The Work at Thessalonica: Part 1 of 4

by John Lowe
(Laurens, SC)

February 27, 2015


Acts of the Apostles
By: Tom Lowe


Acts 17:1-9 (KJV)

1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews:
2 And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,
3 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.
4 And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.
5 But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.
6 And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also;
7 Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.
8 And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things.
9 And when they had taken security of Jason, and of the other, they let them go.



Introduction

Paul, Silas, and Timothy proceeded from Philippi to the major seaport city of Thessalonica some 100 miles distant (vs. 1-4). Thessalonica was then (as now) the second largest city in Greece, with a population estimated at 200,000.

At Thessalonica Paul was perhaps intending to follow the pattern of establishing himself in and working out of the major population centers, a pattern clearly pursued in Corinth and Ephesus later. In this instance, his mission was cut short by strong opposition (vs. 5-9).

Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica is told with the utmost brevity. The basic pattern of an initial witness in the synagogue is set forth (vs. 1-4). The narration continues with the picture of the opposition to Paul (vs. 5-9), but this time Dr. Luke relates the significant role played by Jason.



Commentary

1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews:

The journey from Philippi to Thessalonica (formerly called Therma) followed the Via Egnatia through the less significant towns of Amphipolis1 and Apollonia. Each of these cities was about a days’ journey apart when traveling by horseback. Luke gave no time frame; and if the company traveled by foot, one would have to assume the 100-mile journey took more than three days and that there were other stopping places than the two major towns Luke designated on their itinerary.

Amphipolis was some 30 miles southwest of Philippi. Formerly the capital of the first division of Macedonia and a “free city,” it is important for its strategic position, controlling access to the Hellespont and the Black Sea. It would have been a significant place for a witness, but Luke did not indicate that Paul carried on any mission there or anywhere else along the route to Thessalonica2. He simply indicated these as stopping places, Apollonia being the next city mentioned, some 30 miles from Amphipolis and 38 miles from the final destination of Thessalonica. These cities were practically in a direct line of march along the great and well-known Roman road, Via Egnatia.

One wonders why he passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia. Perhaps on the human side the most probable answer is that there were no synagogues in those towns (no evidence of any has ever been found); and even though Paul’s mission was now specifically to the Gentiles, he still observed the invariable rule of preaching to the Jew first whenever he came to a new town. All that, however, is merely speculation. In the passing of these cities, we recognize the constantly varying guidance of the Spirit of God. One is growingly impressed in our study of the Book of Acts that we cannot formulate rules or regulations concerning spiritual conduct. Underlying principles are revealed on every page and in every undertaking. Matters of supreme, permanent, and abiding value to the work of the Church and the Christian missionary, and the testimony of the Word, are revealed by the apparently most accidental and unimportant events.

As we have noted before, Paul used the synagogue as a springboard to get into a city or a community. This would lead him to the devout Jews of the city, and some of those Jews would believe. Never did all of them believe, but some of them did. In fact, most of them would reject him and this would push him right out to the Gentiles. Then some of the Gentiles believed. This is how the church would come into existence, a local church composed of Jews and Gentiles.

Paul’s master plan for missions was to evangelize the main city of an area, leaving behind him a mission-minded church, move on to another population center, and leave the evangelization of the rural areas to the converted nationals of the big cities. Much of our missionary activity, since the days of David Livingstone, has been concentrated on the outback (wilds). The fascination of wild, barbaric tribes, of trackless jungles and untamed tongues, has exerted an undue influence on the Western mind. True, such areas must be evangelized, but all too often we have neglected the cities and headed for the hills. In recent years, many have come to realize the importance of the cities, the universities, the great centers where population concentrates and where the seats of power and influence are found. The communists have exploited the cities. Although always willing to spread their doctrines in the jungle, their prime concern has always been the city and the university.


2 And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,

Once they arrived in Thessalonica, Paul followed his usual pattern of beginning his witness in the synagogue. This continued on three successive Sabbaths. This is the only time reference in the Thessalonian narrative, but one would assume from Paul’s Thessalonian correspondence that his initial ministry in Thessalonica was of somewhat longer duration.3

The messages preached by the apostle were taken “out of the scriptures.” That, of course, means the Scriptures of the Old Testament. There was no New Testament in the hand of the apostle as he went on his journeyings. The Scriptures that he would use in the Jewish synagogue would be the Scriptures of the Old Testament. He preached the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, showing that this was necessary, as set forth in the Old Testament. Friend, you will not find a message given in the Book of Acts either by Peter or by Paul in which the Resurrection is not the heart of the message.

Believers came to Christ, a local church was organized, and Paul taught them. In that brief time he taught them all the great doctrines of Scripture, including the doctrine of the Rapture of the church—we know this from his First Epistle to the Thessalonians which was the first Epistle that Paul wrote.

Opposition did not develop at once. In the first place, the missionaries had excellent credentials. Paul was obviously a well-schooled rabbi, Silas had the added appeal of being from Jerusalem, and the fact that Paul had circumcised Timothy, converting the half-Jew into a whole Jew, would be something the synagogue authorities would appreciate and approve. Accordingly, they gave their pulpit to Paul for three Sabbaths, and no doubt during the two intervening weeks they had many discussions among themselves and with the missionaries regarding the revolutionary new doctrines being pressed upon them with persuasion and power. No one could deny that Paul knew the Scriptures.

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