Acts 16 picks up the narrative of Paul’s second missionary journey. Paul’s plan was to visit and strengthen the churches he had planted in the Asian province of Galatia during his first journey (Acts 15:36).
After finishing up in the region of Galatia, the Apostle Paul and Timothy had planned on preaching the gospel in Asia-Minor, but then it says they were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit” at every turn—they couldn’t enter either southwest portion of Asia Minor, or Bithynia to the north.
Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.Acts 16:6-8 NIV
For a time all doors seemed shut to Paul. It must have seemed strange to him that he was barred from the Roman province of Asia by the Holy Spirit; it contained Ephesus and all the recipients of the letters to the seven churches in the book of the Revelation. Bithynia, too, was shut to him.
How did the Holy Spirit send his message to Paul? It may have been by the word of a prophet; it may have been by a vision; it may have been by some inner and inescapable conviction. But there is the possibility that what kept Paul from journeying into these provinces was ill-health, the consequence of that thorn in his flesh.
After being redirected twice, Paul was at a standstill in Troas, on the eastern coast of the Aegean Sea. There Paul received the Macedonian Call:
During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”Acts 16:9 NIV
It was the sight of a man from Macedonia which finally gave Paul his guidance.
After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.Acts 16:10 NIV
Who was this man Paul saw in the vision? Some think it was Luke himself, for Luke may have been a Macedonian. Some think the question should not be asked since dreams need no explanations like that.
But there is a most attractive theory. There was one man who had succeeded in conquering the world. That was Alexander the Great. Now it would seem that the whole situation was designed to make Paul remember Alexander. The full name of Troas was Alexandrian Troas after Alexander. Just across the sea was Philippi, called after Alexander’s father. Farther on was Thessalonica called after Alexander’s half-sister. The district was permeated with memories of Alexander; and Alexander was the man who had said that his aim was “to marry the east to the west” and so make one world.
It may well be that there came to Paul the vision of Alexander, the man who had conquered the world, and that this vision gave Paul a new impulse towards making one world for Christ.