Still nursing the wounds inflicted in Philippi, Paul and Silas travelled westwardly through the cities of “Amphipolis and Apollonia” (Acts 17:1) on the way to Thessalonica.
With a large harbor on the northwestern Aegean Sea, and located on a major east-west trade route, Thessalonica was a thriving city, a commercial center, and the most important city in Macedonia. Like Corinth, in Achaia to the south, Thessalonica was a multicultural city, having attracted travelers, merchants and laborers from around the globe. Worshippers in Philippi met by the river, but Thessalonica was home to a Jewish population significant enough to warrant a synagogue.
Arriving at Thessalonica, “as usual, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and rise from the dead: ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah’ ” (Acts 17:2-3).
His message to the Jewish worshipers was simple and direct. The Old Testament promised a king to sit upon David’s throne. Paul said, “don’t wait any longer. Jesus, the Messiah has come!” He effectively used the prophetic passages to prove that Jesus fulfilled every prediction. “Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, including a large number of God-fearing Greeks, as well as a number of the leading women” (Acts 17:4).
But what happened in Galatia and again in Philippi also happened in Thessalonica. “The Jews became jealous, and they brought together some wicked men from the marketplace, formed a mob, and started a riot in the city... As soon as it was night, the brothers and sisters sent Paul and Silas away” (Acts 17:5-10). After spending only “three Sabbath days”, Paul was whisked out of town to safety, leaving the baby church on its own.
A few months later, Paul wrote a letter to the growing church in Thessalonica. Though Paul had spent so little time among them, he recalled how God had worked so miraculously to birth His church. “We always thank God for all of you, making mention of you constantly in our prayers. We recall, in the presence of our God and Father, your work produced by faith, your labor motivated by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with full assurance... In spite of severe persecution, you welcomed the message with joy from the Holy Spirit. As a result, you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. For the word of the Lord rang out from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place that your faith in God has gone out. Therefore, we don’t need to say anything, for they themselves report what kind of reception we had from you: how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thessalonians 1:2–10).
The allegation brought against Paul and his pals in Thessalonica was remarkable! The mob claimed that these Bible-believing, God-fearing, Jesus-preaching, Spirit-filled Christian missionaries “have turned the world upside down!” (Acts 17:6). I wonder, is that accusation being leveled against the church in 2022?