Acts Chapter Seventeen, Paul's
Travels, Trials, & Triumphs
In our study of Acts chapter seventeen, we look at Paul's second
missionary journey and the spread of the gospel in Europe. We follow Paul from jail to
the great thinking center of the day (Athens) where he clearly proclaims the gospel of
When they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to
Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue.
Paul & Silas had been released from prison in Philippi, (see chapter 16),
and were requested to leave the city. We are told here that they passed through
Amphipolis and Apollonia on the way to Thessalonica. Amphipolis, whose name means an all
round city, was an unusual city as it was round instead of square. (Most cities were
built with square walls around them.) The city was about three miles from the Aegean
Sea, Apollonia was to its West and Thessalonica was about thirty eight miles West of
Apollonia. Thessalonica had three rivers near it that flowed into the sea and it was a
larger city as we know due to the fact that it had a synagogue. (The formation of a
synagogue required there to be at least ten adult Jewish men.)
Acts 17:2 & 3
As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three
Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the
Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. 'This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the
Christ,' he said.
Paul did his usual thing in that he went into the local synagogue
and shared the Word of God. Usually, some would believe in Jesus while most of them
rejected the teaching and forced him out to the Gentiles. That is how most of the local
bodies of believers ("churches") were started. He spent less than a month speaking in
the synagogue because we are told that he preached on only three Sabbath days. (Paul was
not called to put roots down for himself in any one place. He was called to travel and
preach the Word.) His message was always consistent in that it was about the death of
Christ and the fact that He rose from the dead.
Acts 17:4 & 5a
Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a
large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women. But the Jews were
jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and
started a riot in the city.
We see that the result of Paul's preaching is pretty much the
normal as he drew opposition. The Jewish leadership saw there power and authority
shrinking (just as they did in Jesus' days on earth) and so they opposed him and tried
to run him out of the city by starting riots. The sad truth is that in many ways this
type of behavior has also crept into the "church" of today with congregations fighting
over believers joining their assemblies instead of going out to reach the lost. Please,
pray for this attitude to be removed from the "church".
They rushed to Jason's house in search of Paul and Silas in order
to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and
some other brothers before the city officials, shouting: 'These men who have caused
trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his
house. They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one
Since they could not find Paul and Silas, the mob grabbed Jason and
other Christians and took them before the city officials. Then, they accused them of
treason in hopes of eliminating the spread of the Truth. This is a pattern that occurs
throughout history even to this day in that, if the facts do not support their
opposition to the Gospel, Christians are accused of crimes such as treason and then they
Acts 17:8 & 9
When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown
into turmoil. Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.
The jealous religious leaders were able to get the city in an
uproar but it is interesting to note that they had to let Jason and the others go. This
same situation happens in the world today. If you are walking as Jesus did, there will
be opposition and jealousy but we can take comfort in the fact that God is with us just
as He was with Jason and the others.
As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to
Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Bereans were of
more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great
eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Many
of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek
So, Paul and Silas escape the turmoil in Thessalonica and the next
stop is Berea. We can learn much about studying the Bible just from this passage. We see
that they are described as "of more noble character" because of their daily study of the
Bible. We also see that many of them came to believe and that shows the very power of
the Word of God! If we, like the Bereans, search the Scriptures daily, we should expect
that it will change our character and help us to be more like Jesus Christ.
When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the
word of God at Berea, they went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them
We see here that the jealous Jewish leaders in Thessalonica were
not content to get him out of their city but even followed him to Berea in hopes of
running him out of there as well. It is kinda funny here as they are basically doing the
same thing that Paul (Saul) did before he accepted Christ. Now, it has come full circle
and Paul is the one being chased for his faith. The same type of thing happens in many
places today and, in fact, we are told, in Revelation, that we should expect even more
persecution as the end days approach.
Acts 17:14 & 15
The brothers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and
Timothy stayed at Berea. The men who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left
with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.
We are told here that the jealous religious leaders were successful
in getting Paul to leave Berea but Silas and Timothy stayed there for a period of time.
This is a very good reminder of why it is important to teach those that God brings
alongside us in ministry to carry on without us. Even after Paul was driven out, we can
be sure that Silas and Timothy continued to strengthen the new Christians in Berea. It
should always be about the Message and not the messenger!
Acts 17:16 & 17
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly
distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with
the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those
who happened to be there.
Paul wasn't just kicking back waiting on the others to arrive. We
see that he was hurt by the fact that the city was full of idols and he felt that it was
his duty to tell them about the one true God. As was his pattern, he went and spoke in
the local synagogue but we see that he also shared in the marketplace. This passage can
remind us that we are to take our faith out into the world and to share it with whomever
God places in our path. That is what Jesus did and what Paul did in Athens.
A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with
him. Some of them asked, 'What is this babbler trying to say?' Others remarked, 'He
seems to be advocating foreign gods.' They said this because Paul was preaching the good
news about Jesus and the resurrection.
Now Athens was famous for their people meeting and debating all of
the latest ideas (philosophies). When Paul spoke of Jesus and His resurrection, that
brought him into direct conflict with the latest Greek philosophies. The Epicureans met
in a place called "the Garden" in Athens and they believed that pleasure was the supreme
god and that the life we see here is all there is. Today this is still practiced in what
is commonly called Hedonism and the idea is "if it feels good, do it". The other main
group that opposed Paul was the Stoics which were the direct opposite of the Epicureans.
They believe that virtue is sufficient for happiness and took pride in avoiding
pleasure. When Paul spoke of the resurrection, the Epicureans didn't like it and, when
he spoke of Jesus being the key to happiness, the Stoics didn't like it.
Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Aeropagus,
where they said to him, 'May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?
You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.'
(All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but
talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
So, they took Paul to the Aeropagus which would have been something
like a city council. The people in the city were always wanting to hear and discuss the
latest trends in beliefs. They were simply going to give these "strange ideas"
consideration. Doesn't it seem like the same thing happens in our society today? Instead
of accepting God's Word, many people are looking for the latest and greatest trend, even
in their faith.
Acts 17:22 & 23
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Aeropagus and said: 'Men
of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and
looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this
inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to
proclaim to you.
We have heard the expression "covering all bases". Well, that is
exactly what the people of Athens did in worship. Paul described them as very religious,
even to the point of building an altar to a god they couldn't even name. You see the
same thing is happening in the world today as many people are very "religious" but they
don't know the Lord Jesus. Jesus made it perfectly clear that He is the ONLY WAY to
forgiveness and having a right relationship with the Creator of the universe. Today,
more and more people want to compromise and even blend elements of different faiths to
"cover all bases" but there is only One Way and One God.
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of
heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.
Paul began his explanation of who God is with the fact that He
created all things. We can simply go outside and look up at the sky or look around us
and see that it couldn't all be the result of some cosmic accident. Creation itself
testifies that there was and is a Creator. Paul goes on to explain that the One that
created the stuff is the owner (Lord) and He does not live in some man-made temple. The
Athenians had all sorts of temples but did not see that the greatest temple of all was
the one that God himself created. There was a time in history where the Temple was the
place to perform sacrifices and to meet with God but after Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit
(God with us) there was no need to make the trip to a temple. Paul is teaching this to
the Athenians but the lesson is just as good for us today. Much of people's wealth is
given to build church buildings (modern temples) but we must keep in mind that God is
with us and He does not dwell in man-made temples. His presence may be there at times
but there is no building big enough to be His house.
'And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything,
because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.'
Paul continues to describe God to the Athenians as he describes God
as the Sustainer. Not only did God create everything but Paul tells them that all their
breath comes from Him. This verse may be confusing to us today especially the part about
God "not served by human hands". What Paul is saying is that God does not need us to do
things for His sake as he owns everything. We do not have to build Him an altar or a
temple or anything else that Paul saw as he traveled around the city in fact we can't
even walk without Him.
'From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit
the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where
they should live.'
Paul continues his description of God as the Great Planner. He not
only explains that all came from one man but that God is big enough to have a plan for
all. There are over six billion people alive in the world today and God is big enough to
have a individual plan for each and every one of us. That includes those that have gone
before us as well as those to be born yet. Before we were born, God set the times and
places for each of us!
Acts 17:27 & 28
'God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for
him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. "For in him we live and move
and have our being." As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'
Did you ever wonder why God created everything? In this passage,
Paul tells the Athenians the purpose. He told them that they (and we) were created to
"reach out for him". All the other running after meaning and purpose is just a waste of
time and a distraction from our true purpose.
'Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that
the divine being is like gold or silver or stone- an image made by man's design and
skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people
everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by
the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the
Now, Paul reasons with them that, if we are God's offspring (which
their own poets had said), then why would we think that God is man made. He went on to
remind them that God was patient with man and their lack of knowledge but that time has
now passed. He then warned them of the coming judgement and gave the proof (the
resurrected Jesus). The same simple pattern applies to us today as well. Although there
may be areas of the world who have never heard of Jesus, for the most part, most of the
world has had the chance to hear and therefore can no longer plead ignorance. We are all
called to repentance and, as Paul told the Athenians, God has set a day for judgement
and given proof in the resurrection.
Acts 17:32 & 33
When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them
sneered, but others said, 'We want to hear you again on this subject.' At that, Paul
left the Council.
This passage reminds us of the heart of the matter and that is the
resurrection of Jesus Christ. After hearing about that, some wanted to hear more while
others simply did not believe. It is the same today in that many just do not believe
that Jesus was raised to life as firstfruits of the harvest of believers. After the
simple message, we see that Paul "left the Council". The message of salvation through
Jesus Christ is very simple.
A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was
Dionysius, a member of the Aeropagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of
In this final verse, we see that there was fruit from Paul's
sharing of the Gospel in Athens. Dionysius was mentioned and we are told that he was a
member of the Aeropagus so he was an educated man. He would go on to leave his family in
order to share the gospel in Europe where he was beheaded for his efforts. There is not
much known of Damaris as it was not the custom to keep records about women in these
days. This verse can be encouraging as we see that God can reach those that are so
educated but yet so lost. It seems that there are so many in this same situation