Paul did not preach the resurrection because it was popular. He preached it because it was true. The resurrection of Jesus confirmed the coming judgment but also secured blessing for the undeserving. However God is pleased to use this truth in the lives of unbelievers, the church’s task remains the same—to tell others that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead.
The resurrection of the dead is anathema to the modern mind. Rudolf Bultmann, one of the most famous New Testament scholars of the twentieth century and a theological liberal, declared, “An historical fact which involves a resurrection from the dead is utterly inconceivable.” To the Apostle Paul, however, Christianity without the resurrection of Jesus from the dead was inconceivable (see 1 Cor. 15:1–11). In company with the other Apostles, Paul proclaimed the resurrection as the great fact upon which Christianity stands or falls.
How do we tell jaded and skeptical people about the resurrection? Luke’s account of Paul’s ministry in Athens (Acts 17:16–34) gives us much-needed direction. When Paul arrived in Athens, he preached at the synagogue, but he also went to the “marketplace,” where philosophers and teachers congregated to exchange ideas (v. 17). Paul persevered through initial misunderstanding and mockery, and he accepted an invitation to address the Areopagus, an august body of retired public officials.
In that address, Paul first gently but firmly exposes one of the fundamental and fatal weaknesses of polytheism. The altar “to the unknown god” was the Athenians’ standing acknowledgment that their religion was insufficient and inadequate. Paul then presents to the Athenians the solution that they need but never found on their own—the worship of the one true God.
Paul tells the Athenians about the sovereign and all-sufficient God who made and upholds the world and all that is in it (vv. 24–25). He also tells them about themselves (vv. 26–29). God has made all human beings from “one man,” and He has furthermore “determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (17:26). The entirety of our lives is lived inescapably before the omnipresent God (17:28). We are, furthermore, His image-bearers (“offspring”; vv. 28–29).