Matthew 10:8 (NIV) says, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy,drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” This sentence is what the Lord Jesus told the twelve disciples when He sent them out to preach. It seems that “raise the dead” is somewhat of an obscure command. Even among the twelve disciples, there is not much recorded of them raising someone from the dead. But there are a few examples, including Acts 9, where Peter raised Dorcas from the dead, and Acts 20, where Paul raised Eutychus from the dead, which we will read today.
Nine people in the Bible were raised from the dead. This includes the prophet Elijah who raised the widow’s son, Elisha, who revived the woman’s son, and the man who revived by touching Elisha’s bones. Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus, the son of the widow of Nain and Lazarus. God raised Jesus from the dead, plus the examples of Peter and Paul above.
We will not discuss the other resurrections during this study. We will only discuss the resurrection of Eutychus. Why did God arrange for Eutychus to be raised from the dead? After this story, Paul arrived in Jerusalem. Was this because of God’s leading, or because Paul made a mistake?
From what I’ve studied and the teaching I’ve received, Paul made a mistake here. The prophet Agabus had prophesied in Acts 21:10-11 that Paul would be bound at Jerusalem. Agabus took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it, and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way, the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’” (NIV) Then Luke 12:15 records the following:
12 When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. ” 14 When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.” 15 After this, we started on our way up to Jerusalem. (NIV)
I was saved in the Local Church movement and accepted their teachings for many years. I remember reading something about this subject. Witness Lee thought Paul made a mistake here. When he was asked by others why Paul made such a mistake here, Witness Lee replied that only Jesus is the perfect saint. What he meant is that everybody makes mistakes. So this comment made a strong impression on me. But ever since the Lord led me to learn about the prophetic gifts in the Pentecostal Movement, I felt more confused when I heard their different interpretations of this verse. Many people with prophetic gifts hold similar views. They believe that Paul did not make any mistake here; he was just following the Lord’s leading. Because Paul was doing it in the name of the Lord Jesus, not only was he bound, even if he died in Jerusalem, he was also ready. Also, Luke mentioned afterward, “May the Lord’s purposes be accomplished.”
Acts 21:4 also says that “We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” (NIV)
But Paul said in Acts 20:22-24, “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. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (NIV)
So at least from here, the biblical record is contradictory. On the one hand, the Holy Spirit reminds him not to go to Jerusalem through people who have prophetic gifts. On the other hand, Paul said that the Spirit compelled him to go to Jerusalem. It’s just that the Holy Spirit told him that he would face difficulties.
The question is, does God want Paul to go or not? This is a tricky situation, and there is a lot of debate about this.
The reason people thought Paul was wrong and shouldn’t have gone to Jerusalem stems from a prophetic word from the disciples in Acts 21:4 as well as Agabus’ prophesy in Acts 21:11. Agabus was thought to be a reliable prophet because he prophesied in Acts 11 that there would be a famine that happened during Claudius’s reign. I thought the same thing, but when I was learning the gift of prophecy, some teachers who were gifted prophetically taught on how to avoid giving wrong prophesies and talked about Agabus making a questionable prophesy and how we should learn from it. I was surprised. It never occurred to me that a prophet in the Bible could make a wrong prophesy.
Let us not talk about whether Agabus is wrong or not. Let’s first talk about whether the prophet’s prophecy in the New Testament can be false or not. Paul said, “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good.” (NIV, 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21). Paul also said that “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.” (NIV, 1 Corinthians 14:29). From these two verses, we can see that Paul’s attitude towards people who prophesy was not to despise them but to test them all. In other words, Paul didn’t just believe everything the prophets would say. It seems from Paul’s attitude, the prophet of the New Testament sometimes makes inaccurate prophecies.
Let’s look at the difference between the prophets in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Kris Vallotton is a prophet in Bill Johnson’s church (Bethel). He often teaches prophetic gifts, and I have participated in his training classes. One of his views left a deep impression on me. He said that in the Old Testament, the prophets are “visitational.” When the Holy Spirit is falling on people from outside, whether Elijah or Balaam, when the Holy Spirit was falling on them, it was considered to be God’s words without a doubt. But in the New Testament, the prophets and the prophetic gifts are “habitational,” that is, the Holy Spirit lives in the Spirit of the prophet, and he speaks through our Spirit. As He speaks, it goes through our soul and mind and then uses our mouth to prophesy. So in this process, our soul, mind, and expression may filter these prophecies. It is not that the Holy Spirit cannot fall on people from outside today like the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit can do the same. But since He lives in us and not in the Old Testament, He chooses to speak through us because He is willing to train us, and He would rather be subject to some of our limitations. Hebrews 1:1-2 (NIV) also confirms that “God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” He spoke through the prophets in ancient times, but now He is speaking to us through His Son. We know that the Lord is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17) and that the Lord and the Holy Spirit live in us.
One of the textbooks we used in our prophetic gift class is: “You May All Prophesy,” written by Steve Thompson. He and many prophets hold the view that prophecy is divided into three stages. The first stage is to receive a revelation from God, or a sentence, a picture, or an animated vision. In this stage, you must confirm that it comes from God and not from the evil spirits. The second stage is to interpret this vision. What does God mean? Our spirits have to pray; our souls have to think. In the end, we hope to get an accurate understanding. The third stage is to apply this vision, which is how to use or apply to whom and what situation. At each stage, mistakes are possible.
If you think that the prophets just say what God says and that he doesn’t need to think or digest, I would suggest that you need more study on prophetic gifts. Taking an example from the Bible, Jeremiah was called by God to be a prophet. Jeremiah said that he doesn’t know how to speak; he is too young; he doesn’t want to do it (Jeremiah 1:6). God said, “I will train you.” Then he let Jeremiah see a picture and asked him, “What have you seen?” Jeremiah said, “I saw the branch of an almond tree.” Jeremiah 1:12 (NIV) says, “The Lord said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.” What does this mean? This is God’s explanation of the meaning of the vision of this almond branch to Jeremiah. God not only used pictures to speak, but He also used puns in human language to communicate. In Hebrew (language), the pronunciation of “almond branch” is similar to “watching over.” God uses puns to tell Jeremiah, “Don’t worry, I will watch over you; I will take care of you; I will help you.” The hidden meaning is “I will pay attention to my words and make it happen.” Then God asked Jeremiah, “What do you see?” Jeremiah answered, “I saw a pot that is boiling, and it is tilting toward us from the north.” (Jeremiah 1:13, NIV). At this time, God continued to explain to Jeremiah that what He means is that, “From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land.” (Jeremiah 1:14, NIV).
Besides Jeremiah, Daniel also saw a lot of visions. But he did not know what they meant. He needed the angel to explain. The prophet of the Old Testament is like this, and so is the prophet of the New Testament. In the book of Revelation, John saw many visions, and he didn’t know what they meant. He also needed the angel to explain.
Some people with prophetic gifts in today’s church agree that the prophesy telling Paul not to go to Jerusalem was a mistake. They believe the prophesy came from the Holy Spirit but was misinterpreted. How do we make sense of the fact that prophets can make mistakes? If a Bible teacher misinterprets the Bible, that seems to be a forgivable offense, but if a prophet makes a mistake we call him a false prophet and are ready to “stone” him. This shouldn’t be.
Of course, this view is controversial. Some scholars think that Agabus did not make a mistake here.
A British prophet, Graham Cooke, is also a recommended teacher in our prophetic class. He gave an example of the mistake that prophets make when they are explaining the prophetic Word of God. He said that prophets could get either information or revelation from God. These two are different. The former may be a fact, but the latter may be God’s heart.
One day God revealed a secret weakness of pornography in a fellow believer. Graham and this person had some issues between them at the time. Graham thought to himself, “Haha, I finally caught you. He was ready to go straight over and tell him what the Lord showed him, but the Lord rebuked him immediately and said: “what kind of spirit do you have?” The Lord wanted Graham to have an attitude of prayer for this man’s sin condition and not blame him. He felt terrible and began to cry over his own attitude. Then God told him to go to the man and tell him. Graham didn’t want to go. The Lord told him he had to go, so he bit the bullet and went. When he got there, he couldn’t even speak; he could only cry. The man was baffled as to why Graham was acting that way and asked him what was going on. Graham had no choice but to tell him what the Lord showed him about the pornography as well as his own bad attitude. After listening and being in shock, he repented, and he and Graham reconciled. This man was also saved out of the sin he was in.
What the Lord revealed to Graham about his friend’s pornography addiction was just a message or information. It’s almost like a doctor meeting a patient with a diagnosis. The diagnosis is only information about the person’s condition; it’s not God’s prescription for the patient. God’s heart for Graham’s friend was for him to be delivered from that sin. Graham shared that in his experience as a prophet, often the first information that the Lord gives him is just information. He learned to take the information, prophetic dream, or vision to the Lord in prayer, asking for revelation. During that time of prayer, he often understood God’s intention for the information. A common problem of prophetic people is that they are too eager to share what they get from the Lord, often revealing private sin or negative information about others, bringing pain and damage to churches and individuals.
I was inspired by learning about these people’s experiences and my own experience in learning about the prophetic gifts. Perhaps the teaching that I initially believed in makes the possibility of Paul’s mistake worth discussing, and maybe the prophets of these modern churches have reasons to criticize Agabus.
I think that the message that Agabus and the other disciples received was indeed correct. That is, the Holy Spirit reminded Paul not to go to Jerusalem, and if he did go there, he would face imprisonment. The message was correct, and Paul had also confirmed it. But why did Paul say, “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24, NIV). In other words, regardless of danger, Paul was determined to go to Jerusalem to accomplish the ministry he received from the Lord Jesus.
Moreover, when Paul was later arrested in Jerusalem and was sent to Rome, the following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” (Acts 23:11, NIV). In other words, the Lord had not only praised Paul for testifying about Him in Jerusalem, He also wanted Paul to testify in Rome. The Lord Jesus affirmed what Paul did.
If Paul had done something wrong, the Lord Jesus should have said to Paul when He appeared to him, “You stiff-necked person, why didn’t you obey My Holy Spirit? Why did you go to Jerusalem? See, now you are caught. The other ministry that I prepared for you in other places has been delayed. You are stubborn!” The Lord didn’t say this. Instead, He praised Paul for testifying about Him when he was in Jerusalem.
Isn’t this a contradiction? Through the mouth of the disciples, the Holy Spirit reminded Paul not to go to Jerusalem. The prophet Agabus also said that Paul would be bound if he went to Jerusalem. But now the Lord Jesus has appeared and said, “Paul, you did an excellent job!” Did the Holy Spirit quarrel with Jesus? No.
My understanding is this. There is a very dynamic and deep friendship between Paul and God. It’s like a woman who was very eager to get the snow lotus on the mountain cliff. But the warrior, who loves her, must go through the threat of icy cold mountains and avalanches and the possibility of falling off the cliff to get this snow lotus. So when the man said that he was willing to risk his life to get the snow lotus to prove his love, the woman who loves the warrior said, “You absolutely can’t go. I don’t want the snow lotus either, even if you pick it.” But the warrior still went to the mountains and picked the snow lotus despite all the danger. Aside from being moved, this woman rebuked the man, saying, “Didn’t I say that you shouldn’t go there?”
The relationship between Paul and the Lord is intimate. They are very close to each other. The Lord was concerned about Paul’s safety, so he told Paul through the Holy Spirit, “Don’t go to Jerusalem.” Paul reacted, “Do you consider my life as important? The interests of the Lord are more important. His most precious treasure, Jerusalem, is more important.” If you are familiar with the Bible, you know that God sees Jerusalem as the apple of His eye. It is the most precious treasure of God. Therefore, Paul was ready to risk everything, even his life, to take care of God’s feelings and His chosen people. I think what Paul did touched Jesus so much that He stood beside Paul at night to boost him up, confirming that his testimony in Jerusalem was worth encouraging, and permitted him to do the same thing in Rome.
Therefore, this is God’s intention toward Paul. Paul lives in the heart of God. His attitude towards prophets and prophetic words is stated in 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 (NIV), “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all and hold on to what is good.” Paul said this from his own experience. This has many implications for us Christians today. No doubt, many evangelical believers don’t accept the words of the prophets or that prophets still exist in churches today. They reject and even accuse prophets of having evil spirits in them or declaring that they are false prophets. At the same time, many believers in the Pentecostal Movement believe in the prophets’ words too quickly, causing loss/damage or even getting hurt. However, I feel that we shouldn’t just accept the prophets and treat the prophecies with contempt, but we also need to test them.
After going through the analysis above, I conclude that Agabus and the disciples’ prophecies are all messages received from the Lord. But Paul lived in God’s revelation and in His heart, which is why he had an unswerving determination in going to Jerusalem and Rome to bear solemn witness of the Lord. This may be one of Paul’s highest spiritual experiences. So, Paul could calmly say calmly before he died, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith; From then on, there is in store for me the crown of righteousness.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8, NIV). Paul also said, “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth.” (2 Timothy 4:17, NIV)
How does this revelation pertain to our ministry to the Lord today? In this era of information flooding and the following the herd, if you are the church leader, no matter how big the challenge is to be a servant leader, how do you face the complicated and different opinions? Can you firmly live in the will of the Lord?
Let’s go back to the story of Eutychus who was raised from the dead at the start of this chapter. This story is not casually placed here. The experience of Eutychus being raised from the dead happened before the disciples and Agabus warned Paul not to go to Jerusalem. When Paul was preaching, Eutychus fell asleep and fell three stories down to his death. Paul went down to check, and it records in Acts 20:10-12, “Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.”
If I was Paul, I might not have been in the mood to continue preaching. Either I would have been excited that I just raised somebody from the dead or fearful that somebody almost died in my meeting. My concern may have been about the maximum occupancy allowed in the building at that time.
If this happened in the United States today, I don’t know if Paul would still be so calm. Almost in every elevator or hotel conference room, there is a clear indication about the maximum occupancy. We took our daughter to a big American church. My daughter was playing with other children there. The first form we filled out was a disclaimer, saying that the church could not be held responsible for what may happen to our child, because they were afraid of being accused. Think about it. A man had already fallen and died when Paul was preaching. Even though Paul raised him from the dead, according to the United States’ current laws, Paul could be accused of child neglect and even be sued for millions. What if someone else falls? What if Eutychus had side effects from the fall?
But Paul handled the situation very calmly. If Paul was not absolutely sure that he was living in God’s will, how could he be so calm? This is a confirmation that Paul knew that God was with him on his upcoming trip to Jerusalem. The Bible only records the experience of Paul raising someone from the dead this time. Why? I shared in the meeting that if you have the courage or the heart to risk everything for God, He will have your back, even to the point of raising people from the dead.
In seeking healing for our infertility, I often went to the park to pray. I asked countless times, “where is the God of Abraham who raises people from the dead? We are infertile, but you can raise the dead. You can also create things out of nothing. I believe in your existence and the Bible. I believe that you can heal us. I also believe that everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:8, NIV).” I also believe in what Romans 10:11 says: “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” Although others may have laughed at me as I seemed to be beating my head against a wall with all of this, God healed us and gave us a healthy baby girl.
We have friends who were also dealing with infertility. They listened to our testimony and went to the same prophet who prayed for us. After one time, there was no positive result, and they gave up. I felt sorry for them because God is no respecter of persons. We shouldn’t give up because of what the environment says, the doctor says, or even fellow believers. The key is what God says to you. During our time of infertility, we heard many things. Some said it was God’s discipline and punishment, so just accept it. Some said it’s better not to have children so you can devote more time to serving the Lord. Some told us that God doesn’t heal people today. He performed signs and wonders back then to prove Jesus’ divinity and the authority of the Bible. Now that this is established and the apostolic era has passed, there are no more signs and wonders. All healing miracles are fake and come from evil spirits. This is not the truth, and we will continue to believe what God says in His word. In the end, He has done wonders.
Brothers and sisters, I hope that we as Christians can learn to live in God’s heart and intimate communication and fellowship with God just like Paul. Even if you are overwhelmed with information from the myriad of voices out there, allow God’s leading to create certainty within you. Let’s learn to be like Paul, who can be both soft and strong in broken circumstances.
Sometimes we say that we are following God, but it’s really our stubbornness or flesh. Other times we have no clear answers and say we are willing to look at other people’s views. When serving God, there are times when we shouldn’t be listening to others, but instead, we should be pressing in to hear God’s leading. The important thing is to be humble and broken before God, making sure we don’t follow our own stubborn will.
Listening to one of Pastor Grace Chiang’s testimonies made a deep impression on me. She said that because she was a female pastor, she often disagreed with some of the men’s opinions when she started to build the church. They may have had more worldly experience, so they felt that what she was proposing was unreliable, but she heard the Lord speaking to her. So after some battles and a period of confrontation, these men found out that she was right.
Watchman Nee said that sometimes, some beleivers in the church do not take responsibility when the situation calls for it. The damage they cause to the church is much more than the damage caused by those who instead overstep their authority. In other words, being a good man, or evading responsibility in the name of humility, or fake humility will bring more damage to God’s interests. The church needs more people like Paul, people who will set their faces like flint, bravely face opposition and different voices, and even live out the will of God and His call to them regardless of danger.
We have now entered an era in which all political correctness must be broken. Yes is yes, and no is no. Jesus says, “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37) Our position must be clear. All fear must be removed. We have to stand on the mountain, and not under a bushel. We need to be the light and salt and be a strong witness for God in this world.
We are not just making irresponsible comments. Rather, no matter where we are, when we as Christians face coercion and imminent danger, we should be like Paul, who risked his life for the interests of God. God will indeed back you up. Whether it is raising the dead, turning the bitter water into sweet, or creating things out of nothing, nothing is too difficult for God. So, in my understanding, this is the main reason why God allowed Eutychus to rise from the dead before Paul entered Jerusalem. This is both a testimony and an encouragement of God to Paul. It is also evidence that Paul lived in close communication and absolute faith in God. I repeat, this may be one of Paul’s highest spiritual experiences.