We find two common reactions to gospel preaching from Acts 17 of those in the city of Thessalonica. Some "believed" and others "believed not". I want us to notice these two reactions, but more importantly, notice what God has revealed in the Bible as to WHY these are the two reactions people have when salvation thru Christ is preached. You might think that one and all would readily accept an offer of free salvation, but sadly, such is not the case is it? Why not? It is because of the nature of religious truth as opposed to religious error. Truth contains commands for the sinner to submit to and error does not. If truth is preached today, we will find these commands mentioned. The grace of God teaches man to turn from sin, NOT continue that grace may abound. (Titus 2:11-12; Rom. 6:1)
What did Paul preach about Christ to those in Thessalonica? He preached the same thing Peter preached in Acts 2:36, “God hath made this same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Do you suppose that they had the same question in their minds as those Jews on the day of Pentecost had? “What shall we do?” Do you suppose that Paul told them that they needed to ‘do’ anything? Remember…Jesus’ commands to the apostles’ also apply to Paul. Jesus commanded that “...repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:47) Jesus commanded the apostles to preach concerning Him, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you...” (Matt. 28:18-20)
In Acts 1:2, we are told that Jesus had “given commandments” to the apostles in regard to what to preach concerning Him. These commandments pertained to what people were to do in “calling upon the name of the Lord”. We can determine what those commands were from what they preached in the book of Acts, as well as what was obeyed by those to whom they preached. Let it again be pointed out that in “calling upon the name of the Lord”, there is a ‘form of doctrine’ that must be obeyed (Rom. 6:17) and this ‘form of doctrine’ must be obeyed “from the heart”. It must correspond to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ as seen from 1 Cor. 15:1-4, “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures…” This was preached to those in Corinth as we will see from Acts 18. But these in Thessalonica ‘believed’. What is required in order to ‘believe’? From Romans 10:17, “…faith cometh by HEARING…and hearing by the WORD OF GOD.” Was the word preached? Yes, for we read that Paul “… reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.” Yet we find that others who heard the same message “believed not” (verse 5). It is recorded of them, “But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy...”.
I want you to consider why these did not believe while others did believe. What was the difference? Today, why is it that some readily accept truth while others reject and despise the message of truth? The key lies in Jesus’ teaching about the heart of man. In Luke 8:4-15 we are told, “And when much people were gathered together, and were come to him out of every city, he spake by a parable: a sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be? And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand. Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.”
Three other texts that show why some can ‘see’ the truth clearly while others “see, yet see not”, are:
1) John 3:16-21, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 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, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.”
The reason some cannot see or understand truth is because they love darkness…because their deeds are evil, and they don’t want their evil deeds reproved. The truth is not beyond their ability to understand, their heart’s desire is to continue in evil.
2) John 7:14-18, “Now about the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and taught. And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned? Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him.”
The reason some cannot see or understand truth is because their will is not to do the will of the Father. Thus they cannot see or know truth.
3) 2 Thess. 2:10-12, “And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
The reason some cannot see or understand truth is because they have no love for truth but their pleasure is to continue in unrighteousness. Those who ‘saw’ or understood the things Paul preached about Jesus had a desire to please God, hence we read of them prior to hearing Paul preach about Jesus’ authority, being God-fearing or devout. Their heart was honest and sincere, as was Cornelius, Lydia, and Saul of Tarsus, who “lived in good conscience” even during his persecution of Christians (Acts 23:1). These who believed not, ‘moved with envy”. So likewise will people do so today when the truth exposes their evil deeds, and their love for unrighteousness. The word of God is described as “…quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12)
How people react to the truth reveals whether they are just religious, honoring God with their lips while in reality their heart is far from Him (Matt. 15:8-9). If one’s heart is honest and sincere, whenever they see that they are not in harmony with what Jesus commanded, they will change (repent), because their will is “…to do the will of the Father.”
What about you; what is your view of Jesus' commands?