Acts 17 Commentary Verses 4-9

Explaining the Book
Explaining the Book
Acts 17 Commentary Verses 4-9
/

We’ll be studying Acts 17:4-9 to end this section of Acts 17 where we’ve see the founding of the church in Thessalonica.

Let’s read the entirety of that section - Acts 17:1-9 and then get into the details.

Acts 17:1–9 AV 1873

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

2 and Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,

3 opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.

4 And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.

5 But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.

6 And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also;

7 whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Cesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.

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

9 And when they had taken security of Jason, and of the other, they let them go.

Now, just a reminder of what we saw in Acts 17:1-3 last time. Paul and Silas come from Philippi after having been beaten.

Here’s a map of the route they would have used - the Via Egnatia - to get from Philippi to Thessalonica.

https://en.wikivoyage.org/wiki/File:Via_Egnatia-en.jpg

Paul and Silas stayed probably just overnight in Amphipolis and Apollonia on the way to Thessalonica. Once they arrived at Thessalonica, they found a Jewish synagogue there and so they went in and preached the gospel for three Sabbath days.

Then there’s probably a little time that elapses between the discontinuation of their Sabbath preaching and what’s to follow in verse 4 and beyond.

So, last time we saw the messengers and the message of the gospel that God is advancing around the world.

And this time we will see the two responses to that gospel - reception and rejection.

Acts 17 Commentary Verse 4

So, first in Acts 17:4 we see the positive response to the gospel. God advances his gospel through saving some people who then instinctively gather with one another.

Acts 17:4 AV 1873

4 And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.

Some of Them

So, the text says that some of them believed. Some of whom?

Well, the referent would be these Jews in the synagogue in Thessalonica that Paul and Silas visited for three Sabbath days.

We saw in verses 1-3 that Paul proclaimed to them that the Old Testament presented it as an absolute necessity for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead - and that this Messiah was none other than Jesus of Nazareth.

Believed

And the result of Paul’s ministry was that some of those Jews who heard believed.

Other words that the KJV uses to translate the word believed here include persuade (20), trust (9), confidence (8), and - interestingly - obey (7).

Jesus in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus asserted that if people have the Old Testament - like these Jews did - and they don’t believe what’s written in it, they won’t believe even if someone rises from the dead (Luke 16:31).

Well, some of these Jews in Thessalonica did apparently believe both the Old Testament and the message that Paul was preaching to them from that very book concerning the Christ and his rising from the dead.

And so, let me ask whether everyone here today has this internal convincing of Jesus being the Messiah who suffered and died for your sins - and who rose from the dead. Are you solidly convinced of that reality?

Some people trust in themselves - and oftentimes the corollary to that is that they tend to despise - or think little of / or look down upon - others (Luke 18:9).

Our full confidence needs to be in Jesus Christ - and not in ourselves or anything else. He alone is worthy of all of our trust.

And some of these Jews adopted that very mindset. They were persuaded and put their confidence in Jesus as their true Messiah and Savior.

Consorted with Paul and Silas

And as a result, these ones who were persuaded by Paul’s message consorted with Paul and Silas.

This word consort actually appears only one time in the New Testament. But it’s root has to do with the concept of an inheritance or a lot or a portion.

So then, these believing Jews threw in their lot with Paul and Silas. Or they took their share in the gospel of Christ together with Paul and Silas.

This was actually one of the stated purposes for which Jesus Christ saved and commissioned the Apostle Paul. Jesus’s purpose for Paul’s ministry was revealed to be as follows (Acts 26:18): “to open [people’s] eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.”

The right response to receiving the truth of the gospel - like some of these Jews did - is that we would be, “giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:” (Colossians 1:12).

We have a shared inheritance.

And in this life, if you’re one of two... or three... or maybe even more children to receive a shared inheritance, the tendency might be to become envious and covetous. Because there’s a limited resource and there are several of you that want it.

But that’s not how it works with this sharing together in spiritual things. The blessings are unlimited. Each of us can enjoy as much of our spiritual inheritance as we want and there will be no less available to the others.

And I think it’s this sense of being fellow-heirs of spiritual realities that causes believers in Christ Jesus to join together in the same location. Who wants to enjoy this new life in Christ alone?

I remember before I was married, I was in New York for a business trip and the company I was working for paid for my meals. And so I went to a fairly nice restaurant and sat down at a table, thinking that this was going to be really enjoyable... But as I sat there all by myself, it dawned on me that I didn’t have anyone to enjoy this with. The food was great. But what’s the use if you don’t have someone there to share in the food and the atmosphere and everything else with you?

And that’s how we can picture our spiritual inheritance. Who wants to enjoy this alone? Let’s gather together and enjoy Christ and his kingdom and his word and his service all together!

And this is what some of those Jews did. They consorted with Paul and Silas. They took their share and threw in their lot with the men that led them to Christ - and with one another.

A Great Multitude of the Devout Greeks

But it wasn’t just the Jews who took their share in the gospel of Christ. There were also a large number of these devout Greeks.

The term devout has reference to worship. These are Greek worshippers of the God of Israel. The KJV also calls them religious proselytes - ones who were not fully Jewish (they’re still identified as Greeks) but they kind of attached themselves to the religion of Scripture.

We’re given the names of a few of these folks throughout the New Testament. Lydia whom Paul and Silas met in Philippi is one such name (Acts 16:14). There’s also Justus from Corinth who is identified as one of these people (Acts 18:7).

But while these devout Greeks would have joined themselves to the religion of the Jews, they were not in a completely right relationship with the God that they sought to worship.

In fact, even Lydia had to have her heart opened by God to receive the message of the gospel (Acts 16:14). And in certain cities, these devout Greeks were unfortunately used by Paul’s opponents to run him out of town (Acts 13:50).

Some of these devout Greeks in Thessalonica would no doubt have been meeting in the synagogue. But surely with the great multitude that they’re described as, Paul would have met a number of these folks outside of the synagogue as well.

And it’s interesting that in 1 Thessalonians some of the things that Paul says and does-not-say would indicate that the church in Thessalonica ended up being made-up largely of these people, rather than the Jews.

For example, Paul reminds them in 1 Thessalonians 1:9 that they had turned from idols to serve God. This is much more likely to be said of a Gentile than of a Jew of those days. The Jews often gave in to idolatry before their exile in Babylon, but we don’t see much of that afterwards.

So, there were a few Jews who believed. There were a great number of devout Greeks.

Not a Few of the Chief Women

And then there were these chief women of the city of Thessalonica that believed the gospel.

These were apparently some of the wealthier, more well-to-do ladies of Thessalonica - and they reached that status by themselves. Either that - or perhaps they were the wives of the chief men of the city.

But whoever these women were exactly - there were not a few of them.

That phrase (not a few) really seems to be a favorite of Luke’s. He uses it to refer to a large commotion among soldiers (Acts 12:18), of an extended stay that Paul had with other believers (Acts 14:28), of the sharp disagreement that Paul and Barnabas had over John Mark (Acts 15:2), and of the hours-long riot that occured in Ephesus at the instigation of Demetrius the idol-maker whom Paul was putting out of business with his effective evangelism (Acts 19:23).

The phrase not a few is a form of understatement but in the negative. And it basically means something like, a sizeable amount.

So, there was a sizeable amount of these prominent women, a great number of devout Greeks, and a few Jews from the synagogue that all received Paul’s message of their suffering and rising Messiah. And they were persuaded to the point that they believed and gathered together.

Acts 17 Commentary Verse 5

But then you have the opposite response to the gospel starting in verse 5 and running to the end of the passage in verse 9.

And we’ll see in this section that God advances his gospel even through opposition. Verse 5:

Acts 17:5 AV 1873

5 But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.

The Jews Which Believed Not

So, in contrast to those few Jews who did believe in verse 4, we now have the other Jews. And we’re going to see what they do instead of receiving their Messiah.

Moved with Envy

Their primary motive is envy. In fact, the English phrase moved with envy is one word in Greek and it’s intentionally placed at the beginning of this sentence.

Their rejection of Jesus was not a matter of principled careful study. They don’t raise any biblical objections to what Paul was saying. Their opposition was purely sourced in their jealousy or envy of the success of the message of Paul and Silas concerning Jesus.

These Jews repeated the mistake of their forefathers who sold the patriarch Joseph into Egypt because of this very emotion of jealous or envy (Acts 7:9).

It’s this emotion that leads people who are works-based in their approach to being accepted by God to try to make disciples (Galatians 4:17-18). It’s utterly unloving (1 Corinthians 13:4).

Certain Lewd Fellows of the Baser Sort

And in this case, the envy of these Jews is not directed at making disciples or selling anyone into slavery. Rather, their envy is now directed at causing a riot.

And you typically need a rather large group of individuals to start a riot. So, the Jews find this group that the KJV identifies as certain lewd fellows of the baser sort.

These are market people - those idle individuals who would have had nothing better to do than to congregate at the ancient agora or marketplace.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Roman_forum.jpg

And while we could assume that there were apparently some decent individuals who made this their practice, these ones were the wicked ones among those market folk.

So, the Jews take these wicked market people.

Gathered a Company

And with that group, they gather a company. This again is one Greek word that combines the word for crowd with the word make. They made a crowd - or in this context, they made a violent mob.

And it’s likely that this mob is gathering adherents as it goes along. The mob is formed... and then it keeps forming itself. It’s like a snowball rolling down a hill.

A study from the University of Leeds found that it takes only about 5 percent of a crowd to influence the group’s direction, with the other 95 percent following without even realizing what they are doing.”

And so, we see next where at least 5% of this Thessalonian crowd is headed...

Set all the City on an Uproar

The mob grows so large that is sets all the city on an uproar.

The verb tense would indicate that this was an ongoing thing. The larger the mob became the more of an uproar ensued and so the larger the mob became and so the greater the uproar and on and on.

What these folks are doing in setting the city in an uproar is the same word used to describe the weeping and wailing that would have accompanied an untimely death in the ancient near east.

It’s the action of a crowd that would gather to bewail the death of a young girl (Matthew 9:23; Mark 5:39) or the death of a young man (Acts 20:10).

The city of Thessalonica is pictured as if they are experiencing the turmoil of that kind of painful unexpected tragedy. And it’s all orchestrated by the Jews who were set on rejecting their Messiah.

Assaulted the House of Jason

And so, the Jews and the mob that they had formed assault the house of Jason.

This word assault is usually translated very benignly as come or come to or approach or come upon. The picture I get is that they approached and even surrounded Jason’s house.

And you might be wondering who this Jason is - which is totally understandable because we haven't heard anything about this man up to this point.

His name appears one other place in the New Testament - in Romans 16:21 where Paul is conveying greetings to the Roman Christians from a number of individuals - one of whose name is Jason. Maybe that’s our Jason here in Acts 17:5 or maybe not.

There’s some thought that Jason was a Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua - like the name Jesus was. In which case, maybe he was one of those devout Greeks who trusted Christ. Or perhaps he was a Hellenistic Jew.

And later on in this text it becomes apparent that Jason is a believer. Because the unbelieving Jews accuse him of such and he doesn’t deny it.

Sought to Bring them Out

Well, ultimately the mob was not looking for Jason. They were only at Jason’s house because they thought that Paul and Silas would be there.

That’s what it means that they sought to bring them out. The them in that phrase is referring to Paul and Silas.

To The People

So, the mob wants to bring Paul and Silas out to the people - to the δῆμος. This would have been the public assembly in that city - maybe located at the agora/marketplace.

In another place in Acts, this assembly was where Herod gave his oration to the people of Tyre and Sidon (Acts 12:22). It’s also where a mob similar to what we see in this passage gathered to riot in Ephesus (Acts 19:30,33).

So, the Jews and their mob of ne’er-do-wells get the whole city of Thessalonica in a grieving panic and then seek Paul and Silas at Jason’s house to persecute them publicly.

Acts 17 Commentary Verse 6

But it turns out in verse 6 that the mob can’t find their intended targets.

Acts 17:6 AV 1873

6 And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also;

So, the mob can’t find Paul and Silas.

They drew Jason and Certain Brethren

And so, their rage turns to those who had gladly received Paul’s message of a suffering and rising Messiah. The mob now goes after Jason and some of the other believers.

And you get the idea that Jason and his fellow-believers were not all that willing to go with the mob. The mob had to draw them.

That’s what those who stoned Paul on his first missionary journey had to do to his lifeless body as they dragged him out of the city (Acts 14:19). It’s how Revelation relates to us the vision of the Dragon where his tail draws the stars out of heaven (Revelation 12:4). It’s how Peter dragged the net of fish to land (John 21:8), or how Paul himself before he was converted used to drag Christians away to persecution and imprisonment (Acts 8:3).

Jason and his fellow believers are being dragged from his home against their will.

Unto the Rulers of the City

And they’re brought to the rulers of the city. In Greek, the term is politarch - city ruler.

And this is one of many areas in which archeology has been able to shed light on the Bible and offer proof for its veracity - it’s truthfulness.

One of the earliest existing inscriptions to use the term "Politarch" was located on the Vardar Gate in Thessaloniki. The Gate was unfortunately destroyed in 1876 but the inscription, which dates to the 2nd Century AD [100s - 50 to 100 years after Paul’s visit], can now been seen in the British Museum in London.

According to author F. F. Bruce [Commentary on the Book of Acts, NIC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 314.] there seem to have been five locally elected magistrates in Thessalonica in Paul’s day. They were responsible for law enforcement. Legislature was in the hands of the local citizens, referred to as the dēmos, which we heard about in verse 5.

So, the mob brings Jason and the other believers to these Politarchs.

Crying

And the mob is impassioned. They are crying - and not in a mournful way. They are crying out their accusations against the believers.

There is no way to cry out without some level of earnestness and intensity. Think of John the Baptist and his being a voice crying out in the wilderness (Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23). Or of Jesus crying out to his Father regarding his being forsaken on the cross (Mark 15:34). Or how we pray to the Father in our extreme needs (Luke 18:7). Or like the blind man who knew that Jesus could heal him - if he could only get Jesus to hear him (Luke 18:38).

The mob was earnestly and intensely communicating the following message in this verse and to the end of verse 7 to these city rulers.

These that Have Turned the World Upside Down

Paul and Silas are the ones being primarily accused with the term these, though Jason and the other believers are going to receive some accusations as well.

They are accused of turning the world upside down.

There was apparently an Egyptian that did something similar to this in Judea around this time as he led four thousand men out into the wilderness for some clandestine purpose (Acts 21:38). This is also the impact that can be wreaked on a church when it’s infiltrated by those who add works to faith for a person’s salvation and standing with God (Galatians 5:12).

And so, this mob is now accusing Paul and Silas (in absentia) and the rest of the Thessalonian believers they could find (in person) of revolting against and overthrowing - not just a city or a region like that Egyptian did - and not just a church like the moralists in Galatia did - but the entire world.

In other words, “wherever people are - that’s the very place that Paul and his gang are causing tumult and problems” - according to the mob, at least. “And now, these troublemakers are here in Thessalonica, too!”

And yet, we just have to kind of chuckle - because who is really causing the riot and tumult in Thessalonica? Was it really Paul and the rest? Or was it this wild mob?!

Acts 17 Commentary Verse 7

Well, the mob continues its baseless accusation against Paul and Silas in verse 7.

Acts 17:7 AV 1873

7 whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Cesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.

Whom Jason hath Received

The mob apparently feels the need to explain why they are dragging Jason before the Politarchs if their real issue is with Paul and Silas - who, again, are not there.

Jason is accused of giving Paul and Silas a warm reception.

It’s like Martha’s welcoming of Jesus into her home (Luke 10:38). Or Zaccheus’s inviting Jesus to his home after he repented of his sin (Luke 19:6). Or Rahab’s warm welcome of the Israelite spies (James 2:25).

Jason received and warmly welcomed these men accused of world-wide sedition.

These All Do Contrary to the Decrees of Cesar

And as if it’s not enough to incite riots all over the world and harboring people who do the same, now the mob makes one more claim that they think will really get these believers in trouble.

The accusation has to do with the practice of these people. They do contrary to the decrees of Cesar.

This Cesar was either

•     Claudius (AD 41-54)

•     or, less likely, Nero (AD 54-68)

And so, what the believers are doing is allegedly against Cesar’s decrees.

We have record of one of Cesar’s decrees in Luke 2:1 where we’re told that Augustus - the Cesar at the time of Jesus’ birth from 27 BC to AD 14 - decreed that a census of all his people be taken for the purpose of taxation. That was a written and proclaimed commandment from the emperor of Rome.

And it was these all who were acting contrary to Cesar’s decrees and commands. That includes Paul and Silas and Jason and the other believers who go unnamed - which certainly would have included some from the group we read about in verse 4 - some Jews, numerous devout Greeks, and not a few prominent women.

And so, these believers are being accused of acting against Cesar’s written and proclaimed commands.

There is Another King, one Jesus

But here’s the most significant one of those commands that they’re violating - in the collective estimation of the mob, at least. And it’s that these Christians are saying that there is another king - and that king is none other than Jesus.

Is this accusation correct - that Jesus is king and that this is a threat to Cesar?

Well, in one way - it certainly is. Jesus is the King. He is the king of the Jews (Matthew 27:11,37; Luke 22:30; John 18:37; 19:19). He is the prince of the kings of the earth (Revelation 1:5). He is even the king of Heaven (Matthew 3:2; 4:17; Luke 23:42). This is part of his being the Messiah - the fact that he is King - of both the Jews and ultimately of all of God’s creation.

And yet, the mob is not getting this quite right. They knew enough about Paul’s message of Jesus that he preached in the synagogue that they knew these facts about Jesus - that he was indeed a king.

And yet the mob twists the facts in order to make it sound like the gospel is a threat to civil order. It’s not.

Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom was not from this world (John 18:36). And that if his kingdom was from this world - if it was right now intended to overthrow every other king and form of government - then Jesus’ servants would have been fighting for him. Servants of Jesus the King do not attempt to overthrow governments for the sake of supposedly setting up his kingdom on this earth. This is not what we’re called to do.

Jesus is the ultimate King. And he will some day rule on this earth (Revelation 11:15) from his throne in Jerusalem. But not yet.

And isn’t it interesting that the mob is unwittingly proclaiming a key aspect of Jesus’ person - of his kingship? God advances the good news of his Son - even through opposition.

So, there is indeed another king. And believers teach and live that way. But this is no threat to the current civil order - even under the rulership of wicked men.

Acts 17 Commentary Verse 8

Well, we see the impact that those accusations had on those who listened to the mob in verse 8.

Acts 17:8 AV 1873

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

They Troubled the People and the Rulers of the City

The response to the mob’s accusations is trouble.

Interestingly, Jesus has a way of provoking this emotional state in people.

When Herod heard from the wise men that Jesus the King was born, this was his response (Matthew 2:3). When his disciples saw him walk on the Sea of Galilee, this was their response (Matthew 14:26; Mark 6:50). After Jesus had died for our sins and risen again and appeared to his disciples, he had to ask them why this was their response to seeing him (Luke 24:38).

But not only did Jesus provoke this response in others. He himself experienced this emotion.

When he saw how people grieved over Lazarus’ death - a death he could have prevented, but intentionally chose not to - he was troubled (John 11:33). When Jesus was within a few hours of his suffering for our sin he was troubled (John 13:21).

And because Jesus himself experienced trouble like this, he’s able to comfort his disciples in our troubled state with encouragements to trust him (John 14:1) and by giving us his peace (John 14:27).

But for these people who were listening to the mob in Acts 17, they would not trust and would not receive Jesus’ peace. And therefore, all they could expect was this troubled condition in their souls.

These folks were troubled at the prospect of more riots from this mob that would then potentially call down Rome’s wrath upon their city. They were troubled that Rome might catch word that there’s a new king in town in Thessalonica and that Rom would have to come and “investigate.”

And it’s interesting that this message troubled the people because that’s the word for what the Jews and the market people formed - this mob. So, the mob is at the same time both leveling accusations against the believers... and also terrifying themselves with what they’re claiming. It’s like the kid at the camp fire frightening his friends by telling them scary stories that are so scary that he himself can’t sleep that night.

I think this also reminds us that it was really the Jews-who-refused-to-receive-their-Messiah who were the moving force behind this mob. The passage doesn’t say that the Jews were troubled - only the city rulers and the mob they formed were troubled. The Jews knew what they were doing.

Acts 17 Commentary Verse 9

Now, despite the inner turmoil experienced by numerous people in Thessalonica, the city rulers end up making a rather reasonable arrangement to end all of the strife in verse 9 to end our section.

Acts 17:9 AV 1873

9 And when they had taken security of Jason, and of the other, they let them go.

When They Had Taken Security of Jason and of the Other

The security spoken of here is akin to our current practice of posting bail.

It’s similar to what Pilate did with the Jews. In order to satisfy the Jews, he released Barabbas but delivered Jesus to be scourged and crucified (Mark 15:15). And that contented them. That gave the Jews assurance that what they wanted to happen would indeed happen.

So, in Acts 17:9 there is some assurance given by Jason and the other believers that Paul and Silas won’t come around again and stir up trouble. It was probably some guarantee that Paul and Silas would never come back or that at least Jason would never house them again.

But surprisingly, that’s it. There’s no scourging or further punishment for these believers.

They Let Them Go

And the end of the story is mercifully anti-climactic as the city rulers let Jason and his fellow-believers go. They just release them.

Conclusion/Transition

Well, from there, Acts 17:10 goes on to state that the Thessalonian believers sent Paul and Silas away by night. And after that, Paul and Silas move on to Berea. And the Thessalonian Jews bring their traveling persecution act there as well. And on and on it goes...

But with such an inauspicious sending-off, Paul and Silas wanted to follow-up with this dear church in Thessalonica. If the Jews and their mob were so bold to persecute the Thessalonian believers when their leaders were there, what’s to say they wouldn’t do more of the same after they left? No matter how long Paul had been with them, these believers would need encouragement and comfort and even further instructions and help knowing how to process all of this in their new Christian lives. They might even need some corrections in old patterns of living that don’t fit their new life in Christ.

But the problem was that Paul and Silas couldn’t come back to Thessalonica - Jason had given assurance of that. And so in our day, if we can’t physically visit someone, we would send a text or an email or make a phone call. Or maybe we would even be so old-fashioned as to send a letter.

And so, that’s exactly what we see Paul and Silas doing in their letter that they sent to the church in Thessalonica that we know as 1 Thessalonians. And we’ll begin studying that directly next time.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.