Summary: Paul's proclamation of 'Jesus and the resurrection'.
AN ANSWER TO AGNOSTICISM
While Paul was waiting for Silas and Timothy to catch up with him in Athens, he might have been excused if he took some leisure to do a little sightseeing. However, seeing a city full of idols provoked Paul into a painful state of agitation: quite literally a ‘paroxysm’ (Acts 17:16). The Apostle was experiencing the same reaction to idolatry as does the LORD Himself (e.g. Isaiah 65:2-3)!
So, Paul reasoned with the worshippers in the synagogue, and disputed every day with the passers-by in the market place (Acts 17:17). This led to the opportunity to share the gospel ‘in the midst of’ the philosophical council on Mars hill (Acts 17:22). Despite having been ‘taken hold of’ and ‘brought’ to Mars hill (Acts 17:19), Paul was not under arrest: the council no longer functioned as a court, and at the end of the proceedings Paul was free to ‘depart’ from the midst of them (Acts 17:33).
Although Paul had been so agitated at the idolatry which he saw, he was composed in his thoughts as he addressed the assembly in the passage before us. The Apostle first politely suggested that they were “far too religious” (Acts 17:22). It is possible to be too ‘religious’ without really making any real headway toward the divine (cf. Acts 17:27)!
Paul found a point of contact with his listeners: among the many shrines which he had observed, he had noticed an altar dedicated to “the unknown God” (Acts 17:23). It was this God, “whom not knowing you reverence,” he suggested, “who I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23). The Apostle was not thereby endorsing their religiosity, but rather acknowledging their ignorance (cf. Acts 17:30).
The address thereafter speaks of God as the Creator and Sustainer of all things (Acts 17:24-25). From one man (Adam!) He made every nation of men and, significantly, determined the times and the boundaries of their dwellings (Acts 17:26). Paul quoted Greek poets (Acts 17:28), just like we might quote Shakespeare to an English-speaking audience.
There is a sense in which God is the father of all mankind. We find it in the genealogy of Luke’s Gospel, where Adam is called ‘the son of God’ (Luke 3:38). Paul’s argument is, since we are the “offspring” of God, we ought not think that the God who made us can be likened to gold, or silver, or stone - or anything of our devising (Acts 17:29).
With this, Paul announces that the God of whom he speaks - the God whom they are groping after in a cloud of ignorance - is the judge of all the earth. Furthermore, there is a specific day set for this righteous judgment, and a man appointed for the task. Of this same man (Jesus - cf. Acts 10:42), God has given assurance by raising Him from the dead (Acts 17:31)!
Some chose, and still choose, to scoff at the resurrection. Others chose to prevaricate (Acts 17:32). Others ‘believed’ (Acts 17:34) - in what Paul proclaimed: ‘Jesus and the resurrection’ (cf. Acts 17:18).
God is commanding all men everywhere to repent. The times of this ignorance cannot go on (Acts 17:30). Time is running out…