During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.
– Acts 11:27-30, New International Version
The Spirit and Prophecy
The Book of Acts is the story of the planting, spread, and growth of the church. One of the outstanding features of the story is the role of the Holy Spirit in leading and guiding the church. The prophecy of Agabus, recorded in this passage, is a vivid instance of that dynamic work of the Spirit. Clearly, one of the works of the Spirit was to inspire prophecy.
Barnabas had been sent from the church in Jerusalem to the young church in Antioch to encourage the believers. Then, Barnabas went to Saul and returned to Antioch with him. For an entire year Barnabas and Saul ministered to the church. Their ministry no doubt had a great impact. The church in this city would become the major missionary center of the times. It was here that the disciples were first called Christians.
The Prophecy of Agabus
Now, about this time, some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. According to Luke (v. 28), one of the prophets by the name of Agabus stood up and “began to indicate by [dia] the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world.”
Luke uses the verb semaino, meaning to indicate. The scripture translates this “began to indicate.” The tense used by Luke was either imperfect or aorist. Robertson (p. 161) makes this grammatical notation:
Signified (esemainen). Imperfect active in Westcott and Hort, but aorist active esemanen in the margin. The verb is an old one from sema (semeion) a sign (cf. the symbolic sign in 21:11). Here Agabus (also in 21:10) does predict a famine through the Holy Spirit.
Agabus pronounced a prophetic word. He began to indicate by the Spirit that there would be a great famine. The Greek preposition dia can mean either by or through. The important point is that Agabus was under the inspiration of the Spirit as he spoke. We already have encountered the Spirit’s inspiration several times in Acts (1:16, 4:25, and 6:10). Here is another instance of the Spirit at work. The Spirit was the source of the prophecy by Agabus.
Then, to confirm the accurateness of the prophecy, Luke simply states that such a famine did occur during the reign of Claudius. Concerning this famine, Bruce (p. 243) writes: “we know from other sources that this emperor’s reign (A.D. 41-54) was indeed marked by a succession of bad harvests and serious famines in various parts of the empire.”
The Result of the Prophecy
As a result of the prophecy, the disciples in Antioch determined to send a relief offering for the brethren living in Judea. Each of the disciples gave in proportion to their means. Thus, the church on the “mission field” sent help for the church in Judea. Barnabas and Saul were charged with the responsibility of delivering the funds to the elders in Jerusalem.
As Grudem (p. 202) points out, Agabus predicted the future. His prediction resulted in the encouragement and edification of the church. The church at Antioch, because of the prediction, was able to act in a way that was very helpful to the church in Jerusalem.
Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975.
Grudem, Wayne A. The Gift of Prophecy in 1 Corinthians. Washington DC: University Press of America, 1982.
Lenski, R.C.H. The Acts of the Apostles. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.
© Copyright 2003. GMF.