Agabus (who featured earlier in the book of Acts (Acts 11:28)) is named as a prophet, someone who spoke the word of the Lord to the people. His prophecy in Acts 21:10-11 shows him acting out a prophecy, taking the linen belt from Paul and binding his own hands and feet with it as a visual sign of what would happen to Paul in Jerusalem.
This visual enactment of what will happen was something with which people were familiar from Old Testament prophets. Ahijah, for example, took hold of Jeroboam’s cloak and tore it into twelve pieces to symbolise the division of Israel following Solomon’s death. (1 Kings 11:29-39) Isaiah went around stripped and barefoot for three years as a sign against Egypt and Cush (Is 20:1-6). Ezekiel lay siege to a model of Jerusalem as a visual aid to the people about the coming judgment. (Ezek 4:1-17) – and this not for a day or two, but for well over a year! God speaks to us not only with words, but sometimes through these dramatic ‘mimes’ or dramas; He knows that we learn not only from what we hear but from what we see as well. As photographers frequently remind us, ‘a picture speaks a thousand words.’
One of the things we must acknowledge about prophecy is that it is rarely heeded at the time. Prophets are frequently ostracised, judged, condemned and hated. (Matt 5:12, Matt 23:30-37, 1 Thess 2:15) This is because they speak the word of God to us, bringing us back to truth in stark, unequivocal terms. They do not allow us the luxury of complacency or self-indulgence, but bring us face to face with the holiness and majesty (and demandingness) of God. For most of us, we prefer to focus on the idea that prophecy is to build us up than to confront us with God. (Is 30:11) This is to take a very narrow view of prophecy. Discipline is a vital part of parenting, and God’s judgment and corrective discipline are not meant to leave us in a state of condemnation, but to lead us to repentance and faith.
We need the gift of prophecy in our churches today, but we also need prophets. We need people who will speak fearlessly and unashamedly of God and who will bring His word to our hearts. Agabus is only mentioned twice in the New Testament, but each time he teaches us much about faith and courage. May we too know God speaking to us in such ways.