On Mission Despite Threat of Impending Adversity

Paul Returns to Jerusalem

Paul returned to Jerusalem despite warnings of impending persecution. He believed returning to Jerusalem was important to completing his mission. Instead of giving in to the threat of persecution, he relied on his faith of God’s purpose, declaring he was ready “not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” He stayed on mission despite the threat of severe adversity, subsequently endured through the adversity, but expanded his ministry as a result, more than he could have imagined.

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To Jerusalem via Tyre and Caesarea
To Jerusalem via Tyre and Caesarea
Sweet Publishing freebibleimages.org

We continue our study series on Responding to Adversity with a discussion of Paul’s return to Jerusalem after missionary journeys to parts of Europe and Asia. He was determined to return to Jerusalem despite a premonition of impending adversity. Also, during the trip from Ephesus through Tyre and Caesarea, he was warned of persecution awaiting him. First, disciples that hosted his team in Tyre counseled him against proceeding to Jerusalem. Second, Prophet Agabus met him and companions in Caesarea and warned him through unusual but emphatic drama that he will be arrested and persecuted. Third, his companions and other well wishers in Caesarea tried to dissuade him from returning to Jerusalem.

Despite the warnings, Paul was determined to return to Jerusalem even if it meant walking into his own grave [Acts 21:13]: “Then Paul answered, ‘What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’” Later events and Paul’s interactions with other people through the events lead us to an understanding of his determination to return to Jerusalem despite the threat of severe adversity through persecution.

Understanding Paul’s Return to Jerusalem

We undertake a study series on Paul’s response to the adversity of persecution that started with his arrest in Jerusalem, continued with detention and trials in Jerusalem and Caesarea, and ended with being taken to Rome where he eventually regained his freedom. The studies lead us to an understanding that the persecution resulted in expansion of Paul’s ministry, more than he could have planned.

Warm reception in Jerusalem
Warm reception in Jerusalem
Sweet Publishing freebibleimages.org

First, returning to Jerusalem at the time provided Paul an opportunity to clarify the gospel and illustrate through his actions and words that the gospel did not overturn Jewish laws and custom. Several Christian converts in Jerusalem at the time were focused on protecting Jewish laws and appeared to be substituting piousness for real understanding and observance of the teachings of Christ. For example, the elders informed Paul on his arrival in Jerusalem: “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law…” [Acts 21:20]. Furthermore, they had found a “scapegoat” in Paul because they believed “…you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs” [Acts 21:20]. Paul showed himself respectful of Jewish laws and custom through his actions in Jerusalem and preached the gospel during trials and other public interactions in Jerusalem and Caesarea.

Second, the persecution actually became a trigger to launch Paul’s mission to Rome. He was arrested in Jerusalem as a mob tried to kill him, put on trial there before the people and the Sanhedrin, transferred to Caesarea to save him from a conspiracy to kill him, held there for more than two years during which he was tried before two governors in succession, and subsequently transferred to Rome to present his appeal to Caesar. However, instead of a trial in Rome, he interacted with people freely: initially as a prisoner with reduced restriction but later fully free. There he proclaimed “the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance” [Acts 28:31], thereby fulfilling Christ’s revelation to him during the persecution in Jerusalem [Acts 23:11]: “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

Ready for God's purpose
Ready for God’s purpose
Sweet Publishing freebibleimages.org

These events lead us to an understanding of Paul’s determination to return to Jerusalem despite warnings of impending persecution. He saw his return as important to completing his mission: “…my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” [Acts 20:24]. He did not give in to the threat of persecution. Instead, he relied on his faith of God’s purpose [Acts 21:13]: “What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Therefore, he stayed on mission despite the threat of severe adversity. As we discuss in subsequent studies in this series, he endured through the adversity of persecution, but the persecution provided him an opportunity to preach the gospel in Jerusalem and Caesarea just as he had in parts of Europe and Asia. Furthermore, the persecution provided him passage to Rome to begin a new phase of preaching and spreading the gospel. Thus, the persecution triggered an expansion of his ministry, more than he could have imagined.

Warning of Impending Persecution

Paul departed Ephesus to return to Jerusalem after about three years for his last mission there. He had a premonition regarding the return to Jerusalem [Acts 20:22–24]: “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

Ship to Phoenicia via Tyre
Ship to Phoenicia via Tyre
Sweet Publishing freebibleimages.org

He and his companions boarded a ship to Phoenicia. The ship stopped at Tyre to unload its cargo, while Paul and companions stayed with local disciples. The disciples urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem, based on information they received from the Holy Spirit. However, he was not dissuaded, as he and his companions departed for Jerusalem after seven days in Tyre. He was warned again when they arrived in Caesarea. A prophet named Agabus met them where they were staying, tied his hands and feet with Paul’s belt, and said [Acts 21:11]: “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’”

Thus, Paul was warned of impending adversity in Jerusalem. In addition to his personal premonition, he was warned by the disciples in Tyre and Prophet Agabus in Caesarea. After the interaction with Agabus, members of his team and other well wishers in Caesarea tried to dissuade him from returning to Jerusalem. However, Paul was determined. He was “compelled by the Spirit” to return to Jerusalem for his next assignment.

Message Processing—
Receiving and Implementing Spiritual Guidance

We can learn about personal responsibility in processing messages from the Holy Spirit based on Paul’s determination to return to Jerusalem despite attempts by others to dissuade him. The Holy Spirit communicated with Paul directly and through other people (disciples in Tyre, Prophet Agabus in Caesarea, and, maybe, one or more of his companions). The direct communication left him determined to return to Jerusalem to continue his ministry but also with a premonition of impending adversity. Both turned out to be true. Paul relied on his faith of God’s purpose to suppress the premonition and focus on the objective of returning to continue his ministry: “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me” [Acts 20:24].

Farewell at the beach in Tyre
Farewell at the beach in Tyre
Sweet Publishing freebibleimages.org

Then came the second-hand messages. The disciples in Tyre, based on communication with the Holy Spirit, advised Paul not to proceed to Jerusalem. They presented their message as a clear instruction to Paul to cancel his plan. If Paul relied on their message alone, he would have canceled. However, he must have processed the message in the context of his direct communication with the Holy Spirit. Thus, he decided to proceed with returning to Jerusalem despite the message from the Tyre disciples.

Prophet Agabus dramatizes message
Prophet Agabus dramatizes message
Sweet Publishing freebibleimages.org

The subsequent message from Prophet Agabus appears to be a clarification of earlier messages. He emphasized that adversity awaited Paul in Jerusalem but left him free to decide how to use the information. Paul’s companions became concerned for his safety and tried to dissuade him from proceeding. Again, Paul processed all the message and advice personally and made a decision that appears based on personal communication with the Holy Spirit [Acts 21:13]: “What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” His decision was to proceed to Jerusalem to complete his mission while relying on his faith of God’s purpose, whatever it may be.

Angel talks to Cornelius
God talks to Cornelius through angel
Sweet Publishing freebibleimages.org

God communicates with every person but gives each person freedom to make a decision. He also may choose to send messages to a person through others. When he sends a message through others, he often sends Spiritual guidance to prepare the recipient. As we discuss in a previous bible study under Peter Visits Cornelius: God sent message to Cornelius through Peter, but first he prepared Cornelius to receive the message by advising him to send for Peter and prepared Peter to accept the invitation by showing him a vision and speaking to him through the Holy Spirit.

Other people can be relied upon to deliver Spiritual messages faithfully as they understand, but the recipient is responsible to process and implement the message. For example, the Tyre disciples understood their message was to counsel Paul to not proceed to Jerusalem. But Paul processed the message as a warning about what to expect in Jerusalem. Based on Paul’s example, we can learn about personal responsibility to process Spiritual messages, make a decision based on the processing, and implement the decision.

Summary of What We Learned

Paul returned to Jerusalem despite warnings of impending persecution there. He believed returning to Jerusalem was important to completing his mission. Instead of giving in to the threat of persecution, he relied on his faith of God’s purpose, declaring he was ready for whatever God had prepared for him as he tried to “finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me.” He stayed on mission despite the threat of severe adversity, subsequently endured through the adversity, but expanded his ministry as a result, more than he could have imagined.

Furthermore, Paul’s example provides a lesson about personal responsibility to process Spiritual messages, make a decision based on the processing, and implement the decision. Other people can be relied upon to deliver Spiritual messages faithfully as they understand, but the recipient is responsible to process and implement the message.

More Information

Please watch this bible study on video at VIDEO_LINK , listen to or download the audio at AUDIO_LINK . You can also download a PDF copy of the PowerPoint presentation from PDF_LINK.

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