16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. 17 Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there. 18 Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,” because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.
19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? 20 For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean.” 21 For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.
22 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:
TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.
Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: 24 God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 And He has made from one blood[c] every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ 29 Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. 30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
32 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter.” 33 So Paul departed from among them. 34 However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
In giving only one sermon addressed to Gentiles by the great Apostle to the Gentiles, namely the Aeropagus speech in Athens, his (Luke’s) primary purpose is to give an example of how the Christian missionary should approach cultured Gentiles.
Studies in the Acts Of The Apostles
There was a chap in history named Marcion who, among teaching other devilish things, taught that the Old Testament and the New Testament were speaking about different gods. For Marcion, the Old Testament God was a mean God of wrath, while the New Testament God was a God of love and Grace. Naturally, Marcion was wrong for Scripture teaches us that the God of the Scriptures is one and that the one God is immutable.
When we look at Acts 17 we find an interesting statement that suggests the incredible graciousness of God as he worked in history pre-dating the New Testament, as well as an interesting implication that God’s anger is as incredibly intense now as it ever was in the Old Testament economy.
Paul, has finished explaining the character of God and in reference to the Athenian idolatry the Apostle says, ‘Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked.’ The Apostle declares something similar in his encounter with the citizens of Lystra when he explains to them, “God…who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways (A. 14:16).” Here is the proclamation of God’s incredible grace to the ancient world. The idolatries of the Nations were overlooked and the Nations were not given what their idolatry deserved. Marcion was wrong, God in the OT cannot be justly described as a God who is mean and vengeful. Any outpouring of the wrath of God we see in the Old Testament was altogether just but the outpouring of wrath we do see is nothing in comparison to the grace, mercy, and love of God in ancient times that St. Paul proclaims in His sermons. God, in His kindness and forbearance, overlooked these previous times of ignorance. God, in restraint and compassion, allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. He did not visit sin with what it deserved, waiting instead to visit upon His Son the deservings of sin.
However with the advent and work of Christ the Apostle suggests that the ‘overlooking times’ are finished. God overlooked previously, ‘BUT NOW,’ the Apostle says, ‘God commands all men everywhere to repent.’ The reason for the difference between the ‘overlooking times’ and the ‘Now times’ is that with the death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and session of Christ sin has been dealt with, and the great graciousness of God has been publicly placarded. Sins, like idolatry, committed in these ‘BUT NOW times’ leave men even more responsible then the sins committed before God revealed the fulsomeness of His grace in Christ. God was abundantly gracious in the ‘overlooked times’ but now that these ‘NOW TIMES’ have arrived, where God’s grace has overflowed, the expectation is that all men everywhere would repent.
For those who minister the Gospel one would think that all of this would ratchet up our earnestness. Those who refuse Christ are sinning against greater grace with the consequence that greater judgment will be their portion. All men living post Christ’s finished work can be characterized as men from whom much will be required (in terms of judgment) because much was given (in terms of grace.)
Our hearts ought to be burdened for people who will not turn to Christ but who instead will keep to their tired old idolatries. With ever more prayer we should ask God to give us the nations for the inheritance of the Son, that they might know what the good life is and that God may be glorified.
God, having given greater portions of grace in these ‘BUT NOW TIMES’ we should pray for a greater ability to understand and communicate the jaw dropping splendor of the Gospel that saves men in these ‘BUT NOW TIMES.’