Paul at Caesarea with Philip the Evangelist: Part 4 of 4 (series: Lessons on Acts)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

10 And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus.

The travelers had been in Caesarea for several “days” when the “prophet named Agabus”“came down from Judea.” We have met “Agabus” before; on the occasion when he was in Antioch shortly after the church in that city had begun to reach out to the Gentiles. At that time Agabus prophesied that a widespread famine would affect the world (11:27-28). His prophecy came true and “Agabus” enjoyed considerable prestige.

Politically, Caesarea was part of Judea. It was, in fact, the administrative capital. But as a predominantly Gentile city, it was deemed by many Jews to be no part of their land, and Luke’s reference reflects that attitude (1:8; 10:1).

11 And when he was come unto us, he took Paul's girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.

The prophet repeated the earlier warnings of danger to Paul (20:23; 21:4), using a symbolic action reminiscent of the prophets of old (1 Kings 11:29-39). “He took Paul's girdle (belt, the long cloth that was wound several times around his waist.), and bound his own hands and feet” with it. Then, just like an Old Testament prophet, he gave the interpretation of the act introduced by the usual, “Thus saith the Holy Ghost,”—terms signifying revelation through the Holy Spirit. With this dramatic gesture, in an acting style of prophecy sometimes adopted by Old Testament prophets, Agabus “bound” himself with Paul’s “girdle.” It was an action full of ominous significance. Then the prophet declared that the owner of this “girdle” would be treated ruthlessly by the “Jews,” who would hand him over, “bound,” to the “Gentiles.” But this was not so much a warning on Agabus’ part as it was a prediction. Unlike the Christians of Tyre, he did not urge Paul not to go. Rather, he told him what was in store for him. These words are not unlike Jesus’ predictions concerning Himself (Luke 9:44; 18:32; 24:7; also His prediction concerning Peter, John 21:18) and may have been deliberately chosen (probably by Luke) to show the similarity between the experiences of Jesus and Paul. Actually, though, the “Jews” did not hand Paul over as predicted, but were forced to relinquish him when the Romans intervened to stop them from murdering Paul in the Temple. There is no question, however, that the “Jews” were ultimately responsible for Paul’s Roman imprisonment, so that the intention if not the detail of the prophesy was fulfilled— “Three days later he called together the local Jewish leaders. When they had assembled, Paul said to them: “My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans” (28:17). No one present needed to be told what the gesture meant. But Agabus did not leave it at that.

“And said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.” This grim statement by Agabus was Paul’s last warning, his last chance to turn back. Two great passions tugged at Paul’s heart—his passion for “Jerusalem” and his desire to see Rome. “Jerusalem” pulled him, Rome beckoned him. But Paul still believed he could have both “Jerusalem” and Rome. In the end, so he did. He went to Rome via “Jerusalem”—in chains. The symbolism of Agabus’ act was meant to deter the apostle, but it did not stop him for a single moment.

12 And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.

When Paul’s friends “heard” this they pleaded with (him) “not to go up to Jerusalem,” but he would not heed their plea. There was now a united outcry against Paul’s unshakable resolve to go “to Jerusalem.” His friends and fellow-travelers from the mission field pleaded with him. Philip and his daughters pleaded with him. The other believers in Caesarea, who during Paul’s visit had come under the spell of his charm, genius, and love, joined their voices to the general plea. Luke even included himself by using the plural “we,” thus including himself among those who begged the apostle to abandon his plans. Paul was deeply moved by such an outpouring of spontaneous love and affection, and such a united interest in his personal welfare.

13 Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.

Strong as he was, Paul felt himself weakening under this united pressure, but he never would have forgiven himself had he yielded to pressure in a matter about which he had such strong personal convictions. In any case, the logic they were using made no lasting impression. His “heart” might have been taken by storm but not his head. He had his reasons for wanting to go to “Jerusalem,”not the least being his determination to deliver in person the cash donation to the “Jerusalem” church. He hoped that gesture might disarm the hatred and suspicion with which he was regarded by many, even in the church. He hoped, too, that he might help unify Jew and Gentile in the church. The argument that he would be imprisoned did not impress him. He had been imprisoned before. He spent most of his life in the eye of the storm, and, in any case, he was “ready” to “die” for the cause of Christ.

“What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart?” Their grief was Paul’s grief, though we should probably take the expression “break mine heart” to “mean,” rather, “break my spirit,” that is, “weakening my resolve,” for he was determined to go to “Jerusalem.” It is touching here to see the concern of the believers for the apostle Paul. My, how they loved him!

“The name of the Lord Jesus.” Baptism (2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5), healing (3:6, 16; 4:10), signs and wonders (4:30), and preaching (4:18; 5:40; 8:12), we’re all done in the “name of the Lord Jesus.” His “name” represents all that He is.

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

“And when he would not be persuaded.” They couldn’t change his mind, for Paul was already “persuaded.” He had recently written to the Romans: “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). Little wonder the thought of imprisonment could not deter him.

“We ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.” Paul’s friends finally gave in. “The will of the Lord be done” was all they could say. They could only accept Paul’s decision and leave the matter with God. In this context, “the will of the lord be done” seems to echo Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane (Luke 22:42; 18:21). How often we are driven back on God like that, when faced with a situation we cannot change. God knew that Nero needed to have the gospel preached to him. How else could a desperate, provincial Jewish preacher ever appear before the emperor of Rome, except the way Paul eventually did? God’s “will” was “done.” God’s champion on earth, Paul, confronted Satan’s champion on earth, Nero, and we can have no doubt that Paul dared to face even that lion in his den with the message of saving grace.

Special Notes

{1]A “crow's nest” is a structure in the upper part of the main mast of a ship or a structure that is used as a lookout point.
{2]A “Mole” is a pier, jetty, breakwater, or junction between places separated by water.

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