Prophecy and the Will of God 

By: Greg Mohr

May 2023

And finding disciples, we stayed there seven days. They told Paul through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem.. . . And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” 

Acts 21:4 and 10–11, New King James Version 

This chapter records two prophecies Paul received within a few days of one another that warned about serious trouble awaiting him in Jerusalem. After Agabus’ prophecy, many pled with Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Paul answered them, “What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13, NKJV). 

This story produces some obvious questions. Were these prophecies from God? Was Paul just being stubborn and bullheaded? Did Paul miss the will of God by going on to Jerusalem? The quick answers to these questions are yes, these prophecies were from God; no, Paul was not being stubborn; and no, Paul did not miss the will of God. Let me explain. A prophetic word from God is not given to govern our lives, supersede our responsibility to hear and follow God, or to control our lives.  

In this case, these two words were warnings to prepare Paul for what was to come. Once the prophetic word is given, it is up to the individual receiving the word to weigh it by the written Word and what they have in their own spirit. It is no longer the responsibility of the one giving the word. The will of God that Paul first felt strong about in his heart was confirmed to him a few days later at Jerusalem, after going through some of the trouble they prophesied to him about. After he was beaten and held in a Roman jail, the Lord Jesus personally communicated His will to Paul,

“But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome’”  

— Acts 23:11, NKJV

Jesus, Himself, told Paul His will was for him to testify in Jerusalem and Rome. I have heard messages by good Bible teachers I respected that accused Paul of missing the will of God because he didn’t follow those prophecies. That is not true. This verse in Acts 23 removes any foundation for holding that view. Prophetic words must be judged by the Word and by the character of the one giving it. They are not to be controlling. Prophecies are not to govern our decisions or dominate anyone’s free will. Paul did not change his plans because of Agabus’ prophecy or the urging of others.  

All prophecy is in part (1 Cor. 13:9)—and this means, as true as that part may be, it does not give the whole picture alone. Prophecies can be encouraging, confirming, and revelatory. But they never contain the entire will of God alone. And they are never intended to take the place of each of us seeking God and following what He is leading us to do. Consider these things the next time you either give or receive a prophetic word.