Acts 17

1. Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.

Now Paul and Silas travel south and west from Philippi. First, they pass through Amphipolis, whose name means “A City Surrounded by the Sea.” Amphipolis is a Macedonian coastal city about thirty-three miles southwest of Philippi. Then, they pass through Apollonia, meaning “Belonging to Apollo,” another coastal city about thirty miles further southwest of that. Apparently, they did not stop to declare the gospel in either one, and if we can draw the obvious inference from the end of the verse, the reason they did not stop was that there were no synagogues in either town. There were Gentiles in both places, of course, but no Jews, and their message was to the Jew first in the Acts period. If there were no Jews in a city, they would simply pass that city by.

Yet the Spirit is not done with Macedonia yet. So Paul and his company come to Thessalonica, where there is a synagogue of the Jews. Here, they will stop and proclaim the truth.

Thessalonica means “Victory of Falsity.” It was about another sixty miles further from Apollonia. According to Thayer’s Lexicon, the city was originally called Therme, but when it was rebuilt by Cassander, he renamed it after his wife Thessalonica, the sister of Alexander the Great. Paul gets a victory for truth in this city, and yet the enemies of the truth get their own victory as well, so perhaps the city at least partially lived up to its name.

2. Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures,

Now in Thessalonica Paul, according to his custom as we have seen it throughout the book of Acts until now, goes into the synagogue to the Jews. For three Sabbath days he does this, spending his time there reasoning with them from the Scriptures. At this point, these would be the Old Testament Scriptures, as we call them. No doubt he was showing them the things the Scriptures say, both about the kingdom of God, and about the Messiah to come.

3. explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.”

Now we learn what Paul reasoned about out of the Hebrew Scriptures during these three Sabbath days. He was showing them that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and rise again from the dead. He did not just explain this. He also demonstrated it, showing from the Old Testament that it must be so. Then, having demonstrated this from the Bible, he gave his important proclamation: that the Jesus whom he proclaimed to them is that same Messiah. So they had the truth before them, not just by reason, but also by the Scriptures. The question now is will they believe it?

4. And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.

Upon weighing Paul’s proclamation against the evidence he had shown them from the Scriptures, some of these Jews come to the conclusion that what he is telling them is correct. So they are persuaded. Along with them, a great multitude of the devout Greeks believes, as well as not a few of the leading women, that is, those from the best families. Upon believing, these all join with Paul and Silas. The word here, proskleroomai, had to do with the casting of dice, and literally means they cast their lots with them.

I have been demonstrating my teaching regarding the word “Greeks” throughout our study of Acts up to this point. I have declared my conviction that the difference between a “Jew” and a “Greek” is not one of ancestry or nationality, but rather one of lifestyle. In other words, a “Jew” was one who lived like an Israelite by keeping the law and customs of the Jews, whereas a Greek was one who lived according to the common, Greek manner of life that was prevalent in the Roman Empire. So how does this view fit with this occurrence of the word “Greeks”?

I will admit that this occurrence of “Greeks” seems to be an odd one, according to my view. In fact, it really seems the oddest, if what I teach is correct. If these Greeks were ancestral Israelites who had given up on the culture and traditions of their fathers, then why are they called “devout”? Yet if they are Gentiles who have taken up the religion and practices of the Jews, then why are they called “Greeks”?

We have to ask ourselves what a “devout” person is. The word here is sebo in Greek. It occurs only ten times in the New Testament. The first use is in Matthew 15:9.

9. And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.

Here, the word “worship” is sebo. Mark 7:7 is a repeat of this statement. Acts 13:43 applies this word to proselytes.

43. Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.

The word “devout” here is sebo. Yet a few verses later in the same chapter, the word is used in reference to women who were “devout,” and yet who actually were against the faith in God, and do not seem to have even been Jews.

50. But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.

Here in Acts 13:50, “devout” again is sebo. So we can establish that, while sebo does mean “devout” or “worshipping,” it is only clear from the context what those being spoken of are devout towards or whom they are worshipping. Acts 19:27 makes this even more clear, as it speaks of being “devout” for worshipping a goddess.

27. So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship.”

The word sebo here is translated “worship.” In this case, all Asia and the world were devout towards Diana. So what one is “devout” toward only becomes clear from the context. This word does not have to mean “devout towards God.”

Therefore, applying our understanding of the meaning of this word to Acts 17:4, I believe that what these people were was “devout” or “worshipping” Greeks. These were those among the Jewish community who actually had given up on worshipping the true God, and instead had begun to worship after the manner of the Greeks. In other words, they had begun to worship idols. Yet upon hearing the message as Paul and Silas proclaimed it, a great number of these became believers, and turned from the Greek manner of worship back to the God of their fathers. This was the blessed result of the gospel being proclaimed in Thessaonica.

In I Thessalonians 1:9, Paul says to the Thessalonians, “For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” This was true of many among the Thessalonian believers. After hearing Paul, these worshipping Greeks turned from idols to serve the living and true God. That is exactly what we see here in Acts 17:4. A multitude of these worshipping Greeks, upon hearing the reasoning of Paul, turn from the idols they had been devout toward to serve the living and true God.

5. But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.

Many of the Jews were persuaded, but unfortunately, not all. Those who were not persuaded became envious. Probably, as in Pisidian Antioch in chapter 13, this had to do with the success of the message that Paul and Silas were proclaiming. These Jews had tried for years to convince the worshipping Greeks among their number to turn from idols back to the living God, and had not succeeded. Now, however, Paul and Silas turn a great multitude of them back to God in just three weeks! This made these who rejected the message envious. Therefore, they decided to act. They knew there were not enough of them among the Jews to move against Paul and Silas. Therefore, they had to look for outside help.

It seems that the Jews went out then and sought aid from certain thugs among the Gentiles. I have always liked the way the old King James Version puts it here, “certain lewd fellows of the baser sort.” No doubt that is a pretty good description of them, but what the Greek actually says is much closer to the way the New King James Version has it, “evil men from the marketplace.” These were just common thugs they found hanging around the open marketplace of the city. They were muscle for hire, and so these Jews hired them. Then, the evil men gather a mob and set the city in an uproar. What lies, coercion, and deception they must have used to stir up this mob the text does not tell us. Yet whatever their tactics were, they worked.

So now, with a mob of angry citizens on their side, this group attacks the house of Jason, which apparently is where Paul and Silas are staying. Their objective is to capture Paul and Silas and bring them out to this angry mob. What the mob might have done with them it is hard to say, but it is quite likely that their enemies did not plan on the apostles living past this day.

6. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.

Paul and Silas are spared from whatever their enemies planned to do to them simply by the fact that they are not home when the mob arrives. Finding themselves frustrated, their enemies capture Jason and some other brethren they do find in his house, and then drag them off to the rulers of the city. Probably, they hope to get these rulers on their side. Perhaps then they can get some kind of decree out for the arrest of the apostles, since they could not find them to subject them to mob violence.

The leaders of this mob, whether they are the Jews or the evil men from the marketplace they had hired, now step forward to bring their accusation before the rulers. They accuse Paul and Silas with a highly exaggerated claim that they have “turned the world upside down.” Well, it might well have been so, had the full kingdom of God come in. Yet as it was, what they have been proclaiming has not had so big an effect as all that. But of course, these evil men are quite willing to lie and exaggerate in order to achieve their goal of destroying Paul and Silas.

The word for “world” here is the Greek word oikoumene. It comes from the Greek word oikos or “house,” and refers to the inhabited world, or the world of men living on the earth. The world they claimed they had turned upside down was the world of mankind.

7. Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus.”

The troublemakers admit that they do not actually have Paul and Silas here before the rulers, yet they explain to them that these men they do have, Jason and those with him, have joined with the apostles, and Jason has taken them into his home.

Now up until now, they have not made any accusation that would catch the ear of a Gentile ruler of a city. So now they throw out an accusation that will make these rulers sit up and take notice. They claim that all those who have consorted with Paul and Silas have acted contrary to the decrees of Caesar. Of course, this is very vague, like saying someone “broke the law,” but not saying how. Yet when they specify what they mean, their accusation does not become much clearer. They claim that this decree-breaking has to do with saying that there is another king, namely, Jesus. Now this accusation too insinuates much more than it actually says. There actually was no law against being a king in the Roman Empire. Subservient nations were allowed to keep their own government, and sometimes even their own king, as long as that government and that king would remain subject to Caesar. The Lord’s enemies always seemed to be implying that His claims conflicted with those of Caesar, yet in reality, the Lord never did set Himself up against Caesar, nor did His apostles ever claim any such thing in their teaching. What they were setting forth was much more important than Israel winning their independence from Rome. That would come in time, as the Lord chose to give it. For now, they were proclaiming Jesus Christ, and His kingdom on earth. Yet the Lord had not yet set His kingdom up against Caesar’s, nor did He. So the accusations they bring are false. They imply much, but there is no substance behind them. This is not what Paul and Silas have been doing.

8. And they troubled the crowd and the rulers of the city when they heard these things.

The crowd and rulers of the city are troubled by these accusations. The crowd had been emotionally stirred up by the hired troublemakers from the marketplace, but perhaps they did not all know until now exactly what it was they were supposed to be so mad about. Now they catch hear the implications in the accusations their leaders bring forward, and ignore the lack of facts supporting what they say. Thus, they are troubled by these things. The rulers of the city, hearing these accusations, are led to think what these false accusers wanted them to think, and they are troubled as well. Yet as the rulers, they now must decide what they should do. How should they respond to the rebellion of the apostles, as implied by these false accusers?

9. So when they had taken security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

What these rulers might have done if Paul and Silas had actually been there is hard to say. Yet they are not there, and so they cannot do anything to them directly at this time. Jason and the rest of the brethren have been accused by association, but the ire of the crowd is not really directed against them. So the rulers decide to take security from them. This probably was in the form of money, and was what we would call “bail.” The Greek indicates that this bail was quite substantial. Then, they let them go. Jason and his companions do not lose their lives, at least not at this time, but only their money.