Acts 17:6, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.”
The context of this declaration was the visit of Paul and Silas to the city of Thessalonica. The city was about 94 miles from where they had been in Philippi. It was the capital of Macedonia and the most prosperous of its cities. As with other places in the region, the Gentiles of that city were given to idolatry (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:9). Because of its central location the city served as a valuable epicenter from which to spread the gospel. Paul would later say of the church there, “For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere” (1 Thessalonians 1:8).
Paul and Silas came to Thessalonica and spent three Sabbath days in a synagogue reasoning with the Jews from the Scriptures, “explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead” (Acts 17:3). Some of the Jews were persuaded by his arguments and joined them. A “great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women” also believed (Acts 17:4). “But the Jews were jealous and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also’” (Acts 17:5-6).
The men said what they did in a derisive way. It was an accusation meant to trouble Paul and Silas before the civil authorities, but there was truth to it—they had indeed “turned the world upside down.” J. Vernon McGee said of their statement, “Now don’t put that down as an oratorical gesture or hyperbole. When they said that these men were turning the world upside down, that is exactly what they meant. When Christianity penetrated that old Roman Empire, it was a revolution. It had a tremendous effect.”
And, of course, it wasn’t ultimately the men themselves who were doing it, it was the Holy Spirit and the message of the gospel He empowered them to proclaim. It was the Risen Christ who was at work radically transforming the lives of those who placed their faith in Him. The revolution was changing everything. Slaves to sin were being set free. Rebellious idolaters were being transformed into worshippers. By the Spirit, people’s hearts were being filled with hope and love. Jews and Gentiles were harmoniously working together in a common cause. Lives, cities, and regions were being impacted. The revolution would grow to such an extent that the emperor himself would be threatened by it.
The gospel has such an effect on people. And it is a positive thing. The world has been askew ever since Adam’s fall. Created by God, man was made to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” But sin has altered man’s gyroscope and he has lost his bearing. Christ died and rose again that He might put things back in order. As A. W. Tozer once said, “Why did Christ come? Why was he conceived? Why was he born? Why was he crucified? Why did he rise again? Why is he now at the right hand of the Father? The answer to all these questions is, ‘in order that he might make worshipers out of rebels; in order that he might restore us again to the place of worship we knew when we were first created.” (A. W. Tozer; “Worship: The Missing Jewel”).
For 2000 years since that gospel has been turning things right side up in the lives of those who trust in Jesus. And through the history of the church, it has done so whenever and wherever it has been proclaimed. The Protestant Reformation worked to put the Word of God and the gospel into the hands of the common people and a spiritual revolution ensued. The gospel preached in the Great Awakening worked to alter the course of history. To this day, in places ‘round the world, upside down people are being reoriented through that same message that Paul and Silas proclaimed so long ago. The world is upside-down, the gospel alone has the power to put things in their proper order (Cf. Romans 1:16-32; 2 Timothy 3:1–17).