SERMON DELIVERED ON 08-31-19  

       In the past two sermons in my series on the Book of Acts, we figuratively sat at the feet of Paul as he for three successive Sabbaths taught in a Synagogue in Thessalonica and proved to the Jews from the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus was indeed the true Messiah to Israel.  In the last two sermons we looked at a number of OT passages that it is very likely Paul used in proving to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ, that Jesus was not an imposter but that He was the real deal.

       Moving on in Acts 17 we see that some of the Jews and a large number of God-fearing Greeks including, a few prominent women, were convinced of what Paul was teaching and are seen as joining Paul and Silas.

       But as is often seen in the NT, when Jews and others converted to believing the Gospel message, it caused jealousy on the part Jews who were not convinced Jesus was the Christ and such Jews reacted accordingly.

       Acts 17:5-7: But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason's house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting: "These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus."

       Now this is an interesting response.  These Jews are using a supposed allegiance to the Roman Caesar as a means of discrediting those who have aligned themselves with Jesus.  The Jews used Caesar several times during Jesus’ ministry to try and get Jesus and His followers in trouble with the Roman authorities. 

       We have recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke the account of some of the Pharisees asking Jesus if it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. They were hoping He would say no and they would have grounds to turn Him over to the Roman authority.  Jesus, of course, knew what they were up to and had them bring Him a coin with Caesar’s portrait on it after which He gave that famous response, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's."

        Despite giving them the response He did, at His trail they accused Jesus of opposing payment of taxes to Caesar as we see recorded in Luke 23:2.  This appears to be a false accusation as there is no record of Jesus opposing the paying of taxes to Caesar.  In Matthew 17 is an account of Jesus paying the temple tax.  It is apparent Jesus was not against paying taxes.

       In Acts 17 they are accusing followers of Jesus of “defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus."  Well, it is very likely that believers did teach that Jesus was a king.  Jesus being a king is taught throughout the NT.  When the Magi came to Jerusalem they enquired of Herod "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?"  When Jesus was asked by Pilot whether He was the king of the Jews he answered in the affirmative.  However, He also told Pilot that His kingdom was not of this world.

       John 18:36: My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place (Greek: "Not from here") {See Arndt/Gingrich Greek Lexicon}.

       The Greek for world is kosmosKosmos has broad application in the Greek language with the common thread being that the word refers to the physical realm.  Jesus appears to be saying His Kingdom is not of this physical realm.  What did Christ mean in saying His Kingdom is not of this world?
       The good news of the Kingdom was a focal point of Jesus’ message. Jesus gave more than a dozen parables explaining the nature of the Kingdom. Most of these parables picture the Kingdom as something one is to diligently seek after.  It is seen as something so valuable that it is to be sought after at all costs. 

       Some of these parables reveal the Kingdom to be a spreading and growing entity involving spiritual dynamics of how we behave before God and man. Some of these parables identify the Kingdom as having location and being the destination of the righteous. Apostle Paul was constantly teaching about the Kingdom in terms of behavioral dynamics but also provided reason to believe the Kingdom was something attained through resurrection from the dead or being transformed from mortal to immortal at the return of Christ.

       Those who came to believe Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah to Israel understood this meant He was their king.  However, by now they must have come to understand that Jesus was not a king who was going to replace the Roman Caesar.  Yet we find the believers in Thessalonica being accused of defying Caesar's decrees by believing Jesus was a king. The Jews had used the Caesar card at His trial as well.

       John 19:12: From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, "If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar."

       This all shows the hypocrisy of the Jews.  There was no love lost between the Jews and the Roman authority, including the Roman Caesar.  The Jews despised Roman rule.  They were looking for a Messiah who would deliver them from Roman rule.  Josephus writes of many would be messiah’s appearing in the first century promising deliverance from Roman rule.  But when it came to Jesus and his followers, the Jews used a feigned allegiance to Caesar to try and discredit Jesus and his followers. 

       Well as it turned out, as soon as it was night, it is recorded that the brothers were able to sneak Paul and Silas out of Thessalonica and send them to the city of Berea which was located about 45 miles west of Thessalonica. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue much as they had done in Thessalonica. 


       It is recorded that the Bereans were of a more noble character than the Thessalonians and they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.  It is recorded that many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

       Acts 17:10b-12: On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue.   Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.   

       So here we have a contrast between the Thessalonians and the Bereans.  In Acts 17:4 it is recorded that “Some of the (Thessalonian) Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.”  In Berea it is recorded that “Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.”  

       The Bereans are said to have been of more noble character than the Thessalonians.  The Greek word rendered “noble” actually means a person well born and of noble race. It is used in that sense in Luke 19:12 and 1 Corinthians 1:26.  Here in Acts the word is apparently being used in the more figurative sense of thinking at a higher level.  The NET Bible translators render this Greek word as “more open minded.”

       It is said they “received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”  Reading between the lines here it would appear that the Thessalonians simply listened to Paul and Silas while the Bereans not only listened but checked up on what they said by studying the Scriptures for themselves.  The word Berean has become a bi-word to describe someone who thoroughly investigates an issue to determine its validity before accepting it as truth.  Hopefully we are all Bereans in that respect.           

       There are some Christian congregations that have named their fellowship “The Church of the Bereans” or the “Berean Church.”  When I see that I always wonder how “Berean” such groups really are in their approach to studying the Scriptures. 

       At any rate, it is recorded that in Thessalonica some Jews believed while here in Berea it is said that many Jews believed.  You will notice that they examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul was saying was true.  It was probably some of those same Hebrew Scriptures that we looked at in the past two sermons in this series that they looked at.  So I guess we were being good Bereans in examining the Scriptures that relate to and prophesy the Christ event. 

       Acts 17:13-14:  When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, they went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. The brothers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea.

       It is apparent that it is toward Paul that the unbelieving Jews were most intent on causing trouble as we see it is Paul that the brothers immediately sent away while Silas and Timothy stayed in Berea.  Paul appears to have been the chief apologist for the Christ event.  An apologist is one who defends the faith.  We see from reading the NT Scriptures that Paul was a strong defender of the faith.  He is seen in Scripture as having a strong almost aggressive personality. The unbelieving Jews apparently found Paul particularity offensive.   Paul had become a lightning rod to the unbelieving Jews.

       We must remember that before his conversion, Saul was aggressively persecuting the Church. He was out and about throwing Christians in prison.  He was the Church’s chief antagonist.  This shows something about his personality.  It is very likely he was now expressing that same personality in preaching Christ.  It must also be remembered that Paul had been a leader in the party of the Pharisees’.  After his conversion, Pharisaic Jews must have been really ticked off at him for becoming a virtual turncoat. So Paul had a target on his back throughout his ministry. 

       Moving on in Acts, we see Paul arriving in Athens which is 270 miles southeast of Berea. It is recorded that the brothers had sent Paul from Berea to the coast.  It is very likely he then sailed to Athens. 

       While waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him, he became “greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” It is recorded that he “reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.”

       As I have discussed several times in this series, while Paul is usually thought of as the Apostle to the Gentiles, He never ceased from preaching to the Jews as well.  As also previously discussed, the God-fearing Greeks were proselytes to Judaism and that is why we see them participating with Jews in synagogue worship. Here in Athens, however, we see Paul not only preaching to Jews and God-fearing Greeks in Jewish synagogues but venturing out into the marketplace where he encounters Greek philosophers.   

       Acts 17:17-18: So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.  A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, "What is this babbler trying to say?" Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods." They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.

       An Epicurean was a disciple or student of the Greek philosopher Epicurus who lived around 300 BC. Epicurus was a materialist. Epicurus believed that pleasure is the greatest good, but that the way to attain such pleasure was to live modestly, to gain knowledge of the workings of the world, and to limit one's desires. This would lead one to attain a state of tranquility and freedom from fear as well as an absence of bodily pain. The combination of these two states constitutes happiness in its highest form. Epicurus did not deny the existence of gods but did not believe the gods are involved with the world; they do not interfere with human lives or the rest of the universe in any way.

       A Stoic was a follower of Zeno, an Athenian philosopher who lived in the third century BC.  Stoics believed happiness is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself.  It is found in not allowing oneself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or fear of pain.  Happiness is attained by using one's mind to understand the world and to do one's part in nature's plan and by working together and treating others fairly and justly. Stoics were especially known for teaching that virtue is the only good for human beings and that external things such as health, wealth, and pleasure are not good or bad in themselves but have value as material for virtue to act upon..

       Stoics taught materialism, in which everything is material. Even emotions are material because they have physical manifestations. Their worldview was pantheistic, in which a divine reality pervades the universe.  They did not believe God or gods to be actual Beings. They taught there are two kinds of matter: the grosser matter that is seen and touched and the finer matter called breath or spirit that holds everything together.

       So this is the thinking Paul was up against when he interacted with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in Athens. Paul preaching about Jesus and the resurrection must have sounded strange to these philosophers. Dead people coming back to life, was believed to be impossible in Greek thought.  While some Greek philosophers such as Plato had taught about an afterlife, such after life was seen as the supposed immortal soul of a human continuing to exist after physical death and not that such human is biologically resurrected.  So convincing these Greek philosophers that the man Jesus was bodily resurrected from the dead was not an easy task.

       Acts 17:19-21: Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean." (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas).

       The Areopagus (AKA Mars Hill) is a hill northwest of the Acropolis in Athens and is covered in stone seats. The Acropolis is a rocky hill in central Athens on which stands the Parthenon.  The Parthenon was built to house the statue of the Goddess Athena.



       The Areopagus was used as a forum for the rulers of Athens to hold trials, debate various issues and discuss important matters in general.  So when it is said that Paul was brought to a meeting of the Areopagus, he is being brought before a gathering of city officials and others to explain this “strange doctrine” that he was teaching. This was no small thing for Paul.  He was being brought before the elite of one of the greatest cities in the world at the time. I would think he may have experienced a few butterflies in his stomach.   

       On the other hand, Paul was a very strong willed person and seemingly very confident in what he had come to understand about Christ.  He appears to have been very adept at public speaking and so may not have had any concerns whatsoever about facing the Areopagus group.  In both Matthew and Luke it is recorded that Jesus said not to worry about what to say when brought before government officials as the spirit of the Father will provide words to say.

       Acts 17: 22-23: Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. 

       Paul goes on to preach a sermon.  He explains that there is one God who made the world and everything in it and this God is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.  It is this God who gives all men life and breath and everything else.  He goes on to explain that this God made every nation of men beginning with one man.  He speaks of in God we live and move and have our being.  He goes on to show that the divine being is not like gold or silver or stone.  It is not an image made by man's design and skill.

       He then begins to preach Christ.  He says that God has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead, an obvious reference to Jesus.  When they heard Paul preach about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said they wanted to hear Paul again on this subject.

       It should be apparent that Paul said a lot more than is recorded in Acts 17.  What is recorded can be said in a minute.  I know because I timed myself reading what it is recorded that Paul said.  I don’t think this event was organized for a one minute speech. In all probability, Paul talked for an extensive period of time.  He may have used the Hebrew Scriptures to prove Jesus is the prophesied Messiah to Israel.  At any rate, it didn’t lead to many conversions but it did lay some ground work for future discussion. 

       Nothing more is recorded about this event other then we are told Paul left the Council and that a few men became followers of Paul and believed.  It is apparent not very many who were present for this event believed.

       The narrative picks in Acts 18 were Paul is seen as leaving Athens and traveling to Corinth which is around 44 miles southwest of Athens.  Here he meets a Jew named Aquila who had recently come from Rome with his wife Priscilla because the Roman Emperor had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. 

       This Roman Emperor was Tiberius Claudius Caesar who was born in 10 BC and died in AD 54.  He was Emperor from AD 41 to AD 54 and around AD 51 ordered all Jews to leave Rome.   Historians are a little puzzled as to why Claudius issued this order.  Claudius was very accommodating to the Jews throughout the Roman Empire.  Claudius had issued a previous edict that all Jews throughout the Empire were to be allowed to practices their religion without interference or restrictions.  Now he kicks them out of Rome. 

       Some have speculated that this happened over issues involving the raise of Christianity in Rome and the Jewish response to this occurring.  The Roman historian Suetonius in his “Life of Claudius” writes that Claudius “expelled the Jews from Rome, who were continually making tumults, being moved thereunto by one Chrestus.''  The reference to Chrestus is believed to be a reference to Christ.  It is believed there was a lot of turmoil going on because of friction between Jewish converts to Christianity and unbelieving Jews and Claudius simply had enough of it and kicked all the Jews out of Rome. 

       On the other hand Chrestus could have been a Jewish false messiah who was stirring up trouble in Rome which led to Claudius doing what he did.  Josephus mentions nothing about this matter in his writings.  After the death of Claudius in AD 54, Jews were allowed to return to Rome.      

       Acts 18 goes on to record that Paul stayed with Aquila and his wife Priscilla who are described as tent makers.  It is recorded that Paul joined them in their occupation as he too was a tent maker.  So here we learn that Paul had an occupation in addition to doing the work of ministry.  We then read the following:

       Acts 18:4-6: Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.  But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, "Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles."

       We see here, as we have seen throughout the Book of Acts to this point, that Paul regularly went to the Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath to persuade both Jews and Greeks about Christ.  The indication here is that after Silas and Timothy arrived, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching to the Jews. The Greeks found at the synagogue were the God-fearing Greeks

       As covered in previous sermons in this series, the Gentiles present in the synagogue on the Sabbath are proselytes to Judaism.  As previously explained, there were two types of Gentile proselytes in view in NT times according to historical sources from that period. 

       First, there was the “proselyte of righteousness” who was a proselyte who became circumcised and required to keep the entire Law of Moses.  Secondly, there was the “proselyte of the gate.”  This type of proselyte was not required to be circumcised nor keep the whole Mosaic Law but only required to keep certain Mosaic regulations.  Both the “proselyte of righteousness” and the “proselyte of the gate” were allowed to join with the Jews in synagogue activities, including Sabbath worship.  These were the Gentiles who were referred to as God-fearing Greeks.

       As per usual, the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive.  Apparently Paul had enough of this and basically told them to go fly a kite and that he would now go to the Gentiles.  Now Paul already had been preaching to God-fearing Gentiles so what he probably meant was that he would know devote his time to the Gentiles including pagan Gentiles. 

       As we continue in this series, we will see that Paul decision to focus on the Gentiles didn’t stop the Jews from persecuting him.  We will also see he continued to preach to the Jews as opportunity presented itself.