A Bridge to Mars Hill – Acts 17:18-34

Thus, Paul explains that the God they know is there, but is unknown to them, that the Lord, as creator of all things and sustainer of life, is not only a transcendent God, but a personal God. He has been and is active in the history of mankind, sovereignly ruling over the nations, determining their times and scope, according to his purpose, which is to have a relationship with mankind, his offspring. Paul, too, here, you may notice, had shifted into the full concept of monotheism, as evidenced in creational, historical and relational epistemology, harmonizing with revelation.

Do you see how Paul was building a bridge upon these foundational true truths?

Paul alludes, as demonstrated in mankind’s ignorance (v. 30), that something had gone wrong (what Christians know of as the fall in Genesis 3). Why must the God and Father of mankind work in history to achieve a relationship with his offspring, who were somehow blinded to him? How is it that God would work in history so that, perhaps, mankind might “feel their way toward him and find him” (v. 27)? It was plain that something was wrong. God working to have a relationship with mankind, a relationship that was part of mankind’s original creation? God’s efforts indicate a broken relationship. Thousands of idols, an idol dedicated to the unknown god, and philosophies that grope all around without finding him, further made obvious this brokenness.

So, Paul bridges to the true truth. Despite the broken relationship, the Lord has always been close (Ps. 145:18; Jer. 23:23–24). The Greek poet (maybe Epimenides of Crete) touches upon this true truth, having said, “‘In him we live and move and have our being” (v. 28). How closer can one get? The broken relationship with the God that is always near also indicates that something must be done in order to heal the relationship.

Mankind has obviously failed at this point, unable to bridge the gap to the unknown God through religion or philosophy. Indeed, as Paul points out in v. 29, their efforts are ridiculous, foolish, in thinking “gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man,” can somehow encompass the Divine being of the living and true God.

Even more, through the audacity of idolatry, they have wronged God. To think that man, made in God’s image, would dare make images of the Divine? Their blindness to the Lord requires that their images were false. And, considering the completeness of God, as Paul has revealed, the incompleteness of the gods they had made is evidence that those were not gods. The logical conclusion was that, due to their ignorance (having wronged the one, true, living God), mankind was out of sync with the Lord’s character and what he rightly demands of them. So it was that Paul touched on that third question of philosophy, the question of man and his dilemma (morals).

Now, having revealed the unknown God to the Areopagus and the nature of their problem concerning him, Paul did not leave them hanging. He offered them hope, the hope for which they’d been crying all along. Verses 30-31:

30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Although wronged, we know of the Lord’s patience, his forbearance, his mercy, by his overlooking, for a time, mankind’s ignorance concerning him, which would include their idolatry and immorality (Rom. 3:25). Hence, we know the kindness of God, which is meant to lead to repentance (Rom. 2:4). God is not unjust, however. He is a just and righteous God, as evidenced by his fixing a day for judgment. So, while God may not have judged mankind for its idolatry, as severely as he might have, that time had come to an end. Judgment is coming.

How do we know judgment is coming? How do we know we need to repent? Paul, again, appeals to historical epistemology. We know because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, the man whom God appointed to judge the world. The historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection is how we know that judgment is coming and that the need to repent is urgent. God has acted in history to correct the problem of the broken relationship. They dare not wait; they must repent.

It is at this point the members of the Areopagus had had enough. The idea of resurrection was too far, and there were limited, if, in fact, zero anchor points for resurrection in Greek philosophy. So, they ended the meeting, shutting Paul down.