Opinion: Paul’s Visit to Jerusalem
Paul and His Visit to Jerusalem
There are different opinions on whether
Apostle Paul should have made the visit
to Jerusalem that eventually landed him
jail and truncated his missionary journey.
Some assert that Paul was right in
following his conviction to go to Jerusalem,
while some others argue that his zeal to
preach to or convert the Jews in Jerusalem
made him go there. Yet others argue that
he disobeyed the Holy Spirit’s instruction.
I do not believe Paul was right in going
to Jerusalem, neither do I believe that
his going to Jerusalem was to preach to
the Jews there, although I agree that he
had usual love and passion for the Jews
that got him into trouble a lot of times.
I have laid down my thoughts on this below.
Please note that all Scripture references
are from the New Living Translation (NLT).
Paul was no stranger to Jerusalem.
After his conversion in Damascus and some
preaching there, Jerusalem was the next
place he went. It was there that he received
an instruction from the Lord about being
called to the Gentiles.
The Lord outrightly told him that the people
of Jerusalem will not accept his message.
So off he was to his missionary field –
“After I returned to Jerusalem, I was
praying in the Temple and fell into a
18 I saw a vision of Jesus[c] saying to me,
‘Hurry! Leave Jerusalem, for the people
here won’t accept your testimony about
me.’ – Acts 22:17
““But the Lord said to me, ‘Go, for I will
send you far away to the Gentiles!’”
– Acts 17:21
“I am saying all this especially for you
God has appointed me as the apostle to the
Gentiles. I stress this” – Romans 11:13
Throughout his missionary Paul visited
Jerusalem (the Church) a number of times
– on the instruction of the Holy Spirit
and at other times to deliver donations/
offerings to the Church there.
“This they did, entrusting their gifts to
Barnabas and Saul to take to the elders
of the church in Jerusalem” – Acts 11:30
“When Barnabas and Saul had finished
their mission to Jerusalem, they returned,
taking John Mark with them” – Acts 12:25
“When he landed at Caesarea, he went up
to Jerusalem and greeted the church and
then went down to Antioch” – Acts 18:22
“After several years away, I returned
to Jerusalem with money to aid my people,
and to offer sacrifices to God”
– Acts 24:17
He also mentioned this in his letter to
the Galatians that the Lord asked him
to go there.
“Then fourteen years later I went back
to Jerusalem again, this time with
Barnabas; and Titus came along, too.
2 I went there because God revealed to
me that I should go…” Galatians 2:1-2
As stated earlier, Paul’s visits to
Jerusalem were not unusual.
He however never visited Jerusalem to
preach as he did in other Gentile cities
(even though in those Gentile cities,
he always targeted Jews there by visiting
the synagogues first).
His visits were usually to the church.
During such visits to Jerusalem, there
were no reports of a backlash or him
He had also once been appointed to go
to Jerusalem with Barnabas to the
Jerusalem Council to table the matters
the church at Antioch were facing regarding
the Jewish believers’ insistence on
converting the Gentile believers to Judaism
His later visit to Jerusalem that landed
him in trouble was not to proselytise or
convert the Jews as we usually assume.
Now the Story Begins
In Acts 19:21 – Paul said he felt compelled
by the Holy Spirit to go to Macedonia and
Achaia before Jerusalem, then eventually Rome.
“Afterward Paul felt compelled by the
Spirit to go over to Macedonia and Achaia
before going to Jerusalem.
“And after that,” he said, “I must go on
to Rome!”” – Acts 19:21
In his letter to the Romans (which he
sent ahead of his journey), he stated his
intention to also go to Spain, but will
first visit Rome.
His intention to visit Jerusalem was as
before – drop off offering for the Church;
he had made a habit of organising
collections/donations for the Church there.
“I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do,
I will stop off in Rome. And after I have
enjoyed your fellowship for a little while,
you can provide for my journey.” – Romans 15:24
“But before I come, I must go to Jerusalem
to take a gift to the believers there.
26 For you see, the believers in Macedonia and
Achaia have eagerly taken up an offering for
the poor among the believers in Jerusalem”
– Romans 15:25
“After several years away, I returned to
Jerusalem with money to aid my people, and
to offer sacrifices to God” – Acts 24:17
Seems like the final destination would be
Spain, but through Rome and would probably
be the last of his missionary journeys in
the part of the world where he was.
We see this in his letter to the Romans
and how he made sure to visit the cities
where he had preached to encourage the
believers there. This also includes his
farewell message to the Ephesian Elders,
telling them that they would not see him
“But now I have finished my work in these
regions, and after all these long years
of waiting, I am eager to visit you”
– Romans 15:23
“When he had finished speaking, he knelt
and prayed with them.
37 They all cried as they embraced and
kissed him good-bye.
38 They were sad most of all because he
had said that they would never see him
again. Then they escorted him down to
the ship” – Acts 20:38
Note that the Holy Spirit did not stop
him from going to any of Macedonia,
Achaia, Rome, or even Spain as he had
planned; it was to Jerusalem alone that
the Holy Spirit stopped him from going.
In Acts 20:21-24, again we see Paul
reiterating his need to go to Jerusalem.
I mean this is Paul, with an abundance
of revelations and direct communication
with the Holy Spirit; there is no way
he could have heard wrongly.
If he said the Holy Spirit compelled him,
then we would believe that the Holy Spirit
did say so.
“And now I am bound by the Spirit to go
to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me,
23 except that the Holy Spirit tells me in
city after city that jail and suffering
24 But my life is worth nothing to me
unless I use it for finishing the work
assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of
telling others the Good News about the
wonderful grace of God” – Acts 20:21-24
This is where it starts getting interesting
Up until Acts 21:4 Paul had visited most or
all of the other places he felt compelled
When he got to Tyre however, the believers
prophesied through the Holy Spirit
(interesting that Luke mentions that the
prophecy was through the Holy Spirit) that
Paul should not go to Jerusalem.
The believers didn’t give further information
about what was going to happen to him there
if he went, probably because the Holy Spirit
had not reveal that to them, but they were
sure the Holy Spirit had instructed that
Paul should not go to Jerusalem.
“We sighted the island of Cyprus, passed it
on our left, and landed at the harbor of
Tyre, in Syria, where the ship was to unload
We went ashore, found the local believers, and
stayed with them a week.
These believers prophesied through the Holy Spirit
that Paul should not go on to Jerusalem”
– Acts 21:3-4
Now in verse 10-11 of same Acts 21, over a week
later in an entirely different city (Caesarea),
and with believers who were unrelated to the ones
at Tyre, Agabus gave a prophecy.
Agabus had come to Caesarea from another city –
Judea (just to emphasise that it was different
from the believers in Tyre).
“Several days later a man named Agabus, who also
had the gift of prophecy, arrived from Judea”
– Acts 21:10
It was the same Agabus who predicted the famine
in the Roman provinces, so he had a history of
getting right prophecies (if it means anything).
“During this time some prophets traveled from
Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them named Agabus
stood up in one of the meetings and predicted by
the Spirit that a great famine was coming upon
the entire Roman world.
(This was fulfilled during the reign of
Claudius.)” – Acts 11:27-28
Agabus prophesied what would happen to Paul if
he went to Jerusalem, without a prior knowledge
of an existing instruction for him not to go
“He came over, took Paul’s belt, and bound
his own feet and hands with it.
Then he said, “The Holy Spirit declares,
‘So shall the owner of this belt be bound
by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and
turned over to the Gentiles.’”
12 When we heard this, we and the local
believers all begged Paul not to go on to
Jerusalem” – Acts 21:11
Agabus did not instruct him whether to go
to Jerusalem or not, he only showed him what
would happen to him if he did go.
So earlier in Tyre, the believers had
already given the instruction, Agabus just
threw more light; two prophecies addressing
one issue, each explaining the other.
Now I wonder why the Holy Spirit had to do
this (via prophecy rather than directly
Was it probably because He could not get
through to Paul to tell him, as his heart
was made up and set on the path to go
through Jerusalem, considering how really
passionate he was about the Jewish believers
there and just supporting them with the
Paul had always been eager to support the
“In fact, James, Peter, and John, who were
known as pillars of the church, recognized
the gift God had given me, and they accepted
Barnabas and me as their co-workers.
They encouraged us to keep preaching to the
Gentiles, while they continued their work
with the Jews.
10 Their only suggestion was that we keep
on helping the poor, which I have always
been eager to do” – Galatians 2:9-10
Or was it because he had already collected
the offering for the Church and so felt
inclined to give it to them?
It appears the believers in Corinth had
earlier accused him of being a Gospel peddler
and he probably did not want that sort of
He could have sent it through someone else,
“You see, we are not like the many hucksters
who preach for personal profit.
We preach the word of God with sincerity and
with Christ’s authority, knowing that God
is watching us” – 2 Corinthians
“We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded
methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or
distort the word of God. We tell the truth
before God, and all who are honest know this”
– 2 Corinthians 4:2
I’ll pause here to emphasise Paul’s passion
for the Jews. He did like them – even wishing
to be cut-off from Christ if it would save them
“2 My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and
unending grief 3 for my people, my Jewish
brothers and sisters.
I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut
off from Christ!—if that would save them”
– Romans 9:2
I mean he had made several trips to Jerusalem
during his entire missionary journey and the
Holy Spirit did not stop him at any of those
The Holy Spirit did not stop him from going
to the other cities he felt compelled to go
Paul’s “disobedience” or insistence on going
to Jerusalem was based on his conviction
that the Holy Spirit compelled him to go,
which is good, but was it necessary?
Was it really conviction or his desire or
zeal? How would it affect his assignment
Reading through Acts 22 and his speech to
the Jews following his arrest, we are able
to glean some additional insights about
his conversion story – like the role
Ananias played which is key to his acceptance
into the community of believers in Damascus
and subsequently in Jerusalem (that’s a
different story entirely).
But then again, this speech could have been
written in another letter or told somewhere
Now back to Paul’s journey.
Things appeared to have gone downhill after
he got to Jerusalem, not because he had tried
to preach to the Jews there (he did not) nor
because he tried to keep a Jewish law of
head shaving to fulfil a vow. He shaved his
hair earlier at Cenchrea to fulfil a Jewish
vow and nothing happened
“Paul stayed in Corinth for some time after
that, then said good-bye to the brothers and
sisters and went to nearby Cenchrea.
There he shaved his head according to
Jewish custom, marking the end of a vow.
Then he set sail for Syria, taking
Priscilla and Aquila with him” – Acts 18:18
It was obvious that a number of the Jewish
believers in Jerusalem were not favourably
disposed to Paul at this time.
Their anger that he was teaching the Jewish
believers to turn their backs against the
laws of Moses may be traced to the event
that happened in Antioch as written in
Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
Here, Paul confronted Peter about his
hypocrisy, and other Jewish believers
Peter’s action at Antioch was against the
agreement reached at the Jerusalem Council
to not force the Gentile believers to get
Some of the Jewish believers then took
sides with Peter, who alongside James and
John were seen as pillars of the church.
“But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to
oppose him to his face, for what he did
was very wrong.
12 When he first arrived, he ate with
the Gentile believers, who were not
But afterward, when some friends of James
came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles
anymore. He was afraid of criticism from
these people who insisted on the necessity
13 As a result, other Jewish believers
followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even
Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy”
– Galatians 2:11-13
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he had also
indicated that the Jewish believers were not
pleased with him as he was concerned that
they may not accept his offering.
He asked the Roman believers to pray that
his donation/offering to the church in
Jerusalem would be accepted.
“Pray that I will be rescued from those in
Judea who refuse to obey God.
Pray also that the believers there will be
willing to accept the donation I am taking
to Jerusalem” – Romans 15:31
Paul was trying to gain back favour with
the Jewish believers there and so was
advised to go to the Temple to partake in
a Jewish rite including paying for people
to complete their rites.
Unfortunately, this backfired, as he was
arrested, and then began his series of
imprisonments and standing trials before
Roman officials, greatly hampering his
spread of the Gospel subsequently in
Rome and Spain.
As we can see, all Paul did after his
arrest was stand before governors and
officials to defend himself and the
He tried to proselytise to these officials
a few times but was never successful.
I wonder if he was also successful in
converting anyone at all.
Even if he was, it was not at the same
magnitude as he did before.
The time we can point out that there was
a conversion was after their shipwreck and
stopover at the Island of Malta, which was
when he was now back on the route to
Rome as he should have been from the
Could Paul have gone directly to Rome bypassing
all the trouble and time wasted through his
trials in Jerusalem and the Roman provinces?
I believe so.
His passage through Jerusalem unnecessarily
delayed his mission.
From the accounts here, it doesn’t seem like
he eventually made it to Spain either.
Even when he got to Rome, he preached under
guard, greatly limiting his ministry and the
usual signs and wonders that would typically
We may argue that it gave him time to write his
letters to the churches which we now enjoy
as epistles, but I think that the bulk of his
letters were not written in prison, so he
could have done it outside of prison as well.
Anyway, I still admire the fact that Paul was
a man of conviction (right or wrong) and
followed his personal conviction even despite
the warning to do the contrary and the
suffering that he was told would await him.
He boldly faced the consequences of his
decision which is a great thing, but at
an avoidable expense.
I think Paul also acted like a ‘Superman’,
ignoring the warnings/prophecies from the
people he had also taught and helped to
build. They were a church, and it is a
sign of strength of a leader to listen to
his followers. He should probably have
considered and prayed about the prophecies
given by the believers at Tyre and Agabus
at Caesarea rather than his mantra that
suffering awaited him at every city he
I pray that in making decisions, even as
we get our personal convictions.
That we understand the place of personal
conviction in light of our broader assignment
We should also understand that we belong to a
church which may be instrumental to keeping
us on the right path in our journey.
No need being obstinate when you have a
family that is led by the Holy Spirit and
would support you.
– Jessica Essien