…. they were unschooled, ordinary men …. they had been with Jesus …. the crippled man healed standing with them – Acts 4:13,14
Paul received a personal prophecy from Agabus in Acts 21.
By examining how this personal prophecy was interpreted,
we can glean some principles to test, judge, and interpret personal prophecies (or “prophecies”),
if or when we receive them from others.
Acts 21:7-14 (ESV)
7 When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for one day. 8 On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him.9 He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied.
10 While we were staying for many 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, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”
12 When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem.
13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
14 And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said,“Let the will of the Lord be done.”
Paul was on a journey,
where was Paul heading?
Acts 20:16 (ESV)
16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem,
if possible, on the day of Pentecost.
Paul was heading towards Jerusalem.
While at Caesarea, Paul met Agabus,
a prophet who was traveling from Judea.
Who is Agabus?
Agabus is mentioned in an earlier reference in Acts.
Acts 11:27-29 (ESV)
27 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.
28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius).
29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea.
Agabus was a well-recognised prophet within the Christian community.
He had an established prophetic track record; what he foretold , came to pass (eg. the famine).
Hence, Agabus was a proven prophet.
The prophecy to Paul was given by a reliable messenger,
and recognised by the Christian community as a prophet.
Not a ‘spiritual wanna-be‘.
a prophet named Agabus
Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit
Being a prophet was not a title,
or a degree obtained through study,
rather a functional role with a consistent track record, divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Someone who hears the message of God clearly to give to others.
in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch
there were others who were prophets besides Agabus.
On a side note, in the earlier prophecy,
Agabus predicted about the great famine,
and stopped there,
as revealed to him by the Holy Spirit.
i.e. … In the prophecy, there was no “cause-and-effect” references or analysis
to any ungodliness or actions of the people or nations (eg. Romans).
The believers also did not spend time to study or preach on the prophecy,
rather they acted to help those who will be affected in practical ways.
Agabus prophecy was precise, concise, and verifiable when it happens.
What did Agabus prophesised to Paul?
the Jews at Jerusalem
will bind the man who owns this belt (Paul)
and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”
by the way, on a side note, …
Jesus was also bound in Jerusalem and handed to the Gentiles
Jesus said, “Remember the word that I said to you:
‘A servant is not greater than his master.’
If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. …”
John 15:20 (ESV)
By the Holy Spirit,
Agabus also acted out the prophecy
11 And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt
and bound his own feet and hands
Was this prophecy fulfilled? Did it take place in Paul’s life?
In Paul’s own words, when he was in Rome,
Acts 28:17 (ESV)
17 After three days he called together the local leaders of the Jews, and when they had gathered, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers,
yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem
into the hands of the Romans.
Let’s examine the response
and interpretation of the prophecy
by those who heard the prophecy that day
— i.e. Agabus, others, Paul.
He gave the prophecy, … the message.
He did not interpret the prophecy,
or responded to the prophecy.
Basically, he just delivered the word verbatim,
and stopped there.
Its wise to follow Agabus example,
just be the messenger, … the postman.
The prophecy was
Initiator: Jews in Jerusalem
Action: Paul will be bound
Next action: handed over to the Gentiles
Agabus foretelling prophecy was specific,
and verifiable when it happens.
On a separate note, forth-telling prophecy should speak clearly and insightfully into the listener’s current situation for strengthening, encouraging and comfort.
Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers.
Acts 15:32 (NIV)
But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.
1 Corinthians 14:3 (NIV)
(rather than vague, or some general blessing)
The prophetic word given
did not say … to go … or … not to go.
No action was prescribed for Paul.
Agabus was neutral & impartial
whether to go or not to go to Jerusalem,
i.e. he did not add anything further or give counsel to the word given.
He spoke his message only once.
He did not repeat his message to Paul or try to persuade Paul in anyway.
Considering the known dangers at that time, and a number of previous attempts on Paul’s life, …. Agabus prophesised that the Jews in Jerusalem will not be able to kill Paul;
a bold prediction.
When we heard this, we and the people there
urged him not to go up to Jerusalem.
The others interpreted the prophecy,
and responded according to their interpretation
of the prophecy.
They all loved Paul,
and had Paul’s safety and interest at heart.
Obviously, based on Agabus’ prophecy,
Paul was headed towards mortal danger,
hence, they urged him not to go up to Jerusalem.
They prescribed a well-intentioned course of action
that was not in the original prophecy given by Agabus.
The others interpreted the prophecy from
their human point of view.
To them, … this prophecy was a warning
not to proceed to Jerusalem.
However, Paul was adamant about going.
13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart?
For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
14 And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said,“Let the will of the Lord be done.”
In this situation, Paul takes a contrarian view — walk into the danger zone by faith.
Why did Paul reject the advice of the others around him?
Why not accept the popular view of the majority?
Why did he reject their interpretation of the prophecy?
Why did Paul feel such a strong conviction to go to Jerusalem,
in spite of being warned about the impending danger?
Why was Paul so sure that going ahead to Jerusalem
was the right thing to do?
The previous chapter, Acts 20, gives us some clues.
In his farewell message to the leaders at Ephesus,
22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again.
36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 being sorrowful most of all because ofthe word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.
Acts 20:22-25 (ESV)
I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.
God had spoken to Paul directly
to go to Jerusalem,
and revealed to him that physical dangers lie ahead.
Agabus’ personal prophecy was a confirmation of what Paul had known already,
as revealed to him by the Holy Spirit.
Paul interpreted Agabus’ personal prophecy from
God’s point of view.
Logically, … if both Paul and Agabus heard the same Holy Spirit,
they would hear the same word.
In the New Covenant,
personal guidance is through reading & obeying God’s Word & the Holy Spirit,
as we spend time with the Lord daily;
i.e. primary source of guidance.
Romans 8:14 (NASB)
For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
Psalm 119:105 (NASB)
Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.
John 6:63 (NASB)
63 It is the Spirit who gives life;
the flesh profits nothing;
the words that I have spoken to you
are spirit and are life.
i.e., the Spirit and the Word must concur.
The Spirit will not contradict the Word.
Personal prophecy serves as a confirmation,
i.e. one of the secondary sources of guidance.
In between Paul’s farewell message to the Ephesian believers,
and meeting Agabus in Philip’s home,
Paul was in Tyre.
Acts 21:2-4 (ESV)
2 And having found a ship crossing to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. 3 When we had come in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, for there the ship was to unload its cargo. 4 And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.
they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem. (NASB)
The believers in Tyre received a similar revelation/impression from the Holy Spirit.
Like the Caesarean believers, who urged Paul not to go,
the Tyre believers kept telling Paul not to go.
Although, the believers in Tyre received a similar revelation/impression,
they shared with Paul their interpretation of what was to happen,
Agabus only shared what he heard from the Holy Spirit,
not his interpretation of the prophecy or revelation/impression.
… urged … kept telling
Be careful, even if the right word is given,
… the messenger of a prophecy is not responsible for the response of the hearer or their actions,
In the extreme case, such meddling may end up in manipulation.
If prophecy is to be repeated for confirmation … it should come forth from someone else, who has no knowledge of the prophecy.
1 Corinthians 13:9 (ESV)
For we know in part and we prophesy in part
20 Do not despise prophecies,
21 but test everything; hold fast what is good.
22 Abstain from every form of evil.
1 Thessalonians 5:20-22 (ESV)
Don’t dismiss prophecies prematurely,
host fast what is good.
Its also good to bear in mind that prophetic words should also align
with what God has revealed directly to us
about His overall direction for our lives.
(i.e. the larger scheme of things)
When Paul first personally encountered Jesus,
in his testimony:
Acts 26:12-18 (ESV)
12 “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
What Paul heard first-hand from the Holy Spirit about God’s purpose for his life,
was confirmed a few days later by Ananias, a complete stranger, who was directed by the Holy Spirit to visit, pray and baptise Paul.
Here’s what Ananias heard from the Holy Spirit about Paul,
Acts 9:15,16 (ESV)
15 But the Lord said to him (Ananias), “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to
carry my name before the Gentiles and kings
and the children of Israel.
16 For I will show him how much he must suffer
for the sake of my name.”
Hence, what Agabus prophesised to Paul,
was also in line with what Paul knew about
God’s overall direction for his life.
Hopefully, this helps us sieve through others suddenly giving “left field” revelations/impressions to us,
(eg. someone saying to another that they have been divinely shown, “you are the one to marry me”)
For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
1 Corinthians 14:33 (ESV)
For God has not given us a spirit of fear,
but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV)
On another note, from the Paul-Ananias example,
its always good when a total stranger, Ananias, confirmed what the Lord had already revealed personally to Paul.
This helps avoid personal bias in hearing God,
and also group bias in hearing God
(when everyone in the group has similar motivations or intentions or convictions.).
It helps when prophetic words are confirmed by others,
… especially when a similar word is given by a total stranger who has no idea about the situation or person/s.
1 Corinthians 14:29 (NIV)
Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said
Its good that prophetic words are confirmed by others with Christ-like character, like Ananias.
“A man named Ananias came to see me.
He was a devout observer of the law and
highly respected by all the Jews living there. ..”
Acts 22:12 (NIV)
It is important to note that after Paul first encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus and received the prophetic word about his life ministry, … it was some years later before he walked into the fullness of the prophetic word given to him to be an apostle.
Here’s a brief summary of Paul’s progress over the course of time …
Soon after his conversion,
Acts 9:30 (ESV)
30 And when the brothers learned this, they brought him (Paul) down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
Sometime later, … brought from Tarsus to Antioch by Barnabas,
Acts 11:25-26 (ESV)
25 So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
Sometime later, recognised as belonging to a group of prophets and teachers in Antioch, … and sent out with Barnabas on their first ministry journey,
Acts 13:1-3 (ESV)
Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch,
2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
Recognised as an Apostle,
Acts 14:14,15 (ESV)
14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, 15 “Men,why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.
It was not immediate.
Other examples of this “fullness of time” fulfillment of personal prophecy:
** God’s promise to Abraham that he would have an heir, … to the time Isaac was born later.
** Joseph’s dreams, … to the time & place where his dreams was fulfilled later.
13 years of Joseph’s life in the making, … summarised in the Psalms,
17 He sent a man before them,
Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
18 They afflicted his feet with fetters,
He himself was laid in irons;
19 Until the time that his word came to pass,
The word of the Lord tested him.
20 The king sent and released him,
The ruler of peoples, and set him free.
21 He made him lord of his house
And ruler over all his possessions,
22 To imprison his princes at will,
That he might teach his elders wisdom.
Psalm 105:17-22 (NASB)
“… Yet God was with Joseph, and rescued him from all his afflictions, …
Acts 7:9, 10 (NASB)
And … through the Bible prophecies through the generations,
in the fullnes of time, … Jesus came
Galatians 4:4,5 (NASB)
4 But when the fullness of the time came,
God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
Sometimes, in our impatience or anxiety,
we may want to give a little “help” to hasten the process,
and accidentally create Ishamaels instead of Isaacs.
Ultimately it is God who brings things/events to pass.
He works in and through our lives,
… as we faithfully walk with Him.
But now, O Lord, You are our Father,
We are the clay,
and You our potter;
And all of us are the work of Your hand.
Isaiah 64:8 (NASB)
Like Joseph, … let’s be patient, … continue to walk faithfully with the Lord.
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,
2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners,
so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)
Back to the prophecy given by Agabus to Paul.
After the prophecy, when Paul arrived in Jerusalem,
Acts 21:27-33 (ESV)
27 When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia,seeing him (Paul) in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, 28 crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. 30 Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. 31 And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. 32 He at once took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. And when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the tribune came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He inquired who he was and what he had done.
Confirming the word given by Agabus,
and also what Paul foresaw by the Holy Spirit.
After this happened,
when Paul gave his defense to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem,
Acts 237-11 (ESV)
7 When Paul said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided.
10 The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.
11 The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said,
“Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem,
so you must also testify in Rome.”
As Paul trusted the Lord,
God’s faithful personal guidance & assurance was with Paul,
even in his moment of crisis.
As revealed to Paul by the Lord
the Lord led Paul on an unexpected ministry journey as a prisoner from Acts 21 to Acts 28,
from Jerusalem to Rome,
Paul testified to kings/rulers — the governors Felix & Festus, King Agrippa, the chief of the island of Malta, Publius,
… in a violent storm, …. leads a shipful of people with hope in the Lord,
… miraculously survived a shipwreck … & the Malta people received healings and experienced Jesus.
Wherever Paul went, he never stopped sharing Jesus.
The book of Acts closes with Paul testifying about Jesus to the Jews in Rome (Acts 28).
30 He (Paul) lived there two whole years at his own expense,
and welcomed all who came to him,
31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and
teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ
with all boldness and without hindrance.
Acts 28:30,31 (ESV)
In Paul’s words:
19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa,
I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision,
20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.
21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.
22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”
Acts 26:19-23 (ESV)
In conclusion, listen carefully to what is prophesised;
do not add or filter the word.
23 If anyone has ears to hear,
let him hear.”
24 And Jesus said to them,
to what you hear:
with the measure you use,
it will be measured to you,
and still more will be added to you.
Mark 4:23,24 (ESV)
Not what we want to hear,
rather, … what we should hear
& hear it in full.
Perspectives can alter our understanding, interpretation, path of action.
And He said to me, “What do you see?”
Zechariah 4:2 (ESV)
With the Holy Spirit’s help,
let’s pray to see things from God’s perspective,
(rather than our limited human view)
Paul’s response to the prophecy given by Agabus demonstrates
that … what really matters is not what others think,
or what the majority thinks (or what is popular),
but what God was directing him personally.
As we choose to daily follow Jesus,
there may be times when fellow Christians are not able to understand what’s going on in our lives.
And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, “The will of the Lord be done!”
Acts 21:14 (NASB)
Thankfully, in spite of their good intentions, the issue was not who was right or more right.
Love is the key.
They honored the Lord’s sovereignty,
respected Paul’s decision, and lovingly supported his resolve,
… like all faithful friends do.
Some things to consider, when receiving personal prophecy:
** Is this a confirmation of what the Lord has already revealed?
** What’s the track record and fruit of the messenger?
** Can this foretelling prophecy be precisely verified later when it happens?
** Is the messenger saying something about us that is factually true, which he cannot possibly have humanly known?
Eg. a word of knowledge in the prophecy.
Like in Paul’s experience, walking in the purposes/will of God
does not mean the absence of challenges or dangers or crisis.
Similarly, like in Paul’s experience, the Lord faithfully walks with us through each challenging situation.
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
Isaiah 43:1-3 (ESV)
well intentioned recommendations,
reasonings, analysis, empirical observations
are NOT prophecy.
Prophecy is inspired by the Holy Spirit and brings us closer to Jesus & His will for our lives, … and like Paul, this sometimes means going to challenging places.
1 Corinthians 14:3, 31 (ESV)
3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation
31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged
Revelations 19:10 (ESV)
For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
by 林弟兄, bro Lim
March 15 2016
Copyright © 林弟兄 bro Lim, Laymanointing, 2014-2016 – All Rights Reserved
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