In this essay we are studying Acts 21:1-16, which brings Luke’s account of Paul’s third missionary journey to a close. The NIV gives the better translation of the beginning of verse one. “After we had torn ourselves away from them” (“them” being the Ephesian elders) “we put out to sea.” The separation from the Ephesian elders not only was a tender goodbye, as we said in the last essay, but it also was an emotional goodbye, because of the fact that they would never see one another again.
Luke gives a quick summary of their trip in verses 1-3. They sailed to Cus, Rhodes, and Patara over the next three days. Rhodes is the capital of the island of the same name. You probably are familiar with the so-called Colossus of Rhodes that is considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was a gigantic statue of the god Helios, the sun god and patron god of Rhodes. The statue, made of bronze, stood 107 feet tall. Unfortunately, it stood only 56 years before an earthquake destroyed it in 224 BC. However, the ruins of it were so large and impressive that it remained a tourist attraction for about 800 years. The ruins finally were cut up, sold, and shipped away.
At Patara the missionary team booked passage on a ship to Phoenicia in Syria, which was a distance of about 400 miles. They passed by Cyprus on the way and landed at Tyre, where the ship was to unload its cargo. They looked up the Christians in Tyre and stayed with them for a week (v. 4). The church in Tyre had been founded during the scattering of Christians from Jerusalem when Stephan was martyred. We saw that back in chapter 11, verse 19.
We are not told whether the team’s weeklong stay in Tyre was by choice, or if they were simply waiting for the ship to unload its cargo, and perhaps take on a new cargo, before sailing on. Whatever the reason for staying a week, during their stay, the Christian community there learned by the Spirit that Paul was in danger if he continued to Jerusalem. And they warned Paul not to go there (v. 4).
As you can see in verses 5-6, Paul was undeterred. He was determined to do what the Holy Spirit had told him to do, namely, to go to Jerusalem and deliver the collection for the suffering Jerusalem believers. The entire Christian community of Tyre, including women and children, accompanied Paul and the others to the beach, where they had a prayer meeting and another tearful farewell. Then the missionary party boarded the ship and sailed for home.
Scholars like to point out that Paul’s determination, here in Acts, to go to Jerusalem parallels that of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel. This is true. You will remember that Luke said of Jesus in Luke 9:51, ”When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Thus Luke in his Gospel reports Jesus’ determination to go to Jerusalem in the face of strong, threatening opposition; and in Acts he reports Paul’s determination to do the same thing.
In verses 7-16, we see that they sailed from Tyre to Ptolemais, the southern most port in Phoenicia. It was about 20 miles south of Tyre. In the Old Testament, this city is known as Acco; but most of us are more familiar with its medieval name. During the days of the Crusades, it was called Acre [the ungallicized version of the name is Akka]. The crusaders had a huge fortress there, which still stands.
The missionary team stayed at Ptolemais for only a day, and then they sailed 40 miles further south to Caesarea, where they stayed at the home of Phillip the evangelist. To me this is very interesting. You will remember that Phillip was one of the seven deacons who were chosen back in chapter six verses 1-6, to take care of the distribution of food to the widows so that the apostles would not have to worry about such things and could give their time to ministering the word. But soon after that, persecution from Jews arose, Stephen was killed, and the Christians, except for the apostles, had to leave Jerusalem.
When we studied chapter eight, we saw that Phillip had a very successful evangelistic ministry in Samaria and with an Ethiopian eunuch before taking the gospel to the Phoenician coast all the way up to Caesarea (8:40). It was that missionary activity that gave Phillip the designation “the evangelist,” to distinguish him from Phillip the apostle. Now we learn that Phillip and his family apparently had settled down in Caesarea and had lived there for the 20 years or so prior to this arrival there by Paul. It is likely that Luke learned many of the details about what he reported in chapters 6-8 from Phillip.
In verse nine we see that Phillip had four unmarried daughters, all of whom were prophetesses. This fact is significant in relation to the issue of women in ministry, as was the ministry of Pricilla that we saw earlier in Acts (Acts 18:26; cf. Phil. 4:2-3). Church tradition tells us that some years later Phillip and his family moved to the province of Asia and lived out their lives there (Papias, quoted by Eusebius). And the daughters gained great respect for their ministries.
Verses 10-14 tell us about a visit to Caesarea by a prophet named Agabus. Agabus appeared once before in Acts. Back in 11:27-28 he came to Antioch from Jerusalem with several other unnamed prophets and predicted a famine that had come true. Now here he comes to Caesarea from Jerusalem and predicts both by word and deed that Paul would be bound by the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem and turned over to the Gentiles, meaning the Romans. Of course everyone tried to persuade Paul not to go to Jerusalem; but he adamantly rejected their counsel, saying, “What are you doing weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” So they gave up the attempt to change his mind, leaving the situation in the hands of God. After these events, verses 15-16 tell us that the team, accompanied by some of the Christians from Caesarea, went on up to Jerusalem.
Now then, I want us to discuss one more thing before ending the lesson. Some have concluded from this series of events that the Holy Spirit was sending conflicting messages to Paul. On the one hand it is true, that the Spirit told Paul to take up the collection for the suffering Christians of Jerusalem and to take it there. On the other hand, it is also true that the Spirit kept revealing to prophets that Paul would be bound and handed over to the Gentiles in Jerusalem. Some have chosen to interpret these as contradictory. However there is no contradiction whatsoever here. It is true that Paul’s friends, in response to the revelations, sought to convince Paul not to go to Jerusalem. But that was because they didn’t want him to suffer or have his ministry shut down. That was their will, not God’s. God wanted Paul to go to Jerusalem, despite the dangers, and Paul knew it. So he followed the will of God rather than the will of his friends.
Verses 15-16 tell us that Paul and the team traveled from Caesarea to Jerusalem, which completed the third journey. When they arrived, they were taken to the home of a Cypriot named Mnason (silent M).