Paul and Silas in Thessalonica
Paul and Silas then traveled through the towns of Amphipolis and Apollonia and came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people. He explained the prophecies and proved that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead. He said, “This Jesus I’m telling you about is the Messiah.”
Some of the Jews who listened were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with many God-fearing Greek men and quite a few prominent women. But some of the Jews were jealous, so they gathered some troublemakers from the marketplace to form a mob and start a riot. They attacked the home of Jason, searching for Paul and Silas so they could drag them out to the crowd. Not finding them there, they dragged out Jason and some of the other believers instead and took them before the city council. “Paul and Silas have caused trouble all over the world,” they shouted, “and now they are here disturbing our city, too. And Jason has welcomed them into his home. They are all guilty of treason against Caesar, for they profess allegiance to another king, named Jesus.”
The people of the city, as well as the city council, were thrown into turmoil by these reports. So the officials forced Jason and the other believers to post bond, and then they released them.Acts 17:1-9
Thessalonica was the capital city of the province and was strategically placed on the Via Egnatia. Which meant it was in direct communication with Rome. However, Thessalonica was also one of the Roman “free cities” meaning the Thessalonians were in charge of their own affairs, having their own magistrates and constitution. So in short they were in charge of their own reactions and laws to govern them. The significance of that is the troubles in Philippi and the outcome there had no bearing on what happened in Thessalonica. If that wasn’t the case the Thessalonians would have been concerned about how Paul and Silas and their team were handled. However, having their own constitution and magistrates meant they were free to decide according to their own laws and conscience.
It is likely that Paul and His companions stopped a night in each of the places mentioned, namely Amphipolis and Apollonia as well for the simple reason that the distance between each one was a little less than a day’s journey. It stands to reason that they would stay in each place to break the travel. However, Paul appears to not have been so interested in the two places on the way. It appears he was bound for Thessalonica. We are told specifically there was a synagogue there; there was no synagogue recorded as having been in either Amphipolis or Apollonia. Interesting isn’t it! We are dealing with three weeks out of Paul’s journeying (three Sabbaths). It would seem natural to have stopped at each place and shared the Gospel of Christ in each city. But no, he targets the capital and the place where there is a synagogue. Strategically it is easy to understand why Paul would head for the capital, the seat of power, commerce and religion. But why head straight for the synagogue? Doesn’t he realize the Jews are his prime antagonists? They are the ones who give him most grief and opposition. You would think he would learn his lesson and stay away from them.
But he can’t, can he? A quick read of the book of Romans will tell you why.
“For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile.”Romans 1:16
My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ!—if that would save them. They are the people of Israel, chosen to be God’s adopted children. God revealed his glory to them. He made covenants with them and gave them his law. He gave them the privilege of worshiping him and receiving his wonderful promises.Romans 9:2-4
What choice does Paul have? He understands the principle of God, that the Gospel is for the Jew first and then for those who are non-Jews. That is why he targets towns and cities with a synagogue and why when in the town he goes to the synagogue on the first Sabbath. Even more so when it is the most significant city in the region and the key geographically to the cities and towns around it in its own autonomous region. It is quite likely that Paul also visited Illyricum while he was there in the region, one of the places accessible from Thessalonica (See Romans 15:19). The best time to have visited Illyricum was this time in Thessalonica. But more importantly than political, geographic or religious priorities was the fact that Paul was a Hebrew of the Hebrews – a fact you would have picked up on from reading his letter to the Philippians. The Jews were Paul’s own people, his own flesh and blood. Little wonder then that he always heads first to them to share the Gospel as of first priority. He can’t help himself. Despite the fact that he received most antagonism from his own people.
One thing I need to highlight here is that it was likely Paul used Thessalonica as the base of operation for the wider area. The idea is not that Paul was there for three weeks or Sabbaths and then moved on. It is highly likely that he came back several times to the city and used it to go to the other places mentioned only to come back to Thessalonica again. Besides which, being in the positon Thessalonica was (see the map I gave you at an earlier time), it meant he had to come back to Thessalonica before heading back to Philippi again. Notice that the Thessalonians don’t run him out of town like the other Jews have done in other places after his encounter with the Jewish troublemakers in the market place. Besides which Paul tells us in the letter to the Thessalonians how enthusiastically these people received the message of the gospel.
So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. In this way, you imitated both us and the Lord. As a result, you have become an example to all the believers in Greece—throughout both Macedonia and Achaia. And now the word of the Lord is ringing out from you to people everywhere, even beyond Macedonia and Achaia, for wherever we go we find people telling us about your faith in God. We don’t need to tell them about it, for they keep talking about the wonderful welcome you gave us and how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God.! Thessalonians 1:6-9
Let me tell you as a minister of the Gospel of Christ, when you encounter a reaction like that among other people who may attack you, you will stay there through all kinds of opposition in order to give the input to new believers like that what they need.
This Gems like most others has grown very quickly. I am also aware that I gave you a very long Gem before this when giving you the background to the three main places in this chapter. So I won’t make this one any longer than it is. I will leave the story here and we will deal with the inevitable opposition and the fallout from it in the next Gem.
The Holy Scriptures are the highway signs; Christ is the way.Soren Kierkegaard
Average leaders have a quote. Good leaders have a plan. Exceptional leaders have a system.Urban Meyer
There are two things a person should never be angry at, what they can help, and what they cannot.Plato
Outer beauty means nothing if it’s at the expense of inner beauty.Jay Mullings