Acts 13-14 Paul's First Missionary Journey

Paul's Second Missionary Journey

Acts 20-21

The Holy Spirit and God's Will (Acts 21:4)

A Question

In Acts 20:17-21:14 Paul was getting ready to go back to Jerusalem and he was going to various places visiting brothers and sisters before leaving for Jerusalem.  Many of the believers urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem and even in Acts 21:4, it says that through the spirit the disciples urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem.  Yet Paul still went because of his convictions.  I guess my question is, if God wanted Paul to go to Jerusalem, why did the Holy Spirit give so many warnings not to go?

 “And now, behold, bound in spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there” (Acts 20:22, NASB).

“And after looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4, NASB).

Here are three possible situations. A few of them might blend together.

• The Holy Spirit clearly told Paul through others not to go to Jerusalem, but Paul was stubborn and felt this trip was part of his larger calling in life. ("Bound in spirit" Ac 20:22; 21:4).

• The Holy Spirit did not tell him not to go  to Jerusalem but only that he would suffer in each city (Ac 20:23; 21:11). 

• Those who were giving advice allowed their feelings to guide their interpretations of what  the Spirit really was saying. They knew he would suffer from what the Spirit said and therefore concluded (on their own)  that he should not go. 

I personally am torn between two views. I favor the later but sympathize with the first knowing that Paul could act like that.

(1) Paul had it in his mind that he should go to Jerusalem. He set his heart (through fasting) that now was the time. It is quite possible that if Paul had waited, then the Lord would have provided a better time when there might have been a more positive response to his ministry. Or at least, he would have extended his ministry to the Gentiles by spending more time with them where his primary calling was directed (22:21). In this way, he ended locked up in prison.

(2) It was right that Paul went to Jerusalem. He prepared Himself. The Lord was merely preparing him and God's people of his persecution and eventual death (Luke 18:1-34; John 14-16). When Jesus went up to Jerusalem to die, he first prepared His disciples so they would not be so radically shaken.

Paul knew he would also suffer and perhaps die. It was not wrong that he went. God wanted Paul and the disciples to know fully know that God was in charge. It did not happen by accident. They should not concluded that the Lord was not caring for His people. God would take care of them through persecution. When their leader is persecuted, it is easy for the church to be downcast. As for 21:4, I see it more not as a quotation (ie. the Holy Spirit said, "Don't go up...") but as the Holy Spirit speaking to them about his sufferings and so the Christians concluded that meant he should not go.  


1) Be careful on how you make decisions. One might get advice on what one ought or ought not to do. A person needs to be very attentive to what God is saying through one’s elders, brothers, spouse, parent and sisters, but in the end one need to obey God. We might think something is God’s will when it is not. Perhaps the only problem is our timing or approach. God wants us to do something but to do it in a certain way.

2) The Holy Spirit warned God's people. God is in charge of the church. We need not fear the evil one even when suffering. God will provide grace. As we look back, we see how God provided for Paul even though he was imprisoned.

3 commentators' advice  are below (taken from Online Bible). 


Who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem; not that the Spirit of God in these persons contradicted his own impulse in the apostle, by which he was moved to go to Jerusalem, see Ac 20:22. The sense is, that these disciples, by the spirit of prophecy, knew that if the apostle went to Jerusalem, many evil things would befall him; wherefore of their own spirit, and out of love to him, they advise him not to go.

RWP (Robertson's Word Pictures)

As at Troas and Miletus, so here Paul's indefatigible energy shows itself with characteristic zeal. Through the Spirit (dia tou pneumatov). The Holy Spirit undoubtedly who had already told Paul that bonds and afflictions awaited him in Jerusalem (20:23). That he should not set foot in Jerusalem (mh epibainein eiv ierosoluma). Indirect command with mh and the present active infinitive, not to keep on going to Jerusalem (Robertson, Grammar, p. 1046). In spite of this warning Paul felt it his duty as before (20:22) to go on. Evidently Paul interpreted the action of the Holy Spirit as information and warning although the disciples at Tyre gave it the form of a prohibition. Duty called louder than warning to Paul even if both were the calls of God.


Through the Spirit; by the Spirit of prophecy they foretold his sufferings at Jerusalem, which afterward accordingly befell unto him; and they, being ignorant of his undertaking that journey at God's command, out of commiseration and pity dissuade St. Paul from going to such a place, where they foresaw that he should suffer so much: and this, it is said, they did through the Spirit, because they had that foreknowledge of all his sufferings from the Spirit; and knowing but in part, being ignorant of that special command Paul had had to go to Jerusalem, they did, according to what they knew, dissuade Paul from that journey. But, they knowing that their prophecy about St. Paul's sufferings must be fulfilled, and the Spirit by which they spake could not err or be mistaken, how came they to dissuade St. Paul from going to Jerusalem? It may be answered, that they might think this prediction of his sufferings to be only conditional, in case he went to Jerusalem; as David was told, that the men of Keilah would deliver him to Saul, 1Sa 23:11,12; that is, in case he had trusted himself amongst them.

If you would like to add your thoughts, send them to me and I will post helpful thoughts!

Paul at (Make sure you put Acts 21:4 in the email topic).

Acts: Other BFF Articles

Acts                Introduction and Outlines
Acts Map:       Paul's 1-2 Journeys

Acts Map:       Paul's 3 & Rome Journeys

Acts_07_        Stephen's Defense

Acts_8.2-25    Persecution & Evangelism
Acts_8.14-24  Simon & Gnosticism

Acts_8.25-40  Ethiopean Eunuch

Acts_9:1-22   Saul the Terrorist

Acts_8-9        Perspectives on Conversion

Acts_10:1-48:       Intersecting in Time: Vision #1
Acts_10:9-16        Vision #2 Peter

Acts_10:17-48      The Meeting that Changed History

Acts_10:34-44      The Christian Historical Message

Acts_13-14           Paul's First Missionary Journey

Acts_13:1-3          Sending Out Missionary Church

Acts_13:4-12        Power Encounter in Cyprus

Acts_13:13-50      Gospel Message in Antioch

Acts_13:51-14:28 Other Missionary Stops

Acts 20:28-30       
Detecting Error in the Church

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Biblical Foundations for Freedom

Paul J. Bucknell