision to go to “Jerusalem” was a case of stubborn, deliberate, and willful defiance of the Holy Spirit. He must have had some inward permission from the Holy Spirit to go to “Jerusalem,” or he would not have gone. Perhaps he concluded that the visit was not part of God’s directing will but was still part of His permissive will. He was sure that Romans 8:28 still held true. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). No matter what happened at “Jerusalem,” God would overrule all things for the furtherance of the Gospel.
Another reason I do not believe that Paul stepped out of the will of God is because of his writings later on. When Paul was in prison in Rome, the church at Philippi sent to him an expression of their sympathy. They loved him and they sympathized with his condition. But Paul wrote to them: “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12). Because what happened to Paul did not hinder the spread of the gospel, I do NOT believe that Paul was out of the will of God.
Finally, as I have already mentioned, in 2 Timothy 4:7 Paul writes, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” This was written at the end of his life. It seems to me that he would not say that if for a time he had stepped out of the will of God.
The seeming conflict in the Spirit’s directions appears more obvious here with the note that the Tyrians “through the Spirit” (under the influence of the Spirit) urged Paul “not (to) go up to Jerusalem.” Obviously, the Spirit would not be giving Paul two contradictory messages at the same time. The most likely solution is to see Paul’s resolution to go to “Jerusalem” as the primary emphasis. Paul was absolutely convinced that God was leading him to the city. On the other hand, the warnings along the way prepared Paul for the imprisonment and hardship that did indeed befall him there, fortified him for the experience, and convinced him that God was in it all. Their failure to deter him only heightens the emphasis on Paul’s firm conviction that God was leading him to “Jerusalem” and had a purpose for him there.
The subsequent narrative reveals the divine purpose behind Paul’s journey to “Jerusalem.” His arrest there provided him a unique opportunity for witness—before a Jewish crowd, the Jewish Sanhedrin, Roman governors, the Jewish king, and implicitly before the Roman emperor himself. Note how in Philippians 1:12-18 Paul expressed how his imprisonment had led to an affecting door for witness.
5 And when we had accomplished those days, we departed and went our way; and they all brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we were out of the city: and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed.
Such is the fellowship of the church. Paul was not personally known to many at Tyre, and his companions were complete strangers, but by the end of the week links of Christian love had been forged and the believers felt as though they had known one another for years. The world knows nothing like it, and no lodge or club or fraternity offers anything to compare with the fellowship of saints. A child of God is a member of a family, a real family, and one in which the ties are often more binding than those in one’s own human family.
By the time the week was over, the whole church rose up in a body, men, women, and “children,” to accompany their new friends out of town and down to “the shore.” Reminiscent of the parting from the Ephesian elders, they all knelt down and “prayed.” What a testimony that must have been to the sailors and merchants busy stowing on board the last of the cargo. Friend, the best position to be in while praying is kneeling. However, you can pray in any posture and anywhere. I have “prayed” in some of the most unusual places; in my car while driving (don’t worry, I kept my eyes open), while playing football, before a business meeting, while I’m talking to someone (I have no idea what they said to me.), etc. But the most appropriate posture when we come into the presence of Almighty God is to kneel.
6 And when we had taken our leave one of another, we took ship; and they returned home again.
Then came the final, last-minute good-byes and handclasps—another of those bittersweet partings so common down here, made so much easier for the Christian by the blessed assurance that one day we shall all meet again in that place prepared for us by God. It is probably the case that they left on the same boat that they had arrived in, since they waited seven days for the cargo to be unloaded.