Paul continued his second missionary journey, leaving Berea, his last stop in Macedonia, and traveling two-hundred miles south to the region of Achaia and the city of Athens.
Athens was named for the Greek goddess, Athena, the mythical goddess of wisdom and warfare. High on the hill overlooking the ancient city stood the Parthenon, the impressive and beautiful temple dedicated to the worship of Athena. Picture it… over two hundred feet long and one hundred feet wide, with forty-six marble pillars, each thirty-four feet tall and six feet in diameter at their base. The towering edifice, constructed four-hundred years before Christ, was a constant reminder of the pagan idolatry that had a stranglehold on the Athenian culture.
Athena wasn’t the only god worshipped in Athens.
While Paul was in Athens, he went to “the Areopagus” (Acts 17:19). The term Areopagus means “hill of Ares.” Ares, the Greek god of war, was equivalent to the Roman god, Mars. So, the hilltop was also known as Mars Hill. It was on Mars Hill that the scholars of Athens gathered to discuss and debate philosophy.
Athena… Ares… and so many more mythical, pagan gods. “Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said, ‘People of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed, “To an Unknown God” ’ ” (Acts 17:22–23).
The Athenians had a god for everything… the sun, the moon, the sea, the weather, etc. In their silly attempt to keep from slighting any god, they built an altar “to an unknown god.”
Boldly, Paul used the “unknown god” as a powerful sermon illustration, turning the spotlight to God Almighty, the Creator of All.
“What you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it—he is Lord of heaven and earth—does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. From one man he has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. He did this so that they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:23–28). Paul passionately pointed his audience to God, the creator and sustainer of life.
Then, with laser-like focus, he pointed to Jesus, the Resurrected Redeemer. “God now commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has set a day when he is going to judge the world in righteousness by the man he has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31).
Sadly, this episode ends with few repenting, few trusting in Jesus, few being born-again. Apparently, no church was established, and Athens is mentioned again only in reference to Paul’s correspondence with Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:1).
Like Paul, we must be faithful to plant Gospel seeds (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23).