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Galatians 5:16-23 teaches that at any moment we are either walking by the Holy Spirit or according to the sin nature. Walking by the Spirit, enjoying fellowship with God, walking in the light are virtually synonymous. During these times, the Holy Spirit is working in us to illuminate our minds to the truth of Scripture and to challenge us to apply what we learn. But when we sin, we begin to live based on the sin nature. Our works do not count for eternity. The only way to recover is to confess (admit, acknowledge) our sin to God the Father and we are instantly forgiven, cleansed, and recover our spiritual walk (1 John 1:9). Please make sure you are walking by the Spirit before you begin your Bible study, so it will be spiritually profitable.

Acts 21:1-17 by Robert Dean

"Tune in tonight to listen to the evangelist Philip's four virgin prophetess daughters." If there had been TV in the first century this might have been a program. Listen to this lesson to learn that women prophets in the Old Testament praised God through music. Hear the dire warnings given to the Apostle Paul as he prepares to go to Jerusalem. Discover four optional solutions to the seeming confusion over whether he was led by the Holy Spirit to make this trip and the one that has the most adherents. See how Paul was not swayed by fear for his safety but was willing to perform the will of God no matter the personal cost.

Note: Due to technical difficulties the video for this class may be out of sync with the audio.

Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:1 hr 3 mins 29 secs

Travel to Jerusalem
Acts 21:1-16 

We are coming to the conclusion of Paul's third missionary journey.

Acts 21:1 NASB "When we had parted from them and had set sail, we ran a straight course to Cos and the next day to Rhodes and from there to Patara;

Notice the "we" indicating that Luke is travelling with Paul. This is important because Luke ends the "we" section toward the end of this chapter. Apparently Luke wasn't with Paul the entire time. Incidentally, this time in Israel when Luke is not with Paul is very likely the time when Luke is going out, travelling around and interviewing eyewitnesses of the life of Christ and bringing his materials together and writing his Gospel. Paul stopped at Patara to change ships. It seems that the reason was to get one that was setting a direct course Tyre in order to get to Jerusalem as quickly as possible.  

Acts 21:2 NASB "and having found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. [3] When we came in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we kept sailing to Syria and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload its cargo." The process of unloading cargo and then loading new cargo was going to take time, so they would spend seven days in Tyre. This is described in vv. 4-6. In those seven days in Tyre there is going to be another warning given to Paul about going to Jerusalem. This is the controversial warning. Remember that we have already seen that there are a couple of verses that are very clear that Paul under the guiding ministry of God the Holy Spirit is directed to go to Jerusalem.    

Acts 21:4 NASB "After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem." So there is a congregation in Tyre. Apparently there were some among them who had the gift of prophecy. Remember that in the early church revelatory gifts were still operational. The New Testament canon had not been written yet. At this point we are in the year 57 AD. James is the only other New Testament book, and possibly Matthew, that had been written other than the six epistles of the apostle Paul. The epistles of Paul really focus upon church age doctrine—mystery doctrine, i.e. previously unrevealed truth. There are 27 books in the New Testament and we have a possibility of eight having been written at this point. That means that there are 19 New Testament books that still haven't been written. So there is a need for those who have revelatory gifts to communicate direct revelation and guidance from God to the early church. This is temporary because once the canon is completed the gifts would no longer be necessary and they would cease (1 Corinthians 13:10 –the perfect, i.e. that which is complete).   

"they kept telling Paul through the Spirit" – the preposition dia plus a genitive form of the noun pneuma, which normally indicates a form of instrumentality. It is similar to the preposition en plus the dative, which is stronger. dia plus the genitive is a sort of secondary type of instrumentality, and so it is important to look at how this phrase is used as opposed to the other phrase. Because Paul has been told under the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit, by means of the Holy Spirit, and is bound to go to Jerusalem.

It seems at the first reading of Acts 21:4 that these disciples told Paul through the Spirit not to go to Jerusalem. What that means is that on the authority of the Holy Spirit Paul is not to go to Jerusalem, and that seems to contradict clear statements in Acts 19:21 and 20:22 that Paul's decision to go to Jerusalem was somehow erroneous, that he was carnal, disobedient by going to Jerusalem. And yet the language here is very strong. Acts 19:21, "Paul purposed in [by means of] the Spirit to go to Jerusalem"—en ta pneumati. This is the same terminology we have with walking by the Spirit and being filled by the Spirit. So taken all by itself verse 19 is a very strong statement that Paul is being guided and directed by God the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem at the conclusion of his third missionary journey.

Then in Acts 20:22, "And now, behold, bound by the Spirit …" This is a perfect tense form of that verb to be bound, indicating that he had already been bound. It was set by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem. " … I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there." The indication in other verses was already that he was going to face opposition and persecution if he went to Jerusalem. That wasn't going to stop him anymore than it was going to stop the Lord Jesus Christ from going to Jerusalem because He was going to face arrest and then crucified on the cross. The warning was to test Paul to see if he was going to be obedient to the Lord no matter what the cost in going to Jerusalem.

Luke adds verse 24 because it indicates again Paul's mentality. He is focused on serving the Lord, not on his own agenda. "But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God." The reason he is going is clearly stated to be a witness to the grace of God. And just because he was the apostle to the Gentiles doesn't mean he didn't minister to the Jews. He led probably hundreds of Jews to the Lord by virtue of going to synagogues first and then going to the Gentiles.

But we have clear evidence here that en pneumati emphasizes "by means of the Spirit". But that is not the same phrase that we have in Acts 21:4 where we have dia plus the genitive of pneuma. If we look at the book of Acts and the verses where that phraseology is used we can make some interesting observations.

In Acts 1:2 Luke is writing about the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ: "until the day when He was taken up {to heaven,} after He had by the Holy Spirit …" English prepositions never are consistent with translating the Greek prepositions. The Greek preposition is dia. " … given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen."

Acts 4:25 NASB "who by the Holy Spirit, {through} the mouth of our father David Your servant, said, 'WHY DID THE GENTILES RAGE, AND THE PEOPLES DEVISE FUTILE THINGS?" "By the Holy Spirit" there is referencing the process of inspiration.

Acts 11:28 NASB "One of them named Agabus stood up and {began} to indicate by the Spirit [en plus the genitive] that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. Again it is indicating some sort of inspired utterance. Inspiration is going on in that context.

Romans 5:5 NASB "and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit [intermediate agency] who was given to us."

1 Corinthians 2:10 NASB "For to us God revealed {them} through the Spirit …" Again it is used in a context of something revelatory under inspiration.

The same is true of 1 Corinthians 12:8 NASB "For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit."

So what do we make of all this? Option #1 is that either Luke or the Holy Spirit contradicts himself, that in two passages Paul has been led by the Spirit and these disciples are saying the Holy Spirit changed His mind. Or, Option # 2, Paul has misunderstood the guidance of the Spirit and the disciples entire have it right. Option #3, the disciples entire received the same message that Paul has been getting about persecution if he goes to Jerusalem, and their reaction is to tell Paul not to go.

Option #3, explanation. They have received the same information that Paul has received earlier. That is, if he goes to Jerusalem he will face persecution and opposition. That is the information they have received. Their reaction to that is to tell Paul not to go. We get a perfect example of that a few verses later.

Agabas has come down to the sea and gives an object lesson to Paul.

Acts 21:11 NASB And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, "This is what the Holy Spirit says: 'In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'" Notice the Holy Spirit doesn't say, "Don't go to Jerusalem". The message all along has been that Paul was going to face a lot of opposition. What happens after that? 

Acts 21:12 NASB "When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents {began} begging him not to go up to Jerusalem." The "we" means Luke and others in Paul's entourage. But Paul's attitude is completely different. 

There is a fourth option. That is that the disciples entire are just wrong. They are wrong and Paul is right. Or Luke contradicts himself.

Option #1 we throw out because under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit there is not going to be a contradiction. Option # 2 is not acceptable because it is very clear that Paul is walking by the Spirit. So Paul is not misunderstanding the guidance of the Spirit. Option # 4 that the disciples entire are wrong doesn't work either. They understand accurately what the Holy Spirit is saying. The only option that we have is option #3: that they hear the message, just like the situation with Agabas, and get the message right, but they don't want to see Paul go through persecution. They tell him not to go. That was their application, as it were, from the message that God gave them.

The burden of proof in light of Acts 19, that Paul has purposed this by means of the Spirit, and Acts 20:22 that he was bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem, is on those who would argue that Paul was wrong. There is nothing in Paul's life at this time that he is in any kind of rebellion against God. He states again and again, both before and after and during this, that he is following the will of God. There is no clear statement that he was wrong or out of order. So that takes us to understand from our conclusion that option #3 must be the solution.

It is interesting that Chysostom in the late fourth century clearly states that these disciples understand that Paul is going to go through intense opposition and persecution, and their application of that is that Paul should not go to Jerusalem. 

This one of those areas where actually Greek doesn't help a whole lot. Unless you are a native speaker it is going to be very difficult to pick up on the nuanced differences between the instrumental use of the preposition en and the instrumental use of the preposition dia. But dia is usually less so than en. In the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology there is a quite extensive article (about 60 pages) dealing with all of the different prepositions in the Greek New Testament. This article states:

dia tou pneumatos in Acts 21:4 is difficult since the advice not to go on to Jerusalem by the Tyrian disciples or prophets through the Spirit conflict with his own resolve by means of the Spirit in Acts 19:21, and with the constraint and testimony of the Spirit in Acts 20:22. It is noteworthy that Agabas's subsequent prophecy of Caesarea in Acts 21:11 that predicts Paul's suffering in Jerusalem and begins, "This says the Holy Spirit", doesn't not include an injunction or exhortation to Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Cf. Acts 21:12-14. Perhaps, therefore, the crucial phrase in Acts 21:4 should be rendered "while under the inspiration of the Spirit" …

 It doesn't mean they're inerrant and it doesn't mean that what they've said is prophetic. It is that they have received the prophecy and then they're giving an application of it that was wrong.

… In this condensed statement Luke has not distinguished between a prophecy regarding Paul's suffering in Jerusalem, doubtless given by the Tyrian disciples before their exhortation, that was delivered at the direction of the Spirit, and their own personal exhortation…

Luke isn't going into enough detail to distinguish the prophecy they received from their application of it.

… The verse may be paraphrased thus: Prompted by a prediction of the Holy Spirit they told Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.  

That seems to be the best conclusion in comparing the passages. The disciples misapplied the message that they received.

The next verse goes on to describe Paul's departure.

Acts 21:5 NASB "When our days there were ended, we left and started on our journey, while they all, with wives and children, escorted us until {we were} out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach and praying, we said farewell to one another." 

We see the same kind of intimate personal scene that we saw at the end of chapter twenty. When Paul left Miletus they all knelt down and prayed with him. It was a time of close intimate fellowship that is very emotional. Paul was loved by them. So many of them, both at Miletus and in Tyre, may have come to the Lord under Paul's ministry. They at least were fed from the Word of God by the apostle, taught by him, and they loved him profoundly. They were so grateful for all that the taught them while he was there and they all follow him down to the harbor. They brought their whole families. 

Acts 21:6 NASB "Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home again."

Then we come from where they move from Tyre down to Ptolemais. Ptolemais is the Greek name for a harbor that was later called Acre. It is from there that they moved down to Caesarea which was the largest harbor anywhere on the eastern end of the Mediterranean.

Acts 21:8 NASB "On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him." This is where Paul will spend two years in prison waiting to eventually be sent to Rome. Philip's primary ministry was communicating the gospel and there were thousands who came to the Lord through his ministry. Eventually, at the time of the Jewish revolt, they left, knowing what would happen because of Jesus' predictions and they moved to Asia.

Acts 21:9 NASB "Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses." The emphasis that they were virgins would simply be an emphasis that they were unmarried as yet. What does it mean that they were prophetesses? Does it mean that they predicted the future? Does it mean that they functioned like an Old Testament prophet, calling the nation to obedience? Does that mean that they were like Agabas who shows up now and then God gave them special revelation? There is another option. This is an option very few people ever bring up. But if we were to read through any of the articles in some of the larger works where they are going through a lengthy analysis of Old Testament words we would find scholars coming to passages and what they say doesn't fit perhaps eighty per cent of the use of the term prophet or prophecy. It reveals another meaning of the term that most people kind of ignore. What is interesting is that this other meaning, while it is not restricted to women, is almost always used of women. One of the clearest ways in which we see the term prophecy used in this was is in 1 Chronicles 25:1-3. This passage is talking about David's development of the choirs that would sing in the temple once Solomon builds the temple.

1 Chronicles 25:1 NASB "Moreover, David and the commanders of the army set apart for the service {some} of the sons of Asaph and of Heman and of Jeduthun …" Asaph authored some of the psalms. So what David is doing is developing these choirs who will sing the songs. " … who {were} to prophesy with lyres, harps and cymbals; and the number of those who performed their service was:"

If you were to take the word "prophesy" out of that sentence what English word would you put there in its place? Sing. That is what you do with harps, stringed instruments and cymbals. There is singing here, the singing of the psalms of God. Yet the verb that is used is the verb prophesy.

1 Chronicles 25:2 NASB "Of the sons of Asaph: Zaccur, Joseph, Nethaniah and Asharelah; the sons of Asaph {were} under the direction of Asaph, who prophesied under the direction of the king." Think about that last phrase for a minute. If you were a prophet in the classic understanding that God is revealing something to you then the function of your gift of prophesy is not at the command of the king, it is not under your volition; it is under God's direction. But here we see that Asaph prophesies according to the order of the king. In context, in verse 1 and verse 3, it has to be the same idea of prophesy, which is related to music and the singing of songs.

1 Chronicles 25:3 NASB "Of Jeduthun, the sons of Jeduthun: Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Shimei, Hashabiah and Mattithiah, six, under the direction of their father Jeduthun with the harp, who prophesied in giving thanks and praising the LORD." The two infinitives there, to give thanks and to praise the Lord, give more specificity and clarity to the meaning of the word prophecy. So here is a passage where the word prophecy is related to giving thanks and praise, not foretelling the future or bringing an indictment against the nation Israel.

We see a similar use but not as clear in 1 Samuel 10:5, 6. The context here is the anointing of Saul, the identification of Saul to be the first king of Israel. He is being identified as such by Samuel the prophet.

1 Samuel 10:5 NASB "Afterward you will come to the hill of God where the Philistine garrison is; and it shall be as soon as you have come there to the city, that you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and a lyre before them, and they will be prophesying."

We come to a passage like this and think of prophecy in the sense of Isaiah or Jeremiah or Daniel, and it doesn't fit. Why is this verb used when they are coming down from this hill with all these musical instruments? In light of what we saw in the 1 Chronicles 25 passage it makes sense. Prophecy is used here in the sense of giving thanks and praising God. 

1 Samuel 10:6 NASB "Then the Spirit of the LORD will come upon you mightily, and you shall prophesy with them and be changed into another man." That is also a rather obscure verse and difficult to understand, but it becomes a little more clear if the sense of prophecy here is that he is going to be worshipping God in terms of praise and thanksgiving along with these other prophets.

Having said that, if we take this conclusion that one of the major meanings of the word prophecy is not foretelling, not bringing an indictment against Israel, and another broad area of meaning is giving thanks and singing praises to God, then it also fits when we go to two other key women in the Old Testament, Miriam and Deborah. Miriam, the sister of Moses, following the exodus writes a psalm, a victory hymn that is given in Exodus chapter fifteen.     

Exodus 15:20 NASB "Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took the timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dancing." Then there is going to be the singing of this hymn of victory to God. The only time that Miriam is identified as a prophetess in that same context she is singing praises and giving thanks to God.

The same thing happens with Deborah. Judges 4:4 NASB "Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time." All of the battle scene in chapter four is described in prose. What do we find in Judges chapter five? Deborah writes a hymn of praise. All of Judges chapter five is written in poetry form and it is a psalm of praise to God. There again Deborah is called a prophetess and looking at the context we see that it is associated with singing, giving thanks to God and worship to Him.

So it is an interesting meaning and one that is often overlooked for the meaning of prophet, and as noted, it is not restricted to women but when women are mentioned as prophetesses in the Old Testament and we are given information about them they are writing hymns and singing praise to God. That leads us to a conclusion which I think is fairly well based on the text, although we don't have enough information to be dogmatic about it, that women who are identified as prophetesses function in that role in the realm of music and writing psalms and singing praise to God. We don't have any examples of Philipp's daughters doing anything, so it is somewhat hypothetical. But anything is hypothetical. Anything anybody else says is hypothetical because we don't we don't have any hardcore information given. However, I think we can extrapolate from some information that we have in the Old Testament. 

Acts 21:10 NASB "As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. [11] And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, "This is what the Holy Spirit says: 'In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'"

The are some who would say, wait a minute. The Jews aren't the ones. If you read at the end of chapter 21 it is the Gentiles, the Roman commander in 21:33 that binds his hands. So some would say Agabas didn't quite get it right. Agabas is talking about who instigates the binding. It was the Jews who instigated the binding. Even though it is the Roman centurion who actually puts the chains on him he does it at the instigation of the Jews. So Agabas is predicting that when Paul goes to Jerusalem he will be bound and given over into the hands of the Gentiles, just as Jesus was.

 Acts 21:12 NASB "When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents {began} begging him not to go up to Jerusalem."

But Paul is steadfast. Just as Jesus was focused on going to Jerusalem no mater what opposition He faced, no matter what it might cost Him, and even though He knew that was His destiny, God's will, it is also true for Paul. He is not going to let circumstances no matter how negative or unpleasant they might be prevent him from fulfilling God's direction in His life. 

Acts 21:13 NASB "Then Paul answered, 'What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? …" The Greek literally says "pounding on my heart". "… For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.'"

This is not the kind of statement that somebody out of fellowship and in carnality is going to make. He is focused on the mission that the Lord has given him. 

Acts 21:14 NASB "And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, "The will of the Lord be done!"

At this point everybody there recognizes that this is God's will and they all accept it, relax and go forward. So what we learn is that God's will allows and permits us to go through underserved suffering. The purpose is to learn to trust Him. And we don't run away from it. We need to recognize the principle of 1 Corinthians 10:13 that God is not going to put us in a position of testing that is beyond our ability—not our ability in the flesh but our ability in terms of walking by the Spirit. God is going to sustain us in whatever situation or circumstances we may be in—not that we can avoid it but that we can handle it as we walk through those difficult circumstances.  

Acts 21:15 NASB "After these days we got ready and started on our way up to Jerusalem." This will be Paul's fifth visit to Jerusalem since he became a believer and we can date this fairly accurately because we know when Pentecost occurred. This would have been on May 25th in the year 57 AD.

Acts 21:16 NASB "{Some} of the disciples from Caesarea also came with us, taking us to Mnason of Cyprus, a disciple of long standing with whom we were to lodge." They are on the road to Jerusalem and are accompanied by a Hellenistic Jew, Mnason of Cyprus who was one of the early disciples. That probably means that he was saved in Acts 2 or 3. [17] "After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly."