22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:22-24).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 (Acts 21:4).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” (Acts 21:10-14).
This invites a variety of differing explanations. Let’s run through the possibilities:
1) The Christian prophets sincerely imagined that the Spirit revealed this to them, but they were deluded.
Given the narrative viewpoint, I think that’s unlikely:
i) Luke takes a favorable view of Christian prophecy. Throughout Acts, he gives us illustrations of how Joel’s prophecy fulfilled.
ii) They receive the same ostensible revelation as Paul. The content is basically the same. It’s corroborative. A confirmation of what Paul himself was told.
iii) This has multiple-attestation. Two different parties (Agabus and the “disciples”) claim to receive the same revelation. They are independent of each other. Seems improbable that two different parties would mistakenly receive the same revelation.
iv) Also, the contention that Agabus bungled the details strikes me as wooden. Agabus is speaking in shorthand.
2) The Spirit did, indeed, reveal something to the Christian prophets, but they drew the wrong inference.
3) The Spirit revealed something to them, and they drew the right inference. They were right and Paul was wrong.
i) Since Paul isn’t sinless, it’s possible that he pigheadedly flouted the warning, heedless of the consequences. However, I don’t think that’s the best overall interpretation.
ii) Paul is determined to pursue this course of action because he’s convinced that the Holy Spirit has obliged him to do so (Acts 19:21; 20:22). Hence, Paul is obedient to God’s directive, as he understands it.
iii) It’s inconsistent with apostolic inspiration to suppose an apostle mistakenly thought God was speaking to him, or mistook what God was telling him to do.
4) God was giving Paul a choice.
i) This assumes the warning was a deterrent. That the Holy Spirit issued this warning to give Paul an out. Informed consent.
If so, that raises the question of whether the prophecy refers to the actual future or a hypothetical future. How Paul responds to the prophecy will, itself, factor into the future outcome. He might take it as a warning not to proceed any further. In which case an alternate future will eventuate.
From a Reformed standpoint, whichever fork in the road Paul took would be predestined.
ii) However, I doubt that explanation. I think the Holy Spirit is warning Paul, not to deter or dissuade him, or even to give him a choice, but to prepare him for the coming ordeal. To be forearmed. The prediction tells him what to expect, not what to do. He’s foretold the consequences, not to duck the consequences, but to brace himself for the consequences.
5) Both sides were right. It was permissible for Paul to forge ahead, but it was equally permissible for him to change course. There can be more than one morally permissible course of action. Everything doesn’t boil down to a choice between right and wrong.
I think that explanation is valid in the abstract, but in the concrete context I think the narrator has led us to believe, by the programmatic statement in Acts 20:22-24 (cf. 19:21), that it was God’s will for Paul pursue that path.