Luke has now dropped the use of the first person plural in the text, suggesting that he may have remained in Philippi as Paul and Silas pass through Amphipolis and Apollonia to Thessalonica. Neither the reference to “three sabbath days” in verse 2, nor the fact that they left the city after only 9 verses of this chapter should be construed as the an indication of the length of their stay in Thessalonica. Indications from 1 Thessalonians 2:9 and Philippians 4:16, for example, are that their ministry there was much longer. The Jewish religious leaders, once again, became jealous and stirred up a mob until they attacked the house of a believer – hoping to lay hands on Paul, no doubt. Not finding them, they dragged the man (Jason) and some other believers before authorities, falsely claiming they were touting Jesus as an earthly king and a threat to Caesar.
In verse 10, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away, but it should be noted that their mission there was successful, as some of the Jews had been converted, and “a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.” This explains the jealousy of the Jewish religious leaders there. They arrived in Berea, and had even more success (verses 10-12), but the Jews in Thessalonica learned of Paul teaching there, and came to stir crowds again. Paul was sent off by sea to Athens, but Silas and Timothy remained in Berea. After arriving in Athens, Paul sent word back with those who had accompanied him for Silas and Timothy to join him .
Finding himself in this great pagan capital, Paul saw idol after idol. He “reasoned” in the synagogue of course, but verse 17 says that he did so also in the marketplace every day. Speaking with men of the two prominent philosophies of the day, Stoicism and Epicurean-ism, attracted great attention, and they brought him to the authorities at the Areopagus – this time with interest and curiosity in this speaker of “foreign divinity,” rather than hostility. The Areopagus held a body of men with civil. moral, and religious authority over the city. Paul would have addressed them either on the “hill of Ares” (Mars Hill, where a temple to their “god” of war had been built in ancient times), or southwest of the Acropolis in the northwest corner of the Agora. There, this body held meetings in the Royal Colonnade.
Paul preached to this body in verses 22-30 with one of his most eloquent speeches that we have recorded. He opens in verses 22-24 with:
“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you…”
The translation of the word “religious” is too generous, but the word used falls a bit short of “superstitious,” as Paul was trying to evangelize, not demean. He goes on to say that the God, who made the world and everything in it, is not contained in temples made by men – that He made, from one man, every nation of mankind “that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us…” He told these idol worshipers that God should not be thought of as an image of stone or precious metals formed by the imagination of man. He concludes with what we would expect – an excellent message of the gospel:
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but know he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Some mocked him at the reference to the resurrection, but others wanted to hear more, some being converted (verse 34) including Dionysius the Areopagite, one of the judges of the Areopagus. That being the case, even Paul’s visit to this pagan city was a success!
Side note: Photos, and article of “The Via Egnatia in Thessalonica” are in this article at Ferrell’s Travel Blog. Also, great pictures and history of Amphipolis in this article from Todd Bolen’s BiblePlaces.org.
Read or listen to audio of ESV version of this selection from this link.
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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