Acts 17:30-31 - Christ Will Judge the World in Righteousness

SCRIPTURE: Acts 17:30-31 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.

QUESTION: The Apostle Paul was talking to the Gentiles at Athens and among other things told them that God had commanded them to repent of idolatry and implied that they would 'give an account' of their response at the coming of the Lord. Is this not sufficient evidence to believe that where ever the Gospel that Paul preached was understood it made those people amenable to a resurrection to judgment at the coming of the Lord?

ANSWER: The question is constructed around an implication not found in the text as the verse says nothing about 'giving account.' The verse is speaking about Christ's reign on earth in which he will judge the world in the sense addressed in Psalms 96:13 ...he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth. If this 'command to repent' imposes responsibility to the judgment seat of Christ, it does so on both enlightened and unenlightened alike, having been addressed to all men everywhere.

We must consider the context in which Paul's words were spoken. Paul was at Athens where his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry (vs. 16). Paul disputed in the synagogue with the Jews as well as disputing in the market with those who would meet with him. This caught the attention of the philosophers of the Epicureans and of the Stoics (vs. 18) who "encountered" him and asked, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speaketh, is? Thus Paul was given the opportunity to share the gospel with an eager and willing audience, attempting to persuade them that as their own poets had described men as the offspring of God they ... ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent (vs. 29-30).

This "command" (Strong's 3853: parangello: command, charge, declare) in this context has the meaning to "declare," constituting an announcement to the Gentiles as the times of ignorance God had "winked at" (in the sense of not extending the gospel to any but the Jewish nation), were over. Paul was here declaring the good news of the gospel to Gentiles in Athens. Why? ... because God had appointed a glorious day in which He would rule the entire world in righteousness through His anointed Son, and He intended to take out of the Gentiles a people for His name. Did Paul's announcement determine his listeners accountable to judgment? No, they were already judged. Is this not the message of Christ, For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world: but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already... (John 3:17-18).

These verses in Acts constitute a glorious and positive announcement to the Gentiles by the Apostle sent to the Gentiles. In this announcement we must discriminate between gospel and law, the latter requiring obedience whether there is belief and love or not, while the former invites obedience through belief and love. The latter would frighten the masses into compliance while the former uses the beauty of the truth and the knowledge of God as its enticement. When our Lord opened to the apostles an understanding of the Scriptures, he said, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day. And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:45-47). When in Athens where Paul announced the gospel to the Gentiles, his message was "repentance and remission of sins," with the result that certain men clave unto him and believed (vs. 34). Indeed, Paul later declared to the Romans: And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name. And again he saith, rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people (Romans 15:9-10).