Our reading today begins with Paul moving westward through Asia Minor (Turkey) to Derbe and Lystra where he meets a disciple named Timothy (16:1). Because he was half-Jewish, and in order to not impede the message of the Gospel to the Jews, Paul has Timothy circumcised so he can join him on his journey (v. 3). Sometimes, we show the grace of God by doing what we don’t have to do to avoid distracting from the Gospel. The decision of the Jerusalem Council is received well, and the churches continued to grow (vv. 4-5).
Paul then travels to the regions of Phrygia and Galatia (central Asia Minor), because the Holy Spirit forbade the missionaries from going to Asia (western region of Asia Minor) (v. 6). Then they went to Mysia (northwestern) and attempted to go into Bithynia (northern most part of Asia Minor) but could not. How exactly the Holy Spirit forbade them is not stated, but it could have been in a vision like the one recorded in verse 9. Also note that the “Holy Spirit” and the “Spirit of Jesus” are paralleled. Christ is directing His church by His Spirit. Paul and his companions wind up in Troas (a port city) where Paul receives the call to go to Macedonia, which they would have to sail to.
Samothrace is an island between Troas and Macedonia, and Neapolis is the easternmost port city of Macedonia (v. 11). Philippi is further west into Macedonia (v. 12). Paul winds up preaching at a riverside prayer meeting where a God-fearer named Lydia – likely a woman of some means because she sold purple materials – hears the Gospel, and is baptized (vv. 13-15). Note that the Lord opens her heart to hear what was preached. When Paul and Silas go back to the place of prayer, they come across a demon possessed girl (v. 16). The demon knows that Jesus is the Most High God (v. 17). After Paul exorcises the demon (v. 18), those who profited off of her drag Paul and Silas before the rulers of the city and falsely charge them (vv. 19-21). So Paul and Silas are beaten and imprisoned (vv. 22-24). Note that preaching the Gospel will inevitably lead to persecution.
But again, God uses this persecution to spread the Gospel (are we seeing a pattern?). Even in chains, Paul and Silas praise God (v. 25). And again God supernaturally removes the bonds of His people (v. 26). Knowing he would likely be tortured and killed for any escaped prisoners, the jailer decides to take his own life (v. 27). That Paul and Silas were still there brought this man to his knees… literally (vv. 28-29). Their actions have verified their words, and the man believes (vv. 30-34). When the rulers of the city want to release Paul and Silas, Paul is not willing to let them off the hook so easily (vv. 35-37). That Paul and Silas were Roman citizens could have meant HUGE trouble for the rulers (v. 38), which is why they have to come with their tails between their legs and apologize (v. 39).
In chapter 17, Paul and Silas are moving west through Macedonia and reach Thessalonica (17:1). For three weeks Paul showed them from the Old Testament that the Messiah had to die and rise again, and that Jesus did just that (vv. 2-3). Jews and Gentiles believe (v. 4), but the unbelieving Jews are jealous (v. 5 – are we seeing a pattern?). So they resort to their usual tactics. They form an angry mob (v. 5) and put the rulers in a bad position by doing that whole “no king but Caesar” routine (v. 7).
So Paul and Silas escape to Berea to the southwest (v. 10). They are on the border of Greece now. Paul again preaches to the Jews, who eagerly hear him and search the Old Testament for themselves to see if what Paul said was true (vv. 10-11). Because they did, many of them came to faith (v. 12). But the unbelieving Jews of Thessalonica follow Paul to Berea (are we seeing a pattern?) and stir up trouble. Paul escapes quickly to Athens, and Silas and Timothy follow (vv. 14-15).
While in Athens, Paul is troubled by the rampant idolatry (v. 16). Paul preached not only in the synagogue of the Jews, but in the marketplace with the Greeks (v. 17). The marketplace is where philosophical ideas would be discussed, as we see in verse 18. Because of the “foreign divinities” Paul was speaking of, he is brought to the Areopagus to address the people (v. 19). Paul begins by lauding the people of Athens for their religiosity (v. 24). Having an idol for an “unknown god” (v. 23) was standard in pantheistic cultures, because they wanted to make sure they were worshiping all gods in case there was one more powerful than the gods they knew. Paul tells them that there is. He is the Creator of all (v. 24). And He does not dwell in idols or physical temples (v. 25). He doesn’t need a physical structure to be present with His people.
In verse 26, Paul brings them from Adam to Babel. The allotment of territory for mankind (see Deut 32:8) was also for a determined, allotted period of time (v. 26). And God left enough evidence of Himself that all nations know He is (v. 27). Paul then quotes two Greeks: Epimenides and Aratus (v. 28). He is showing that deep down, these Greeks knew Who the true God is. Paul tells them that God overlooked the times that the nations (including Greece) worshiped other gods (vv. 29-30). But now that Christ has come, all nations are treated the same. People must repent or face judgment (vv. 30-31), which God proved by raising Christ from the dead. After Paul’s sermon, some disbelieved, some were not sure what to think, and other believed (vv. 32-34).
Paul then moves west to Corinth, where he meets Aquila, a Jew from Pontus (northeastern Asia Minor), who had been living in Rome with his wife but was expelled by Claudius’s decree in 49 A.D. (18:1-2). Paul stays and works with them as he weekly preached in the synagogue (vv. 3-4). Silas and Timothy finally meet up with Paul (v. 5), whose message is rejected by the Jews (v. 6). Paul from then on decides to focus on Gentiles. The ruler of the synagogue and many Corinthians believed (v. 8). Christ then appears to Paul in a vision and tells him to stay there and preach fearlessly (vv. 9-10). And Paul does (v. 11).
And we see that once again persecution arises. The Jews bring Paul before the proconsul of Achaia (Greece), and accuse Paul of breaking Jewish Law (vv. 12-13). The Roman appointed proconsul cares very little about Jewish Law (vv. 14-15) or the Jews (v. 17). This would have been in accord with Roman treatment of the Jews at this time. Paul then heads home, taking Aquila and Priscilla with him (v. 18).
At Cenchreae (a port city east of Corinth), Paul cuts his hair, because he was under a vow. This cannot be a Nazarite vow. That was part of the Old Covenant. Even if not, Paul could not have done the requisite offerings (see Num 6:18-20). This is a private vow of some sort. They sail to Ephesus, in the west of Asia Minor. When he preaches (v. 19) those in Ephesus ask him to stay with them (v. 20). Paul does not stay, but looks to a future time that he can stay (v. 21). Paul then sails to Caesarea and returns to Antioch (v. 22). Thus ends Paul’s second missionary journey.
But Paul does not wait long before starting his next missionary journey. He heads back to Asia Minor (v. 23). Meanwhile, in Ephesus, a Jew named Apollos, who was very knowledgeable of the Old Testament, taught Jesus from the Scriptures (vv. 24-25). That he knew only the Baptism of John indicates that he had not received the Holy Spirit. In other words, he knew well with his head what the Scriptures said about Christ, but he had not experienced saving faith. Priscilla and Aquila, however, bring him to faith (v. 26). Apollos then goes to Achaia to help the churches there (v. 27). Note that those who believed did so through grace (see Eph 2:8). Apollos then publicly refutes the Jews (v. 28). God raised up what the church needed and provided for them in Paul’s absence.