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Acts chapter 16, verses 22-24
The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. Afterthey had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
The magistrates could see that the crowd was in an uproar, as the accusers said. They assumed there must be some truth to the charges. They ordered that Paul and Silas be shamed and brutalized. The magistrates did not realize that those two Jews were also Roman citizens, protected by law from such treatment. They violated their civil rights in a very serious way.
There was no trial, only accusation and punishment. No one asked about the Most High God and the way of salvation. No one was interested in justice or salvation. Paul and Silas were flogged on the charge that they were Jews who had tried to make converts.
The jailer, as ordered, put them into the maximum security cell. In the stocks the prisoners’ legs were spread wide, and they would suffer severe cramps after a short time. That pain would continue until they were released.
Acts Chapter 16, verses 25-27
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
It did not seem like the time or place to do mission work, but Paul and Silas praised God and the other prisoners heard them. Under very painful conditions, Paul and Silas sang hymns. They could do such things because they trusted the living Lord Jesus and because he gave them the strength.
He answered their prayers. Not only the door of their cell but all the doors of the entire prison flew open.
When prisoners escaped, the jailer or guard had to suffer whatever punishment was due those prisoners. Evidently some of the prisoners in the jail at Philippi were guilty of capital crimes, because the jailer was ready to take his own life rather than be executed by the authorities.
But none of the prisoners had left!
Acts Chapter 16, verses 29-32
The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell tremblingbefore Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.
The jailer asked the most important question a humanbeing can ask. He was convinced of his need for salvation. What he knew about his prisoners, what he had learned from their hymns and praises, what he had seen of the earthquake with its results—these things had stirred his conscience. The answer to his question is the most important information any human being can have. There is only one true answer, and the missionaries would provide it.
God does not usually use an earthquake to make peopleaware of their need for salvation. Sometimes it a mild heart attack, a slight stroke, a small tumor, a microscopic virus, or a minor accident. But when people who have been careless about spiritual things know that they must meet their Maker and judge, they often ask the jailer’s question.
The answer is not “Do,” but “Trust.” The answer for the jailer, for each individual in his household, and for every human being, is the same. Trust the Lord Jesus. He saves. Not, “This is how you must act or think or feel,” but, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”
Paul and Silas told the story of Jesus and his salvation to the jailer and his family in more detail.
Acts Chapter 16, verses 33-34
At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal beforethem; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family.
Like Lydia, the jailer celebrated his coming to faith with hospitality to those who had told him the way of salvation. As Lydia and her household had done, so the jailer and his family received Holy Baptism.
Acts Chapter 16, verses 35-36
When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.” The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”
The magistrates had no intention of bringing the prisoners to trial. They had intended to teach them a lesson by treating them in such a brutal way. They had hoped that Paul and Silas would then leave town and be of no further trouble.
With “go in peace,” the jailer was suggesting that they leave quietly. He was simply relaying the orders of the officers.
Acts Chapter 16, verses 37-39
But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.”
The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. They came to appease them and escorted them fromthe prison, requesting
them to leave the city.
Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. That made the beating illegal, and since it was a public beating, many had witnessed this illegal act. It had been done without a trial, and that compounded the illegality.
Paul was not simply demanding his civil rights or trying to protect his personal dignity. It was important for the future of the church at Philippi that the whole city know that Paul and Silas were innocent of any crime or misdemeanor.
The magistrates themselves could have been severely punished for violating the rights of Roman citizens. That, rather than a sense of justice, accounts for their alarm and the polite way in which they now treated the prisoners.
Acts Chapter 16, verse 40
After Paul and Silas came out of prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and encouraged them. Then they left.
Paul and Silas did not leave without meeting with the small and young group of believers at Philippi to encourage them. Luke and Timothy remained behind to continue building up the church in that place.
Acts Chapter 17, verse 1
When they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue.
Paul and Silas traveled on the Egnatian Way until they reached the capital of the whole province, Thessalonica. Amphipolis was about 30 miles southwest of Philippi. The province of Macedonia was divided into three administrative districts, and Amphipolis was capital of the first district. But the apostle and his coworker passed through.
Apollonia was another 30 miles southwest of Amphipolis. Thirty-five miles farther to the west was Thessalonica, the capital city of Macedonia. From here the Lord’s message would go out to all of Macedonia and Achaia (Greece). The Thessalonian Christians would become a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia, and even beyond (1 Thessalonians 1:7,8).
Acts Chapter 17, verses 2-4
As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,” he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.
Paul’s method in the synagogue was to take passages from the Old Testament and compare them with the facts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. He showed that the prophecies about the Messiah speak of his suffering and rising again. Paul proclaimed that Jesus has fulfilled the prophecies and is therefore the Christ (Messiah). The idea of a suffering Messiah was a stumbling block to the Jews, and so it was important to show that Christ must suffer.
This was the method Paul had used in the synagogue at Damascus, immediately after his conversion (9:20-22). It was what Jesus did on the day of his resurrection, on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:26,27).
Paul’s preaching bore fruit. Some, however, resented it:
Acts Chapter 17, verse 5
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.
It must be said again that the jealousy of the Jews was not mere envy at the success of Paul. It was also a jealousy for what they regarded as the honor of God. They demonstrated by their actions, of course, that they had a warped notion of God’s honor and of how to guard it.
Paul and Silas had evidently been staying at Jason’shouse. New believers often showed hospitality the apostles, as we have seen in the case of Lydia and the jailer at Philippi. It seems safe to conclude that Jason was also a beginner in the faith who showed his gratitude to God by helping those who preached God’s salvation to him.
Acts Chapter 17, verses 6-9
But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and someother 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 alldefying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.
When the mob could not find Paul and Silas, they settled for Jason and a number of other believers. The accusations were similar to those that the Jews hurled againstJesus: “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king” (Luke 23:2).
False witness, in public court or private conversation, usually involves half-truths and exaggerations. It was true that the apostles were trying to preach the gospel all over the world. It was not true that they had already done so. It was true that there is often trouble where the gospel is preached. It was not true that the apostles caused that trouble. It is true that Jesus is a king, the King of kings. It is not true that his gracious rule is intended to overthrow governments.
The charges boiled down to an accusation of treason, for which Jason and the others could have been put to death. The gospel of Jesus as the only Lord and Savior is God’s power to create faith and give forgiveness. But sometimes it disturbs people’s notions of what is right and brings out the worst in them.
The officials must have realized that the charges of treason were false. They simply required Jason to put up a sum of money as a guarantee that he and the others would not cause further trouble. Paul summed up these events and the work done in Thessalonica in his first letter to the church in that city: “You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition” (1 Thessalonians 2:1,2).
Acts Chapter 17, verse 10
As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue.
The Lord had blessed the work of his missionaries in Thessalonica. He brought a strong, young church into existence. Further efforts by Paul and Silas were not essential and would result in further trouble for Jason and others. It was time to leave and the church sent them to another city. Berea was in the next district of Macedonia, about 55 miles southwest of Thessalonica. It was a bit south of the Egnatian Way, in a mountainous region.
Acts Chapter 17, verses 11-12
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.
In Thessalonica “some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas” (verse 4). Most were not convinced, and they used vicious means to stop the preaching of the gospel.
In Berea the Jews were more receptive, more open to persuasion, and more honest in dealing with Scripture. They took their Bibles more seriously, and daily they compared the Scriptures with the good news about Jesus that Paul was preaching. They tested his message. Jesus had said, “These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:39). Paul’s method in the synagogues was to demonstrate that the Scriptures do testify of Jesus. The Bereans were brought to the same conclusion.
The Word of God written in the Old Testament and the gospel preached by Paul achieved God’s purpose in Berea. Many Jews and many Gentiles believed.
Acts Chapter 17, verses 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. The men who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.
About 50 or 60 miles away, in Thessalonica, the Jews were still jealous. Just as Jews from Iconium and Antioch had come to Lystra and won the crowd over (14:19), so these agitators came to Berea to spoil the Spirit’s work.
Paul was the special target of these troublemakers. Before the crowd could be worked up to actual violence, the church sent Paul on the way to Athens. Timothy had remained for a time at Philippi (16:40) and then rejoined Paul and Silas at Berea. Now he and Silas remained behind to continue the work.
Paul and those who accompanied him may have sailed to Athens, or they may have used the coast road to travel by land. His escorts took back the message that he would wait at Athens for Silas and Timothy, expecting them to join him as soon as the situation in the church at Berea would permit them to leave that young church and go on to newer fields.
Acts Chapter 17, verses 16-17
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 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.
Athens taught the world the concept of democracy, the rule of the people. It had been the great center of philosophy, the love of wisdom. For its past contributions in politics, art, literature, and the world of ideas, the city was honored by the Roman Empire. But its glories had dimmed, and it was no longer the chief city of Greece.
The love of wisdom had not put a stop to the service of idols. Where the pagan world saw glory, Paul saw shameful idolatry, and he was greatly distressed.
While he waited for Silas and Timothy to join him, he followed his usual practice of visiting the synagogue to discuss the Word with the Jews and proselytes there. His distress at the number of idols in the city also moved him to begin conversations in the marketplace, where he would have contact with Gentiles.
The marketplace was not only a place of business. It was also where philosophers and gentlemen of leisure met for conversation and the exchange of ideas.
Acts Chapter 17, verse 18
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.
Epicurus (341–270 B.C.) taught that the gods are not interested in the affairs of men and that there is no afterlifein which we will be called to account. His followers were urged to enjoy life by doing what is wise and right. By the first century A.D., this philosophy had degenerated to hedonism, the love of pleasure: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
The Stoic school of philosophy was founded by Zeno (340–265 B.C.). His followers considered it their highest pleasure to do their duty and their highest duty to act reasonably.
Representatives of these two schools of philosophy disputed with Paul over a number of days. Some of the audience referred to him as a babbler, literally a “seed picker.” This uncomplimentary term suggested that Paul was like a bird, picking up seeds of knowledge here and there, but not really knowing much. Others heard the word anastasis, or resurrection, and thought that Paul was speaking of a goddess. Thus, Jesus and Resurrection were understood to be two foreign deities.
Acts Chapter 17, verses 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.)
Literally, Areopagus means “Mars Hill.” That had once been the meeting place of Athens’ Council of Twelve, the highest court. The name Areopagus came to be applied to the council itself. By the first century, the group no longer met on the hill, but the name stuck. It was no longer the highest court of Athens either. It did, however, pass judgment on new philosophies, new religions, and foreign gods. Athens was known as a city of ideas, where the members of the leisure class, both native-born and foreign, were always ready to hear and discuss something new.
Acts Chapter 17, verses 22-25
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.
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.
Paul saw statues, altars, and shrines dedicated to a great number of deities. It had been said that there were more gods than men in Athens. Greeks and others customarily dedicated an altar to unknown gods so that they would not offend some deity by omitting it.
Notice that Paul says “what you worship” rather than “whom you worship.” The altar was dedicated to an unknown, impersonal “something.” Paul would make known the living, personal God, the Creator of the universe and the judge of every human being. Dominating the landscape of Athens was the Parthenon, whose ruins still stand. It is the temple dedicated to the patron goddess of the city, the virgin Pallas Athena. Paul said, “The creator of the universe does not need anything that human beings might make for him, any dwelling that they might build for him.” The giver and preserver of life is not in need of anything man can offer him.