After three years of ministry in Ephesus Paul decided to revisit the churches of Macedonia (Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea) and Greece (Corinth) and return to Jerusalem. Although possibly prompted by the Holy Spirit to make the trip (Acts 19:21), Paul also had his own reasons for wanting to make it. As I observed in Riot in Ephesus, “Paul’s main reason for wanting to visit Jerusalem was to give to the leaders of its church the collection which he had organized in the churches of Macedonia and Greece for the relief of the poor in Jerusalem.” Thus he wanted to visit Macedonia and Greece to finalize the collection and to visit Jerusalem to deliver the collection.
Moreover he wanted to visit Corinth to achieve reconciliation with the church there; see [Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians]. And he may have wanted to visit Macedonia to do further missionary work as well as to encourage the Christians in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea and to visit Jerusalem to obtain the blessing of the church there on his desire to visit Rome and Spain (Acts 19:21; Romans 15:28).
Paul in Macedonia and Greece (Acts 20:1-6)
1 After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia. 2 When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. 3 There he spent three months, and when a plot was made against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia. 4 Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus. 5 These went on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas, 6 but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days. (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)
On his way to Macedonia Paul preached in Troas but, although there was a positive response (”the Lord had opened a door for me”), didn’t remain there but went on to Macedonia because he was anxious to meet Titus with news about the church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 2:12-13). His visit to Macedonia may have lasted over a year and included the visit to Illyricum, a Roman province north of Macedonia, referred to in Romans 15:19.
The “three months,” most of which were likely spent in Corinth, would be the winter months when ships didn’t sail regularly. Paul probably wrote Romans at this time to prepare the Christians of Rome for the visit which he hoped to make to them soon. I’ll consider it in my next article in this series on the life of Paul.
The men who accompanied Paul were likely the official representatives of the churches which Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 16:3-4. Their being with him would prevent even the appearance of his misusing the funds and as well would give safety from robbery. They sailed from a Corinthian port to Troas, but because Paul had heard of a plot by the Jews against him (apparently to kill him on the ship), he went to Troas through Macedonia instead.
The “us” and “we” show that Luke rejoined Paul in Corinth, and their use in 20:5-15, 21:1-18, and 28:16 indicate that he remained with him through the rest of Acts, accounting for its containing the kind of details found in a travel journal.
Eutychus Raised from the Dead (Acts 20:7-16)
7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. 9 And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” 11 And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. 12 And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted. 13 But going ahead to the ship, we set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul aboard there, for so he had arranged, intending himself to go by land. 14 And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. 15 And sailing from there we came the following day opposite Chios; the next day we touched at Samos; and the day after that we went to Miletus. 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.
If “to break bread” refers to celebrating the Lord’s Supper, verses 7-11 is the first reference in Acts to believers meeting together to worship on the first day of the week. The “many lamps” and the “speech until midnight” probably combined to make Eutychus become drowsy and fall from the window. His being “taken up dead” not “taken up as dead” indicates that he was killed by the fall, and so Paul’s “his life is in him” refers to Eutychus’ having his life restored, the last occurrence of raising the dead in the Bible.
Paul probably chose “to sail past Ephesus” because visiting it would involve many farewells, which would take time and make it harder to reach Jerusalem by the Day of Pentecost. However he did request its elders to come to him at Miletus while the ship was unloading and loading its cargo, and when they came he addressed them and prayed with them (Acts 20:17-38). His address to them being the only recorded speech by him to believers, I’ll consider it in a separate post.
On to Jerusalem (Acts 21:1-16)
1 And when we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. 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. 5 When our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey, and they all, with wives and children, accompanied us until we were outside the city. And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed 6 and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home.
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.”
15 After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. 16 And some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us, bringing us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we should lodge.
When Paul addressed the Ephesian elders in Miletus, he told them, “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” (Acts 20:22-23). Now in Tyre, when some disciples were shown by the Spirit what would happen to Paul if he went to Jerusalem, they pleaded with him not to go. However his mind was already made up and he continued on his journey. His disregarding their warnings wasn’t disobedience to the Spirit because it was the Spirit who compelled him to go to Jerusalem (20:22, just quoted, and possibly 19:21).
Caesarea was the closest port to Jerusalem. Philip was one of the seven chosen by the church in Jerusalem in Acts 6:1-6 to preside over the daily distribution of food to needy widows. When the persecution that followed the stoning of Stephen scattered the Jerusalem church, Philip became a travelling evangelist, beginning in Samaria and ending up in Caesarea (Acts 8:4-40). Now, twenty years later, he was still there. Apparently his four daughters were dedicated in a special way to serve the Lord.
While Paul and his companions were still in Caesarea, Agabus, who had earlier prophesied a coming famine (Acts 11:28), came down from Jerusalem and acted out (Old Testament prophets often acted out their prophecies) a prophetic warning similar to the ones Paul had been receiving ever since he’d begun his journey to Jerusalem. Paul’s companions (including Luke–”we”) and the others there urged him not to go to Jerusalem, but on his affirming his willingness to die for the name of the Lord Jesus they stopped, saying, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”