Second Missionary Journey A.D. 50-52
Wildfires spread as long as there is fuel to feed them. Barriers such as large bodies of water, mounds of dirt piled high, and lifeless deserts stop them cold. The fire of the Spirit began spreading in Philippi and continued to spread throughout Macedonia. Receptive hearts ignited with fire; cold hearts barred the work of the Spirit within. Enemies of the gospel kept trying to put out the fire.
Yet, the fire of the Holy Spirit burns brightly in believers who are committed to serving Jesus Christ regardless of the cost. Amazingly, and contrary to natural thinking, people in the midst of hardships and persecution respond with joy to the gospel of grace, and churches grow. As Paul writes, “in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 1:6).” Unquenchable joy!
Read Acts 17:1-34 in one sitting to get the whole picture. As you do, read it patiently—give yourself enough time rather than rushing through it. Pray that God would open your heart to the truths He has for you from this text.
Deeper Discoveries: Using a Bible Dictionary, study notes, an internet search, and/or the introduction to First Thessalonians in your Bible, discover the city of Thessalonica as Paul knew it. What was life like there?
1. Discovering the facts: Looking at vv. 1-9, what was Paul’s custom? Who responded?
2. Summarize in one or two sentences what happened in vv. 5-9.
Historical Insight: Blasphemy—reviling the name of God or affronting His majesty and authority—was the gravest accusation for a Jew, but treason—to support a rival king above Caesar—was the worst accusation for a Roman citizen. (NIV Study Bible, pp. 1527, 1679)
3. Specifically, what charges were brought against Paul and his co-workers?
Scriptural Insight: We know that Paul stayed in Thessalonica for longer than 3 weeks, supporting himself by manual labor (1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-10). The Philippian church sent money to Paul at least twice during this visit. And, most of the converts were not from the synagogue but were Gentiles steeped in idolatry. (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 401)
4. The implication is that Paul was staying at Jason’s house (perhaps a relative, see Romans 16:21). How might the insistence of Jason “posting bond” or “receiving a pledge” affect Paul’s future ministry in Thessalonica? Read 1Thessalonians 1:2-10 and 2:18. Did the plan work?
Deeper Discoveries: Read the first letter to the Thessalonians to see how the church in this area progressed and the special problems it had to face. Make note of these below.
5. Read 1 Thessalonians 1:4-8; 2:1-2; 14-15; 3:6-10 and Romans 5:3-5. How did the Thessalonian Christians both withstand persecutions or difficulties and benefit from them?
6. Share Your Life: Drawing from what the Thessalonians learned, how can we maintain our faith amidst difficulties?
7. Discovering the Facts: How are the Bereans described?
8. Share Your Life: What example do the Bereans set for us (v. 11), and how can you apply this to your life? See also John 8:31-32; 14:6, 2 Timothy 3:14-16, and Galatians 1:8. Be specific.
9. Share Your Life: The Bereans loved the Scriptures. What do you enjoy about Bible Study? How has it affected your life? What are your goals for Bible Study? What hinders you?
10. In a culture that often degraded women, considering them not worth educating, what do you notice about the women who responded to the gospel? See Acts 16:13-15; 17:4,12. Why do you think Luke mentioned “prominent” women?
Historical Insight: “Prominent (NIV) /leading (NAS)” translates the Greek protos (first in rank, influence and honor). Macedonian women had a well-earned reputation for their independence and enterprising spirit. If some of the women who believed the gospel at this time were the wives of leading citizens, the initiative was theirs, not their husbands’. (F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, p. 323)
11. How did the unbelieving Jews use mob mentality to their advantage? Why do you think these Greek crowds, so proud of their intellectual heritage, went along with it? Make specific applications to America today.
Think About It: Intellectuals resist faith longer because they can: where ordinary people are helpless before the light, intellectuals are clever enough to spin webs of darkness around their minds and hide in them. (Dr. Peter Kreeft)
Deeper Discoveries: Using a Bible Dictionary, study notes, or an internet search, discover the city of Athens as Paul knew it. What was life like there?
12. Discovering the Facts: What did Paul notice about Athens? What was his initial response to that?
13. Share Your Life: What could be classified as “idols” people “pay homage to / honor / bow the knee” to in our culture today? Does that distress you as it did Paul? Is your life “full of idols?” Consider asking Jesus to help you release your dependence on any “idols” in your life.
14. How did Athens respond to this newcomer (vv. 18-21)? [Note: The Areopagus was a council that met to evaluate religions and morals. They considered themselves the custodians of teachings that introduced new religions and foreign gods.]
From the Greek: The word for “babbler” meant “seed picker,” a bird picking up seeds here and there. Then it came to refer to the loafer in the marketplace who picked up whatever scraps of learning he could find and paraded them without digesting them himself. (NIV Study Bible, p. 1680)
15. Share Your Life: Considering the definition for “babbler” above, Paul was definitely not a babbler. Have you ever known someone you would consider a “babbler” (no names please) or been one yourself? What can you learn from thinking about this experience?
16. Discovering the Facts: There are some precious truths in the sermon in vv. 22-34. Reread it, and glean for yourself 2 or 3 points that jump out at you or might be particularly meaningful to you.
17. What did Paul mean when he said the Athenians were very religious in verse 22 (some versions, superstitious)? How did he use this information positively in his sermon?
18. Remembering how Paul geared his message to his audience in Acts 13:16-41 and 14:15-17, what does he use here (17:24-31) as points of contact with the Athenians? This requires some close observation and possibly a look at any study notes you may have in your Bible.
19. Epicurean philosophers followed the belief that happiness was the chief end of life so they pursued sensual desires, believing things were left to chance. Stoic philosophers emphasized the rational over the emotional, suppressing desires. They were also pantheists, teaching that people should live in accord with nature and recognize their own self-sufficiency and independence. What problems might the Epicureans and the Stoics have had with the gospel message?
20. Share Your Life: Although called by different names, these thought patterns are still around today. So, the above question has application to the society surrounding you, maybe even a neighbor or relative. Identify (generally) those who follow these trains of thought today and how they are influencing or trying to influence your family. What are you doing to combat their influence? Be specific.
Think About It: Meditate on the words of this beloved song “You Are God Alone” by Phillips, Craig and Dean that reflect the essence of Paul’s sermon.
“You are not a god created by human hands, You are not a god dependent on any mortal man, You are not a God in need of anything we can give, by Your plan that’s just the way it is.
You are God alone from before time began. You were on Your throne, You are God alone. And right now in the good times and bad, You are on Your throne, You are God alone.”
21. Why does God reveal Himself in Creation (17:24-27)? See also Romans 1:19-20 and Hebrews 11:6. Does this work in general? How about for you?
22. What contrast (or complement) do we see about God in 17:24-25 and v. 27?
From the Greek: The Greek for “reach out / grope” (v. 27) means to handle, touch, and feel (see Luke 24:39). It pictures the blind groping of someone in a darkened room feeling along the walls to find the door.
23. What did Paul call upon the Athenians to do? Why? (17:30-31)
24. Why do you think Paul waited to proclaim Christ until the end of his message?
Historical Insight: Resurrection has one meaning only, a bodily resurrection. Nobody ever used it to mean life after death or a ghost wandering around after death. It means the restoration of a dead body in a new immortal form. To the Greek mind, the body was evil; the soul was good. Death rescued the soul from the body. There was no place in this thinking for resurrection. (N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, p. 145)
25. How did he address the Athenians differently from the usual synagogue audience? Why?
26. Share Your Life: Our culture today in many ways is more like that of the Athenians in Acts 17 than the Jews in Acts 2. We can no longer assume that our neighbor, co-worker, or friend has any working or even accurate knowledge of the God of the Bible, Bible stories, or Jesus. How does this affect our approach to them? What can we learn from Paul’s approach and apply to sharing the gospel with those who live in our “Acts 17” world?
Review the scripture passage covered in this lesson for evidences of the guidance and empowering of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. What will you ask God to do in your life?