During this time some prophets traveled from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up in one of the meetings and predicted by the Spirit that a great famine was coming upon the entire Roman world. (This was fulfilled during the reign of Claudius.) So the believers in Antioch decided to send relief to the brothers and sisters in Judea, everyone giving as much as they could. This they did, entrusting their gifts to Barnabas and Saul to take to the elders of the church in Jerusalem.Acts 11:27-30
Now Herod was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. So they sent a delegation to make peace with him because their cities were dependent upon Herod’s country for food. The delegates won the support of Blastus, Herod’s personal assistant, and an appointment with Herod was granted. When the day arrived, Herod put on his royal robes, sat on his throne, and made a speech to them. The people gave him a great ovation, shouting, “It’s the voice of a god, not of a man!” Instantly, an angel of the Lord struck Herod with a sickness, because he accepted the people’s worship instead of giving the glory to God. So he was consumed with worms and died.
Meanwhile, the word of God continued to spread, and there were many new believers. When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission to Jerusalem, they returned, taking John Mark with them.Acts 12:20-25
Among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch of Syria were Barnabas, Simeon (called “the black man”), Lucius (from Cyrene), Manaen (the childhood companion of King Herod Antipas), and Saul. One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way. So Barnabas and Saul were sent out by the Holy Spirit. They went down to the seaport of Seleucia and then sailed for the island of Cyprus.Acts 13:1-4
The phrase “during this time” or more literally “Now in these days” was used in Acts 1:15 and again in Acts 6:1. It appears to refer to a longer period of connected time. In this case it is clear it refers to the year spent in Antioch which Luke has told us about. In Acts 1:15 it is clearly the time spent waiting in Jerusalem for what the Father promised. In Acts 5:42 it refers to the undetermined time spent every day in the temple and in their houses where the followers were teaching and preaching that Jesus is the Christ. “These days” are significant days for Barnabas and Saul and for the believers in Antioch being taught by these two, sometime during 43 or 44 AD. Now prophets joined them from Jerusalem. Unlike other prophets mentioned or those claiming to speak for God in earlier chapters, the statement in verse 28 is clarified as being by the Spirit – I. e. the Holy Spirit. What is happening here is genuine. Note the use of prophets here and the significance of what Agabus has to say. Two of you have asked me is this telling forth or is it foretelling? An interesting question which tells me something about the way you have been taught. In some circles any hint at foretelling is explained away by appealing to the idea that prophecy, the result of what prophets speak, is primarily telling forth the Gospel or the Good News. While that is true, there are also occasions when prophets speak in prophetic ways – namely predicting the future. Here the translation rightly interprets this as being a prediction.
We don’t know much about Agabus, the prophet mentioned here. He was not a prominent figure in the early church but his name does appear twice in the New Testament and each time we find him making a prediction. On this first occasion his statement is predictive and it is so specific and believable that it motivates the church (the gathering of believers) in Antioch to respond with an offering for those in Jerusalem. The second time Agabus speaks (21:11) again concerns a predictive prophetic word. “Agabus took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” Each time Agabus speaks Luke tells us that what he says is effectively the Holy Spirit speaking through him. The people who hear each time take seriously what he has to say and react accordingly believing it to be true. Each time what Agabus had to say came to pass. This man was a true prophet of the Lord.
Was there indeed a famine in the whole [Roman] world as Agabus said? We are told to test the words of a prophet to see if they are true. If the word of prophecy proved to be false the Old Testament tells us we should stone the prophet. Did this prediction from Agabus turn out to be true of false? Do you notice I have placed [Roman] in square brackets. The word “Roman” was not actually part of what Agabus said. Rather the literal statement was “in all the world”. Agabus was actually interpreting for the people what he felt that God was saying. There is much debate about this incident. Did Agabus receive this “word from the Lord” before he came to Antioch or did he receive it spontaneously just before he spoke out the prophetic word? We are not told. It could have been either.
What is meant by “all the world”? It could mean “all of the then known world”. In other words in reality the Roman world or across the Roman Empire. It is hardly likely to involve all of the people on the face of the earth at that time. The phrase in Greek is ἐφ᾿ (on) ὅλην (all) τὴν (the) οἰκουμένην (world) and it is difficult to translate given the word “oikoumenen”. The idea is the notion of the cultural world, the extent of such a world which is determined by cultural boundaries not simply physical or global. It could be functioning as a political term or a geographic entity, an empire or a taxed world. I.e. All those who are subject to Roman tax. The use of οἰκουμένην suggests that what was meant was not global . i.e. the whole earth. Most take it to be the loose equivalent of the Roman world, thus the Roman Empire. Torrey thinks it refers to the Land of Palestine where the Land is being used as a specific Jewish geographic entity. But whatever way we debate the meaning of this term the clear intention is that it’s a widespread famine.
Did such a famine take place at this time in this area? Was Agabus’ prophecy accurate or not? The word used for famine is [limon]. It is translated famine in most versions but in the KJV its translated as dearth or lack (of food). Was it severe enough to be called a famine? There is no record of a world wide famine during the time of Claudius’ reign as emperor. However both Suetonius and Tacitus, Roman historians of the time, record there was a widespread famine during the time of Claudius in the Roman Empire, occurring a number of times through until 54 AD . Furthermore, Josephus, the Jewish historian, records that the famine started in Palestine and was at its worst in AD 46. Some commentators think that the prophecy was given as early as 41 AD, that it didn’t just come to light in AD 44 but for that detail you will have to ask Luke, Saul or Barnabas or better yet Agabus himself when you see them. The point is that this was an accurate statement and it did happen just as Agabus said it would. Clearly those who heard it took it seriously and gathered together an offering to send to the “mother church” in Jerusalem. That alone is interesting as famine hits hardest in the major cities as the supply of food out in the regions lessens. Indicating perhaps the truth of Torrey’s assumption that it was the Land of Palestine which was in focus here. Whatever the nature of the geographic extent of such a famine or a series of famines the church at Antioch believed the words of Agabus enough to do something about it. They gave as much as they could to help the church (believers) in Jerusalem which Saul and Barnabas they entrust to Saul and Barnabas to deliver for them. (Acts 11:30 and 12:25) What is also interesting is that the word “oikoumenos” is the term used for household. Nearly these believers in Antioch are taking care of the “household of faith”. Thus we are to care and take care of our own no matter how far away they may be.
When God tells us something in advance, our part is to believe it and act on it.Ian Vail
I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these My brothers and sisters, you were doing it to Me!Matthew 25:40
Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.Galatians 6:10
When you know better, you do better.Maya Angelou
No one has ever become poor by giving.Anne Frank