About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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ch. 17:1-9    ch. 17-10-15    ch. 17-16-34

In Thessalonica (ch. 17:1 - 9)


We can date this part of Paul's trip around 49 or 50 A D, when Claudius when emperor of the Roman Empire. 

In verses 1 and 2 we see that the next major stop for Paul and his companions was Thessalonica where they found a synagogue, unlike Philippi where there was no synagogue.  Luke says, "as his custom was," Paul went into the synagogue.  For three Sabbaths he "reasoned with them from the Scriptures".  Verse 4 says that he explained and proved that the Christ must suffer and rise from the dead.   We have seen Paul the preacher, but here we see Paul the apologist, that is, one who proves what he is saying is Biblically founded.  Paul used sound reasoning, which he was really good at.  Luke is suggesting that Paul was trying to persuade these Jews that the Christ must suffer, die, and rise from the dead.  Jews viewed the Messiah as a King, one who would not go through such suffering.  Paul was attempting to change their minds on this point.  He was showing them from their own Scriptures that the Messiah had to suffer.  If they could understand this from Scripture then Paul would have at least reached first base with these Jews.  Once understanding that the Messiah had to suffer, then he could present Jesus to them. 

In some circles of Christianity such reasoning and debate as Paul is doing here is considered futile and useless.  I don't think this way.  I believe that such intellectual reasoning has its place, as long as we understand that the Holy Spirit in the final analyses is the one who changes the heart.  We can help with the intellect, but only the Holy Spirit can speak to the heart of a person.  It's my thinking that Evangelicals in the past have spent much time preaching to inspire and have ignored reasoning to educate. Biblical education is important.

We should note that in this synagogue there would have been what we've talked about before, and that is God-fearers.  God-fearers were Gentiles who weren't converts to Judaism but they supporters of Judaism.  They liked the Jews monotheistic religion and the morality taught by the Law of Moses.        

In verse 3 Paul clearly states that "this Jesus who I am proclaiming is the Christ", or, the Messiah.  As I have just said, Paul’s logic is clear.  You help these people believe from Scripture what the Christ had to go through, and then you point to Jesus and tell them that He has gone through exactly what you have just said. 

Verse 4 tells us that Paul was successful in his attempt to win over many of these people.  Luke specifically says that many Jews, and God-fearing Greeks, including many prominent women, believed Paul and followed him.

Note the term "prominent women".  In Greek culture, women had more control over their lives than in Hebrew culture.  This is why there were prominent women in Greek communities, which we see here. 

Paul would preach the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles, as we are seeing through the book of Acts.  The Jews struggled with the idea that their Messiah must suffer.  The Gentiles had no problem with that.  However, the Gentiles had a problem with the resurrection of Jesus.  Greeks were strong intellectuals, and a dead person rising to new life defied good intellect.  The Jews, especially the Pharisees, not the Sadducees, believed in the resurrection.  If you could get a Pharisee to believe in the death of their Messiah, you could easily get him to believe in the resurrection.    

With every new convert came jealous Jews and their leaders, and this situation was no different than any other city Paul had visited, as we see in verse 5.  As in Phililppi the market place plays an important part in the life of a first century city.  Certain Jews found some bad characters, just waiting for a fight.  They stirred up these bad characters and in turn they started a riot, hoping to blame Paul for the trouble. 

Speaking of the market place, it seems to be one of Paul's favourite spots to preach and teach the gospel to the gentiles.  We see this many times.  The market place in the Roman Empire might well be compared to the radio or TV, or the internet in our day.  Paul went where the action was, where the people were, to proclaim the good news of Jesus.  The market place was more than a place to sell.  It was a market place of ideas, especially for cultured and well educated Greeks.   

The Jewish agitators went to the house of a brother in Christ named Jason.   They intended to find Paul and Silas at Jason's house and then drag them down to the market place where the mob would be rioting.  When the authorities would see Paul and Silas in the middle of the riot, they would figure they started it.  The Jews hoped then that Paul and Silas would be arrested.  

In 49 A D Claudius decreed that the Jews could not assemble in large crowds because of a riot they hard started earlier.  This might well be why the Jews got the Gentile low life to riot on their behalf.

Verse 6 tells us that Paul and Silas were not at Jason's house so they dragged Jason down to the market place instead. 

From this point to the end of this section the Jews explained that Paul and Silas were teaching things against Roman law, mainly that there was another King, and He was not Caesar.  That would be tyranny.  After hearing this there was even more turmoil among the officials and the mob.  Thing settled down after the officials made Jason and his friends post bond in order to have Jason released.   

In Berea (ch. 17:10 - 15)

Verse 10 tells us that the brothers sent Paul and his friends away at night in order for them not to be seen.  They headed south to Berea , and what did they do?  They went straight to the synagogue.  Paul was relentless, and never gave up.  You would think by now that he might have changed his preaching techniques, but he didn’t.  He was compelled by the Spirit to preach the gospel, so in every town he went straight to the synagogue to preach.

In 1 Corinthians 9:16 Paul tells us that he was compelled to preach the gospel.  He said woe to me if I don't preach.  I'm sure that Paul could have declined Jesus' call on his life, but knowing what Paul went through on the road to Damascus and all the visions he had, he had no other logical choice but to preach the gospel.  It was the driving force in his life.  He was totally consumed with his mission. 

Luke tells his readers that the Jews in Berea were more noble than those in Thessalonica because they received Paul’s teaching and studied for themselves to see if what Paul was saying was true.  This resulted in more converts to Jesus.  Luke mentions that many Jews, as well as Greek women and men, came to trust in Jesus.

Berea appeared to be a welcomed sigh of relief for Paul and his brothers because there was no opposition to them, but this did not last long.  Although the Bereans did not oppose Paul, certain Jews from Thessalonica came down and stirred up trouble, as we see in verse 13.  Luke then records that the brothers sent Paul to the coastal city of Athens.  Once again Paul was on the run.  It seems like much of Paul’s traveling was a result of him running from his opposition, yet every time he ran to the next town he’d preach to them as well.  So you might say that persecution caused the gospel to be spread.  I think history shows us that persecution causes the true church to be strengthened and souls won to Jesus.  

Verse 15 tells us that Silas and Timothy stayed in Berea for a while.  I suggest that this was Paul's instruction for them so they could strengthen and teach the new believers there.   

In Athens (ch. 17:16 - 34)

In verse 16 Luke says that while Paul was in Athens he “was very distressed” over the abundance of idols in this city.  Paul had met the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus.  He had seen many visions from Jesus as well.  Paul was deeply dedicated to his Lord and Saviour.  No wonder he was distressed when he saw all of these idols.  Christians today need to be distressed as well with the anti-Christian culture around us, especially as it is invading the church these days.  The problem is that we are not as distressed as we should be.  We are way too lax in our faith and practice when it comes to these things.  Sin should disturb us.  Some might say Paul's distress was due to his personality, and there might be a bit of truth to that.  However, I strongly believe Paul's relationship with Jesus caused most of this distress.     

In verse 17 Paul went to the synagogue as usual and “reasoned” with both the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles.  Note again the word “reasoned”.  Yes, Paul preached, but he also entered into a dialogue, reasoned, or debated, with those who would enter such a debate.  Paul did not stop at such debates in the synagogue this time.  We see him going to the “marketplace” again to reason with anyone who would listen to him. 

The marketplace in Athens, as well as in other cities, was more than a place where people bought and sold merchandise.  It was a meeting place where philosophers gathered to discuss and debate the issues of the day, a place where Paul himself would fit in quite nicely. The marketplace was truly a marketplace for the exchange of ideas.  Again, you might say that the market place was our modern day radio, TV, or internet.  If you wanted to hear the latest news, you went to the marketplace.  This is probably where our English term "marketplace of ideas" originated from.  

There were two groups of philosophers reasoning with Paul in Athens.  One group was known as Epicureans. These men did not believe in a god who was supreme over all.  In reality they did not believe in any deity.  They tolerated the idea that there might be some gods, but if they did exist they had no authority in the affairs of men and nations.  Because they did not believe in the divine, these men did not believe that the soul of men carried on into the next life.  Once one died, he was gone forever.  This resulted in the emphasis on material and physical things in this life.  The pursuit of pleasure was utmost in their lives.  If one would only disappear at the end of life, he or she should do whatever pleased them in this life, whether in the pursuit of material things, the pleasure of sex, or even criminal activity.  If it pleased you to go on a killing rampage, then go ahead.  Life was all about making one happy.   These people were simply hedonistic in both their thinking and practice.  It seems to me that our western world society is heading in the same direction today.

The other group was called Stoics, and they were pantheists.  The Pantheists concept of God is that God is everything.  That is to say, God did not create things, but all things are god.  A tree is part of god.  Men are part of god.  Everything in the universe is god, and not his creation.  Their moral life was of a higher quality than the Epicureans.  They stressed the importance of reason.  Reason was ultimate.  What reason could figure out would determine what was right or wrong or good or bad.  For example if someone reasoned his life to be no longer worth living it was good for him to kill himself, thus the first two leaders of this group did just that, and many followed their example.

These groups and others in the marketplace thrived on debating with one another.  They had a good measure of tolerance for each other.  They just loved to sit around in the marketplace and debate back and forth. They lived for these daily discussions.  So, when Paul came along, they found him very interesting to reason with.  We should note that there was no opposition to Paul among these Gentile debaters. They were glad to hear from Paul.  They may not have agreed with him, but they loved the interchange they had with him.

In verse 18 Luke records two comments of many that were directed towards Paul.  They are, “what is this babbler trying to say”, and “he seems to be advocating foreign gods”.  They said these things about Paul because he was preaching that Jesus rose from the dead.  The term "foreign gods" clearly suggest that Jesus had not been preached to these men before. 

The words "gods" to me suggest how these men interpreted what Paul was saying.  Paul was speaking about God and about Jesus.  To these men, that meant they thought Paul was speaking about more than one god.  They might well have thought that he was polytheistic.  

These men thought Paul was simply babbling away about nothing.  Though they enjoyed the debate, most of them did not take him seriously.

Verses 19 and 20 tell us that some of these men took Paul to a meeting of the Areopagus.  The Areopagus was the supreme council of the city.  Men who were a part of this governing group were very high class and influential men, and were a part of this council for life.  This was not a trial.  These men were curious to hear what Paul had to say. They asked Paul if they could know this new teaching that he was presenting.  They understood Paul to be bringing some strange ideas to their ears, and they wanted to know what it all meant.  You can tell by what Luke says this was not a trial.  Luke tells his readers that all of the Athenians spent their whole day hearing the latest new teachings.  Once again, in verse 21 we see that these men loved to debate.  These people loved to hear the latest new ideas, and Paul was now bringing the newest teaching to their ears.

The people in Athens were “polytheistic” in their religion, meaning they devoted themselves to a number of gods.  Christians and Jews are “monotheistic” in their religion, meaning they worship only one God.   Paul noted this right away when he arrived in Athens and walked through the city streets.

In verses 22 and 23, when addressing the Areopagus, Paul comments on their form of worshipping multiple gods.  In verse 23 he notes that these people are very religious, pointing out the various temples, shrines and statues to all of these gods.

Remember, Paul is not talking to Jews now.  He is speaking to Gentiles, and to Athenians in particular, so, his words are chosen carefully to meet their needs.  He has no need to speak of the Old Testament Law.  These people know very little about such things, although I am sure that some had a little understanding of Judaism.

Paul tells these men that he noticed one alter with the inscription to “the unknown god”. Some have said that in the framework of the sentence we must note that this god is a specific god.  They just don’t know his name.  They were not covering their tracks by saying that we have all sorts of gods, and here is another alter to any god that we might have left out.  They believed that there was another god.  They just did not know his name or who he was.

On the other hand, other scholars have suggested that this statue to the “unknown god’ was indeed a statue that would cover the tracks of these Athenians; just in case they missed a god.  Which idea is correct, I don’t know. 

What an opportunity for Paul.   He took this as a means to proclaim who this unknown god was.  He took something that they understood to begin his proclamation of the gospel, something that all preachers should do.  It's just a simple matter of relating to the people you're trying to win to Jesus.  You reach them on their level.

In verse 24 Paul says that the God who made heaven and earth and all therein is the Lord.  By saying this he is implying that this unnamed god is the God of creation, and thus is above all other gods.  To further things more, this God does not live in temples made by the hands of men, which their were many temples dedicated to many gods.  This is a point that many evangelicals, especially in the last generation, need or needed to understand.  I think we as Evangelicals in the past put too much emphasis on the church building as the “house of God”.  God does not live in our buildings we call church.  He is only their when His people gather together in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

In verse 25 Paul says that this God “is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else”.  What Paul is saying here is that the true God, the Creator God, can’t be properly worshipped by His creation.  There is nothing that we can give God that would be important enough in His sight as a means of worship.  Humanity is just too lost and too far below whom God is that any attempt of worship apart from the Holy Spirit is meaningless.

Paul continues in verse 25 to say that God has given us our very life’s breath and everything in this universe.  How can we give Him something meaningful in return that would compare to that. We certainly can't give life to God.  Whatever we might have to give Him is all His in the first place.  Of course, we know what He wants.  He does not want our possessions, He wants us.

Paul did not believe in Darwinian Evolution.  In verse 26 he says that “from one man He made all nations”.  Paul is giving these people a history lesson.  He is going back to the creation of all things.  If his audience could understand that the God he serves created all things, then this God must be far more superior to any other god that these men would worship.

In our western world today there is a move among some to unite their Christian faith with other religions.  One such attempt is to unite Christianity with North American native or Indian worship.  North American natives worship the Creator as they would call him.  If Paul were here today, he would teach that the Creator is in fact the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  I really don't know why some Christians want to go backwards in life and worship the Creator, when they know, or should know, that the Creator is Jesus.   

The last half of verse 26 has always been interesting to me.  Paul believed that God wanted man to inhabit the whole earth, and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.  This tells me two things.  One is obvious.  God made man to inhabit the whole earth, as is recorded in the Genesis account, but, Paul goes further.  He says that God has predetermined the extent of where man will live.  That is to say, if God wants man to live on the moon, or on Mars, then he will, but if not, he won’t.  You might even go as far to say that God wanted man to only inhabit the whole earth and nothing more.  If God wanted man to inhabit more than the earth, he would have told man to inhabit the universe.  God told man in Genesis 1:28 “to be fruitful and increase in numbers, fill the ‘whole earth’ and subdue it.  Rule over the fish … the birds … and over every living creature that moves on the ground”.  There is no hint here of God commanding man to subdue the universe.  

The reason Paul gives that God created us and wanted us to inhabit the whole earth is stated in verse 27.  Man was to reach out to God in the process of subduing the earth.  This was to be a cooperative thing between God and man, but Adam forfeited this cooperative responsibility. 

In verse 28 Paul suggests that it is not hard for us to reach out to God because “in Him we live and move and have our being”.  What Paul means here is that we are living in the middle of God’s creation.  Everything in nature was created by God and should be a constant reminder of God the Creator.  You can see more about this in Romans 1.

You can take Paul’s words one step further.  One of the five divine characteristics of God is that He is omnipresent.  This means that God is everywhere at all times.  There is not one place in both the natural or spiritual universe where He is not.  In this sense of the word, we thus live and move and have our very being in Him, whether we recognize it or not.

In verse 28 Paul quotes from “their own poets” who say that man is “god’s offspring”.  Paul is saying that your poets and philosophers have almost got it right.  In one sense we are God’s offspring since He made us in His likeness and image, which means He made us similar to Himself and a shadow of Himself, although we are not divine in nature as God is. 

We've got to be clear here in our understanding.  When Paul says that we are God's offspring, that does not mean we are little gods as the New Age Movement preaches today.  We are like Him, but we are not Him.  Then, when man fell from God's image and likeness, we are clearly not even closely related to what God originally created us to be.  

Verse 29 shows how logical a man Paul was.  This logic is well documented in the book of Romans and throughout the rest of Paul's letters.  He says that if we are God’s offspring, then “we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone – and images made by man’s design…”  If this were so then God Himself would be made of gold or silver or stone.  Logic would tell us that God looks more like us than something that we could make.  So, how can a golden statue be a god, or even represent a god properly?   At this point Paul’s logic has these men in a corner.  What kind of a reply could they possibly give? 

Paul is building a case and being somewhat philosophical in his attempt, but now he makes a bold statement. He says in verse 30, “in the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent”.  What did God overlook in times past?  He overlooked the idea that He can be represented by created objects.  He overlooked idol worship, but no more.  He now commands “all men everywhere to repent”.  Notice the words “all men everywhere”.  Paul is duplicating himself.  He is making sure that those listening to him understand that not one person in the world is excluded from repenting.  What he is saying is not for any one group of people.  It is for “all men everywhere”.

What should all men repent of?  They should repent of their worshipping of things made by their hands.  This indeed should speak to the very heart of these Athenians. They have a multitude of shrines and objects that they worship.  It should speak to us in the western world today.  Even though we don't call it idol worship, we certainly give ourselves to the things we have created.  This is really idol worship.  

In verse 31 Paul goes on to say that there will come a day when God will judge all mankind through the One that He has appointed to make this judgement.  Paul is saying that this unknown God who has created all things will bring all things back to Himself in a day of judgment.  We will all have to stand before this God and give account of ourselves.  This brings a real measure of seriousness to what Paul is saying.  Many of these Athenians as we have noted did not believe in life after death, and now Paul is saying that there is a final judgement by God at the end of life here on earth.  This is a very sobering thought.  These men ought to consider with great seriousness what Paul has to say.  Paul is now in the process of bringing an intellectual debate down to a heart felt and serious thing that they need to commit themselves to.  

Paul says that God has appointed someone to be this judge.  He does not give his name as yet.  I am sure that those listening are beginning to now wonder who Paul might be talking about.  He says that He has given authority to this one to judge by raising him from the dead.  Once again, we see Paul speaking of the resurrection, and life after death.  Would these people understand what he was saying?  They certainly did not believe in any such thing as life after death. Their motto would be “let us eat and drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die”.

Luke tells us in verse 32 just how these people took Paul’s words.  Some sneered.  That was to be expected. Yet on the other hand some wanted to hear more on this subject.  Their curiosity, and maybe the Holy Spirit, was getting the best of them.

Once again Paul had no alter call, no appeal for salvation.  Some people simply came to believe while he was speaking and became followers of Jesus.  The one thing we notice concerning Paul's interaction with these people is that he did not leave them with a pure intellectual debate.  He brought it all home to these men.  He confronted them with their sin, with Jesus, with repentance, and with judgment.  He brought them to a place where they had to make a decision about what he was saying.  

Luke tells us that a man named Dionysius believed what Paul said.  He was one of these influential men in Athens . Archeologists have discovered the name of this man as they have unearthed important discoveries in the old city of Athens.     



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