Acts 17 Second Trip (Thessalonica, Berea, Athens)

Tod Kennedy,  July 2, 2000

Main points of application or “So what?” from Acts 17

  1. Bible based evangelism is the best method. Explain Scripture and give biblical evidence for what you say (Acts 17.1-4).
  2. Unbelief can express itself by hatred and violence against believers. The gospel divides men (Acts 17.5-8, 13).
  3. Those who believe the gospel immediately become possessors of the spiritual royal birthright. This birthright is the foundation for all church age blessing and service (Acts 17.12).
  4. God designed, revealed, and authorized both Old Testament and New Testament doctrine. Neither one came from pagan religions (Acts 17.18-21).
  5. God has designed and orchestrated history, including nations and laws, so that mankind may come to God-consciousness, hear the gospel, and have the opportunity to believe the gospel (Acts 17.26-27).
  6. Apologetics, which is a defense of the faith or why we know the faith is true, is often an important part of  witnessing about Christ (Acts 17.18-31).
  7. What God is like, God’s nature and essence, is the most foundational truth for mankind (Acts 17.18-31).
  8. We ought to warn people that God will judge unbelievers. If one refuses to believe in Christ as his savior, then he must endure God’s wrath (Acts 17.31).
  9. When we present the gospel, there will be differing responses. Our ministry is to present the gospel accurately and clearly 9Acts 17.32-34).

Summary Outline

  1. Acts 17.1-4.  Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke traveled on the Egnatian Way from Philippi to Thessalonica, a distance of about 100 miles. This famous highway stretched 540 miles and connected Rome to its eastern provinces. When Paul reached Thessalonica, he resumed his practice of going first to the synagogue to teach the Jews that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. This had two advantages: first, Paul wanted to make sure that the Jews had a clear opportunity to believe in their Messiah, and second, the Jews already had a biblical frame of reference about the Messiah (Acts 17.3). The Jews had long awaited their Messiah; he would be their mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2.5; Hebrews 8.6), their king (Luke 19.38; John 1.49), their priest (Hebrews 2.17; 4.14-15; Hebrews 5.10). Paul’s biblical evangelism received a good response. Many believed in Christ as savior.
  2. Acts 17.5-6. As happened so often with Paul, he spoke so clearly and with such grace, confidence, and authority that people had a hard time staying neutral. Those who did not receive his message about Jesus the Christ got mad. They aroused the people into a riot and even gathered some “hired rioters” to further inflame the crowd. The trouble makers then went looking for Paul, apparently now staying with a man named Jason, so the crowd gathered at Jason’s house.
  3. Acts 17.7-9. Since the mob did not find Paul, they attacked Jason and forcibly took him to the authorities, to whom the rioters made false accusations—that the missionaries attempted to overthrow Caesar and put Jesus in his place. This was a serious accusation, but Roman law protected those with Roman citizenship; Thessalonica was in the Roman senatorial province of  Macedonia. The governing authorities made Jason pay a bond, money to guarantee that Paul would not incite revolution, and then let him go.
  4. Acts 17.10-15. The Thessalonian believers thought it best to get Paul out of town, so they sent him, Silas, Timothy, and probably Luke to Berea. Berea was a Macedonian city about fifty miles west of Thessalonica. The current name is Verria. They went to the synagogue to teach about Jesus the Messiah. Both Jews and Greeks believed the gospel and were given eternal life; they became part of Christ’s spiritual body, the church, members of God’s kingdom, and possessors of the church age spiritual royal birthright. Luke writes that the Bereans compared what Paul said with Scripture in order to determine whether his message was biblically true. This habit of comparing a teacher’s statements with Scripture is one that we all should develop; it is a protection of the priesthood of the believer and encourages us to spend time studying the Bible.  You can guess what happened: the Thessalonian Jews found out that the Bereans were believing in Christ as savior, so they rushed to Thessalonica and caused more rioting. It was time for Paul to again move on. A group of believers took Paul to Athens. Silas and Timothy stayed in Berea; they were to join Paul later at Athens.
  5. Acts 17.16-18. Athens had a history of classical sculpture, literature, oratory, and philosophy. Socrates (469-399 B.C.) and Plato (429-347 B.C.) were natives of Athens. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), Epicurus (341-270 B.C.), and Zeno (335-263 B.C.) moved to Athens. Epicurus founded a school in Athens in 306 B.C. Epicureans believed that the gods were uninterested in man and that pleasure and the tranquil life—freedom from the fear of the gods and of death, freedom from pain and anxiety—were the chief goals for man. Zeno founded the Stoic school in Athens. Stoics believed in rationalism, individualism, pantheism, and duty. Athens was a city full of idol temples and images. Athens was filled with religion but empty of Christ. As Paul waited for Silas and Timothy, he wandered the city and was provoked by the idolatry. In this religious climate he witnessed for Jesus Christ—in the synagogue and in the market—daily. As a result of his witnessing, he got into discussions with the philosophers. Paul was talking about Jesus and the resurrection, both new ideas to the Greek philosophers. The newness of the ideas to the philosophers demonstrates that Christianity did not borrow its foundational doctrines from ancient religions as some claim; Jesus the savior and the resurrection were new to the philosophers of Athens. (God designed and revealed both Old Testament Judaism and New Testament Christianity; they are one faith and the one faith is unique.)
  6. Acts 17.19-31. The philosophers took Paul to the ancient and famous Court of Areopagus. The name identified the place that city fathers met in early times to discuss concerns of politics and religion. In the time of Pericles (c. 495-425 B.C.) it was even a criminal court. The hill of Ares was 377 feet high. Ares is the Greek god of war. Mars is the Roman god of war and so Mars Hill is the Latin form of Areopagus. There philosophers discussed and debated ideas. The Court was well known, widely respected, and in Paul’s time was accepted as authoritative in religious and moral debate. To this court Paul was invited. They asked him about Jesus and the resurrection. Paul began by noting that they were a religious group. He then referred to an altar to an unknown god. These altars could be seen in Athens at that time. He then formed his message around the unknown God: 1. God is the creator and sovereign (17.24-25). 2. God, who began the human race with Adam, planned human history, including the divine dispensations, the way he did so that mankind might come to God-consciousness which means to believe that God exists and go from that belief to faith in the gospel (17.26-27). 3. Since God created us in his image, we should not reduce God to a metal image ; the creator cannot be reduced to an idol (17.28-29). 4. God has moved on from the past dispensation in which the revelation about Christ was partial to the present time when Jesus Christ has been fully revealed. God was patient; he has left that in the past. The message about Christ is now complete so God wants everyone to repent. An unbeliever’s repentance may hold off God’s judgment or prepare him to listen more closely to the gospel.  God wants each person to turn from his human viewpoint and sin and set his attention closely to the gospel so that he might understand it, believe it, and be saved (17.30). 5. Be sure that God’s judgment is coming; God will judge the world of mankind through his resurrected  Jesus Christ (17.31).
  7. Acts 17.32-24. The response to Paul’s message differed among the listeners. Some sneered at it, some wanted to hear it another time, and some believed and were saved. The parable of the sower taught the same things: when people present the gospel, there will be differing responses.

Dictionary of Bible Doctrine

  1. Eternal salvation comes to a person when he believers in Jesus as savior—faith alone in Christ alone. The good news is that Jesus Christ offers forgiveness and eternal life to all who believe in Him because He died in our place for our sins. Paul wrote of this in Romans 1.9, 15-16, 1 Corinthians 15.1-4, 2 Corinthians 10.1, Galatians 4.13, Ephesians 1.13, Philippians 4.15, and 2 Timothy 1.8. This good news or gospel of eternal salvation through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone is for the entire world. Eternal salvation becomes the possession of every person at the moment he believes in God’s Son for salvation. People wrongly try to add many things to the gospel—discipleship, changing one’s life, making Jesus the Lord of your life, stopping  sinning, performing Christian service, going to church, giving up certain activities, or obeying God. They may say that unless your life shows morality and Christian growth and service you may not be a Christian. They change grace—grace means that God has done everything Himself and offers us salvation for free—ever so subtly by making us do something to help insure our salvation. They change faith, again very subtly, by making it include obedience to God instead of simply believing in Christ. Faith is a belief, a trust, an inner conviction, a reliance that something is true—faith must be directed toward the right object, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2.8-9; Romans 1.4-8).
  2. Faith is the conviction that something is true; faith is trust; faith is reliance upon an object. Faith must have an object. We use faith every day. When we are driving a car and step on the brakes, we believe that they will slow the car down; that is faith. When we go to church we believe that there will be a service; that is faith. In order for a person to gain eternal life, he must believe the gospel, the good news about Jesus Christ. “Saving faith” is simple faith in the only object who is able and willing to save—Jesus Christ.  In biblical terms, saving faith “is the inward conviction that what God says to us in the gospel is true” (Zane Hodges, Absolutely Free, 31). What he said was that Jesus Christ,  the Son of God, was judged by God the Father for the sins of the world, including my sins, and that because of his substitutionary death he offers me eternal life if I will believe in him as my savior (John 1.12; 3.16; 20.31; Acts 16.31; Ephesians 2.8-9; 1 Timothy 1.15; 1 John 5.13). Jesus Christ is, as John said in John 1.29, “The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
  3. God-consciousness and gospel hearing identify the two stages of thought and decision that a person goes through before he believes in Jesus Christ as savior. God-consciousness is the stage when a person knows that God exists.  The age that this occurs varies with individuals and cultures. God has made it possible for every person to arrive at God-consciousness through natural revelation and through special revelation  (Romans 1.18-32; Psalm 19.1-6; Acts 14.17; 17.22-24,28; Colossians1.17; Titus 2.11). If, after God-consciousness, that person desires to have an eternal relationship with God through faith in the only savior, Jesus Christ, God will reveal the gospel to him—give him gospel hearing—so that he may believe, if he chooses, in Christ as savior and so become a child of God and possess eternal life  (John 7.17; Acts 17.26-27).
  4. Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are biblical names for different kinds of songs that believers sing. Psalms (yalmo~) are Bible words put to music. Examples are “Holy, Holy, Holy” from Isaiah 6.3 and “The Lord Is My Shepherd” from Psalm 23. Hymns (umno~) are doctrinal words put to music and addressed to God. Examples are “How Great Thou Art,” “Revive Us Again,” and “God Of Our Fathers.” Spiritual songs (wdh pneumatikh) are doctrinal testimonies addressed to oneself and to others. Examples are “O For A Thousand Tongues,” “Onward Christian Soldiers,” “Victory In Jesus,”  and “He Lives.”
  5. Roman administrative authority extended far beyond the city of Rome. Though Augustus did not originate the administrative system, he did give careful attention to it. Rome administered the lands that were not a part of the physical city by designating them as provinces,  territories, or  colonies. All fell under Rome’s administrative authority. The provincial system had two kinds of provinces, imperial and senatorial.  There were thirty-two provinces when Paul made his missionary trips: twenty-one were imperial provinces and eleven were senatorial provinces. An imperial province came under the direct control of the emperor. These provinces were in newer and more unstable areas of the empire. The emperor appointed a governor or imperial legate who served until death or until the emperor removed him. The emperor paid the governor a salary and  commanded just treatment of the people. The emperor also stationed  Roman legions in the provinces to keep peace and to protect Roman interests. Imperial provinces included Bithynia, Pamphylia, Galatia (with Lystra, Pisidian Antioch, and Iconium), Cappadocia, Syria (with Tarsus, Damascus, and Antioch of Syria), and after A.D. 70, Judea. A senatorial province was governed by the senate through a proconsul, who served a one year term. The emperor kept a watchful eye on the senatorial provinces. The proconsul had a small military force at his disposal. Senatorial provinces included Crete, Macedonia (with Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea), Achaia (with Athens and Corinth), and Asia (with Ephesus as the capital city). Territories were foreign lands ruled by a client-king. Often provinces began as territories. The king, later on, yielded the territory to Rome. Galatia, Cappadocia, Bithynia, Pamphylia, Macedonia, and Achaia began as territories. A Roman colony was a small piece of the city of Rome that was geographically separated from Rome; Luke correctly records that Philippi (Acts 16.12) was a Roman colony; Augustus had granted colony status to Philippi. The Roman colony policy began very early with groups of 300 families sent to garrison coastline cities. The colony policy changed over the years; political reasons surpassed strategic reasons and colonies were used for emigration of common folk or veteran soldiers. Colonies helped to Romanize native communities and to protect Rome’s interests. A colony was a small copy of Rome.
  6. Spiritual Royal Birthright is the possession of every church age believer. The birthright (the right or privilege to which a person is entitled by birth, American Heritage Dictionary) of every citizen of a country is the national heritage, national purpose, and reason for national courage. The birthright belongs to each citizen because he is a citizen. The value of the birthright depends, of course, upon the value and credibility of the founders and the founding documents. Every church age believer is a citizen of heaven: “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3.20). The Father has “transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved son” (Colossians 1.13). We are “sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.26). We are “in Christ…a new creation”  (2 Corinthians 5.17). We are “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 3.9). This relationship to God through Jesus Christ confers spiritual royalty upon us. We have, therefore, a spiritual royal birthright. God has given to every believer in the church a royal heritage, a royal mission, and a reason for royal courage. This threefold birthright is the foundation for living the Christian way of life (Philippians 1.27-30). Our royal birthright heritage is summarized in Philippians 1.27: “standing firm in one spirit” (sthkete en eni pneumati). This refers to our unique oneness or commonness of spiritual life in Christ. The three parts of our heritage are the in Christ heritage, the Word of God heritage, and the blessings of God heritage. Our royal birthright mission is summarized in Philippians 1.27: “striving together for the faith of the gospel”  (mia yuch sunaylountev th pistei tou euaggeliou). We actively serve together for the faith like athletes who train and compete in athletic games. Our common mission is to spread the gospel, learn and pass on the word of God, and support believers. Our personal mission is to produce divine good through our spiritual gifts combined with the filling with the Holy Spirit and the word of God in our souls. Our royal birthright courage is summarized in Philippians 1.28: “in no way alarmed by your opponents” (mh pturomenoi en mhdeni upo twn antikeimenwn). Courage is acting on what  we believe—faith-rest and faith-application. This spiritual courage, when used, makes us undaunted in the face of enemy attack. We have courage to fulfill our royal birthright mission because we have and believe our royal birthright heritage.
  7. Undeserved suffering is pressure, pain, ridicule, injustice, and any harassment  that a Christian faces because he is a believer in Christ or because he is living in a way that pleases God—the Christ-like life: by faith, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and according to the Word of God. Undeserved suffering is part of a believer’s supernatural Christian life (2 Corinthians 6.3-10). Undeserved suffering is not caused by personal sin, spiritual immaturity, or failure to apply Bible doctrine. Paul and Silas were witnessing about Christ and teaching Bible doctrine in the city of Philippi. Even though they both were Roman citizens and had broken no law, they were falsely accused, beaten, and imprisoned—because they were believers in Christ and living in a way that pleased God (Acts 16). Paul, during his first Roman imprisonment, continued to live occupied with Christ and ready and willing to carry on his God given ministry (Philippians 1). His faith in God and God’s word continued to clothe him and to encourage him during his second Roman imprisonment, even though he knew then that he faced physical death because he was a believer and living  Christ’s kind of life (2 Timothy 4.6-8). Believers who endure undeserved suffering through faith application of the Word of God are living examples of God’s grace, and this kind of life pleases God (1 Peter 2.19-20). When we endure undeserved suffering because Christ’s kind of life is living out through us we ought to rejoice; we have been granted a great privilege (1 Peter 4.13). We also are being blessed because the Spirit of God’s glory, the Holy Spirit, is at that time abiding in us (1 Peter 4.14). We ought to continue to live God’s kind of life—the Christ-like life—through the faith application of the Word of God, even if it brings more undeserved suffering on us (1 Peter 4.19). We have God’s promise that he is working his good out of hard circumstances (Romans 8.28), that he is on our side (Romans 8.31), that he will provide all the spiritual resources we need (Romans 8.29). God honors with the crown of life those who continue to live the supernatural Christian life while enduring undeserved suffering (Revelation 3.10).
  8. Witnessing  for Christ is our privilege; Peter witnessed to the Jewish crowd; they had gathered as a result of the miracle (Acts 3). Peter was a witness for Jesus Christ. He began with the current event that they had seen and used that to move into a message to persuade them that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. He said that to return to the message of the prophets and believe in Jesus Christ would bring blessing, but to reject Jesus Christ would bring judgment. Paul witnessed for Christ throughout his ministry (Acts 16-17). We are to witness for Christ (2 Corinthians 5.18-19). To witness for Christ, then, is to clearly communicate the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins, that he arose, and that whoever believes in him as savior will be given eternal life. Witnessing for Christ, along with teaching and learning Bible doctrine, is the mission of believers between Christ’s first and second comings. The believer gives the gospel, the Holy Spirit convinces the unbeliever and at faith regenerates, indwells, baptizes, seals, and gifts the new believer, and the Father sets in motion his plan for that believer (Matthew 28.18-20, 2 Timothy 3.15; John 16.8-11; Romans 1.14-16; 2 Corinthians 5.11-21).