Acts chapter 17         Next chapter         Back to Bible Studies       

It is amazing to see how, despite what had happened in Phillipi just earlier, Paul upon his arrival in Thessalonica, goes once again into the Jewish synagogue. There he reasoned with the Jews for three days proving that Jesus was the Messiah. As a result, a number of Jews and a large number of Greeks and prominent women believed. In verse 5 we read: "...but the Jews were jealous". This is the same response we find in Acts 13:45: "When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying" and again in Acts 5:17: "Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy...". The motive for their actions against Paul and his companions is revealed - pure jealousy. But what is the reason for this jealousy? The Jews were jealous because many people - sometimes crowds - were persuaded by Paul's message and believed. We need to remember that the Jews also tried to convert (proseletyse) gentiles (to Judaism), but obviously with far less success than Paul's conversion of them to Christ. It was somewhat like a new 'upstart' coming to a town preaching the Gospel and making the religious establishment look bad by converting people - we still find the same attitudes today.

Unfortunately the Jews succeed in driving Paul from Thessalonica by having Jason and some other brothers arrested and forcing them to put up security. Rather than have them suffer loss, Paul and Silas leaves the same night for Berea. In Berea Paul finds a group of Jews who were of good character and took his message seriously, receiving it with great eagerness. They 'searched the Scriptures every day' to see if what Paul said was true.  This must have been like a breath of fresh air to Paul - at last...someone who is actually willing to search the Scriptures to see whether what he was saying was true! The Bereans are a great example to us in our own walk in terms of Scripture being the final reference point for truth. It is surprising to see the severity of the hatred for Paul that the Jews from Thessalonica had, because not content with running him out of their own city, they make the journey to Berea to do the same there, causing Paul to leave for Athens.

In verse 16, the original Greek states that Athens was 'covered in Idols' which gives us some idea of the spiritual state of the city. Paul wastes no time and immediately goes into the synagogue to explain to them that Jesus is the Messiah. Not only that but he also speaks in the marketplace and gets invited to speak at the Areopagus. Athens was known as a city where the latest philosophy or idea was the order of the day and so we find Paul also being given the opportunity to speak. He starts his address by saying (in the Greek text) 'I see that you are very careful in your worship' and they were indeed careful - even erecting an altar to the 'unknown god'. By this it is clear that they were actually very superstitious and did not want to offend any 'god' lest things did not go well with them! Paul uses this very cleverly by declaring that it is this 'unknown' God that he was going to tell them about. He also uses statements made by their own Greek poets about the Greek god Zeus to build a bridge to and connect with his audience. Verse 28 is often quoted as being words that Paul spoke, but in fact he is simply quoting from two Greek poems written by the poets Epimenides and Aratus - see below:

The Poem of Epimenides:

    They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one—
    The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!
    But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever,
    For in thee we live and move and have our being.

The fourth line is quoted (with attribution only to "your own poets") by Paul in verse 28.

The 'Phaenomena' of Aratus:

Paul, speaking of God, quotes the fifth line of Aratus's Phaenomena in verse 28

    Let us begin with Zeus, whom we mortals never leave unspoken.
    For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus.
    Even the sea and the harbour are full of this deity.
    Everywhere everyone is indebted to Zeus.
    For we are indeed his offspring...

Paul argues brilliantly and his logic cuts through the vague ideas of their religion - especially when he reasons that since we are God's offspring (a statement they themselves agree with), how then can they think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone - something made by human hand...Paul is challenging the very basis of their religion and we need to subject our own ideas to this kind of scrutiny. If we cannot give a coherent answer as to why we believe what we believe, we need to ask ourselves some serious questions. Sometimes people try to avoid the issue by quoting Jesus's words in Matthew 18 about becoming and believing 'like a child', but the fact is even a child will be able to give you a reason for the trust they have in their parent. Far too many people that I speak to these days express very vague and often borrowed ideas when asked deeper questions about the basis of their faith.

As a sobering reference we looked at Matthew 22:11: “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless. “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’  

The moment Paul mentions the resurrection, the listeners lose interest and some begin to sneer and yet the subject of the resurrection is exactly the high point to which Paul has been working. This is something we find in all Paul's preaching - the resurrection is central to the Gospel. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:14:"And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith...". But before we can truly understand the significance of the resurrection, we need to grasp the significance of death in terms of the wages of sin, how death came into the world in the first place and how the resurrection is an overturning of all that. This led us to a study of the resurrection with close reference to the scriptures which are listed below, starting at the very beginning - Genesis 2:17 and 3:4. Please study these scriptures and pray that God Himself will show you the significance of the resurrection, by revelation.

Genesis 2:17/3:4   Hebrews 2:14   Romans 6:20-23

and then:

Matthew 20:28
John 10:10
John 11:25-26
Philippians 3:10-11
Romans 1:4
Romans 4:25
Romans 5:9-11
Romans 6:3-10
Romans 10:9
2 Corinthians 4:10

Finally, we looked at the vision of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37:1-10 which gives us a wonderful picture of what has to happen to us - going from dry bones on a valley floor to people into whom God breathes life - the resurrection life of Jesus Christ!