Today, we travel with Paul and his companions about one hundred miles from Philippi to Thessalonica with a couple of pit stops in between. They most likely took this trip in three stages. Amphipolis and Apollonia broke the trip from Philippi to Thessalonica into roughly three equal distance journeys and would have taken approximately three days time. The last leg of the journey would have been all downhill. But if we account for the wounds that they had incurred in Philippi, perhaps Paul and his companions would have traveled at a much slower pace. They might have been able to rent mules or horses for travel with the generosity of funds from the local church community in Philippi. These new believers in the faith may have also sent Paul and his companions with letters and contacts in Thessalonica for hospitality and lodging.
Thessalonica had been one of the most prominent Mediterranean ports and trade centers since its founding in 316 B.C. This free city served as the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia. The local government was permitted to mint its own coins and enjoyed the benefit of no Roman garrison located within its borders. With such close ties with Rome, archaeological evidence has been found that points toward the city and some of her inhabitants as being adherents of the imperial cult. “The essence of this theology was that the emperor was the universal savior whose benefactions and aid should be proclaimed as good news throughout the region.” (Witherington p. 503)
“When they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,” he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.” Acts 17:1-4
Paul continued his pattern of ministry by first taking the message of Jesus Christ to the Jewish synagogue. He reasoned with them for almost a month. The original Greek word usage refers to presenting arguments and engaging in dialogue and debate over the meaning of the scriptures. These people were engaged in the conversation of learning and of understanding who Jesus was and what He did. Luke tells us that they did witness a harvest of believers for their efforts in this city. Those who turned to Christ were Jews, Greeks, and prominent women. In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, we learn that the converts turned from idolatry and how their faith became an encouraging witness to others.
“The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,” 1 Thessalonians 1:8,9
We also learn from that same letter in 1 Thessalonians 1:6 that the new converts became believers amid hostility, opposition, and affliction. We see this opposition reflected in the passage from Acts that we are reading today. Paul and his companions lived among them for some time emulating the life of a faithful servant in Christ in the hopes of encouraging them to stand firm in faith regardless of their obstacles. Later in his letter, Paul expresses his great concern for their perseverance in the faith due to their continuing affliction. (1 Thessalonians 3:5) To have been in Thessalonica for this long, Paul and his companions were most likely either receiving monetary support from the church at Philippi or they were earning their own support by means of their trades.
“But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.” Acts 17:5-9
Just as Paul had continued his missionary pattern of ministry by taking the message first to the Jews, these opposing Jews once again continue their pattern by stirring unrest in this city. Jason and others, by default, become their target when Paul and Silas are not located. Attacking an opponent’s supporters was common practice and perhaps they hoped Paul and Silas would come to their aid. “Many scholars identify this Jason with Paul’s “relative” (meaning at least fellow Jew) in Romans 16:21.” They are accused of sedition and treason against the emperor. However after some period of time, they were allowed to post bond and released.
“As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men. When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, they went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. The brothers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea. The men who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.” Acts 17:10-15
To protect all parties concerned, Paul and Silas leave Thessalonica. A night journey was not preferable because of the dangers but the men had no choice. Berea was fifty miles southwest of Thessalonica, off the beaten track, and located in the foothills of Mount Bermium. The city had once been the capital of one of Macedonia’s divisions for almost two decades from 167-148 B.C. Though Paul and Silas were received favorably in the Berean synagogue, the opposing Jews caught up to them and hastened Paul to an early departure.
Questions to Consider
- Women are rarely highlighted in scripture. Why would Luke choose to include their mention among new converts? Why would prominent women be a valuable asset to the church at Thessalonica?
- What contrasts exist between verses 17:4 and 17:5?
- Of the two crimes charged against Jason and the other men, which one do I consider to be the most plausible and dangerous? Why?
- Compare and contrast Paul’s experience with the Thessalonians to his experience with the Bereans.
- How would I handle constant opposition?