Online Bible Commentary
Turning the World Upside Down
Acts 17:1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ." 4 And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas. 5 But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. 6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, "These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. 7 Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king--Jesus." 8 And they troubled the crowd and the rulers of the city when they heard these things. 9 So when they had taken security from Jason and the rest, they let them go. (NKJV)
The time is about A.D. 50. Paul is on his second missionary journey. Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke are in Europe. They have started a church in Philippi, but Paul and Silas have been asked to leave by the local magistrates.
We note here that Luke changes the narrative from “we” to “they” (v. 1a) indicating that he did not leave Philippi with the others. He apparently stayed behind to provide support to the burgeoning church in Philippi, along with Timothy.
So Paul and Silas departed, as requested by the magistrates, and continued their missionary journey. First they traveled southwest some thirty-three miles to “Amphipolis” and then another thirty miles to “Apollonia” (v. 1b). Apparently there were no synagogues in these cities so ministry opportunities were limited.
Next Paul and Silas traveled thirty-seven miles due west to Thessalonica. Thessalonica, now known as Thessaloniki or Salonika, is the second largest city in Greece and the capitol of Greek Macedonia. It was a hub of commerce, located on a major trade route. As such it was a prime city for the spread of the gospel and it housed a “synagogue” (v. 1c).
So Paul visited the synagogue “for three Sabbaths” and “reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (v. 2). He reasoned the gospel, explaining how Christ had to die, was buried, and was resurrected to fulfill prophecy (v. 3a). Thus his message was that Christ is the Jewish Messiah (v. 3b).
Through Paul’s teaching many of “the devout Greeks” and more than a few of “the leading women” of the city converted to Christianity (v. 4). As usual, Gentiles who had converted to Judaism were the ones most open to receiving the gospel.
And, as usual, the Jews from birth offered the most resistance to the gospel. They became “envious” of the power of this new movement and decided to end it by force (v. 5a). The Jews organized “a mob” of thugs who set the city into “an uproar” (v. 5b).
Then they came to the house of Jason, apparently a new believer, looking for Paul and Silas (v. 5c). Not finding Paul and Silas, the mob dragged Jason and some other believers to the authorities and made the charge that "these who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king--Jesus" (vv. 6-7).
This charge “troubled the crowd and the rulers of the city” (v. 8). Then Jason and the other believers were made to post bond before they were released (v. 9).
The charge against Paul and Silas was that they had turned the world upside down. This was meant to be a criticism but instead it was a compliment to Paul and Silas.
The Gospel is powerful and does turn the world upside down. It changes lives, from the inside out. It makes new creations of those who hear and believe. Their lives are never the same again. They are immensely better. They have a new direction and a greater purpose. They have a purpose that is greater than themselves.