In this chapter, we find Paul ministering the Word in the “synagogue” on the sabbath days, reasoning with others who met with him daily in the market place, and preaching the Word with power on Mars hill (Acts 17:1-3,10-17,22-31).
Jesus Set Forth as King
After finishing their ministry in Philippi, Paul and his company moved on to Thessalonica, “where was a synagogue of the Jews: and Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scripture, opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ (Messiah)” (Acts 17:1-3). We also know from verse 7 that they were preaching Jesus as “another king.” It is evident from these scriptures that Paul was not giving the truth that Jesus is head over the church, which is His body, but that He is the King of the Jews.
The word “alleging” means “setting forth.” In other words, Paul, in the synagogue of the Jews, set forth the scriptural fact that the Jews’ Messiah “must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead.” He was endeavoring to show them from the Word of God that the one whom they had crucified had been raised to be their King. This reminds us of the testimony of Christ in Luke 24:25-27, “Then He said unto them, 0 fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”
Just as Jesus Christ had used the Scriptures to set forth Himself, as the King from glory, so Paul used the Scriptures to do the same thing. The thing that the Jews stumbled over was the fact that He came as the lowly Nazarene, humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. They were looking for a king who would take unto himself his power and reign. In this they were unscriptural, because the Old Testament pictured Him clearly as the one who “must suffer” before He entered into His glory.
As Paul gave his clear scriptural testimony concerning Jesus, the Christ, “some of them believed, and consorted (cast their lot) with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few” (Acts 17:4). Among the believers was one, Jason, with whom Paul and his co-workers lodged.
However, there were many Jews who refused to accept the testimony of the Holy Spirit which was borne through Paul and Silas. These unbelievers were “moved with envy,” and “took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; whom Jason hash received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus. And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things. And when they had taken security of Jason, and of the others, they let them go”(Acts 17:4-9).
The above quotation brings out the fact that Paul and his co-workers had at that time already gained for themselves a reputation. They were known as men “that have turned the world upside down.” A careful study of Paul’s ministry will reveal the fact that wherever he preached there was either a revival or a riot. The world was already upside down and Paul’s message was such as to set it right. This caused the Christ rejecters to feel that he was turning the world upside down, when in reality he was only turning it right side up. None but the returning King of kings and Lord of lords will be able to adjust the peoples of the world to the changes that will take place when things are set right during the millennium.
The Noble Bereans
After the trouble in Thessalonica, “the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honorable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few” (Acts 17:10-12).
These Bereans were searchers of the Scriptures. So many present-day believers go to church, open their mouths like little birds in a nest and receive whatever the preacher drops in. The greatest need among believers today is the searching of the Scriptures. As we draw nearer to the close of the age we may expect false teachers to increase in number. Those who do not search the Scriptures will be led away into error, indeed, many have already been led into denominationalism and institutionalism because they have accepted the words of men rather than the Word of God. The Bereans had the nobility of heaven because they searched the Scriptures daily. We admonish our readers to do the same thing.
When the Jews which stirred up so much trouble in Thessalonica, became aware of the fact “that the Word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people” (Acts 17:13). This proves the fact that Satan follows the men who are giving the pure Word of God. He will not take the time to follow after and seek to destroy the works of those who preach moral reform ethics, and other things that go with the social gospel. Such workers never frustrate Satan’s plan and purpose, therefore, he doesn’t worry about them.
Paul Meets the Philosophers
From Berea, Paul moved on to Athens, where “his spirit was stirred in him when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him. Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? Other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection” (Acts 17:14-18).
The Epicureans believed that pleasure was the highest good. Their motto was “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow ye may die.” The Stoicks taught that the supreme good was virtue, and that man should be free from passion and moved by neither joy nor grief, pleasure nor pain. They were fatalists. They did not believe in a personal God, but argued that the universe in its totality is God.
These Epicurean and Stoic philosophers took note of Paul’s preaching. Even though they spoke of him as a babbler and one who set forth strange gods, yet they “took him, and brought him unto Areopagus (the hill of Mars where the great council of the Athenians was held), saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing)” (Acts 17:19-21).
The curiosity of these philosophers, together with the zeal on part of the Athenians and strangers, “to tell or to hear some new thing” was responsible for Paul’s open door on Mars Hill. They were all curious to know what new doctrine he had to offer.
The Mars Hills Message
“Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars Hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that He is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, seeing He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and bath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and bath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us; for in Him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your poets bath said, For we are also His offspring. For as much then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at: but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: because He bath appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom He bath ordained; whereof He bath given assurance unto all men, in that He bath raised Him from the dead” (Acts 17:22-31).
The fact that these Athenians had erected an altar to an Unknown God suggests that their many gods of gold, silver, and stone did not thoroughly satisfy. It was this unknown God that Paul desired to acquaint them with. He was known to Paul but unknown to the Athenians.
In this simple message Paul did not set forth before the Athenians Jesus, the King of the Jews; but he set forth the unity of God, the creative power of God, the relationship of man to God, the grace of God, the manifestation of God in the person of the Jesus Christ and the coming judgment of God through the risen Christ. His message sounded a death blow to idol worship and called attention to the fact that the Athenians like all others were commanded to “repent” or turn to the one true and living God.
Three groups of people were found in Paul’s Mars Hill audience. Some believed, others mocked, still others said, “We will hear thee again” (Acts 17:32-34). We find these same three groups in every audience we preach to today.
It is interesting to note that Dionysius, one of Paul’s converts, was an “Areopagite,” that is, he was a member of the Mars hill council, undoubtedly one of the philosophers who arranged for Paul to be heard on Mars Hill.