A Commentary by John Stott
Acts. 21:1-17. 5). On to Jerusalem.
Saying goodbye to the Ephesian elders had been an emotional scene, especially because they and Paul believed that the would never see one another again. Paul’s party had had to ‘tear themselves away’ from them. And now began the final leg of the journey to Jerusalem, for which again Luke obviously drew on his diary. He mentions three or four stops (Cos, Rhodes, Patara and perhaps Myra), followed by three landings (Tyre, Ptolemais and Caesarea).
a) From Miletus to Tyre (21:1-6).
*After we had torn ourselves away from them, we* (Luke again unostentatiously draws attention to his presence) *put out to sea and sailed straight to Cos* (1a), a small island due south of Miletus. *The next day we went to Rhodes*, a larger island to the south-east, whose city of the same name was situated at its north-easterly tip, *and from there to Patara* (16), due east of Rhodes, the Bezan text adding ‘and Myra’, a bit further east still. Both Patara and Myra are near the southernmost promontory of the mainland of Asia Minor. Because ‘the harbour of Myra seems to have been the great port for the direct cross-sea traffic to the coasts of Syria and Egypt’, wrote William Ramsay, ‘it may…be safely assumed that Myra was visited by Paul’s ship’. Here we found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia*, on the Palestine coast, so that they transferred themselves to it, *went on board and set sail* (2). Their route now took them south-east into the middle of the Eastern Mediterranean. It was a 400-mile voyage from Myra to Tyre. *After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria*
*We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo* (3). At the same time their search for Christians in the town was successful. *Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days*, either because the unloading (and perhaps re-loading) took that long or because their ship stopped there and they were waiting for another one. During this week the disciples *through the Spirit…urged Paul not to go on the Jerusalem (4). But when our time was up, we left and continued on our way* (5a). I will return later to the apparent contradictory signals which were coming from the Holy Spirit about Paul’s journey to Jerusalem. *All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray* (5). It must have been another emotional parting. *After saying goodbye to each other, we went aboard the ship and they returned home* (6).
b). From Tyre to Jerusalem (21:7-17).
*We continued our journey from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais*, called Acre since the Middle Ages, about twenty-five miles south of Tyre. Here *we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for a day (7). Leaving the next day we reached Caesarea*, a magnificent city built by Herod the Great to serve as the port for Jerusalem, *and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist* (so-called to distinguish him from Philip the apostle), *one of the Seven* (8). It was here at Caesarea that Philip had settled about twenty years previously (8:40). Since then his family had grown up: *he had four unmarried daughters who prophesied* (9). Luke does not tell us exactly how long Paul and his party stayed in Caesarea, but they will have had much to talk about with Philip and his daughters. Perhaps it was now that Philip revealed the facts about himself and Stephen, which Luke later incorporated into Acts 6-8. During their stay, another prophesy of great interest was given.
*After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus (presumably the one who featured in 11:27ff.) came down from Judea (10). Coming over to us*, he copied the miming practice of some of the Old Testament prophets, like Ahijah tearing Jeroboam’s cloak into twelve pieces (1 Kings 11:29ff.), Isaiah going stripped and bare-footed for three years (Is. 20:3ff.) and Ezekiel laying siege to a drawing of Jerusalem (Ezk.4:1ff.). *He took Paul’s belt and tied his own hands and feet with it*. This was not a short leather belt: ‘to bind himself hand and foot with such a girdle would have been an acrobatic performance’. It must rather have been a long piece of cloth which was worn as a girdle. Then Agabus said: ‘*The Holy Spirit says, “In this way the Jews of Jersualem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles”’ (11). This was the second prophesy which seemed incompatible with what the Spirit originally said to Paul; I will address this problem at the end of this chapter. *When we heard this* (Agabus’ prophecy), Luke continues, *we and the people there (he specifically includes himself) pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem* (12). This time the apostle was outspoken in rejecting their pleas. *Then Paul answered, ‘Why are you weeping and breaking my heart [NEB, “trying to weaken my resolution”]? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus’* (13). His words are almost identical with Peter’s: ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.’ (Lk.22:33). The difference was that in the event Peter had faltered and failed (though in the end he suffered and died for Christ), whereas Paul was true to his word. *When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said* (not in a feeble resignation but in a positive prayer) *The Lord’s will be done’* (14).
*After this we got ready*, meaning either ‘we packed our baggage’ (NEB) or ‘equipped horses’ *and went up to Jerusalem* (15). Since the distance between Caesarea and Jerusalen was sixty-five miles, the journey would take two days, as the Bezan text says, and horses would be necessary. *Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason*, which was in Jerusalem, and *where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples* (16), i.e. probably ‘a foundation member of the Jerusalem church’. *When we arrived in Jerusalem the brothers received us warmly* (17).
Tomorrow: c). The guidance of the Spirit.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.