- Thessalonica was the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia and had about 200,000 inhabitants at the time. It is interesting to note that Paul passed through the cities of Amphipolis and Apollonia on his journey from Philippi to Thessalonica. All of these cities were within a day’s walk of each other on the main Roman road called the “Via Egnatia”, which stretched from the western coast of Greece all the way to modern-day Istanbul. It seems that Paul deliberately chooses Thessalonica over Amphipolis and Apollonia, perhaps because Thessalonica is an important strategic key city in that it is the capital of the region.
- Paul’s basic message was to show who Jesus is and what he has done. Jesus is the Messiah and has risen from the dead.
- When Paul came to a new city where the gospel had not been preached before, he would use the same method to preach the gospel. I have reviewed the Greek words used and tried to explain Paul’s method:
- Paul went to the “Jews”. It was important for both Jesus and Paul to preach the gospel first to the Jews, and only then to the Gentiles (Matthew 10:6, Acts 13:46, Romans 1:16). When Paul preaches to Jews, he also has an opportunity to speak in his own language, to his own people, and to assume that they already have a pretty good grasp of the Bible and what it says about the Messiah.
- Paul had a “dialogue” with the audience. He conversed, discussed, argued and reasoned. There was an opportunity for the audience to ask questions and make their own contributions.
- Paul started from the “Scriptures”. The basis of Paul’s dialogue with his audience was the Bible, not the latest news or modern philosophy.
- Paul “opened” the Scriptures. Like someone who opens a door and shows what is inside, or someone who goes house-sitting.
- Paul “presented evidence” for his teaching. Like a lawyer defending his client in various ways, Paul proved from the Old Testament that Jesus is the Messiah who suffered, died and rose again.
- Paul “proclaimed” Christ. The Romans used to proclaim “good news” in the town squares when, for example, a new emperor had taken office or a military victory had been achieved. Paul proclaims to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah and has won victory over death.
- Paul’s message was that Jesus is the Messiah and that it was necessary for him to suffer and rise from death. This was important because many Jews expected that when the Messiah came, he would be a mighty king like David, who would forcibly liberate Israel from Roman occupation. While it is true that the Old Testament describes the Messiah as a mighty king who restores Israel, the Old Testament also describes that the Messiah will suffer and die for the sake of the people (Ps 22, Isa 53, Zech 12:10). The Old Testament thus contains both of these images of the Messiah in parallel: the “victorious” and the “suffering”. But what the Jews did not understand was that the Messiah would come twice: at his first coming Jesus came to “suffer” and die on the cross, and at his return he will come as the “victorious” king who fully establishes the kingdom of God.
- Many Jews thus believed that the Messiah would establish Israel at his first coming, and therefore found it difficult to believe that Jesus could be the Messiah, since he died and the Romans were still there. But Paul methodically tries to show from the Scriptures that the Messiah at his first coming had to suffer and die in order to win victory.
- Both Jews and godly Greeks began to believe in Jesus as the Messiah based on Paul’s teaching.
- Even Macedonian “upper-class women” came to faith. It was not uncommon for Paul and the early Christians to be cared for by women who acted as financial benefactors. They were wealthy, had a large house and were able to make their resources available to the church, for example like Lydia who opened her home to Paul and his associates (Acts 16:14-15) or like Mary who allowed the church to gather in her home (Acts 12:12).
- It is interesting to note that Paul’s gospel was received by people from different ethnic groups and different social status. The gospel is transnational in nature.
- Some Jews believed Paul’s message about Jesus, but other Jews became “jealous.” In the original Greek text, the word “zeloo” is used, which is the same word as “selot” (Luke 6:15, Acts 1:13). The Zealots were one of four Jewish factions (the others being the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes) who wanted to forcibly drive the Romans out of Israel and seize political power. The Zealots are followers of “Judas of Galilee”, who led a violent resistance against the Romans in 6-7 AD and is mentioned in Acts 5:37. The Selots were also sometimes called Sicarii, because they sometimes carried out political assassinations using a “sica”, a Roman dagger.
- It is obvious that Paul’s teaching about the suffering Messiah did not fit in with the Zealots’ conception of the Messiah as a warrior. They were not prepared to re-evaluate their understanding of the Messiah, their longing for a restored and powerful Israel was greater than their faith in the Scriptures.
- For the selfish Jews, Paul’s teaching about the suffering Messiah becomes as wrong as the Roman occupation, and they seem to want to solve both “problems” in the same way; namely, by violence.
- The response of the selotic Jews to Paul’s teaching when it did not correspond to their erroneous preconception of the Messiah is sobering. How do we respond when the gospel demonstrably clashes with our delusions?
- How do we do this if all our lives we have been selfishly living for ourselves and our own ambitions and career, and then we are told to be generous and love our fellow man? Will we repent?
- How do we do this if we have lived our whole lives with racist notions about other peoples? Will we accept the gospel and repent?
- What if we have believed all our lives that God doesn’t exist and suddenly we have proof to the contrary? Will we bow before the Lord and accept Jesus as our Lord?
- Or do we decide to rebel against the gospel and persecute its followers?
- It was not uncommon for Paul’s mission to meet with violent opposition (Acts 13:45, 50, Acts 14:2,5, Acts 14:19).
- Paul tells us in his first letter to Corinth that he has been imprisoned, stabbed and beaten in abundance, scourged five times, whipped three times, and stoned once (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).
- This Jason was one of the Christians in Thessalonica. Probably Paul and the Christians gathered in his house, which led to his capture and beating.
- The self-righteous Jews accuse the Christians of “turning the whole world upside down”. In a way, this is a positive accusation that Paul should be happy about. In just a few years, the gospel has spread so far and made such an impact among people that it is turning society upside down. What if we Christians today could have that much impact on the world around us?
- Has Jesus turned your world upside down? A life of following Jesus turns all worldly thinking upside down. Jesus won victory by dying. Jesus showed love in the face of hate. Jesus lifted up the weak instead of the strong. To be a leader in the kingdom of God, you must be a servant of others. etc.
- Paul leaves Thessalonica quickly because he does not want to expose the church to unnecessary persecution. Had he been able to, he might have stayed longer and continued his Bible teaching. But instead of continuing to teach on the spot, he eventually sends more teaching in the form of 1 Thessalonians, which turned out to be a blessing for us today as well. This shows us that God can turn perceived adversity into success.
- Paul repeated his earlier strategy and went first to the Jews in the synagogue and began to teach from Scripture.
- In both Thessalonica and Berea, both Jews and Greeks accept Paul’s message, but with the difference that in Thessalonica a group of (supposedly) selotic Jews resisted Paul, while in Berea this does not happen at all.
- Instead of selfish resistance in Thessalonica, the people of Berea did four very exemplary things: they “received” Paul’s teaching “with all readiness”, and “searched” the Scriptures “daily”. The Bereans combined an open heart with a thinking mind in a very exemplary way.
- When the Bereans “received” God’s word, it can be compared to accepting something, welcoming someone, receiving a guest, or receiving a gift.
- The expression “willingly” is about “being ready to do good”. It can be compared to inviting a party to a restaurant and starting the dinner by saying “It’s on me!”. Or telling your boss or manager that you are ready and willing to do whatever it takes to bring a project to fruition. Being “willing” means that the person in question is ready to go all out on this as long as they receive further instructions.
- To “research” the Scriptures in this context means to examine, question the text, assess, gain insight into, discern, search, test and examine. One can compare the Bereans’ approach to Scripture to a car inspection. The inspector examines the car, tests that everything works as it should, checks that everything is approved, ticks off his list and finally (hopefully) gives a pass.
- The Bereans were not content to just listen to Paul’s teaching and receive the message, they also wanted to gather “daily” and investigate further. In this way, they are a model for us in our own personal Bible reading. The Bible is not just a book to be read once and accepted, but a sacred scripture to be interacted with every day.
- The Bereans were ready to accept Paul’s teaching, but they also wanted to examine it at the same time so that it was in agreement with Scripture. It is interesting to note that the Bereans were allowed to listen to a well-known and prominent apostle, but still considered it important to make sure that his teaching was consistent with the Bible. Scripture is above the preacher.
- When word spreads that Paul is also preaching in Berea, the self-righteous Jews in Thessalonica want to drive Paul away. Similar riots occurred in several places (Acts 13:45, 50, Acts 14:2, 5, Acts 14:19, Acts 17:5-8).
- While it is of course tragic that the gospel is disputed and that Paul was repeatedly beaten and persecuted, these recurring riots resulted in the gospel spreading even further as Paul was continually forced to move. God can turn everything negative into something positive.
- While it was important for Paul to continue missionary work and spread the gospel everywhere, it was also important that some stayed behind and began to build the local church. Simply leading people to salvation is not enough; you also have to build the Christian community.