The apostle Paul was taken to Athens, the Greek city, and while he waited for Silas and Timothy, his companions, he preached every day to the Jews in the synagogue and also in the city plaza. Some philosophers heard him and took him to the Areopagus, saying: “May we know what this new teaching is, which is spoken by you?” (Acts 17:19). And Paul, from the center of the Areopagus, said: “You men of Athens, I perceive that you are very religious in all things. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I announce to you” (vs. 22 and 23). (The Areopagus was the supreme tribunal of Athens, where the important causes were judged.)
The Unknown God to which Paul refers was not Jehovah, for an unknown God is one who has never been known by anyone, and so John says: “No one has seen God at any time. The one and only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him” (John 1:18). And the very Jesus said: “No one knows the Son, except the Father; neither does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and he to whom the Son desires to reveal him” (Matt. 11:27).
Jehovah, though, was a known god. His people Israel were the first ones to know him. The psalmist said: “In Judah, God is known. His name is great in Israel. His tabernacle is also in Salem; His dwelling place in Zion” (Ps. 76:1-2). “Thus says the Lord Jehovah: In the day when I chose Israel, and swore to the seed of the house of Jacob, and made myself known to them in the land of Egypt, when I swore to them, saying, I am Jehovah your God” Ezek. 20:5).
The inhabitants of Jericho got to know Jehovah. Joshua sent two men to watch the land and the city of Jericho, who hid in the roof of the house of a prostitute named Rahab. And she told them: “I know that Jehovah has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how Jehovah dried up the water of the Red Sea before you, when you came out of Egypt; and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites, who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and to Og, whom you utterly destroyed. As soon as we had heard it, our hearts melted, neither did there remain any more spirit in any man, because of you: for Jehovah your God, he is God in heaven above, and on earth beneath” (Josh. 2:9-11). And Jehovah declares about this prostitute: “I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me” (Ps. 87:4). Rahab met Jehovah Sabaoth, the god of wars.
He also declared that Babylon, Philistia, Tyre and Ethiopia knew him (Ps. 87:4).
Let us see how Jehovah reveals himself. In the prophecy against Gog, Jehovah said: “With pestilence and with blood will I enter into judgment with him; and I will rain on him, and on his hordes, and on the many peoples who are with him, an overflowing shower, and great hailstones, fire, and sulfur. I will magnify myself, and sanctify myself, and I will make myself known in the eyes of many nations; and they shall know that I am Jehovah” (Ezek. 38:22-23). Jehovah insisted in being known. He said: “But let him who glories glory in this, that he has understanding, and knows me, that I am Jehovah who exercises loving kindness, justice, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, says Jehovah” (Jer. 9:24). “Shall a man make to himself gods, which yet are no gods? Therefore, behold, I will cause them to know, this once will I cause them to know my hand and my might; and they shall know that my name is Jehovah” (Jer. 16:20-21).
But Paul preached the Unknown God. Why unknown? Because the known gods until that time were all war gods, death, pleasure, strength, beauty, fertility, etc., etc. Jesus revealed the God that is love, who had never been known by any man. Paul speaks of this God, which is love, who forgives the enemies. To convince that God, the Father, was really unknown, Paul declared: “Who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and eternal power. Amen” (1 Tim. 6:16). Adam saw Jehovah (Gen. 3:8). He appeared to Abraham: “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, Jehovah appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty. Walk before me, and be blameless’” (Gen. 17:1). “Jehovah appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and saw that three men stood opposite him. When he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself to the earth” (Gen. 18:1,2). Jehovah declares that he appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: “God spoke to Moses, and said to him, ‘I am Jehovah; and I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty; but by my name Jehovah I was not known to them’” (Ex. 6:2,3). After Jehovah gave the law on mount Sinai Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and 70 elders of Israel went up the mount, and saw the god of Israel, and under their feet there was a pavement as sapphire, clear as the sky. He did not lay his hand against the chosen children of Israel. But they saw God, and ate and drank (Ex. 24:9-11). Many other people saw Jehovah. John, though, said that God has never been seen by anyone (John 1:18). Whatever they saw, it was not God. No one could see God the Father, for he is invisible (Col. 1:15; 1 Tim. 1:17).
Jehovah dwells in Zion. David said: “For Jehovah has chosen Zion. He has desired it for his habitation. This is my resting place forever. Here I will live, for I have desired it” (Ps. 132:13,14). “So you will know that I am Jehovah, your God, dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain. Then Jerusalem will be holy, and no strangers will pass through her any more” (Joel 3:17).
Jehovah dwells in the city of Jerusalem: “Some of the heads of fathers’ [houses], when they came to the house of Jehovah which is in Jerusalem, offered willingly for the house of God to set it up in its place” (Ezra 2:68). “Blessed be Jehovah from Zion, Who dwells at Jerusalem. Praise Yah!” (Psalm 135:21).
Jehovah dwells in the temple. Solomon finished the building of the temple, said in prayer: “I have surely built you a house of habitation, a place for you to dwell in forever” (1 Kings 8:13). And Moses said in his song: “You shall bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of your inheritance, the place, Jehovah, which you have made for yourself to dwell in; the sanctuary, Lord, which your hands have established” (Ex. 15:17).
Paul declares, though: “The God who made the world and all things in it, he, being Lord of heaven and earth, doesn’t dwell in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24). The unknown God did not dwell in temples made by human hands.
The Levites were chosen for the service of Jehovah, and Aaron and his sons were separated for this ministry. Aaron was Levi’s grandson, as was Moses (Ex. 28:1).
The people of Israel also served Jehovah, for they said to Pharaoh: “And I have said to you, ‘Let my son go, that he may serve me;’ and you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn” (Ex. 4:23). And Moses repeats: “Jehovah, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to you, saying, ‘Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness:’ and behold, until now you haven’t listened” (Ex. 7:16). And Moses spoke to the people of Israel: “You shall fear Jehovah your God; and you shall serve him, and shall swear by his name” (Deut. 6:13). Whoever serves, helps; and Deborah sang the following words: “‘Curse Meroz,’ said the angel of Jehovah. ‘Curse bitterly its inhabitants, because they didn’t come to help Jehovah, to help Jehovah against the mighty’” (Judges 5:23).
But men do not serve the unknown God, who is the God of love, peace, and the God of total grace. The text says: “The God who made the world and all things in it, he, being Lord of heaven and earth, doesn’t dwell in temples made with hands, neither is he served by men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he himself gives to all life and breath, and all things” (Acts 17:24,25). The only one who serves the God and Father is Jesus Christ, who said: “I glorified you on the earth. I have accomplished the work which you have given me to do” (John 17:4). We who have the name of Christians serve Jesus Christ, who said: “Everyone therefore who confesses me before men, him I will also confess before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32). And once again: “No one comes to the Father, except through me” (John 14:6).
The only known and true God, known of men, is Jesus Christ (1 John 5:20).
By Pastor Olavo Silveira Pereira