Journeys of the Prophets in Luke-Acts

In an earlier paper1 I argued that the story of Jonah belongs in the book of KINGS. Jonah and the unnamed Judean prophet in 1K13 are paired by the author through literary links. The Judean prophet travels longitudinally to confront national paganism and is killed but not swallowed by a lion. Jonah travels latitudinally across sea to confront international paganism and is swallowed but not killed by a fish.

In a second paper2 I described how Luke stylizes his accounts of Jesus and Paul by incorporating peculiar details from the ministries of  these two journeying prophets from KINGS. Luke introduces Jesus and Paul by first describing a confrontation with a supernatural being in the wilderness or on the road. Jesus encounters the devil in the temptation narrative, and Paul is confronted by God on the road to Damascus road. Jesus’ three temptations by the devil each evoke a theme found in the ministry of the unnamed Judean prophet. Details from Paul’s conversion on the road; his stubbornness towards the purposes of God, his three days of darkness, the scales that fell from his eyes, his commission to go to the gentiles, all trigger associations with Jonah.

This paper’s concern is the shared details along two Journeys for the Judean prophet and Jesus and also with Jonah and Paul. These four accounts have three meals or rejected opportunities for a meal. The meals are interpretive keys to the success of the prophet’s mission. Luke imports the two journey, three meal, framework into his two travelogues of Jesus and Paul.

Jesus, national prophet

Luke 9:51-19:27 is often called Luke’s travel narrative. The Galilean portion of Jesus ministry ends, and he sets his face towards Jerusalem. Jesus takes on the role of a journeying prophet, who is from the tribe of Judah. Luke decorates this account with associations to the story of the Judean prophet in 1K13, who made a similar journey as Jesus with a similar message. Both the Judean prophet and Jesus travel between Judah and Samaria to confront corrupt religious establishments.


Jesus’ ministry in Luke is described as two journeys. The first describes Jesus’ journey towards Jerusalem. The second is his journey through death and resurrection until the “kingdom comes.” While the Judean prophet in KINGS has two journeys, one starts from Judea and journeys north, then he has a  truncated return journey. Jesus’ first journey starts in the north and journeys south. As the direction of the two Judean prophets is reversed, so are many of the details regarding meals.

  • The Judean prophet is to refuse to eat a meal while in Samaria, while Jesus requests a meal from the Samaritans and is refused (L9:52)
  • The Judean prophet’s shares a meal with the lying northern prophet. Both prophets are a source of God’s word. Each source provides alternative oracles. Similarly Jesus on his journey shares table with the contemporary religious leaders. They read the same word, but teach a different practice.They seek to entrap Jesus with his practice and teaching of food (L 11:37-54) and sabbath laws(L14:1-6).
  • The conflicting word between the Judean and northern prophet leads to the death of the Judean prophet. The conflicting teaching of the word between the religious leaders and teachers  and Jesus lead to the death of Jesus.

The first meal on the second journey is the passover meal.

  • Jesus makes preparations, sending Peter and John that “we may eat.” But at the dinner Jesus declares: “ For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.(L22:16)” and “For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come.” Like the Judean prophet, he commits to forgoing a meal until his quest is complete.
  • Like the Judean prophet at the home of the northern prophet, Jesus breaks bread with one, Judas,  who betrays him, leading to his death.
  • Both the Judean prophet(1K13:23) and Jesus (L19:35) use a donkey for transport.
  • Note the northern prophet sets out to find the Judean prophet who is found resting under a tree, Judas and a crowd of temple officers set out to find Jesus, who notably in contrast is not resting, but  praying in a garden. 
  • After the Judean prophet confronts the king, the king reaches out his hand and it withers. He pleads with the the prophet and the prophet prays to restore the hand. When, in the garden, a servant of the high priest reaches to grab Jesus(L22:49), a disciple cuts off the ear of the servant. Jesus then reaches out and heals it. 

Jesus signals that his second journey is complete, that his kingdom has come with two meals. He breaks bread with a subset of his disciples, causing their eyes to open (L24:31), and then he meets another subset where he eats a piece of broiled fish(L24:42). The coming of Jesus’ kingdom commences with a humble meal.

These same elements are used to indicate the end of the Judean Kingdom. The penultimate king has his eyes gouged out (2K25:7), and the final monarch is reduced to being a spectacle while being fed at the pagan king’s table(2K25:30). Notice the failure of the Judges is indicated with Samsons’ eyes being gouged and him being a spectacle at a feast for the Philistine nobles. These themes of changed sight and badly sourced food are echoes of the fall narrative.

Paul, international prophet

As Jesus journeyed towards Jerusalem to confront the secular and Jewish leaders in Israel, Paul’s ultimate goal is to appeal to Caesar in Rome. The Judean prophets, the one in 1K13 and Jesus, travel over land on donkeys(1K13:23, Lk19:30) . The international prophets cross over sea on ships. 

Two Journeys

Luke records two initial missionary journeys of Paul before picking up on his final journey to Rome. Luke draws strongly on details from the Jonah narrative. He describes two journeys in opposite directions and arranges details that conform to the pattern established by the Jonah story.

Jonah’s first journeys is towards Tarshish, in disobedience to the word of God. His second is to Nineveh as God commanded.

Paul likewise has two trips in opposite directions. Paul addresses the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:17-38 in a speech that recalls Samuel’s parting speech in 1 Samuel.  After he is warned by disciples speaking in the spirit not to go to Jerusalem. (A21:4). He also visits a prophet named Agabus who prophesies of Paul’s bondage leading to the people urging him not to go (A21:12). Nevertheless, he goes to Jerusalem.

Paul meets with the Jerusalem leaders, then visits the temple.

  • He is recognized which leads to a storm. Paul addresses those in the storm by twice appealing to his heritage: ‘I am a Jew!” (A21:39, 22:3). Jonah addressed the sailors from the midst of the storm: “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD.”(Jn1:9).
  • Paul is brought before the jewish council but is forcibly ejected, vomited, from their presence because of a dispute between the Pharisee and Sadducee factions over resurrection. Jonah is vomited by the fish, a sign which Jesus uses to foreshadow his resurrection.

The following night, the word of the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”(A23:11)  This ends the first journey and begins the second. In the journey Paul is obeying the word of God. A number of details are shared between the two stories:

  • After Jonah is vomited by the fish he journeys to Nineveh and prophesies “yet, 40 days and Nineveh shall be overthrown…” But the people believed God and called a fast to neither eat or drink. After being forcibly ejected from the council, 40 Jews vowed to neither eat or drink till they had killed Paul. The Ninevites were not overthrown after 40 days due to their repentance, while the 40 (A23:14,21) conspirators did not kill Paul.
  • The king in Jonah’s story repents. After two years, Paul holds court before King Agrippa who would be persuaded to be a Christian(A26:28).
  • Both the Jonah and Paul use a ship for transport. Both ships get caught in big storms.
  • Sailors in both stories jettison the ship’s contents.
  • Both Jonah and Paul counsel the sailors leading to their deliverance.
  • Jonah rejects God’s mercy for the Ninevites and wishes for his <heb:nephesh> to die. This word is often translated as soul or life but is more accurately described as hunger or ambition. The locals believe that justice has determined Paul will die but he lives and is then fed for three days at the local rulers house.
  • The last chapter of JONAH describes Jonah finding comfort from the sun under a miraculous plant until a worm emerges and strikes it dead. Paul gathers sticks and finds comfort from the heat of the burning plants before a snake emerges and strikes him.
  • Paul then makes his way to Rome. The book ends with Paul quoting a passage from Isaiah 6:9-10, which describes Israel’s reticence to receive God’s mercy. The last lines of JONAH addresses Jonah’s resistance to God extending mercy to the Ninevites.
  • The time marker of 3 days is used 2x in Jonah, 3 days is used 5x in the two journeys of Paul.
  • Both JONAH and Acts end without resolution, will Jonah stop resisting God will for Nineveh? will Rome accept God’s mercy?

How does it mean?

It is interesting to assemble inter-textual links between the accounts of the journeying prophets in KINGS and LUKE. But if these links are deliberate, then it is important to reason about their purpose.

The narration of the book of Kings feels like a broken record. Each king walking in the ways of Jeroboam, even meeting a second Jeroboam who walked in the way of his namesake. During the time of Jeroboam II, we are introduced to Jonah, and the text says the LORD saw the affliction of the Israelites, but there was none to help (2K14:26).

One might argue that the weight of the kingdom was held by the prophets. These charismatic, spirit-filled individuals brought the word of God to the kings and the people. Jonah spoke five words and the pagan city of Nineveh repented. But if the messengers fail to deliver the message, if they are compromised or their voices are captured by another, then the means for restoration and reinvigoration is lost.

The accounts of the two journeying prophets in KINGS served to show how the pillars that held the kingdom fell. Both journeying prophets were disobedient, but the reasons for the disobedience differed. The Judean prophet found rest under a tree before his journey was complete. He took a meal before he had finished the course. Luke contrasts this prophet with Jesus, who chastised the disciples for taking rest in the garden and vowed not to eat until his kingdom has come.

Jonah rejected a meal with a God under the tree after his journey was complete. He rejected the restoration that was given to Elisha under the broom tree after his journey confronting Ahab and the 400 Baal prophets. After the scales drop from Paul’s eyes, he takes the food offered him and straightaway preaches Christ, the anointed king,  in the synagogues.

Luke applies the two journey framework to both the mission of Jesus and Paul. Their journeys are evaluated using the interpretive keys of meals given to us by KINGS. Jesus fasts until the kingdom comes, unlike the Judean prophet. He has two meals in the gospels last chapter. KINGS ends with the jewish king being fed at the table of a gentile king, as the Adam had his appetite directed by the serpent. The new king Jesus feeds his people.

In JONAH, no one eats. The fish vomits, the Nineties fast, and Jonah rejects God’s provision under the tree. Paul feeds the sailors, accepts hospitality from the Maltese noble, then entertains while in Rome. JONAH ends with the reader unsure of Jonah’s commitment to God’s plan for redemption. Acts ends with the reader unsure of Rome’s reception to Paul’s good news, but certain to Paul’s commitment. 


  1. “Journeying Prophets In Kings” Scott Fairbanks


2. “Introducing the Journeying Prophets In Luke-Act” Scott Fairbanks

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