Chapter 18: Reason and riot: Philippi to Thessalonica to Berea to Athens
1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.’ 4 And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.
5 But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. 6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, ‘These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. 7 Jason has harboured them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus.’ 8 And they troubled the crowd and the rulers of the city when they heard these things. 9 So when they had taken security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.
10 Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. 12 Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men. 13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds.
14 Then immediately the brethren sent Paul away, to go to the sea; but both Silas and Timothy remained there. 15 So those who conducted Paul brought him to Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him with all speed, they departed.
Paul and Silas proclaim Christ in Thessalonica
You are about to see what preaching the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ is all about.1 Paul’s aim is not to give a master class on how to present the truth of God’s word in very different situations. But he does exactly that as he concentrates on one thing that is so precious to him, namely making Christ known to people from very different backgrounds. If you are not a Christian yet, that fact should encourage you. The Bible insists that ‘Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’.2 That includes you. If you do know Jesus Christ as your Saviour you should share Paul’s all-consuming passion that, ‘if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!’3
Here at Thessalonica, a Macedonian city, after travelling from Philippi through Amphipolis and Apollonia Paul goes into the local synagogue as soon as he can. He preaches here for three Sabbaths. Again we see his usual practice that, although he now concentrates on telling Gentiles how they can find forgiveness and eternal life by personal faith in Jesus, he usually starts by presenting the Son of God and Messiah to the Jews. Paul’s method now is to reason with them ‘from the Scriptures’. He does not use reason to replace God’s word. He starts from the absolute truth of what God has said and draws his conclusions from it logically. We too should reason ‘from the Scriptures’, as the Bible shows us the mind of God who is above any human reasoning. Paul’s message is consistent with the way he approaches the Corinthian church:
I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.4
From the word of God he explains and demonstrates the need for Jesus to suffer and die for our sins on the cross. He shows how the undeniably well-attested resurrection of Jesus confirms that God the Father raised Him from the dead. By so doing He showed He accepted His Son’s sacrifice for sinners who trust the risen Jesus as the only means whereby they can be forgiven. Paul concludes in his synagogue address to the Jews and devout Greek converts to Judaism, ‘This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ’. Jesus is the Messiah—God’s anointed one come to earth to save sinners.
Many persuaded—but rabble-rousers object
The different responses to Paul’s gospel can be seen worldwide on any day of any week of any year. Some hearers are ‘persuaded’. Their conversion is of mind as well as of heart. Included are ‘a great multitude of devout Greeks’. These people are recent converts to Judaism or seek God in the synagogue. A significant number of leading women, presumably Jewish and Greek, join them and the three men of God. God is building His church in Thessalonica. But the jealous Jews are unpersuaded. ‘A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still’, describes them well. They rouse the marketplace’s evil rabble and cause uproar in the city. They attack the house of an unknown man called Jason, who presumably is Jewish.5 It seems the mob wrongly assumes that the gospel preachers are lodging there. Mobs roused by hatred rarely bother to stop to look at the facts. Unable to find Paul, Silas or Timothy the mob picks on poor Jason. They drag him and others to the city rulers and make false accusations that Jason has hidden men who violate Caesar’s decrees and wish to depose him as ruler by another king—Jesus! Fear breeds fear and suspicion breeds suspicion: the ‘silent majority’ crowd and the city rulers are troubled. They take security from a number of people, including Jason, and let them go. All this is because Paul preaches Jesus Christ as Lord, Saviour and Messiah.
The noble-minded Bereans and the pursuing Jews
The Christians at Thessalonica see the dangers for their visiting speakers. They send them ‘by night to Berea’. Timothy, Paul’s low-profiled assistant, is not mentioned with the other two. But he is with them.6 As soon as they arrive, despite the recent trauma of Thessalonica, Paul bravely resumes his normal pattern. They go into the Berean synagogue. Jews are still the first to hear his gospel. But what a difference in this city! The Jewish worshippers in the synagogue are ‘more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica’. You might think that would not be too hard to achieve! But in effect they set a wonderful example to everyone, whether a non-Christian seeking for God and His truth, or whether someone who has been born again and who desires to get to know and serve his Lord and Saviour better. They receive God’s word ‘with all readiness’. They are eager to learn the truth for themselves. That is why each day they search the Scriptures so they can reach informed conclusions. Paul’s style of reasoning from the Scriptures will surely be a help and blessing to them. It is interesting that the Bible says, ‘Therefore many of them believed’. Faith in Christ is for sincere people who will search honestly and objectively, think deeply, and respond decisively and personally. Again a good number of Greeks believe in Christ, and so again do some ‘prominent women, as well as men’. The promise of Jesus, ‘seek and you will find’,7 comes true for many at Berea.
But the jealous Jews and rabble-rousers from Thessalonica hear of the progress of the gospel of the Lord Jesus in Berea, preached by Paul. They now come to work the same havoc and unrest there as they have done in Thessalonica.
The parting of the ways: Paul waits at Athens
Immediately the Christians at Berea send Paul to the seaside for his protection, while Silas and Timothy remain. Those opposing the gospel do not seem to realise that by persecuting its heralds they help to spread their glorious message of God’s forgiveness and acceptance in Christ. They share that message as they escape to new areas. Fleeing Christians are responsible for much of the spread of the message of sins forgiven and a home in Heaven. God is in control.
Paul is temporarily separated from the support, help and friendship of Silas and Timothy. But he is not separated from the love or presence of his risen Friend who promised, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’.8 The faithful and caring Christians who lead Paul away from danger and on to Athens return to Berea. They pass on Paul’s request to the experienced Silas and the ever-learning Timothy to join him in Athens. He wants them to come as soon as possible. Work for Christ is always best done by a dedicated team. ‘With all speed’, the two men leave Berea to join their senior colleague without unnecessary delay.
But how will the gospel be received in this centre of culture, religion and philosophical discussion and debate? How will Paul make Christ known in Athens? What will the response be this time?
Questions on Chapter 18
Acts 17:1–15 Reason and riot: from Philippi to Thessalonica to Berea to Athens
A. Why does Paul reason from the Scriptures? What does he focus on as he does that?
Acts 17:1–3, 2 Timothy 2:15, 2 Timothy 3:16, 1 Corinthians 2:1–5
B. What do you learn about mob rule and opposition to the gospel? How should a Christian react in such a situation?
Acts 17:4–9, Galatians 5:11, 2 Timothy 3:12–17, Psalm 140:1 Psalm 140:4, 1 Peter 4:15
C. What is there to commend in the people at Berea? What does their attitude lead to for themselves? How do they then relate to Paul when he is pursued again by bloodthirsty enemies?
Acts 17:10–15, Matthew 7:7, 2 Timothy 3:15, James 3:13, 1 Peter 3:8