I have heard it said that Paul was disobedient to the Holy Spirit when he went up to Jerusalem and was thereby imprisoned and was threatened both by harm and life itself. Is this so? The reason for this claim comes from two prophetic reports on two different occasions in Palestine.
Acts 21:4 KJV And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.
Acts 21:10-12 KJV And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus. (11) And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. (12) And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.
Paul stayed with the brethren in Tyre for several days, during which time he was told “through the Spirit” that he should not go to Jerusalem. What is more, when he came to Caesarea and met with Philip, who was one of the Seven (Acts 6:5-6), a prophet named Agabus, who had already shown his accuracy in predicting the famine that came in Judea (Acts 11:28-30), confirmed what was already told Paul, saying the Jews would bind him and turn him over to the gentiles (Romans) at Jerusalem. So, what’s the story; did Paul disobey the Holy Spirit by going up to Jerusalem? No, he did not!
First of all, Paul himself seems to have had a revelation from the Holy Spirit that he should go up to Jerusalem (Acts 19:21; 20:22), knowing full well that persecutions would find him there (Acts 20:23-24). Evidently he did not understand through those revelations of the Spirit the intensity and the length of time those persecutions would entail.
What does this mean, that the disciples who told Paul that the Holy Spirit said not to go up to Jerusalem were false prophets? No, but it does mean that we must be careful how we interpret revelations from the Spirit. Evidently, just like Joseph concerning his dreams in Egypt and Daniel, concerning the dreams of the king in Babylon, some interpretation of what the Spirit says is needed, and the prophet can err in that interpretation, but the theme of the prophecy would prove true.
For example, the Holy Spirit could not have told Paul to go up to Jerusalem (Acts 20:22) and then tell him not to go up through the prophecy of others (Acts 21:4, 10-12). At least one prophet must have interpreted his vision incorrectly. What we find is that Agabus and by association the prophets in Tyre were not entirely accurate. While the prophecies of trouble for Paul were, indeed, true, the specifics were a little off. We don’t know the wording of the prophecy given in Tyre, but we do know that Agabus said the Jews would bind Paul and turn him over to the gentiles (Romans). While the Jews did serve as the occasion of Paul’s imprisonment, they did not turn Paul over to the gentiles. In fact, the Jews intended to kill Paul, but the Romans rescued him from death, but bound him in chains, not knowing the reason for which the multitude drove him from the Temple to kill him (Acts 21:30-33).
Therefore, what Paul had done was simply what all true leaders do. They take responsibility for their own actions however events transpire (Act 21:13). And, when the disciples understood that Paul could not be dissuaded from going up to Jerusalem, they submitted him to the will of God (Acts 21:14), which evidently was not written in stone with regards to the prophecies they had heard when coming to Tyre and Caesarea. The point is, God is true, but we need to be careful how we express what he gives us. We need to be aware that our interpretation of his word is not Scripture itself. May our Lord and Savior help us to understand this truth and submit to his Spirit.