In Athens Paul preaches both in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks and in the marketplace with those who happened to be there. Paul was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. Several times in Acts we have seen that Paul is a once-blind servant of the Lord who having had his eyes opened to see the salvation work of God now proclaims that work to the nations that they might turn from idolatry to the true and living God.
In Athens Paul speaks at the Areopagus to do this work. He notes their concern for spiritual things evidenced in the multiplicity of objects at which to worship – even an altar to an unknown God. Paul then highlights the following truths about the true and living God:
- He made the world
- He is the Lord of heaven and earth
- He is not dependent on the works of human hands
- This is evidenced in that he himself gives all men life and breath and that he determines the times and places in which nations live
God’s provision to individuals and nations was that people would seek him, reach out for him, and find him. Interestingly, Paul’s statement that God does not live in temples made by human hands is exactly what Stephen had said of the temple in Jerusalem. Saul had hated that teaching of Stephen’s – but now he preaches the same message! What Stephen said of the Jewish temple is the same as what Paul says of the Athenian temples – astonishing if one thinks about.
Paul also makes it clear that if living human beings are God’s children then God cannot be thought of as being like a gold, silver or stone image made by man’s design and skill. The application of this is that while God in the past overlooked such ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent – and he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed – and he has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead. Some believe and some do not.
Next Paul travels to Corinth. There he works as a tentmaker with Aquila and his wife Priscilla. Once again Paul preaches in the synagogue showing Jews and God-fearing Greeks that Jesus is the Christ. When Silas and Timothy join him having brought a gift of money from the churches in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea, Paul is able to devote himself fully to the task of proclaiming Jesus.
When the Jews in the synagogue become jealous and oppose Paul, Paul shakes his clothes in protest saying, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” Paul then goes to the house of a Gentile next door to the synagogue and continues to proclaim Jesus – that must have been very irritating to the unbelieving Jews and explains their continued opposition. It is not all the Jews who reject the gospel though – Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord.
Paul ends up staying in Corinth for 1 ½ years. At the start of his ministry Jesus tells Paul not to be afraid because he (Jesus) had many people in this place. This implies that Jesus had people who belonged to him and would become believers even before they believed. Predestination is a wonderful motivation for mission!