1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. 6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8 And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. 9 And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go. – Acts 17:1-9 ESV
When Paul, Silas and Timothy left Philippi, it appears they left Luke behind in Philippi or that he traveled elsewhere. There is a subtle shift from the use of “we” to “they” in Luke’s record of the events in this chapter. So, it would seem that he was not with them on this phase of the journey, which took them down the Egnation Road through the cities of Amphipolis and Apollonia, to their final destination of Thessalonica. Thessalonica was the central city and capital of Macedonia, and was located about 100 miles from Philippi. This was likely a three-day journey. Luke does not tell us whether they stayed more than a day or two in Amphipolis and Apollonia, but they would have had to spend the night somewhere along the way. It is easy for us to forget how difficult these kinds of trips would have been for Paul and his companions. They had no source of income. They were not paid evangelists, but subsisted off of the gifts they received from the believers among whom they ministered. In fact, Paul told the church in Corinth that his ministry among them had been underwritten by the churches in Macedonia.
8 I “robbed” other churches by accepting their contributions so I could serve you at no cost. 9 And when I was with you and didn’t have enough to live on, I did not become a financial burden to anyone. For the brothers who came from Macedonia brought me all that I needed. I have never been a burden to you, and I never will be. – 2 Corinthians 11:8-9 NLT
But even with the generous gifts of the Macedonians, Paul made it clear to the believers in Corinth that his travels had not been without their fair share of discomfort and deprivation.
27 I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. – 2 Corinthians 11:27 NLT
And Paul would later write to the believers in Philippi, telling them that he had no regrets. He had not become bitter over the trials and travails that accompanied his life as an apostle and evangelist for Jesus Christ.
11 …for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. – Philippians 4:11-12 NLT
Even while in Thessalonica, Paul and his companions did not burden anyone with their physical needs, instead they paid their own way. Paul would later write to the believers in Thessalonica, reminding them of that very fact.
7 For you know that you ought to imitate us. We were not idle when we were with you. 8 We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so we would not be a burden to any of you. – 2 Thessalonians 3:7-8 NLT
Upon their arrival in Thessalonica, Paul made his way to the local synagogue, “as was his custom.” For three consecutive Sabbaths, Paul and his companions “reasoned” with the Jews, “explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead” (Acts 17:3 ESV). The Greek word translated as “reasoned” is dialegomai, and it means “to converse, discourse with one, argue, discuss.” There was a great deal of give and take going on in Paul’s discussions with the Jews as he used the Hebrew Scriptures to show them the prophecies concerning the Messiah and how Jesus had been the fulfillment of those prophecies. The point on which Paul focused was the often-overlooked aspect of the Messiah’s suffering and death. While the Old Testament prophecies had clearly predicted the death of Jesus, the Jews had chosen to ignore it, instead focusing on the victorious, kingdom-making aspect of the Messiah’s rule and reign. They were expecting a triumphant Messiah, not a suffering servant. But Paul, using their own Scriptures to prove his point, told them, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ” (Acts 17:3 ESV). The term “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of Messiah. Paul was desperately trying to convince them of the validity of Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. Yes, He had died, but He had risen from the dead – as proof that He was who He had claimed to be: The Son of God and the Savior of the world.
And Luke records that some were persuaded and followed Paul and Silas, including many devout Greeks and some of the leading women in the city. But it would seem from Paul’s letter, written to the Thessalonians at a later time, that the majority of the converts had been Gentiles.
…they keep talking about the wonderful welcome you gave us and how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God. – 1 Thessalonians 1:9 NLT
But as always, there was opposition. The more devout Jews in Thessalonica took offense at the words of Paul and Silas, seeing their teaching as heresy and an affront to Judaism. So, they stirred up trouble, using some “wicked men” as plants to infiltrate the crowd and cause dissension. It didn’t take long before a mob was formed, vigilantes intent on taking the law into their own hands. They set their sights on the home of Jason, a recent convert to Christianity, searching for Paul and Silas. Unable to locate the three missionaries, they dragged Jason and some of the other believers before the city authorities, accusing Jason of harboring criminals. As far as the mob was concerned, Paul and his companions were turning the world upside-down, propagating revolutionary thoughts and ideals. They were a danger to the community. They twisted the words of Paul, saying that he was “acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:7 ESV). Yes, Paul had preached that Jesus was the Messiah, but he had never promoted Jesus as a replacement for Caesar, or even of Herod, the king of the Jews. Paul had not been concerned with an earthly kingdom, any more than Jesus had been. During his trial before Pilate, Jesus had clearly said:
“My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”
– John 18:36 NLT
But the enemy always twists the words of God. Those opposed to the gospel refuse to see the benefits of what Jesus came to offer, instead focusing their attention on what they believed they stood to lose. They fretted over their potential loss of freedom. They obsessed over the rights they might have to forfeit, failing to see the many benefits they stood to gain. Caring more about temporal, earthly-based outcomes, they missed out on the eternal nature of the gospel message and God’s gracious offer of life everlasting.
The words of these “wicked men” swayed the crowd, disturbing them greatly. The truth that Paul and Silas had proclaimed had been obscured by lies. The good news had been twisted and perverted until it sounded like bad news. And the selfless messengers of that good news had been portrayed as self-seeking, radical troublemakers who were out to overthrow the government, not transform lives. Paul would later write to the believers in Corinth, explaining the inability of some to comprehend the content of the gospel.
18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. 19 As the Scriptures say,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise
and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”
20 So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. 21 Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. 22 It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. 23 So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. – 1 Corinthians 1:18-23 NLT
In Thessalonica, there were some who believed. But there were many more who turned their backs on the good news regarding Jesus Christ. They heard, but they did not believe. They were offered the free gift of salvation, but they refused to accept it. They listened to the lies of wicked men. They preferred the words of the enemy over the truth of God. Paul and his companions had been accused of turning the world upside-down, and that is exactly what they had been doing. They were presenting a radical message that contradicted the wisdom of this world and stood in direct opposition to the lies of the prince of this world: Satan. Paul and his companions were offering freedom from sin and death, but those blinded by the lies of Satan preferred to live in darkness rather than have their sins exposed by the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.