The Work at Thessalonica: Part 2 of 4
by John Lowe
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.
The pattern of Paul’s synagogue preaching as indicated in verses 2-3 is very much like that of the preaching to Jews in the earlier portions of Acts. It consisted primarily of scriptural references to Christ from the Old Testament. Luke describes this as reasoning with them from the scriptures4. This is further elaborated as “explaining” and “proving” that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead.5
The words “opening” and “alleging,” reveal his method. The word “opening” here is Luke’s word in one other place in the New Testament, and that is in his Gospel, the twenty-fourth chapter, where he records that Jesus, after His resurrection, opened the Scriptures to the men walking to Emmaus. Paul now did exactly the same thing in that synagogue in Thessalonica. The word simply means making plain, expounding, giving an exposition. “Alleging” is a word which may mislead, and while this is a technical matter, we must nevertheless take note of it, for it is important. The word does not mean stating dogmatically. It means sitting out in order, and displaying. Paul took up the Scriptures, and opened them, and explained them.
He declared two facts in that synagogue. He first declared that according to their Scriptures, Messiah must suffer and rise. Taking up the Old Testament He showed them that their own Scriptures declared that their own Messiah must die and rise again. That was the first objective of his teaching. The order in which it is stated here reveals to us the fact that before he told the story of Christ he made them see what their own Scriptures taught about their own Messiah; and this was exactly what the Jew had entirely failed to grasp, or had completely forgotten. With the ancient prophecies in our hands, with the one prophecy of Isaiah 53 for instance, it seems as though it would be impossible for men ever to have studied them without seeing that the pathway of the Servant of God toward His triumph must be that of travail;(tribulation), but the Jew had failed to see it.
The Messiah has come. That was Paul’s marvelous news. The thrill of it would be instantaneous. These men were ambassadors of the King. But the initial excitement would soon die down when Paul explained what had happened. Division will arise as he showed from the scriptures that the Bible had predicted the coming of the suffering Savior; that the cross had to come before the crown; that Christ had to redeem before He could reign.
“Jesus is the Christ!” he would assert again and again. It was compelling, but it was not what they expected, or in most cases, what they wanted to hear. The Jewish ideal was not a redeemer but a ruler, one who would smash the power of Rome and make Jerusalem the capital of a new world empire. Besides, the rabbis could exegete away such passages as Isaiah 53 by making the nation of Israel the suffering servant. Such plain and obvious interpretation as Paul would bring to bear upon the Scriptures would be far from popular.
Paul’s work was now to declare to these Jews that their own Scriptures taught that the Messiah must suffer, and that He must rise again; that their long-looked-for, and hoped-for, and longed-after, and waited-for Messiah must die and rise again. Then he declared that the One Who fulfilled that portraiture of their ancient Scriptures was Jesus Himself. He preached to them concerning the Kingdom, for they charged him with preaching another King (17:7), one Jesus.
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.
Revival broke out in Thessalonica. “A great multitude” of the Thessalonian Jews, including perhaps Aristarchus (20:4) and Jason (17:5, 7) were saved by Paul’s Old Testament expositions; some also of the “devout” Greeks, which may have included Secundus (20:4), who attended the synagogue, were convinced, against their own prejudices. These were people who had been attracted to the synagogue because they were disgusted by the gross Polytheism and idolatry of paganism, but who held back from becoming proselytes because they were equally repelled by the Jewish requirement of circumcision. Among the latter group were a number of prominent women6; women from the ranks of the upper class, women of considerable influence and from the best family’s. When Dr. Luke says “of the chief women, not a few,” he is using his usual understatement and means that a large number of prominent women came to the Lord. At once a faction was formed in the synagogue. That Luke singled out the influential female converts in the Macedonian congregations (see 16:14 and 17:12) is very much in keeping with inscriptional7evidence that in Macedonia women had considerable social and civic influence.
One should also note the prominence of Silas in this section, particularly in connection with the synagogue witness (v. 10). He is usually in the background, with the focus being on Paul. It could be that in mentioning him in these synagogue contexts, Luke wanted to remind us of his connection with the Jerusalem church and the Jewish-Christian endorsement of Paul’s mission.
These new believers consorted, that is, cast in their lot with the apostles, joined the Christian community, and in that very hour, we see the birth of that church in Thessalonica to which two letters were soon to be sent by Paul. That the majority of his converts were Gentiles is reflected in his statement “ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for His Son from heaven” (1:9-10). The phrase “consorted with Paul and Silas” implies that the missionaries had by now withdrawn from the synagogue and were conducting separate meetings (14:27).
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.
The work in Thessalonica was not one of triumph only. It was one of trial, springing out of the jealousy of the Jews. Verses 5-9 depict the opposition to Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica initiated by the Jews; they determined to be rid of Paul and Silas and formulated a plan to bring them before the assembly on a charge of sedition. They are described as being “jealous8,” perhaps at the number of God-fearing Gentiles whom Paul was attracting away from the synagogue and into the Christian community. The Gentiles’ presence in the synagogue probably gave the Jewish community a degree of acceptance in the predominantly Gentile city and probably also some financial support.
The Jewish leaders had a dog-in-the-manger attitude. They did not want to accept Christ themselves, nor did they wish for anyone else to. But how could they put a stop to the massive movement away from historic Judaism to dynamic Christianity? That was the question. The rabbis knew they were no match for Paul in ordinary discussion and debate. There was only one way—rouse the mob. In every town, there are the kind of people who now surfaced at Thessalonica. Luke calls them “certain lewd Fellows.” The word for “lewd” carries the idea of depravity and evil intent. Paul said they were of the baser sort, literally “belonging to the market”; that is, idlers, people hanging around ready for mischief. Nice allies for the Jewish leaders who boasted in their knowledge of God.
One should not, however, get the impression that it was always the Jews who opposed Paul. In chapters 16-19 there is an equal balance between opposition initiated by Jews and that begun by Gentiles.
Even in this instance, it was ultimately the Gentile populous who opposed Paul. Beginning with the gang of ruffians, certain lewd fellows who hung around the marketplace, the Jews succeeded in rousing the Gentiles into mob action against Paul and Silas.
At this point, Jason entered the picture. We know nothing more about him than his role in this scene. Evidently, Paul and Silas had been lodging with him. Consequently, he probably was a convert and may have been a Jew sense Jason was a name often taken by Diaspora9 Jews. It is also possible that he shared Paul’s trade. Later in Corinth, Paul stayed with Aquila and Priscilla, who were of the same trade as he (18:3). In any event, the crowd did not find the missionaries at Jason’s. Possibly they had learned of the riot and had fled elsewhere.