Now these were the days when prophets would (regularly) come down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of those, Agabus, stood up and by the Spirit foretold a great famine coming over the entire world; this would indeed take place in the days of Claudius. And the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to arrange to send relief to the brothers living in Judea; and that is what they did, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. (Acts 11:27-30/transliteration by Bruce C Wearne)

 Famine

Famine. Agabus, "by the Spirit", foretold of a great famine that would come that the church may prepare for it. PICTURE: Lorant Fulop/www.freeimages.com


IN  A NUTSHELL 
Luke tells us how the genuine faith of the church at Antioch, and the other centres where Gentile believers congregated, was proved beyond any shadow of doubt for the brothers and sisters in Judea.

 

Agabus appears twice in the Acts of the Apostles. The other place is chapter 21 when Paul was staying at Caesarea with Philip, and his four prophetic daughters. Agabus would then warn Paul of impending trouble. 

This man exercised a prophetic ministry along the Mediterranean coastal strip. He was one of the persons gifted by God's Spirit to enable the young congregations to keep in contact with each other, and to stay abreast of wider developments that would have an impact upon their life together as the people of the Lord. In the Old Testament we read about the "watchmen on the city gates". These prophets seemed to fulfill a similar function for the dispersed people of the Lord. Luke tells us that they were responsive to the Holy Spirit's guidance so that they maintained responsibility for each other.

In Jerusalem, the apostles and disciples were persistently anxious about their Jewish identity because of the hounding of other Jews who, as we have said, had chosen to wait for another Messiah, keeping their strict rules intact and even harassing those who did not. 

Didn't matter what reason was given. Such harassment, as with that of Saul before He met the Lord, arose from a fierce commitment that did not and would not believe that the Messiah had come. So there was a very deep breach among those who still worshipped at the temple and practised the customs inherited from the Old Testament.

Jewish disciples of Jesus in Jerusalem did not have an easy path to tread. They confessed that the Lord had now come, appearing at the temple (Malachi 3:1). They had to learn to be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves. Hellenistic proselytes had been driven out after Stephen's execution, by the persecution initially led by Saul. Was there a presumption perhaps that the Hellenistic Jews and proselytes were less rigorous adherent of the Torah?
I guess some of those who fled may have experienced some relief from the many customs and restrictions they had had to observe in Jerusalem. And although Saul's conversion seems to have given indirect support to the social standing of the Apostles, it was the Holy Spirit who made sure that the Gospel would call Gentiles out of darkness into God's marvellous light.

The apostles, Jesus' senior students, were called to lead the movement that was now active throughout the dispersed Jewish synagogues around the known world. It was a movement in which Jewish believers ate with Gentile believers.

Peter's comments to Cornelius indicate he saw this as a direct response to Jesus' resurrection. But the Jerusalem believers knew that there were many Jews who did not believe their witness to Jesus' resurrection. Such Jews felt they their religion was being made "unclean" by fellow Jews, who, without hesitation (10:20) or objection (10:29), kept company with the non-circumcised.

Thus, there was a possibility of being exposed by an intra-Jewish intolerance of any action that would compromise rituals and temple observances. So what was it to be? An appeal to one's standing before God that professed a common faith in the Messiah of Israel or a process of ritual incorporation into a Messianic fellowship on the basis of circumcision? (This is the issue Paul deals with in his letter to the Galatian churches).

So we see a deep love and respect at the basis of the decision of the Antioch church to heed Agabus, and help the church in Judea face the famine. Criticisms and harassment from the circumcision lobby would continue but when God answered their prayer for their daily bread, by prodding Antioch generosity, their faith would be confirmed. Luke, after all, told us that this story is about what Jesus continued to do for His disciples after he had been taken up (1:1).

Moreover, Luke's account of the ministry of Agabus, provides us with the historical root of Paul's conviction that when gentile believers in Israel's messiah demonstrate in concrete terms the mercy of God that has been shown to them, to the people of Israel, then this indeed is the way to provoke their jealousy (Romans 11:14) just as Stephen had done for him.

Got a verse or a short passage you'd like us to look at? Just send an email to [email protected].