Acts 17:6 – Turning the World Upside Down

After a successful time in the synagogue in Thessalonica, charges are made against Paul before the local Roman authorities (Acts 17:1-9). The charges against Paul are significant: he is accused of “defying the decrees of Caesar” and “advocating another king, Jesus.”  Given the recent history of Thessalonica, these are dangerous charges indeed.

Upside DownFirst, Paul and his companions are troublemakers. This could be standard rhetoric, although it does seem that wherever Paul goes there is trouble. But Rome did not particular care for trouble-makers. In fact, this phrase (οἱ τὴν οἰκουμένην ἀναστατώσαντες οὗτοι) literally means the ones who are turning the world upside down.”  Kavin Rowe uses this phrase as the title for his excellent book subtitled “Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age.” As he points out in his chapter on Acts 17, to “turn the world upside down” is a grave accusation in the Roman world (p. 96). Luke used the phrase later in Acts to describe the revolutionary activities of the Sicarii, actions that will result in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem (Acts 21:38). It is possible to take this phrase not as “they are troublemakers” but rather as “they are rebels against the Roman Empire.”

Second, they subvert the decrees of Caesar. In 1 Thess 1:9 Paul says that the congregation has “turned form idols.” Obviously any pagan Gentiles saved during Paul’s time in the city would have turned from whatever idols they worshiped. But this “turning from idols” must have included the Roman cult.  If this is the case, then turning from the Roman cult could be understood as an act of disloyalty.  It is possible then that Gentile God-fearers still participated in some form of official cult, despite worshiping in the synagogue.

Third, they advocate another king, Jesus.  In 1 Thess 4 and 5 Paul clearly teaches that Jesus is coming back in power and he will establish his own glorious kingdom (1 Thess 2:19, for example).  This could easily be understood in terms of a change of emperors, that the empire of Rome was about to be supplanted with the empire of Jesus. It is clear, at least for Kavin Rowe, that “the figure to whom King Jesus is juxtaposed is beyond a doubt the Roman emperor” (p. 99).

Fourth, Paul’s preaching of the gospel challenges the truth of pax Romana. In 1 Thess 5:3, Paul says that when Jesus returns, it will be at a time when people are saying “peace and safety,” but they will in fact be destroyed.  Peace and security is exactly what was promised by the Empire, pax Romana meant that the empire was a safe and peaceful place to live.  Paul says there that the peace of Rome is an illusion.

All of this points to the radical nature of Paul’s gospel from a Roman perspective.  After the Jerusalem Council, we are well aware of how radical the gospel is from a Jewish perspective.  But now we see how dangerous the idea of Jesus can be from a Roman imperial perspective.  Paul is declaring that Jesus is the Real King and that his empire of peace is going to overwhelm the so-called peace of Rome.  This alternative way of viewing the world provoked violent reactions from Rome.

All this leads me to wonder how we can present this “radical” the Gospel to the world today. Does the message of the Grace of God really appear to be “turning the world upside down”?

10 thoughts on “Acts 17:6 – Turning the World Upside Down

  1. I do not think it is necessarily turning the world upside down when we present the gospel to people in the United States but for many people groups that do not come from a nation where most everyone has an experience with Christianity, I could see the gospel as being extreme. To present this whole new way of believing to a group of people who are so set in their ways is difficult but I think that getting the idea into the minds of those people will give Christ a chance to show Himself to them in their lives. We very well might be seen as troublemakers because we are coming in and trying to change things and believing in this gospel might be something that would get people in trouble by their religious leaders or their group of close family and friends. Once you tell someone that what they believe in is wrong or that they are doing something wrong, they will get defensive to what we are saying and reject it. It is very important for us to go with love and compassion and integrate yourself into their mindset to be able to understand how a specific group of people will react to what you are presenting to them in love.

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  2. I would say that the message of the grace of God does “turn the world upside-down”. A prime example, ISIS which is spreading and terrorizing believers. Our own country is falling away from the Christian faith to the point that I have heard missionaries from different countries coming to the US to share the gospel. There’s something definitely wrong with that. When we share the gospel with people many times it can stir some intense feelings because we challenge their beliefs. Like Tyler said, in presenting the gospel, love and compassion needs to happen, as well as understanding where they are coming from. My dad always challenges me to know and study other religions better than those following that religion. Obviously I have not mastered that and that would take a lot of work, but if we could have more knowledge of another’s religion I believe that we could do some collateral damage (in a good way) to show that we aren’t just some arrogant/naive Christians.

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  3. I’m not sure if it’s the message of the *grace* of God that is turning the world upside down, but rather the message of the *holiness* of God. Preaching a God who loves and forgives doesn’t usually upset too many people, but just like in Paul’s day, preaching against the culture can seem to spin the world upside down and backwards. Just think of some of the more prominent “Christian” leaders in the world who have done away with the holiness of God in favor of a gracious God who ‘just wants you to be happy.’ These leaders are admired, beloved, and embraced even in the secular world. Why? Because, like the false-prophets of old, and maybe even like those who worshiped Rome, they are proclaiming “peace, peace” when there is no peace (Jeremiah 6:14).

    Sometimes the test of authentic Christianity is whether we are turning the world upside down around us. After all, Jesus said that “if the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”
    John 15:18-19

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  4. This blog post explains multiple ways in which Paul defied the norm and stood up for what he believed in. I think if we as Christian’s today started living differently it would be good to be compared to Paul. Matthew 5:11 calls us Blessed if we are persecuted if we are persecuted on Christ’s account. I believe many Christians today live such safe lives and are afraid to fully commit to a relationship with Jesus Christ. This post brings up the fact that Paul did have to stand up to Roman authority and proclaim Christ’s worth. It explains that while Paul was ministering he would have begun denying idols now as well as the Pax Romana. I think that if we as Christians just stopped following the Constitution people would begin to notice. I believe there is importance in Paul’s actions and we as Christians should notice that and aim to follow in his steps somewhat.

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  5. I think that when Paul was bringing the gospel message in Acts 17, the message of God’s grace was turning the world upside down. It was unlike anything that the people had ever seen before, because that is what they needed. The people needed a message unlike what they had heard before and I think they needed to see someone who was willing to die for what they believed in, not someone who was forced into believing something or worshiping someone. As for today, I think that like Tyler said there are some people who need to see that too, but I also think that there is a lot to be said about people who truly believe in something so much that they go out of their way to promote it without even using words. “Being Jesus” as some would say. So I am not entirely sure if the world needs people who would turn the world upside down to bring the message,

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  6. The truth of what Jesus had done not only affected the people of God, but it affected, and still affects the world. Jesus didn’t come to seek and save the righteous, but sinners (Mark 2:17). 2 Corinthians 3:18 talks about how we are transformed into the likeness of Christ. There is a transforming that takes place when someone entrusts their life to God. Titus 2:8 encourages us, as those who follow Christ, to be above reproach and that those who seek to oppose our message should have nothing bad to say about us, because of our commitment to Christ. These are just a few examples from Scripture of how the gospel is a message that changes lives and therefore changes the world – turning it upside down. “…and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:7). The truth of the Gospel transforms and it challenges the rulers and powers of this world – as we have seen recently in many different forms.

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  7. Turning the world upside down? Absolutely, since in our day and age it seems to be a trend to avoid the traditional, and to try something new. I say this carefully, because I do believe that ministry and the Gospel should not simple be performed as a ritual or read in the KJV. However, the unchanging grace of God that was given to Paul on the Damascus road is still the same grace offered to us! And yes, if opposing murder and open sin is turning the world upside down, or loving on local communities is turning the world upside down – I am all for it. As the Roman government would have worried, so will all other earthly governments that begin to realize this is beyond their control.

    Grace may abound, but I also think of Malachi’s prophetic words that include the entirety of history and history to be made: “But who can endure the day of His coming, and who can stand when He appears? “ (Malachi 3:2a) Grace then not only can turn the world upside down, but should – as Christ’s love displayed on the cross should so easily compel us to share!!

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  8. When a person gets saved they are full of the new man and the old man is no longer there. Their world is turned upside down. From going to what it used to be to what the life of a Christ follower is. When Paul spoke to them I believe it really affected them and it caused many peoples lives to be turned upside down. Maybe even more so today, seeing how wrong is considered right, and right is considered wrong. Us Christians are to be that example of the “upside down” side. With love and compassion we show the world the difference. The world needs to have a revival and see what is the real and perfect will of God.

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