This post discusses the message that Apostle Paul preached at Mars’ Hill in Athens, the highest court of the Gentile world at that time. It is found in the Book of Acts, chapter 17, verses 18-34.
Before we visit Mars’ Hill, however, let us look at the back story on what caused Apostle Paul to be in Athens in the first place. Paul encountered an angry mob of Jews in Thessalonica who did not like his message concerning Jesus, and he was sent to Berea by his supporters to escape them. The riotous Thessalonians even tracked him to Berea when they heard that he was preaching successfully there. Out of concern for the safety of the Missionary, Paul was then sent to Athens to await Silas and Timothy.
Click this link to read the post, Introduction to Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians, for a clearer understanding of Paul’s experiences that drove him to Athens.
Apostle Paul could have chosen to be quiet and “lay low” while he was in Athens, but this was not like the man. Upon arrival, Apostle Paul could not hold his peace because he saw so much idolatry in Athens. In Acts 17:18, Paul was called a babbler, and it was said that he was preaching a strange doctrine because he preached Jesus and the resurrection.
It is interesting that initially Apostle Paul started out preaching and disputing in the Jewish synagogues in Athens, among the devout people. But he also preached in the market (Street Preacher) daily with any that met with him. He didn’t care who he preached to; he had to get the Word of God out. He preached Jesus Christ and his resurrection to anyone who would listen.
Paul’s ways should be an encouragement to us today. No matter how “ordinary” the people and their circumstances or how high the people and their situations, all people need to know the truth of who Jesus is and why he is our champion.
In the 19th verse, Paul was taken to Areopagus, better known as Mars’ Hill, which was the most sacred and reputable court in the Gentile world. He found himself standing before great men in Mars’ Hill. Preachers, God will take us before great men if we are faithful.
Let’s begin our reading at the 22nd verse and continue through verse 34. The first thing Paul did was to “get in their faces”. He confronted them with the truth about themselves. He knew that they were not going to be happy with his message, but he spoke boldly anyway.
22 Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.
So, Paul started fearlessly by calling the men superstitious. In this case, the word means “greatly addicted to religion”. Then he tells then why he said that.
23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, To The Unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.
According to the Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible (KJV), it was a capital offense to preach about a new deity in Athens, so Paul wisely latched onto someone they were already worshipping, the Unknown God. Paul said, it is so ignorant to worship a God that you don’t know, but I am pleased to tell you about that God that you call Unknown. He said that is the God that I’m representing, and I’ll be so happy to tell you about Him.
24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;
He said this God created everything. He is the Lord of heaven and earth, but He does not live in temples that were made by men, so you’ve got it wrong. This God cannot be one who lives in temples, because He would be less than the temple that contained Him. By saying this, Paul was attacking all of the Greek idolatry because a god that lived in a temple was less than the temple where he lived. Paul was slamming them but using wisdom at the same time.
25 Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;
He then said this God is the giver of life, breath, and everything. The Unknown God didn’t need anything from men. This statement was an attack upon all the images and all services and supplies to the images that these people worshipped.
26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
Paul then told them that the Unknown God was the one who made all men from one blood then separated them throughout the world.
27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:
Paul let them know that if they groped for or honestly searched for God, they would find Him because he was very close at hand. Jer. 29: 13 (KJV) says
“And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”
Paul is skillfully marching them forward to the point where he wanted to be in the first place; he wanted to give them a word about Jesus Christ. Read verses 28 and 29.
28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.
Paul established two key points here. He let them know that we depend upon God for life, for our movement, and our very being. Then he tells them that we are the very offspring of God. He also pointed out that their own poets had pointed this fact out. So, Paul says, since we are the offspring of God, then that means that we are His children. That also means that we should not even think about Him as being made of something that man can form such as silver and gold.
30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:
In the 29th verse, Paul made a significant turn. No longer is he calling God the Unknown God. And in the 30th verse Paul says that God commands repentance. He made it clear that God had put up with idolatry in the past due to their ignorance, but it was time for that ignorance to stop!
31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.
Look at verse 31. Paul marched his listeners right up to Jesus Christ. He firmly established the association between the Unknown God, who he taught them was the true God, and that we are His children. He then pointed out that their Father (because we are all His offspring) was going to judge the world, using a particular person who would do the judging. Then he said, that particular person was one who their Father had chosen. Then Paul dropped the biggest bomb of all. He said it should be reassuring to all men that God, their Father, had raised the chosen and ordained person from the dead. He was identifying Jesus as that person without even calling His name.
32 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.
Paul never mentioned the name of Jesus in his entire discourse. The 32nd verse tells us that two things happened when Paul mentioned that God had raised his appointed man from the dead. Some mocked and others walked away saying, in essence, this “raised from the dead” business is too much for us right now. We’ll get back with you on that point later. Although not all responded to the gospel message at that moment, they all heard the truth. And no matter what happened to those listeners, they could not “unknow” what they knew. They could not “un-hear” what they heard.
This Mars’ Hill message should be a great word of encouragement to all ministers, all Saints, and all followers of Jesus Christ. Here are a few take-aways that we should all receive from the message of Paul at Mars’ Hill:
- Don’t be afraid to go wherever God takes you. Be prepared to speak His truth among people at all levels. As I have often said to my Street Service Team members, whatever you have to share with the people is probably more than what they already have. If you are preaching the Word of God, God will back it up. Forget about yourself and let God have His way.
- Seek God for wisdom about how you share the Word. James 1:5 says
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
If Apostle Paul had mentioned the name of Jesus, the people would have accused him of bringing up a new Deity, and it was illegal to do so in Athens, which may be the reason that the nay-sayers took him to Mars’ Hill in the first place. However, they didn’t understand the God-given wisdom of the man. By the time Paul finished, they knew that the God that they were already trying to serve (who they had been calling the Unknown God) had selected a particular person who would judge them in righteousness. The reassuring evidence was the fact that God had raised Him from the dead. POW!
- Don’t let your pride get hurt when you witness to individuals who appear to reject what you have to say. They are not rejecting you, they are rejecting God. 1 Samuel 8:7 says
7 And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.
Besides, who knows what effect your words might have had? You might have been a planter or waterer because it’s God who gives the increase.
“I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” 1 Cor. 3:6
33 So Paul departed from among them.
Apostle Paul was not finished with his message by any means. But the people began to walk away because many could not handle the truth of the resurrection. And, because he had used wisdom and had not broken their laws, Paul was also free to go.
34 Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
Here we hear the positive outcome of Paul’s message. Some drew close to Paul, believed his words, and were saved. That is what all witnesses of Jesus Christ desire, that men and women boys and girls will hear our message, believe, and give their hearts to the Lord, Our Savior, Jesus Christ. The fact that some believed and responded to the Word of God is proof that it was God who sent Paul to Areopagus or Mars’ Hill. Souls were saved, and a seed was planted in the hearts of others.
Saints, let’s get busy working for the Lord and stay open to His leading. He knows where the people live who will respond to His call. Be encouraged because Jesus is coming soon.
Addendum: Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible, pg. 251, footnote t, identified 18 Doctrines of God that were found in Paul’s Mars’ Hill message, Acts chapter 17.
- Creator of all things (v. 24)
- Lord of heaven and earth (v. 24)
- Dwells not in man-made temples
- Is not worshipped by man’s hands
- Universal providence (v. 25)
- Made all men of one kind (v. 26)
- He planned habitations (v. 26)
- He planned the ages (v.26; 15:18)
- God-provided salvation (v. 27)
- Omnipresence (27).
- God the source of all life (v. 28)
- He is a living Being (v. 29).
- A Revelation of God (v. 30)
- Repentance commanded (v. 30)
- Great Judgement day appointed (v. 31; Rev. 20:1-15; Matt. 12:36; Rom. 2:16)
- The whole world to be judged in Righteousness (v. 31; Rev. 20:11-15)
- Jesus Christ to judge (v. 31; John 5)
- Resurrection of Jesus Christ guarantees justice to all (v. 31; 1 cor. 15)
To read more about the character of God click this link. “Do You Really Know God the Father?”