The Work at Thessalonica: Part 3 of 4
by John Lowe
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;
Paul and his friends were warned of what was happening, and by the time the mob arrived at Jason’s door they were gone. Paul would have gladly faced the mob, but his new converts, concerned for his safety, insisted that he go into hiding. Paul and his friends gave in, much against their will, and were smuggled out of the town to a place of safety. The plans which the Jews had made had gone awry. Paul and Silas could not be found, and without them they could hardly appear before the assembly. In frustration, therefore, they seized Jason and some of the brethren.
Jason had remained at home to face the rabble. So Jason serving as Paul’s proxy, along with some of the other believers, were dragged before the city officials (local magistrates). Three charges were leveled against these Christians. The first was directed against Paul and Silas; they “have turned the world upside down.” This was a rather vague charge—it was like calling them “troublemakers10.” But what a tribute to Paul and to the power of the gospel. Wherever Paul went, things happened. Souls were saved, people took sides, feelings were stirred, decisions were made, and the lines were drawn. Paul did not slip into town, hold a few brief quiet meetings, enjoy some good home cooking, pick up a generous honorarium, and slip back out of town again without the city knowing or caring that the gospel had been preached to all. Everybody knew when Paul came to town. Passions were stirred, things happened, the place was turned upside down. When Christianity penetrated that old Roman Empire it was a revolution. It had a tremendous effect.
7 Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.
The second charge was directed against Jason for harboring these troublemakers. He was arraigned before the authorities, and the familiar charge of high treason was raised. Paul had been preaching against Caesar, and Jason was guilty by association. The charge was serious—to be guilty of treason by implication or by association was enough to ruin a man.
In this case, although false, there was enough truth in the indictment to add to its danger. We know from Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians, written soon after his visit, that Paul’s preaching had concentrated heavily on the second coming of Christ. First Thessalonians deals with the coming of Christ as it will affect the church; Second Thessalonians with the coming of Christ as it will affect the world.
The third charge was directed against Paul and Silas and, by implication, Jason their host. They were said to be “defying Caesar's decrees.” This was a dangers charge. To defy Caesar would be pure sedition. But what decrees were they defying? Probably the final clause in verse 7 is to be seen as an explanation of the charge. They were claiming that there was another King in addition to Caesar (One who was above and beyond Caesar)—Jesus. This was virtually the same charge leveled at Jesus (Luke 23:2-4; John 19:12, 15). Jesus claimed a kingdom, not of this world, and Paul and Silas spoke of the same kingdom.
To the Jews “Christ” meant “king,” and since the latter was the title generally applied to the emperors in the lands east of Rome, they could maliciously accuse the Christians of proclaiming a rival to Claudius. Since Christians called Jesus “Lord” so often, it would have lent further validity to this accusation. But to a Roman, the charge sounded very much like a breach of the oath of loyalty that every person in the empire was required to render to Caesar. The magistrates had to take note of this charge.
8 And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things.
The magistrates showed a great deal of discretion in handling
the charges, though they were greatly disturbed by them. They evidently did not take the charge of sedition too seriously at first, but they were quite aware of the uproar and were responsible for maintaining order. No one in authority with an eye to his own future or even his own life could afford to treat such a charge lightly. The magistrates, however, seem to have been fair-minded men, and they could not find much to substantiate the charges. Perhaps, too, news had leaked out that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, which would have made them doubly careful. Yet, at the same time, to do nothing in the face of the disturbance might provoke displeasure from higher authorities. But, again, to accuse the Jewish leaders of deliberately instigating the riot had problems, too. It was nearer to the truth, perhaps, but Jews could be very awkward customers—they tended to have influence in high places. The best thing to do was send the people (literally, “the crowd”) home. That would not be difficult, because it was obvious that some in the crowd were having second thoughts. On the other hand, crowds have a psychology all their own, and to do nothing might inflame the mob into further action. Something had to be done, but what?
9 And when they had taken security11
of Jason, and of the other, they let them go.
The magistrates evidently decided, much like the Philippian magistrates, to preserve law and order by banning the troublemakers (Paul and Silas) from the city. Jason was required to post bond, depositing a sum of money that would be forfeited should there be any sequel to the civil disturbance. That meant the absence of Paul and Silas. Paul may have been referring to this ban in 1 Thessalonians 2:18 when he spoke of “Satan’s hindrance” to his return to the city.
The apostle left Thessalonica, but the victory there must be measured by the Thessalonian letters. It became a center from which the Gospel sounded out through the whole region, even after the apostle had left; and the Thessalonians themselves are revealed in his description: “ye turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). Paul and Silas were sent away. Jason, the man unto whose house the apostle went, the man whom they arrested, and put in jail to keep the peace, helped the apostle to escape. He was a man of Thessalonica; we know him by just a few verses, for we never hear of him again, except perchance he may be referred to in the 16th chapter of Romans as Paul’s kinsmen.
We are pleased to hear that “they let them go,” though they did impose certain penalties on the Christians. They received from Jason and the others a promise that Paul and Silas would not preach any more in Thessalonica. This explains the missionaries’ sudden departure. In First Thessalonians 2:15, 18, we have Paul’s own reflection on this turn of events, which he attributes to Satan through the instrumentality of the Jews—“who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone...For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way.”
Paul’s removal did not put an end to the harassment of the Thessalonian Christians. Those who were left behind were subjected to a persecution that to Paul (who of course would know) seemed as severe as that which the Jewish Christians had endured (1 Thessalonians 2:14; 3:1-5; 2 Thessalonians 1:6). Nor did his absence lessen the slanders of the Jews against him in particular (1 Thessalonians 2:13-16).
Paul’s work at Thessalonica was finished. Religious prejudice had driven him out of town. It is an all-too-familiar problem of missionary work—religion joining forces with civil authority to hinder the work. But God is not at a loss for a way. He is not to be intimidated by local magistrates or confounded by entrenched religious prejudice. Omnipotence has its servants everywhere.