For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2001 James Melough

17:1.  “And when they had passed through Amphipolis and Appolonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews.” 

The reference to a synagogue in Thessalonica seems to imply that there was none in the other two places, and since it was Paul’s policy to visit the synagogue and preach first to the Jews, the absence of a synagogue in the other two cities may explain the absence of reference to preaching or to converts there. 

17:2.  “And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,”

According to his custom Paul first brought the gospel to the Jews, for though he was the apostle to the Gentiles, the divine order was “to the Jew first.”  Since three is the biblical number or resurrection, his preaching to them for three sabbath days declares that they, like all who hear the gospel, had the opportunity to be raised up out of spiritual death into the enjoyment of eternal life.

“... reasoned with them” means to discuss in argument or exhortation, and his doing it from the Scriptures assures us that there is nothing illogical about faith.  If a man will not be convinced from the written Word he will not be convinced by anything else, for it is the only authority relative to the salvation of a man’s soul. 

17:3.  “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.”

The Scriptures were the OT, for the NT hadn’t yet been written, and it was from that same source that the Lord showed the same truths to the two on the road to Emmaus, “And beginning at Moses (the Pentateuch, the first five books of the OT) and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself,” Lk 24:27.  But where in the OT do we find any mention of Christ, of His sufferings, His death, or His resurrection?  The revelation is given, not in its literal, but in its symbolic or typological language: for example, few will fail to see that Isaac bound on the altar, but then released, is a type of Christ in death and resurrection; or that Daniel cast into the lions’ den, but emerging from it alive, is the symbolic or typological revelation of the same truth.  The OT in fact is studded with typological pictures of Christ, and he who fails to understand the symbolic language of Scripture fails to understand a vital part of it.  It is only as we understand the Bible’s typology that we too will be able effectively to refute the arguments of unbelief, and prove that Jesus is the Christ, the Jewish Messiah, the Savior of the world.   Such evidence is irrefutable. 

At this point the question may well be asked, Why has God used typology and symbols in the OT rather than direct language?  and the answer is the same as the one He gave when questioned about His use of parables in the NT, “This people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest at any time they should see ... and hear ... and understand ... and should be converted, and I should heal them,” Mt 13:15.  In other words, the knowledge of God and the way of salvation are not for those who are indifferent to spiritual things.  Before a man can be saved he must be willing to learn how desperately he needs salvation, hence the need of the gospel preacher to first arouse fear in the heart of those he hopes to lead to Christ, for until a man becomes afraid of dying in his sins, he cannot be saved.  Fear is an essential part of the biblical gospel, and the deadly flaw in today’s polite invitation to “receive Jesus into your heart” as the Panacea for life’s problems rather than to cleanse from sin and fit for heaven, is the absence of any fear.  The gospel expunged of fear will save no one.

The need to convince the Jews that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, is because the expectation of the Jew was the coming of the One whose advent was foretold in the OT, and they must be made to see that the Jesus they had crucified and Who had risen again, was indeed the One Who had fulfilled everything written in their own Scriptures relative to the Messiah.

“... and risen again from the dead.”  Belief in the resurrection is an essential part of the salvation equation, as it is written, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved,” Ro 10:9.    

This was the great stumbling block to the Jews.  Their attention was so focused on the coming of the Messiah as the mighty Lion of Judah, conquering and ruling, that they failed to heed the equally clear declaration of their own Scriptures that He must first come as the Lamb of God to die and rise again to make atonement for sin, and then seven years later return in power and glory as the Lion of Judah.

17:4.  “And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.”

Some of the Jews believed and consorted (associated themselves with) God’s servants.  Believers are drawn to other believers, for it is a false profession that leaves the supposed convert happy in the company of the unconverted.

Very many of the devout Gentiles, i.e., those who had either become Jewish proselytes or who regularly attended the synagogue services; and some influential women, perhaps wives of leading men in the city, also believed.

The “great multitude” of Gentile converts confirms that Israel’s day of grace was almost ended.  The blessings forfeited by that nation’s unbelief were about to be offered to the Gentiles, reminding us of God’s warning to all who refuse to believe the gospel, “My spirit shall not always strive with man,” Ge 6:3; “He, who being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy,” Pr 29:1.

17:5.  “But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, 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 unto the people.” 

Envious of the multitudes who were responding to the gospel, compared with the occasional convert they were able to win to Judaism, they sought to destroy the new work, as the Lord Himself had declared, “Ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in,” Mt 23:13.  And in typical fashion they had others do their dirty work, while they, as always, hid behind the cloak of religion.  This is another confirmation of the fact that organized religion is the relentless foe of all that pertains to faith, the pages of history bearing eloquent and incontrovertible evidence to that truth.

“... took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort.”  The men they used were literally vile, worthless, wicked rowdies of the streets.  The religious, but unbelieving opponents of the gospel have never quibbled about methods as long as they can find others to do the actual evil work, as the Jews had the Romans crucify Christ while they themselves piously refused to enter the judgment hall on the sabbath, “lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover,” Jn 18:28.   “...and set all the city on an uproar....”  They had no compunction about breaking the law themselves, while hypocritically preserving their own appearance of righteousness by inciting others to do the actual deeds.  Religious Rome has often used the same pious ploy.

“... and assaulted the house of Jason.”

Little is known of this Jason other than that he was a believer who had befriended Paul and Silas, and had taken them into his home, for which his house was now being attacked so that the enemies of the gospel might get their hands on God’s servants.  The only other reference to him is in Ro 16:21, from which it appears that he was a relative of Paul.

“... and sought to bring them out to the people,” is literally to bring them before the magistrates, the rulers of the city, for the obvious purpose of having them condemned as criminals, and either imprisoned or executed.

17:6. “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;”

17:7.  “Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.”

Failing to find their intended victims, their envious rage was unleashed on the nearest substitutes whom they dragged before the authorities, declaring that those whom Jason had befriended, were they who had “turned the world upside down,” i.e., were revolutionists who had come to Thessalonica to incite revolution against Caesar, and that Jason’s having received them made him guilty of the same crime.

“... and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar.”  That their charge was a lie troubled them as little as did that of their compatriots when accusing the Lord before Pilate.  Religious morality can make very nice distinctions between right and wrong when it comes to justifying the persecution of those who belong to Christ.  It is significant that the accusation was very similar to that made against the Lord, the charge being that He made Himself a King in opposition to Caesar, Lk 23:2; Jn 19:12; and it was the Lord Himself Who foretold that as it was with the Master, so would it be also with the servant, Jn 15:20.

17:8.  “And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things.” 

17:9.  “And when they had taken security of Jason, and of the other (others), they let them go.”

It is the Lordship of Christ that troubles the world.  Consider the consternation produced at the time of His birth, by the question of the wise men, “Where is he that is born king of the Jews?” Mt 2:2-3.  Nor is the reason difficult to find.  In Christ, Satan the evil prince of this world, recognizes his Nemesis, for he knows that his own malevolent reign will soon be brought to an end by that same Christ Who will wrest the scepter from his profane grasp, and thrust him into the bottomless pit, Re 20:1-3.

17:10.  “And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews.” 

What may have seemed like victory for the enemy, was overruled by God for the furtherance of the gospel.  It was His next step in having the gospel brought to the city of Berea.  There was no further need of Paul and Silas in Thessalonica.  The good seed had been planted, and had taken root; and that it flourished is certified by what is recorded in the two epistles (1 and 2 Thessalonians) which Paul later sent to the church there. 

In Paul’s going into the synagogue we continue to see the same pattern relative to the preaching of the gospel first to the Jews.

17:11.  “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.” 

The nobility of the Berean Jews was not intrinsic: it was because they believed the Word.  The unbelieving Thessalonians Jews might have earned this commendation also had they believed.  It was the states of mind that made the difference.  The Bereans readily received the message: the unbelieving Thessalonians refused it.  But the Berean believers weren’t guilty of mere unreasoning belief: they searched the Scriptures for verification of the message, and the skeptical Thessalonians unbelievers might have done the same.  Faith is not the unreasonable thing the world would try to make it out to be.  It is unbelief that is unreasonable, for it refuses even to read what God has written, and in regard to that testimony it is such that only a fool will reject it.  Consider, for example biblical prophecy.  With the bulk of prophecy already fulfilled, history confirms that not one such prophecy has been wrong even down to the minutest detail, leaving no question in any reasonable mind that the tiny part remaining to be fulfilled will prove to be equally accurate.

But proof of the divine authorship of the Bible isn’t limited to prophecy.  Its numerical structure, its typology, its consistent symbolism, etc., are only a few of many other verifications that it is what it claims to be: the inspired Word of God. 

17:12.  “Therefore many of them (Jews) believed; also of honorable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.” 

Careful examination of Scripture leaves no room for unbelief.  The unbeliever is the careless man who will not read. 

17:13.  “But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people.” 

The tenacious antagonism of the unbelieving Thessalonian Jews impelled them to pursue Paul and Silas to Berea, and to employ the same methods there as they had used in Thessalonica, to try to stop the spread of the gospel.  The self-righteous religionist, Jew and Gentile alike, will neither believe himself, nor suffer others to do so, as the Lord declared in Mt 23:13.  And in Berea, as everywhere else, these hypocrites had others do their evil work while they hid behind the mask of religion.

17:14.  “And then immediately the brethren sent away Paul to go as it were to the sea: but Silas and Timotheus abode there still.” 

The brethren, apparently recognizing that Paul was the primary target of the enemy, circumvented their evil designs by simply sending the apostle out of the city, thus reducing the possibility of a public demonstration which would have aroused undesirable attention against the church. 

17:15.  “And they that conducted Paul brought him unto Athens: and receiving a commandment unto Silas and Timotheus for to come to him with all speed, they departed.” 

Having arrived in Athens, those who had accompanied Paul there were sent back to Berea with instructions to Silas and Timothy to join the apostle as quickly as possible, he apparently realizing that the need in Athens was far greater than in Berea. 

Those Berean believers, who daily searched the Scriptures, needed little assistance; nor does any other believer who does the same thing, for the Holy Spirit will teach the obedient searcher after truth.

17:16.  “Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.”

The stirring of Paul’s spirit was the result of his close fellowship with God; and it is only as we also walk with God that we will see things from His perspective.  We will see men as He sees them: lost, and on their way to hell and the eternal torment of the lake of fire.  Only that realization can arouse the compassion that will impel us to preach the Gospel with a genuine concern for men’s souls.  He who lives at the world’s level will see things only from that perspective, with the result that he will have little or no care about the things that are of concern to God.

What troubled Paul was their idolatry, their giving to non-existent gods what belonged to the God Who does exist, but Whom they didn’t know.  His compelling passion was to teach them about that God.  This is the business of every believer.

17:17.  “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.”

Consistent with his set policy, Paul went first to the synagogue where he spoke to the Jews, and “devout persons” (proselytes), “disputed” being used here in the sense of reasoning, discussing, arguing with them, undoubtedly seeking to show them that the Jesus they had crucified was the Messiah.  It was not only the idolatrous Gentiles who needed to be taught: it was those who should have known and who should have been teaching the Gentiles.  These religious Jews and proselytes were equally ignorant of the truth relative to Christ.  And it is the same today: the Jews and the religious but unconverted Gentiles are in as much need of the Savior as the rest of the world.

“... and in the market daily.”  In the market place Paul spoke with as many as would listen to him.  Those in the market place represent the indifferent worldlings too busy with the world’s business to give any thought to spiritual things.  They too were the objects of Paul’s concern, and they should be of ours also.  Our witness is to be in “the market place,” i.e., amid the ordinary affairs of life.”  There is no special place or time for witnessing.  This is our principal business, every day and every place being the sphere of our activity.

“... them that met with him,” is literally “those who happened to be at hand” or “whom he happened to find.”  Every person with whom we have any contact is one to whom we ought to present the gospel, even if time or circumstances permit nothing more than the giving of a tract.

17:18.  “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.”

Athens was the great center of learning and philosophy in those days, and in Col 2:8 we are warned against being spoiled through philosophy.  Two types of philosophers are introduced (1) the Epicureans, those who taught that the pursuit of pleasure, not knowledge, ought to be man’s chief concern, and (2) the Stoics, who taught that man ought to accommodate himself to natural laws, and refrain from any extremes of emotion.  The world’s philosophies are myriad, but possessed of a common attribute: they turn men away from God, and lead them into hell.

The word “encountered” is used here in the sense of disputing or debating, and points to the basic spirit of all philosophy: it is opposed to everything that is of God.  And their derisive description of God’s servant points to another feature of philosophy: it is proudly disdainful of all that is spiritual.  We do well to remember, however, that pride proved to be the ruin of Lucifer, as it will be of every man, for pride keeps him from acknowledging his need of a Savior, an acknowledgment that is an imperative of conversion.

“Babbler” was a derisive term meaning literally “a picker of scraps or seeds (of learning),” and was used to describe an uneducated person who by using scraps of learning picked up at random, attempted to pass himself off as being educated.  In applying it to Paul they were expressing their contempt of him.

“He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods.”  Such was their blindness that they could see nothing strange in their own multitude of false gods  It is the same today.  Men can’t see the folly of their idolatrous worship of the gods of money, pleasure, learning, etc., nor even of their empty formal “Christian” religion, which in so many ways runs counter to the Scriptures.

“... because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.”  Paul never preached anything else, nor should we, “For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved,” Ac 4:12. 

“... and the resurrection.”  Belief in the resurrection of Christ is another imperative of salvation, Ro 10:9; Ac 1:22, because it is the guarantee that God has accepted Christ’s sacrifice.  A Christ still in the tomb has no hope to offer any sinner, but a Christ raised and returned to heaven assures all believers that they will enter that same heaven.  His resurrection is the guarantee of our justification, as it is written,  “Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification,” Ro 4:25.  

17:19.  “And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?”

The Areopagus was the name of the city council, which appears to have also acted in some judicial capacity and which held session in the  auditorium on Mars hill, the hill itself, in fact, sometimes also being called the Areopagus.  There is nothing to indicate that this was an arrest of Paul, but rather the removal of all interested parties to this public auditorium for a fuller discussion of what he was teaching.  For him it was an exceptional opportunity to present the gospel.

Areopagus means a martial peak, and in the present context is peculiarly appropriate, for that day it was the scene of a battle between the forces of light and of darkness, for the souls of men.  But then, as now, only faith saw it as such.  To unbelief it was simply another philosophic debate, and significantly, few were saved in Athens, see verse 34.  Men interested only in debate will never be saved.  Salvation is not for the debater, but for the obedient hearer, the convicted sinner.   

17:20.  “For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.”

The Gospel is always strange to natural ears; and with these Athenians, only the intellect was involved.  The consciences of the majority were unaffected, but apart from a convicted conscience there can be no salvation.

17:21.  “(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.)”

Such also is the world we live in.  The pursuit of worldly knowledge, a keeping up with all the latest news, is the occupation of society; but in the midst of all this there is no searching after God, no curiosity about the hereafter. 

“ ... spent their time.”  How little thought men give to how they spend their time, and still less to how they will spend eternity, yet the passage from time to eternity will result in their having to give a full accounting for every moment of life. Compounding the eternal torment of the lake of fire will be the bitter remorse of contemplating the dreadful results of not having taken the time on earth to accept God’s priceless gift of salvation and eternal life! 

17:22.  “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.”

A better rendering of “too superstitious” is “very religious,” a fact verified by the many shrines and images of the so-called gods they worshiped.  Today’s equally wicked world is similarly religious, but equally ignorant of the true God.  It was in the midst of such men that the despised servant of God stood up to preach Christ crucified and risen again.  It was Christ the Athenians needed, and it is Christ that the twentieth century world also needs.  God needs men like Paul to stand up and also fearlessly preach that same Gospel.  

17:23.  “For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.  Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.”

“Devotions” is literally “your shrines” or “the objects of your worship.”     Paul, rather than attacking their idolatry, met them on the basis of their ignorance, and undertook to show them the true God.  Nothing would have been accomplished by criticizing their false worship, nor is anything accomplished today by criticizing a man’s religion.  His need is to be shown the true God, for he is not condemned by his ignorant idolatry, but by his not knowing Christ as his Savior.  It is significant that God takes a very different view of sins of ignorance as compared with those committed in the face of enlightenment.  Israel wasn’t condemned for crucifying Christ, but for refusing to believe on Him as a resurrected Savior, Ac 3:17.  Note also the difference between John’s word to the uninformed multitudes, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” Mt 3:2, and  his denunciation of the religious leaders, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Mt 3:7; and the Lord’s denunciation of the same religious leaders, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do....” Jn 8:44.  Once light has been given and rejected, there is no further hope, “For if we sin wilfully , there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries,” He 10:26-27.

17:24.  “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;”

Since these were Gentiles to whom the Jewish Scriptures meant nothing, there was no point in his appealing to Scripture, so he appealed to creation to prove the existence of God, for to any reasonable mind, an ordered creation functioning according to evident fixed principles, implies the existence of an intelligent and all powerful Creator.  Today, scientists so-called, writhing and twisting like the old serpent who uses them to try to disprove the existence of such a Creator, simply display their own ignorance.  Belief in the existence of God is essential to salvation, as it is written, “He that cometh to God must believe that he is....” Heb 11:6, hence Satan’s ceaseless efforts to blind and corrupt the minds of men so that they will believe the ridiculous “theories” of so-called science, rather than accept the incontrovertible evidence of an ordered creation.

The God to Whose existence creation testifies, obviously has no need of a man-made temple for a dwelling place.  What is not sufficiently recognized is that the two structures: the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, which God commanded Israel to make as symbolic dwelling places for Him, were both designed, not to be actual dwelling places, but to be typological presentations of the Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom believers become individually and corporately the temples in which God dwells through the Holy Spirit, as it is written, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” 1 Cor 3:16.  See also 1 Cor 3:17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:19-22.

17:25.  “Neither is worshiped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things:”

This is simply declaring that God, having need of nothing, cannot be given any necessary thing by men.  On the contrary, it is man who is dependent on God for everything: his life, his breath, and everything else.  Man therefore can do no work to give him acceptance with God, but rather, since he is indebted to God for physical life and everything pertaining to it, so is he also indebted to Him for spiritual life, and as he received physical life as God’s gift, so must he also receive spiritual life as His gift.  There is nothing man can do to earn life, physical or spiritual.  Each is given by God as a gift, because there is nothing man can do to merit either, as it is written, “By grace are ye saved (given spiritual life) through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast,” Eph 2:8-9.

There is one difference, however, between the reception of physical life, and spiritual.  Man has no choice relative to receiving physical life; but if he is to receive spiritual life he must choose to accept it as God’s priceless gift, for apart from his own willing acceptance he can’t have it.  But how does he make his choice known to God?  Very simply.  He must accept God’s indictment that “all have sinned,” Ro 3:23; and then believe that the Lord Jesus Christ loved him enough to die in his stead for the remission of his sins; and finally, believe that in response to that faith, God pardons all his sin and will receive him into heaven.  By that simple belief he is born again: he now has spiritual life without which no man can escape hell and enter heaven, see Jn 3:3,7,14-16,18 and 36.

Someone has noted that physical and spiritual life have three things in common: relative to physical life there is (1) the life itself, (2) the breath to sustain it, (3) blessings to enrich it; and in the spiritual realm there is (1) new spiritual life, (2) the Holy Spirit to sustain it, for breath is a symbol of the Spirit, (3) eternal blessings to enrich it.

17:26.  “And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;”

All men have a common ancestor, the first man, Adam, and are therefore under sentence of death because Adam’s guilt is imputed to them.  All believers, however, have ended that deadly association, because God imputes Christ’s death to them, so that in Him they also have died.  But God also imputes Christ’s resurrection to them, so that they now live as a new creation, having their origin in Him, the second Man, the last Adam, 1 Cor 15:45.  Physical life enables man to “dwell on all the face of earth,” for a little while, but spiritual life obtained through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, enables him to dwell in heaven eternally. 

The determination of times, and the bounds of man’s habitation, have primary application to the epochs of history, and the divine appointment of national boundaries; but these divine appointments have also an individual application, for the directive will of God determines the time of each man’s birth and death, and all the other circumstances over which man has no control.  This does not, however, imply predestination relative to salvation, for there are two parts to the divine will: one is directive; the other, permissive, the will of man being free to operate only within the latter sphere.  Within that sphere of God’s permissive will man is free to make choices, including acceptance or rejection of Christ as Savior.

The concept, however, embraces eternity, for there too God has determined times and boundaries: believers will dwell for ever in heaven, while demons and unbelieving men will exist for ever in the torment of the lake of fire.

17:27.  “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:”

All of these evidences of a divine hand controlling all things are for the purpose of turning men to God.  But the question may be asked, How can such things lead men to God? and the answer is that in themselves, they can’t.  But the first step of inquiry after Him is prompted by nature, for no reasonable mind can fail to recognize that an ordered creation implies the existence of an intelligent Creator.  Having taken that first step of inquiry after God, man has the assurance from God Himself, “But if from thence (being scattered among the nations) thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul,” Dt 4:29, for Scripture assures man, “Seek, and ye shall find...” Mt 7:7.  “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart,” Jer 29:13.  The power of the Holy Spirit may not be omitted from the reckoning.  What seems impossible to man is not impossible to God, and He is true to His Word.  Beginning with the recognition of a Creator, the further search to know more of that God will not be disappointed.  All God requires is a sincere seeking heart, for He is even more anxious to reveal Himself than is man to find Him.

“... if haply they might feel after him,” is literally to grope after Him in the dark, and it reminds us that the natural man is in spiritual darkness, and must read or listen to the Scriptures preached, for the revelation of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Way to God.  The enlightenment of the Holy Spirit will be given to every earnest seeker, for apart from His ministry of conviction there can be no salvation.  It must be realized, however, that while He will enlighten and convict, He will not compel anyone to be saved.  Salvation must be received by the convicted sinner’s free will choice of Christ as Savior.

“...though he be not far from every one of us” is the assurance of God’s readiness to reveal Himself.  But how is that revelation made?  Through the written Word, “The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is the word of faith, which we preach,” Ro 10:8.  That first step to seek the God of creation will ultimately lead to the study of His Word in which He is fully revealed, not only as the Creator, but as the God Who “ loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life,” Jn 3:16.

17:28.  “For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we also are his offspring.”

Man owes his very existence to God.  He is the “offspring” of God in that God has given him existence as a creature of intelligence, emotion and will, made in the divine image; but he is God’s offspring simply as a thing created.  Only the new birth makes him a child of God, possessing His very life and nature.

Some of the Greek poets had declared that man is the offspring of God in the sense that he has been made by God, but none of them had learned that man can become a child of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; nor did they know God other than as the figment of their own darkened imaginations.

Paul wasn’t claiming for men equality with God.  He was showing these Athenians that God is a living Being, rather than a thing of wood or metal, as the next verse makes clear.

17:29.  “Forasmuch 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.”  

It is as a creature of intelligence, emotion and will that man is like God, for God also thinks, loves and wills.  Since they themselves were alive, and not things of metal or wood, then clearly God, whose offspring (creatures) they were, must also be alive, and not a thing of metal or wood.  God in fact, is to be seen in Christ who Himself said, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father,” Jn 14:9, for in Christ “God was manifest in the flesh,” 1 Tim 3:16.

17:30.  “But the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:”

In times past God had been willing to overlook man’s ignorance of the fact that He (God) was absolutely holy, that holiness making it impossible for Him to tolerate sin in His creation, and requiring Him to destroy anyone who would bring sin into it.  This introduced God as a moral Being, a concept new apparently to the Athenians.

Nor was the revelation of God limited to what was displayed in creation.  He had revealed Himself in the writings of the prophets, those writings revealing also the difference between right and wrong as declared in the moral law which set before man the consequences of disobedience.  Those same writings, however, revealed not only that the consequence of sin was death, but that  He was a compassionate God who also provided for the expiation of sin through the offering of the prescribed sacrifices according to the Levitical ritual, each sacrifice being a type or symbol of the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who by the offering of Himself,  fulfilled those types, and ended the need of them, His one perfect sacrifice being efficacious to put away for ever all the sins of the man who would trust in Him as Savior.

In the birth, life, and death of Christ, God has revealed Himself to men as the Savior God.  This is the time of enlightenment.  Man is now without excuse.  God will no longer “wink” at sin.  As it was with Israel so is it with the Gentiles.  They may have a pardon for all sin except that of unbelief.  As noted already, there is a vast difference between God’s attitude towards the man who is ignorant, and the man who isn’t.

That same God now “commandeth all men everywhere to repent:”  Repentance is not an option.  Man is commanded by God, and the consequence of disobedience is eternal death.  This goes far beyond the empty philosophy that had occupied the Athenian mind in the past, and that occupies many a mind today.

17:31.  “Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men in that he hath raised him from the dead.”

That same God Who has appointed times and boundaries for the nations has also appointed a day of judgment for every man on earth, and that judgment will be according to His own righteous standard.  The Judge will be incorruptible, for He is Christ.  God’s very nature makes this judgment necessary.  As the moral Governor of creation, He must judge and punish every transgression.  Were it otherwise, His moral integrity would be impugned: He would be imperfect.  He would not be God!

It is the resurrection of Christ that is the guarantee of the certainty of that judgment.  As His death fulfilled the prophecies that foretold His coming to make atonement for sin, so is His return in resurrection as Judge, necessary to fulfil the other line of prophetic truth.  The fulfillment of the one is the guarantee of the fulfillment of the other.  This is why in Acts there is so much emphasis on the witness to Christ’s resurrection.  An essential part of saving faith is to believe in His resurrection, see Ro 10:9.

The judgment referred to here is that of the nations when Christ returns in power and glory to end the Tribulation and inaugurate His millennial kingdom.  Relative to the other two great judgments, it is necessary to note that that of believers will be at the judgment seat of Christ, not to assign punishment for their sins, which have all been judged and atoned for at Calvary, but to dispense an eternal reward proportionate to the faithfulness of each believer’s service.  The final judgment of all unbelievers will be a thousand years later, at the great white throne, not to determine whether they may enter heaven, but to assign the degree of punishment to be endured for ever in the lake of fire.

17:32.  “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.”

To deny the resurrection is to deny the power of God, and therefore to deny the possibility of judgment, for it is clear that He does not judge men while they live.  If they are to be judged, it must be in resurrection. 

Mockery is the usual response of the educated cultured man to the Gospel, but man’s mockery is powerless to change the decree of the Creator.

Procrastination has also a response, “We will hear thee again of this matter,” but procrastination is the twin of presumption, for it assumes that man alone may choose the time in which to deal with God.  The declaration of the Creator, however, is, “Behold, now is the accepted time....” 2 Cor 6:2, “... for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth,” Pr 27:1.  It is God’s prerogative to choose how long he will extend mercy. 

17:33.  “So Paul departed from among them.”

God would not have His servant waste time in philosophical discussion, nor should we waste time in the same fruitless occupation.  It is the repentant, not the philosophic man to whom God offers salvation.

17:34.  “Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.”

Not all scoffed, nor did all procrastinate: some were convicted and saved.  The Gospel never ceases to be the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.

One of the converts was a judge named Dionysius, meaning devotee of Bacchus; devotee of the wine press; divinely pricked?  If his name is indicative of his state, then he was indeed a trophy of grace.  Another was a woman name Damaris, meaning a yoke-bearing wife.  Whatever is to be inferred from the meaning of her name, the truth remains that she had assumed a very different yoke, that of Christ. 

“...and others with them.”  Their names will be revealed with countless others in heaven.

[Acts 18]



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough