Lesson 49 - Chapter 17:1-21

Lesson 49 - Chapter 17:1-21

Lesson for April 9, 2017

The Book of Acts

Chapter 17:1-21

“Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women. But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people. When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also; and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” They stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things. And when they had received a pledge from Jason and the others, they released them.The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men. But when the Jews of Thessalonica found out that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea also, they came there as well, agitating and stirring up the crowds. Then immediately the brethren sent Paul out to go as far as the sea; and Silas and Timothy remained there. Now those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they left.”

From the very beginning of his missionary journeys Paul established a pattern which he always followed. He would go into a city and locate the synagogue of the Jews. He always went to the Jews first. The basis for following this custom is found in Romans 9-11. The Greek word for reasoned is “dialegomai” meaning to have a dialogue. This dialogue came from the Scriptures - the Old Testament. Explaining and giving evidence was done out of the Scriptures. Paul explained how the Old Testament spoke of Christ and by doing so he clearly explained the Gospel to those gathered in the synagogue, both Jews and Gentiles. Paul’s whole point was that God the Father guaranteed that Jesus Christ would come, and that anyone living in Old Testament times could read their Scriptures and could see that Christ was going to come. And Paul explained that Jesus was the Christ (the promised Messiah). The result of his message was many believed.

However, as always, there were those religious leaders who did not believe and were jealous of Paul and Silas. These Jews had negative volition and rejected Christ as Savior. They were religious and religion is the greatest enemy of Christianity. Because of their envy they began to take action. Religion uses the mob mentality. Here the religious Jews are the ones who hired the mob. When you use the word “mob” you are talking about people who have rejected the principles of the divine institutions, and whether their cause is just or not they have destroyed their cause by the violent means whereby they seek to rectify the situation. They simply became criminals by violating Roman law.

Set the city in an uproar; and attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people.” The word in Greek for uproar is “thorubeo, which means to incite a riot, to cause a commotion, and technically it means to disturb the peace. The Greek word for attacking is “ephistemi,” which means to assault. They were violent and destroyed the principle of law and order.

The mob then became frustrated in their attempt to get rid of Paul and Silas, so they dragged a believer named Jason at whose house Paul and Silas were staying, and other believers before the city authorities.

Rulers of the city is one word in Greek: “politarches,” which was a Hellenistic and Roman-era Macedonian title for an elected governor of a city. The city of Thessalonica was given the status of a free city by the Roman Empire, of which there were only about half a dozen outside of Italy, e.g. Tarsus, Thessalonica, Athens. The Romans allowed these cities to choose their own form of government. Thessalonica chose politarchs, translated here “rulers of the city.”

(Archaeologists discovered a marble arch in Thessalonica that was dated at the time of the reign of Claudius Caesar, the time when Paul was there. By this arch it was discovered that politarchs were ruling the city of Thessalonica, and they were actually named. There were seven named on this arch, and at some point three of them were actually friends of Paul. One is Sopater of Berea—Acts 20:4; Gaius of Macedonia—Acts 19:29; Secundus—Acts 20:4.)

“When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also; and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar.” Satan uses the mob to obscure the truth, but Bible doctrine changes people, and when the people are changed there is dramatic change in the world. The Greek word for act is “prasso,” which means to practice. Then the Greek word for contrary is “apenanti,” which means against something. They were accused of practicing something that was against the decrees of Caesar, which was simply Roman law.

“Saying that there is another king, Jesus” uses the Greek word “heteros” for another, which means another of a different kind. Paul was not saying that Jesus was a secular king, His kingdom was spiritual. The religious leaders had obviously heard the Gospel, they had distorted what Paul said, and had taken this distortion and used it as a basis for saying Paul is against the Roman law.

After posting bail, they let Jason and his friends go. The Romans would not permit the violation of their law and these politarchs were smart enough to realize that this mob activity was contrary to the principle of Roman law and the sooner they got rid of the mob the better.

Opposing the Gospel in Thessalonica began with negative volition at the point of Gospel hearing producing a vacuum into which was sucked the mental attitude sin of jealousy. The religious Jews were jealous of Paul and Silas. Mental attitude sins often lead to acts of antagonism and revenge. In this case jealousy produced a mob and a riot used to attack Paul. A mob acts on their emotions and the prejudice of the ones who organizes them. Religion uses riots to disrupt good government and bully it into a course of action which is wrong and dishonest. Therefore in this case religion used a rioting mob in order to influence the civil government into stopping the presentation of the Gospel. The emotional and rioting mob acted upon the government until the government was reduced to the same emotional level as the mob. Behind the scene religion was manipulating the mob. It is not the objective of Christianity to disrupt local governments.

“The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.” Paul and Silas now go to Berea fifty miles away. As always, Paul goes to the Jews first. This time however he encountered a group of positive men and women who were more open-minded to the truth of the Gospel.

“Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men.” The word which they received was primarily Old Testament scriptures. And they examined them closely. To see whether is a fourth class condition [I hope you are], which indicates that they are searching the Scriptures to prove him right. They wanted these things to be true but they had to find out for themselves by going to the only authority they had, the Old Testament. These were Jews, and there was a large synagogue in Berea and a large company of Jews. Therefore because of their positive volition and their eagerness toward doctrine, many of them believed which was a tremendous response to the Gospel in Berea. There were some prominent women and men of nobility who lived in that town and they accepted Christ as Savior.

“But when the Jews of Thessalonica found out that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea also, they came there as well, agitating and stirring up the crowds.” The same group from Thessalonica followed the apostles to Berea to stir up trouble there. The religious Jews followed Paul throughout his entire life providing constant opposition. Paul had to learn quickly that the battle was the Lord’s.

“Then immediately the brethren sent Paul out to go as far as the sea; and Silas and Timothy remained there. Now those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they left.” Paul’s next stop was going to be Athens. Silas and Timothy remained behind to organize the church.

Verses 16-21

“Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.” (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)”

Paul was now waiting for Silas and Timothy. “His spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols.” The Greek word for provoked is “parozuno,” which means extreme anger. The word for spirit refers to the human spirit, the area his Bible doctrine was stored. Paul had a maximum understanding of doctrine. He could not tolerate the 30,000 idols that exist around him. In his righteous anger he devised a plan. This was justified anger, an attitude toward false doctrine. The plan he developed was to have Athens judge him. In order to be judged in Athens it was first of all necessary to go all over the city and declare your position on any given subject. He was going to make this great city actually put him on trial. He had to somehow get himself before the people.

“So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.” Paul always went to the synagogue first, and Athens had a very large Jewish population. The word reasoning is a technical Greek word “dialegomai,” and it means to use a question and answer system. After he had been doing this for a few days everyone was talking about the Gospel and this strange person who brought it to them, and there was immediately a reaction from the two philosophical schools in the city of Athens.

And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him.” There were two philosophical systems, the first of which was known as the Epicureans. They derived the name from the founder Epicurus. His whole concept of philosophy was that happiness should be achieved through some form of pleasure. The second was known as the Stoics, founded by an Athenian philosopher by the name of Zeno. His name comes from the Greek word stoa, which means porch. Zeno taught on the porch of the various temples. Those who became adherents to this system were called porch people or stoics. Zeno took issue with Epicurus and said that the most important thing in life is your mind, what you think: reason should be the criterion instead of emotion. He said that the trouble with Epicurus was that he was too emotional and was constantly catering to his emotion through the gratification of self and the seeking of pleasure. So reason was the criterion instead of emotion and man must be in control of his emotions so that he can think well. He said that the most important thing in life was not pleasure but virtue. Neither the Epicureans nor the Stoics could make anything of what Paul said, they didn’t understand it, and therefore for the first time in their lives they were baffled and didn’t have an immediate answer by which they could refute what he was saying.

“Some were saying, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.” The word babbler is the Greek word “spermologos” meaning seed-picker. A seed-picker generally referred to a bird like a crow picking up seeds. About 200 years before Paul arrived the word “seed-picker” was transferred from the birds to people. Apparently one day some man went through the marketplace where the philosophers gathered to debate and tried to palm himself off as being smart. So, one of the philosophers called him a seed-picker. This meant that he was going around the marketplace picking up little scraps of information just as the birds were picking up little seeds. Then he would repeat them and pretend that he knew something that he really didn’t. In other words, a seed-picker was someone who wasn’t really very bright but would pass himself off as being brilliant. The term was used here in a derogatory fashion for the apostle Paul. It was apparent that they could not understand what he was saying, so to them he was babbling. Paul seemed to be announcing an alien god with whom they were not familiar. He was, of course, preaching Jesus and the Resurrection.

“And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.” The Areopagus was a courtroom apparently named after the Greek god Aries who was the god of war. Remember that Paul had deliberately gone through Athens making an issue of the Gospel so that they would be forced to take him and examine his message. In reality they were not going to put Paul on trial, they were going to put Christianity on trial. This was exactly what Paul wanted.

So Paul was now being put on trial in the courtroom by the people of Athens.

May we know was a polite question but it was actually filled with a great deal of sarcasm. To them this was a “new teaching.” It was entirely foreign to their thinking that man would be regarded as a sinner needing a savior. Added to this, the people of Athens had a vacuum in their minds due to negative volition. Into that vacuum had entered religion and rationalism. They were now ready to hear Paul’s teaching because they always wanted to hear something new. (II Timothy 3:7)