Luke, the detail-oriented historian, documents a major event during the period of Claudius’ reign in Acts 11:27-30. Egyptian documents from this time period reveal crop failures in Judea, Egypt, Rome and Greece between A. D. 45-46. The church in Antioch decides to respond to the needs of their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem with an offering which Paul and Barnabas deliver (Acts 11:30; 12:25). The famine does not come as a surprise to the believers in Antioch because of a prophecy by a man named Agabus. Luke notes that this revelation was “by the Holy Spirit” (Acts 11:28). William Barclay in his commentary on the Book of Acts notes that there were three “designated” leaders in the early church. Of first importance were the apostles who were noted as the God-ordained successors to Jesus. Next were the elders who functioned as local overseers. And finally, there were the prophets. They functioned in the same two ways their predecessors in Old Testament times did. They did foresee the future in a minor way but more importantly, they spoke forth the Word and will of God. Luke records that a prophet named Agabus has predicted this far-reaching famine and documents that indeed it did take place during the reign of Claudius.
The accuracy of Agabus’ prophetic gift is recorded twice. The first occurrence is in Acts 11. But later on in Acts 21:1-11 Agabus returns with a moving prediction and demonstration of the outcome of Paul’s impending trial. His actions are similar to many Old Testament prophets who demonstrated the Lord’s words in action and then interpreted their meaning. Agabus ties Paul’s belt around his hands and feet saying that Paul will be taken “to the Gentiles” in the same way. It is heartbreaking news for Paul’s supporters. They beg him to remain with them and not go to Jerusalem. But Paul is insistent on not only going to Jerusalem but to die for the faith if that must be. When his companions realize they cannot dissuade Paul, they “give up” and say, “The Lord’s will be done.” While this may not have been the outcome they wanted, it is a confirmation that Agabus was recognized as an authentic prophet. His actions indicated that it was the Lord’s will for Paul to go to Jerusalem no matter what the outcome should be. It brings to mind the resolution of Christ who also set His face toward Jerusalem knowing full-well the outcome that awaited Him there (Mt. 16:21, 20:17-18; Mk. 10:32-33; Lk. 9:51-53).
We know less about Agabus than we do about Claudius yet each man had an impact on the early church. Although Claudius’ actions waivered between benevolent and tyrannical he managed to give the early church a time of relative peace and inadvertently allowed it to grow. Agabus appears only twice in Scripture but each time he lives up to the standard of his office as set forth by the Lord whom he represents. It is easy to put stock in public figures, secular or spiritual. But the thrust of Luke’s history is not the people he is writing about but the fulfillment of the Lord’s will through the proclamation of the Gospel. Claudius as part of a human institution merely moved it forward under his empirical commands. Agabus confirmed that all things, whether natural or personal, occurred only by the Lord’s will and it was up to the believers to respond accordingly. Where do you fall on this scale? Are you responding to needs the Lord puts before you? Are you following the Lord’s will no matter what, or are you relying on the whims of a political machine that may or may not allow you to live out your life in peace? I am convinced more than ever that the stories in Acts are just as powerful today as they were when Luke sent them off to Theophilus (Acts 1:1). The principles we can glean from them are just as important now as they were in A. D. 45. If it were not for the boldness of Paul or the accuracy of Agabus’ prophetic words, the Gospel may not have moved forward and those in need (both physically and spiritually) may have perished. How about you? Are you moving the Gospel forward or taking the comfortable way out and keeping it to yourself?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
https://annhlefevre.com/, https://www.linkedin.com/in/annhlefevre/, https://www.facebook.com/ann.h.lefevre.