In Acts 17, we see the continued spread of the gospel on Paul’s missionary journey, as well as the objections he faced.
Paul in Thessalonica, Acts 17:1-9
On the next leg of his trip, we find Paul and the others in Thessalonica. They visited the Jewish synagogue and Paul taught there for three weeks (3 sabbath days). The presence of a synagogue tells us there was a Jewish presence in Thessalonica. Paul reasoned with those gathered for this time, showing them that the Messiah had to suffer and die. He proclaimed that Jesus is the Messiah.
“Then some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, including a great number of God-fearing Greeks, as well as a number of the leading women.” Acts 17:4
Here we see a difference in the acceptance of the message about Jesus Christ between Jews and Greeks. The wording of the text denotes that more God-fearing Greeks than Jews believed. However, we know that the message reached both Jews and Greeks, both men and women.
We have seen this pattern thus far in Acts: people are either convicted by the message of the cross or they are insulted by it. In the verses that follow, we see this adverse response taking place. The Jews grew jealous of the attention that Paul and Silas received and resorted to rioting and forming a mob, attacking the house where Paul and the others were staying.
Pail and Silas were not found. So, they dragged Jason, his family and the others who were in his home into the street, accusing them of housing the missionaries. What was the charge against Paul and the others? Those who protested against them accused Paul and the others of teaching a message that was contrary to Caesar’s decrees, proclaiming another King—Jesus (Acts 17:7).
The Message is Received at Berea, Acts 17:10-15
That same evening the brothers at Thessalonica sent Paul and Silas off to Berea, 45 miles west of Thessalonica.
Good news! We are told that the people at Berea were more open to the gospel. They received Paul’s teaching with eagerness and searched the Scriptures daily to see if the things that were being preached to them were so.
I don’t recall reading this testimony of any of the cities Paul visited thus far. Not all believed right away but they were open to the message, and were at the very least willing to listen to Paul and Silas and to examine the Scriptures and determine the authenticity of the message.
As a result, many believed. At Berea, we see a great number of conversions from the Jews and Greeks, men and women. This is remarkably different, and the difference was in the reading of Scripture to authenticate the message that is preached.
The Word of God—Genesis to Revelation—will always uphold and prove the resurrection!
When the gospel is spreading and people are believing in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and salvation, you can rest assured that adversity will follow.
The text tells us that the disgruntled Jews from Thessalonica found out about the acceptance of the message at Berea and they came there, disrupting the people.
The brothers sent Paul away rapidly. Silas and Timothy remained in Berea, to rejoin Paul at a later time.
Paul in Athens, Acts 17:16-21
While Paul was in Athens awaiting Silas and Timothy, his spirit was greatly disturbed by the idols that he saw.
Paul began to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks in Athens in the synagogue…But we also find Paul preaching in the marketplace every day. Moved by the idolatry he saw, Paul vehemently set out to teach the good news about Jesus Christ in Athens.
Athens was located approximately 200 miles from Thessalonica and it was home to great philosophers. The culture in Athens encouraged debate and we see this approach being a part of Paul’s teaching strategy here.
In Acts 17:18-19, we see Paul becoming the object of intrigue. The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers saw him as a pseudo-intellectual. While others thought of him as a teacher about deities. Either way, Paul became relevant enough to be the subject of their conversations.
In Acts 17:21, Luke provides a bit of cultural insight into the thought process of the locals:
“Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new.” Acts 17:21
These were debaters, your philosophers, your open-minded intellectuals who spent their time debating, coming up with new philosophies and embracing new thoughts. Sounds familiar?
In order to reach them with the message of the gospel, Paul needed to adapt His message—not dilute—the message of the resurrected Jesus.
If there was ever a question of why Jesus chose Paul to take His message, Acts 17 answers that quite well. He was a Jew to the Jews, a Roman citizen to the Romans and an apologetic to the philosophers…but at all times, he was a slave to Christ and a protector of the truth of the gospel.
The Aeropagus Address, Acts 17:22-34
Paul begins by acknowledging the Athenians devotion to religiosity. In acknowledging their religious zeal, Paul opened the ears of his listeners who are now more apt to listen to what he has to say.
Paul uses the inscription TO AN UNKNOWN GOD in the public square to present the known God to the Athenians who worshiped false gods.
Paul’s address focused on making the “unknown” God known to the Athenians beginning with the doctrine of creation.
15 Points of Paul’s Message in Athens
- The UNKNOWN GOD the pagans worship in ignorance has made Himself known (Acts 17:23).
- God made the world and everything in it (Acts 17:24)
- The true God is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in manmade shrines (Acts 17:24)
- He does not need anything from humans. He is self-sufficient (Acts 17:25)
- He gives men life and breath and all things (Acts 17:25)
- God created men of every nationality from one man (Acts 17:26)
- God establishes the lifespan of every man (Acts 17:26)
- God establishes the boundaries of where we all live (Acts 17:26)
- God set things up in the way He does so that men might seek Him and worship Him (Acts 17:27)
- God is not far from the reach of each one of us (Acts 17:27)
- In God, we live, move and have our existence (Acts 17:28)
- We are God’s offsprings (Acts 17:28)
- The divine nature is not fashioned by human hands or imagination (Acts 17:29)
- God has called for us to rise above ignorant knowledge of a god and into the knowledge of Him as the true God in repentance (Acts 17:30)
- God is going to judge the world in righteousness, by the Man He appointed, having provided proof that everyone by raising Him from the dead (Acts 17:31)
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The Response to Paul’s Message (Acts 17:32-34)
As we have seen in previous chapters, the message of the gospel often elicits these 3 responses. I will list them as they appear in this chapter:
- Ridicule. Some of the men ridiculed Paul when he spoke of the resurrection of the dead. Ironically, these were men who worshipped various gods and had an altar to an “Unknown God”, yet they could not fathom a God who is able to raise the dead back to life.
- Curiosity. Others, we are told, wanted to learn more from Paul. The message Paul delivered peeked their curiosity and stirred something in them that made them want to hear Paul again.
- Belief. Some believed. Those who believed joined Paul, and among them were men and women.