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 Jesus Christ.
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.)
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.
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 called Jesus.'
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 are persecuted.
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 men.
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 up.
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.
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!
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.
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!
'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 dead.'
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.
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 others.
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 today.