1 Thessalonica was the capital of the province of Macedonia. Today the city is called Salonika, and it is still one of the chief cities of northern Greece. It was to the newly established church in this city that Paul wrote his New Testament letters, 1 and 2 Thessalonians (see 1 Thessalonians 2:1-2).
21 One of the main reasons the Romans were able to conquer the Greeks was that the Greeks spent more time talking than they did fighting.
22 Paul varied his preaching according to his audience. An excellent example of Paul’s preaching to Jews and God-fearers (worshipers of the one true God) can be found in his sermon in the Jewish synagogue at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:16-41). In this section, on the other hand, we have the best example of Paul’s preaching to the Greeks, most of whom worshiped the many false gods of the Greek religion. Therefore, Paul starts his speech by describing the God who made the world and everything in it (verse 24), and he ends his speech by saying that this is the God who will judge the world with justice (verse 31).
The residents of Athens were very religious. But neither religion in itself nor the rituals of religion are of any advantage to men. Millions of people follow a variety of religions; they may be very religious, but they are not saved. Only through faith in Christ can man be saved. Religion by itself saves no one.
In fact, the word religious that Paul uses here means “superstitious.” These people of Athens offered sacrifices to demons, not to God (1 Corinthians 10:20). This is superstition, or so-called “blind faith.” These men of Athens had the highest wisdom in the world, but they didn’t know God. … in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him (1 Corinthians 1:21).
23 Among the altars erected to these false gods, Paul found one on which was written the inscription: To an Unknown God. Apparently some of the Athenians suspected there might be a greater god than all the other gods which they worshiped, and so they had set up an altar to this unknown god. But they had no idea what this god was like. Therefore, Paul says here: “Now I will tell you about this ‘unknown god.’”
Here we can see Paul’s method of teaching and witnessing. The Greeks had some knowledge of religion. So Paul starts with what knowledge they had and then builds on it. Paul didn’t show contempt for their religion; he didn’t mock them. Paul even quotes one of the Greek poets to illustrate his point (verse 28). Because of this, the Greeks were more ready to listen to what Paul was saying. In this we should follow Paul’s example.
24 Here Paul describes the “unknown god” of the Athenians. This God is the creator of all things. And because He created all things, He has lordship over all things. He is the Lord of heaven and earth. He does not live in temples built by hands (see Acts 7:48-50 and comment). He is a Spirit, and He must be worshiped in spirit and in truth (John 4:23).
25 This God doesn’t need the sacrifices and of ferings of the Athenians. He doesn’t get hungry that we must feed Him! Rather it is we who are fed by Him. He gives us not only food but all other needed things as well. What have we to give Him? (Psalm 50:9-12; Isaiah 42:5). He gives us life and breath. We couldn’t exist for one moment without God’s life-giving power. Just as we can’t live without breathing, so we can’t live without God.
26 From one man (Adam) he made every nation of men. All men of every nation are descended from one man, Adam.73 We men are all equal. In God’s sight there is no difference between high caste and low caste, between slave and free. God loves equally the civilized Greeks and the uncivilized peoples around them, whom the Greeks despised. Men think that they themselves have established kingdoms and empires; but there is only one estab-lisher of kingdoms and empires, and that is God. God has set the boundaries of every nation. He sets the time of all events. He determines the seasons and the movements of the earth and all heavenly bodies.
27 But in addition to all this, God also shows men His love, mercy, and power, in order that they might seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him. Paul wrote to the Romans: For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made (Romans 1:20)
Some of the Athenians were reaching out for this true God, whom they didn’t know. Paul says that this God is not far from each one of us. Wherever we go, God is there with us. Whether we are in a temple or in the desert, whether we are in a palace or in a shack, God is there. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast (Psalm 139:7-10).
But even though we seek and find God in the things that He has created, we cannot fully know Him by these things alone. We cannot fully know God until we know Christ, because all of God’s attributes have been manifested in His Son Jesus Christ, God’s one true incarnation. No one has ever seen God, but God the only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known (John 1:18). Jesus said: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
28 God is not far from any one of us, because in him we live and move and have our being. This saying is a quotation from the poem of a Greek poet. Paul uses this quotation because he wants to show the Greeks that in their own literature there is already some reference to this true God. Another Greek poet had written concerning Zeus, the chief god of the Greeks (Acts 14:12): We are his offspring. So Paul uses that quotation also, in order to show the Greeks that they are the offspring, not of Zeus, but of the one true God.
Notice how Paul uses the words of pagan poets to teach the truth. By using expressions the Greeks were familiar with, Paul was able to explain to them more clearly the truth about God.
29 We are God’s offspring. He created us. How can we think that an idol made by our own hands is worthy to receive worship? God alone is worthy to receive worship. What are idols? Can they speak? Can they hear? Can they create anything? of course not! They can’t even move one finger.
30 Through ignorance, such as idol worship, men dishonor God. But God has been patient with men. He has endured man’s ignorance and the evil that has resulted from it. In the past, he let all nations go their own way (Acts 14:16). … in his forbearance [God] had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished (Romans 3:25). But now a new day has come. God may have overlooked our former ignorance and sin, but He will do so no longer. He Himself has come to earth to make Himself fully known to men. He has come in the form of Jesus Christ. If men now reject this revelation of God, they will certainly receive punishment. Therefore, God now commands all people everywhere to repent.
31 Therefore, let the people of Athens repent, because God has set a day when His judgment is going to fall upon them and upon the whole world (Psalm 9:8; 96:13; Romans 2:5). God will judge the world by the man he has appointed—that is, Jesus Christ (see John 5:27; Acts 10:42; Romans 2:16). And we know that Jesus Christ is the appointed judge, because God has raised Him from the dead.
32 The Greeks did not believe in the resurrection of the body. They believed that man’s soul was immortal, but not his body. They were convinced that the body died completely and turned to dust. Therefore, when the Athenians heard Paul mention the resurrection of Jesus, some of them sneered and mocked. Others said, “Let us hear more another time; we haven’t been able to come to a conclusion on this subject yet.” Many people today say the same thing. Many people lose the chance to receive eternal life, because they are not ready to accept God’s word. They say, “I’ll think about this later,” but “later” never comes. These Athenians preferred seeking the truth to finding it. They preferred talking to believing. Let us not be like them!
33-34 Paul’s preaching in Athens was not very successful. Only a few believed. Nothing is written in the New Testament about a church having been established in Athens. Nothing is written elsewhere about the two believers mentioned here in verse 34. The only thing we know about Dionysius is that he was a member of the Areopagus.74