Acts, Lesson 24: Paul Makes His Way to Jerusalem, Despite the Troubles that Await

Mosaic of the Apostle Paul (610x350)Paul is still on his third missionary journey, having met with pastors from Ephesus in Miletus. He and his traveling contingent now press on toward Jerusalem.


A short stay in Tyre

Read Acts 21:1-6

In this section, we find Luke doing what he had earlier done in the book of Acts: he speeds up the narrative and lists the stops along the journey, not saying much else. But if he does mention something other than the stop, it then is worth noticing.


Lesson, 19 Pauls Third Missionary Journey


  • While Paul and the others were in Tyre, what took place? 


Excursus: “By the Spirit”

In Acts 20:22, Paul said, “I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit.” In Acts 21:4, the Christians in Tyre “through the Spirit… were telling Paul not to go to Jerusalem.”

  • Did “the Spirit” contradict Himself or does the term “by/through/in the Spirit” have a broader meaning than directly conveying Holy-Spirit inspired information?


  • Current-day application: Discuss a congregation calling a pastor and the pastor turning down the call.


  • Reconcile how the above responses show how differing actions may take place all “by the Spirit.”


The Holy Spirit had let both Paul and the Christians in Tyre know that suffering awaited Paul. That’s clear by what Luke wrote in Acts 20:22 and 21:4. (Note: Luke was part of the “we” in both Miletus and Tyre, so he saw, first hand, both events that were “by the Spirit.”)

  • If Luke wanted to keep everything tidy, what would he have done about the seemingly contradictory messages, both “by the Spirit”?


  • How does this affirm the truthfulness of what Luke wrote?


“Constrained by the Spirit,” Paul understood such a warning to help prepare him for what awaited, not to keep him from going. “Through the Spirit,” the Christians in Tyre understood the impending danger in Jerusalem meant that Paul should not go to Jerusalem. This shows the “interplay” between the Holy Spirit and our human feelings and thoughts. The Holy Spirit being God does not err; we as humans do.

That’s why a pastor preaching “by the Spirit” may still err. That’s why as pastor “by the Spirit” can decline a call even though a congregation “by the Spirit” called him to be their pastor. This teaches us–not to be cynical and disregard the work of the Holy Spirit–but recognize that humans can add, misunderstand, or even get wrong what the Holy Spirit wills. Such distortion takes place because humans are fallen creatures, still infected with sin. This sinfulness within us manifests itself embarrassingly by the existence of the thousands of Protestant denominations!


  • In verse 6, what do we find that is similar to how Paul and the others left the Ephesian pastors?


  • What does this let us know?


Philip and his four daughters

Read Acts 21:7-9

Prophesy: “The original sense in the Greek is ‘one who proclaims,’ although soon the idea of ‘one who predicts’ also occurs” (TDNT, 952).

In verse 9, the Greek word for “prophesied” is a present-tense participle: Philip’s four daughters “were prophesying.” Translations that say they “prophesied” or even “had the gift of prophecy” (adding the word “gift” and changing the verb into a noun) convey more than what Luke had written. 

In context, understanding the present-tense verb, Philip’s daughters were most likely prophesying to Paul that he would suffer in Jerusalem. This makes sense: following Luke’s narrative, before Paul had met Philip’s daughters, the Christians in Tyre had said that Paul would suffer in Jerusalem “through the Spirit.” A few days later, while still in Caesarea, Agabus, “a prophet,” would convey the same message.  

The point Luke was making was not whether Philip’s daughters had “the gift of prophecy”; it was to show that Paul repeatedly heard that he would suffer in Jerusalem, whether it was by other Christians “through the Spirit,” four daughters who “were prophesying,” or “a prophet.” Yet, undaunted, Paul pressed on to Jerusalem, convinced what he was “constrained by the Spirit” to do so (Acts 20:22).

  • Who is the Philip with whom Paul and the others visited?


  • What were Philip’s four daughters able to do?


Excursus: Prophetesses

Prophets and Prophetesses spoke the word of God, which may or may not involve foretelling the future. A pastor may be a prophet (or vice versa), but being a prophet doesn’t automatically mean that he is a pastor. They are two different functions, where only the speaking of God’s word overlaps. Since Scripture shows no women as pastors (elder, overseer, shepherd), and even forbids women serving in such a role (1 Timothy 3:2), no overlap exists between the function of a pastor (pastoress?) and prophetess.

Old-Covenant Prophetesses

Miriam: the sister of Moses. “Miriam the prophetess” led the women of Israel in a song of triumph after the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:20-21). Later, Moses’ brother, Aaron, and Miriam questioned Moses’ marriage to a Cushite woman in Number 12:1-2. (This would have been Moses’ second wife. We learn that Moses had a third wife in Judges 1:16.)

God, however, chastised this improper role that Miriam had taken on herself. After the cloud of God’s presence left, Miriam had leprosy (Numbers 12:10). Moses sent her out of the camp for seven days before God answered Moses’ prayer and healed her (Numbers 12:12-15).

Deborah: “Deborah, a prophetess,” led Israel and settled disputes among the people, serving as a judge (Judges 4:4 and chapters 4-5). Through her, the Lord called Barak, Israel’s leading general, to lead Israel against the Canaanites. When Barak refused to do so unless she accompanied him, Deborah told him that a woman, not he, would have the honor of victory (Judges 4:9, 21-24). After the victory, both Barak and Deborah sang a song of victory (Judges 5).

Mother of King Lemuel: She was Bathsheba, as Lemuel was a pseudonym for King Solomon. Bathsheba was also the writer of Proverbs 31. She, however, was not a prophetess but a Queen Mother. Queen Mothers served in an official office and role, legitimizing the King’s rule. They attested that the current king was not of a new kingly line, but a continuation of the kingly line that God had put in place for Israel. In the New Covenant, Mary serves as Queen Mother, attesting to Jesus as our King and the fulfillment of King David’s line.  To understand more on this topic, click here.

Huldah: When much of Israel had strayed from God, the Book of the Law was found in the Temple and presented to King Josiah, the last good king (2 Kings 23:25). He sent a delegation to “inquire of the Lord” about what was in the book (2 Chronicles 34:22-28). The king’s delegation went to “the prophetess Huldah” (2 Kings 22:14, 2 Chronicles 34:22), through whom the Lord rebuked the people but promised mercy to Josiah (2 Kings 22:15-20, 2 Chronicles 34:23-28).

Nodiah: The Prophet Nehemiah prayed for “Noadiah the prophetess [feminine-gender noun] and the other prophets [masculine-gender noun]” in Nehemiah 6:14. We know nothing else of this Nodiah. What muddies the water with Nodiah is that the Greek Old-Testament translation, the Septuagint, calls Noadiah a “prophet,” using a masculine-gender noun. Further, we know that Noadiah was a man’s name, as we find another Nodiah, “the son of Binnui,” in Ezra 8:33.

Isaiah’s Wife: Scripture called her a prophetess in Isaiah 8:3. We know little else than that.


New-Covenant Prophetesses

Anna: an elderly widow who most likely lived in the Temple complex (Luke 2:37). From the context, where God had revealed to Simeon that he would not die before seeing the Messiah, the same may have been so for Anna. Like Simeon, based on the setting in Luke’s Gospel, she probably spoke or sang poetically, thanking God and speaking of Jesus as the “redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

Daughters of Philip: In Acts 21:9, Luke mentions that Philip the evangelist had four unmarried daughters “who were prophesying.” See the above note right below the heading, “Philip and his four daughters.”

Prophetesses at Corinth: Paul mentions, in passing, about women praying and prophesying (1 Corinthians 11:5). Like Philip’s daughters, these women may or may not have been prophetesses. His concern in that verse is not about being, or not being, a prophetess, but recognizing God’s line of authority in His Church.

Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians, Paul noted that women should not speak openly (laleo) in the congregation (1 Corinthians 14: 33-35) as a command, not from him, but as “a command of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37). So, if the congregation at Corinth did have prophetesses, they were not to speak openly in such a way in the Church. (Note: we are going through 1 Corinthians in Sunday School, so we’ll cover these particular verses more fully in that lesson.)

We must recognize that Scripture makes a distinction between individuals who served as prophets or prophetesses (Acts 11: 27; 1 Corinthians 12:28-29; Ephesians 3:5, 4:11) and Christians who prophesied (1 Corinthians 14:1-4, 31). We see a similar New-Testament use for the word “preach.” In Acts 8:4 and 11:19, Christians who fled persecution “preached” to others wherever they went. They, however, were not preachers, or pastors; instead, they spoke God’s Word to others in the various vocations in which they served in their new locations.

Refer also to “Excursus: Prophecy in the New-Covenant Church” from Lesson 12 in this series from Acts.



Read Acts 21:10-11

  • Who was Agabus?


Agabus earlier had prophesied a famine in Acts 11:28. In this instance, he prophesied like Old-Covenant prophets who, at times, used “object lessons” to make their point (Isaiah 20:2-4, Jeremiah 13:1, 19:10-13; Ezekiel 4:1-13; Hosea 1:2-11).

  • Based on what Agabus said, what did the Holy Spirit reveal to him?


Read Acts 21:12-14

  • In this situation, how did the people respond? Who also joined in? (vs. 12)


  • Does Luke say if this response was “by the Spirit”?


  • How did the people respond after Paul refused their plea not to go to Jerusalem?


  • How can their response guide us when we see, what seems to us, as conflicting “movements” of the Spirit?


In Jerusalem

Read Acts 21:15-20a

  • How do James and the pastors of Jerusalem respond to Paul’s report of what had taken place among the Gentiles?


Read Acts 21:20b-22

  • Although the pastors are glad of Paul’s report, what concern now drives them?


Read Acts 21:23-24

  • What do the pastors in council direct Paul to do? (vs. 24a)


  • What is their rational? (vs. 24b)


The direction of the council was for appearances and perception, while the early Church with many Jews transitioned away from an Old-Covenant upbringing of observing the Law. Those in the council knew that Paul had been a Torah-observant Jew because he had “related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles” (Acts 21:19). On his missionary journey, Paul had circumcised Timothy when they were planning to visit an area where Jews lived (Acts 16:3). Paul had earlier taken a Nazirite vow (Acts 18:18), and he even observed Jewish feasts (Acts 20:6, 16). The Jerusalem pastors, in council, decreed that Paul take such vow, which would keep peace among the Christians in Jerusalem.

A Nazirite Vow: This was a vow that a man took to abstain from wine, cut his hair, and have no physical contact with corpses (Numbers 6:1-12). Remember that Paul had recently come into contact with a corpse (Eutychus, Acts 20:7-12), which the council would have known from Paul.

For a man to complete such a Nazirite vow, it involved a week of purification, a ritual shaving of his head, and a sacrificial offering of animals and food in the Temple (Numbers 6:13-21). Paul had completed a similar vow in Acts 18:18. In this Nazirite vow, Paul is even expected to cover all the expenses of the purification, which wasn’t cheap (Numbers 6:14-15, 21).

  • Discuss: Paul making an Old-Covenant sacrifice in the Temple after the New Covenant was in place.


Read Acts 21:25

  • What does the council decree for the Gentiles? (Does this sound familiar?)


Read Acts 21:26



Click here to go to the next Lesson.