In our last post we saw that some of the new believers in Berea helped Paul escape some “dogs” from Thessalonica and headed to Athens, and left Silas and Timothy behind to establish the church. Some of the brothers who helped Paul escape stayed with him as far as Athens
At the time of Paul’s visit to Athens, that city was no longer an important political seat; Corinth was the commercial and political center of Greece under the Roman Caesars. But Athens was still the university center of the world. It was the heir of the great philosophers, the city of Pericles and Demosthenes, of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, and Euripides—these men who established patterns of thought that have affected human learning for centuries. Almost all philosophies follow, in some degree, the teachings of these men. But Athens was long past its zenith when Paul visited it. It was now four hundred years after the golden age of Greece, and, though Athens was still a center of art, beauty, culture, and knowledge, the city had lost all it’s political importance and truth be known, became lost in all its pursuit of understanding and human wisdom.
After he spent some time in Athens he sent word back to Silas and Timothy to join him in Athens. Evidently the apostle didn’t intend to stay long in Athens. He was heading for Corinth, the political capital; because Paul always focused on areas where the commerce of life flowed and where the influence of a church would quickly reach out into the surrounding regions.:
As Paul stayed in Athens, he would walk through the city, feeling deeply frustrated about the abundance of idols there. As in the previous cities, he went to the synagogue. Once again, he engaged in debate about Jesus with both ethic Jews and devout Greek-born converts to Judaism. But this time, he he didn’t limit himself to the synagogue. He would even wander around in the marketplace, speaking with anyone he happened to meet. Eventually he got into a debate with some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. Some were dismissive from the start.
Philosophers: “What’s this fast-talker trying to pitch?”
Others: “he seems to be advocating the gods of distant lands.”
They said this because of what Paul had been preaching about Jesus and His resurrection. (cts 17:16-18).
Now evidently the philosophers misunderstood Paul’s message. They thought he was talking about two deities: Jesus and Anastasis (the Greek word for “resurrection”). But while Paul was waiting at Athens for Silas and Timothy, he did what I love doing: He went sightseeing. I much prefer doing my own discoveries rather than follow the “planned” travels along with all the other tourists. I want to actually see the real sites and meet real people.
Regarding Paul’s visit to Athens, he was able to see the reality of life in this city. During this time Athens was a striking city. There were the great temples of the Acropolis, crowned by the Parthenon—today they are in ruins but still one of the most beautiful buildings in all the world. This is one place (of many) I would love to visit someday. There were also many other theaters, temples, and marketplaces of ancient Athens which can still be seen today.
As Paul walked around the city he was deeply saddened and frustrated as he saw the many gods of Athens and all the idols that were being worshipped. One of the ancient writers tells us that during this time there were over 30,000 gods in Athens! Many of these statues have survived and you will find copies of them everywhere as samples of ancient art. Paul recognized that these weren’t merely objects of art, but were actually gods being worshipped by the people of Athens. Petronius, one of the ancient historians, said that is was easier to find a god in Athens than a man! With 30,000 of them, you can see why that would be true. Imagine the demonic influence and control this city would have experienced.
As you would expect, Luke tells us that Paul’s spirit was moved when he saw this. He was provoked—or as the New English Version puts it: he was greatly upset. The Greek word is the word where we get out word paroxysm—a sudden uncontrollable attack; a convulsion. Paul felt an intense paroxysm of the spirit, a storm within, when he saw the city given over to idolatry. This isn’t surprising because as your walk with the Lord grows, the same thing will happen to you when you are in the presence of these kinds influences. Your spirit will cringe when you walk into a store and you hear wretched, evil music or see the pornographic photos that are on every check-out lane in your grocery store.
In Athens, each idol revealed that these men and women of Athens did have a great capacity for God. They knew there was something beyond man, and they were trying to find it. I love it when I meet people who are willing to say something like: “Yes I believe there is a God . . . but I don’t know if he can be ‘knowable.””
The citizens of Athens had a capacity for God, but each idol also revealed a twisting, a distorting of that capacity, a sabotaging of it. So, as the apostle went around the city, his spirit was greatly troubled to see men and women blasted by this prostitution of their human powers through the worship of false gods.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Book of Acts: http://home.comcast.net/~nickolas.hiemstra/acts.pdf