Paul's Prison Epistles: Paul's Imprisonment


Prior to Paul’s Arrest: Acts 20:17-21:26

Near the end of Paul’s Third Missionary Journey, probably around the year A.D. 56 or 57, Paul and his traveling companions were making their way from Asia Minor to Jerusalem, primarily by boat. Their intention was to deliver funds to the poor Christians in Jerusalem who were enduring a famine. On their way they stopped in Miletus where Paul met with the elders from the nearby church of Ephesus. During this meeting Paul revealed that the Holy Spirit had warned him that he would be imprisoned when he arrived in Jerusalem. 

We read his prophetic words in Acts 20:22-24:

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, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace (Acts 20:22-24).

In many cities Paul visited believers prophesied Paul’s coming imprisonment. But the Holy Spirit compelled Paul toward this imprisonment. So, Paul knew that these prophecies were not intended to dissuade him from his course, but rather to prepare him for his coming hardships. Paul had many enemies in Jerusalem, and he knew he might be arrested and imprisoned when he arrived. But he also knew that this suffering was part of God’s plan for him. 

From Miletus Paul and his company sailed to Cos, then to Rhodes, then to Patara. In Patara they found a ship that took them past Cyprus before arriving in Tyre. In Tyre the Holy Spirit moved many more believers to warn Paul of the coming hardships in Jerusalem. But Paul was still determined to reach his goal.

From Tyre the group sailed to Ptolemais, then to Caesarea on the coast of Samaria. Because there were so many cities named Caesarea in the ancient world, this particular city is sometimes called “Caesarea Maritima” which means “Caesarea by the Sea,” to distinguish it from the others.

During his stay in Caesarea Maritima, Paul was warned yet again not to go to Jerusalem. In a well-known dramatic scene, the prophet Agabus bound his own hands and feet as a prophetic sign, warning that Paul would be arrested and bound if he continued to Jerusalem. It is easy to understand why Paul’s friends did not want him to be arrested. They probably feared for Paul’s safety, and did not want him to come to harm. But Paul knew that God was planning to use his arrest and imprisonment to further the gospel. As we read in Acts 21:13: 

Paul answered … “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13).

Paul understood that his coming imprisonment was would be “for the name of the Lord Jesus.” That is, the Holy Spirit was going to use Paul’s coming imprisonment as a means to advance the gospel and minister to the church.

With this limited knowledge of his future, but also with sure trust in God’s Spirit, Paul committed himself to facing prison. He completed his third missionary journey by traveling to Jerusalem, probably in the year A.D. 57. According to Acts 20:16 he may have arrived near the time of Pentecost, around the beginning of summer.

Click here to watch Paul’s Imprisonment, lesson one in the series Paul's Prison Epistles.