Pastor David B. Curtis


Media #1098 MP3 Audio File Video File

The Birth of the Thessalonian Church

(Acts 17:1-9)

Delivered 01/09/22

This morning we are starting a verse-by-verse study through the book of 1 Thessalonians. For our study this morning we are going to be looking at the book of Acts and The Birth of the Thessalonian Church.

On his second missionary journey Paul, together with Silas, Timothy, and Luke, had established a beach-head for the Gospel in Europe in the city in Philippi in Macedonia around A.D. 51.

While in Philippi Paul and Silas were arrested and beaten following Paul's casting out of a demon from a slave girl who was used of her masters to foretell the future. As Paul and Silas lay in a dungeon singing praise to God, an earthquake destroyed the prison. The jailer and his family came to faith as a result, and they joined together with Lydia and her household to form the first home church on the European continent. Luke would remain on to shepherd the young church, while Paul and his companions head south on the Egnatian Way as soon as they are released from prison.

Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Acts 17:1 ESV

Luke now drops the pronoun of the first person, in which he has spoken of the apostolic company since they left Troas, and resumes the third person, which shows that he remained in Philippi after the departure of Paul and Silas.

As they leave Philippi, it appears that they just pass through Amphipolis, which was about thirty-three miles on down the coast. And then, they seem to just pass through Apollonia, which was sixty-three miles away, and, finally, come to Thessalonica, which was about one hundred miles from Philippi.

The text does not state that Paul and his missionary team stayed only overnight in Amphipolis and Apollonia, but most interpreters have inferred this from the narrative. It would seem that the reason that they stopped at neither of these cities for any length of time was because they discovered that there was no synagogue there, while there were synagogues in Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens.

Paul and Silas had just been severely beaten, so it is doubtful that in injured condition that they could have walked 100 miles in three days. But even if they had  been in great physical shape, this journey on foot would have taken much longer than three days. Possibly they traveled on horseback.

Let's talk about Thessalonica: The city, which was founded in 315 B.C., was named in honor of Philip II's daughter, Thessalonicas. It was a trading city of at least 200,000 people. It was the capital of Macedonia. Three great rivers came through it and converged into the sea, and so it was a very important port. Also, the Egnation Highway went right through the middle of Thessalonica, so everyone traveling east and west journeyed through it. It was populated by Greeks, Roman citizens, Jews, and Orientals. Notice that the Jewish religious influence was having an effect among the population, and as a result, Paul found many "God-fearing Greeks" among the citizens.

What do you think was the first thing Paul did once he reached Thessalonica? If he arrived on Friday, I'm sure the first thing he did was go to the synagogue. But if he didn't arrive on Friday, I think the first thing he did was get a job tent-making. In writing to the Thessalonians, Paul said:

For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 1 Thessalonians 2:9 ESV
For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. 2 Thessalonians 3:7-8 ESV

Paul makes clear in his letter how he was careful not to be a financial burden on anyone. There were many traveling philosophers making the rounds in that first-century day who had a reputation for selfishness. The apostle did not want to be included among that group, so he made tents throughout the week. But on Saturday, he went into the synagogue and taught the Scriptures. He also received two financial gifts from the Philippians while he was in Thessalonica.

And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Philippians 4:15-16 ESV

In verse 15, the words "entered into partnership" come from the Greek word, koinaneo, meaning "to share with others, communicate, distribute, be a partner." They were partners with Paul in the gospel ministry through their giving.

And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, Acts 17:2 ESV

It was always Paul’s practice to begin his ministry in the synagogue. We see him do this in Damascus, Jerusalem, Pisidian Antioch, Lystra, and Philippi. Why did he do this? It was because this was where he could find some who already had a knowledge of the Scriptures. This is where he could find those who were looking for the Messiah.

Synagogue—The synagogue is not the temple; the synagogue is a completely different place. During the 400 silent years (which is what we call them), from the end of the book of Malachi to the beginning of the Gospels, is when the whole concept of the Rabbis and the synagogue arose. The Hebrew people in that time period had a new passion for the Hebrew Scriptures, and they wanted to learn what God had to say. They needed a place where the Scriptures could be read and taught, so they developed the synagogue.

The synagogue system offered the unique opportunity of making the Hebrew Scriptures available everywhere the Jews had been dispersed throughout the entire world. There were three things the Jews did in the synagogues, and Gentile people could join in and benefit from all of them: They would read the Bible, pray, and try to make some application to their lives of what they were reading and praying about.

There was a synagogue located in every city in which there were at least 10 Jewish males. No fewer than seven men would be called upon to read portions of the Law and the Prophets. Then the Ruler of the Synagogue could and would call on any competent distinguished visitor to speak. Yeshua and the apostles took advantage of this practice in order to preach the Gospel.

How long were Paul and his missionary team in Thessalonica? We really don't know for sure, but it seems to have been longer than three weeks.

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Yeshua, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 1 Thessalonians 4:1 ESV

This seems like much more than a three-week task. In the expression, "Three Sabbaths," the "three" could have been used to indicate a complete ministry. In common use, "two" could mean a few, and "three" could convey a good many.

Our text says that Paul "reasoned with them from the Scriptures." Reasoned is from the Greek word dialegomai. It's a word from which we get words like "dialog" and "dialectic." It's a word that originally referred to the Socratic method of communication in which there was a response on the part of individuals. Questions would be thrown out in the manner in which Plato and Socrates, and then the answers were fielded. Other questions were asked that were designed to cause individuals to think through the things that they were discussing. Paul didn't just get up there and preach. He allowed for questions and dialog. The imperfect tense indicates a renewed kind of repeated questioning. In other words, there was an interchange there.

The text goes on to tell us that Paul was

explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, "This Yeshua, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ."  Acts 17:3 ESV

"Explaining" means "to open." Luke used the same word of God opening the eyes of the men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:31). They were explaining the Hebrew prophesies. "Proving" literally means "to place before or alongside." It was the taking of what we know as Messianic promises and then putting the events of the life and ministry of the Lord Yeshua alongside of them, thus showing their fulfillment in Christ.

What we have here in verse 3 is a rhetorical syllogism. A syllogism is a logical formula consisting of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion. For example:

Major Premise: Only God can forgive sins.

Minor Premise: Yeshua forgave men's sins.

Conclusion: Yeshua is God.

Let’s look again at our text to find the syllogism there.

explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, "This Yeshua, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ."  Acts 17:3 ESV

Major Premise: The characteristics of the Christ (Messiah) are that He must suffer and rise from the dead.

What was the biggest hang-up the Jews had about Yeshua’s being the Messiah? The fact that He died. They couldn't conceive of a dead Messiah. Paul says the following in 1 Corinthians 1 verse 23:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV
but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 1 Corinthians 1:23 ESV

The thought of a suffering Messiah was a concept that the Jews were not familiar with. They were expecting a victorious Messiah by conventional means. The Jewish understanding of the Christ (i.e., "Messiah") was that He would bring deliverance through conquest. This title "Messiah" carried overtones of political power, especially in one strand of Jewish hope represented by the Psalms of Solomon which gave one of the clearest expressions of the Jews continuing hope.

The Psalms of Solomon was part of the intertestamental literature (PSEUDEPIGRAPHA, Greek meaning is "things falsely ascribed") not accepted into the Christian or Jewish canon of Scripture. It was written around 70-40 B.C. The Psalms of Solomon was a Jewish writing of the Messiah as the son of David. Their Messiah was a warrior-prince who would expel the hated Romans from Israel and bring in a kingdom in which the Jews would be promoted to world dominion.

Yeshua taught His disciples that He must suffer and die and even after spending three years with Him, they still didn't understand.

And taking the twelve, he said to them, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. Luke 18:31 ESV

Paul is preaching the same thing that Yeshua taught—Scripture taught that Messiah must suffer and die.

For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise." Luke 18:32-33 ESV

Now here is where you expect the disciples to say, "Yeah, we know the Scriptures." But instead notice what Luke records.

But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. Luke 18:34 ESV

The disciples had no idea what Yeshua was talking about. Even though they knew the Scriptures quite well, they did not understand them.

They were certainly familiar with the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53.

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:1-12 ESV

They also knew of the Smitten Shepherd in Zechariah 13.

"Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me," declares the LORD of hosts. "Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones. Zechariah 13:7 ESV

They knew of the references to the suffering of the godly in Psalm 22 and 118:10, and they knew that the Son of Man in Daniel was the representative of God's people who came out of suffering into the presence of God.

The suffering and death of Messiah were a must. It was a divine necessity that was spoken of throughout the Law and the Prophets. So was His resurrection.

"Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Hosea 6:1-2 ESV

The book of Psalms underscores this point that Messiah would rise from the dead (Psalm 16:10, 11; Psalm 30:3). So, the major premise is established.

Major Premise: The characteristics of the Christ (Messiah) are that he must suffer and rise from the dead.

Minor Premise: Yeshua modeled these characteristics in his death and resurrection.

It was well known that He had suffered death, and Paul had abundant means of proving that He had risen again.

Conclusion: Yeshua is the Christ.

The most convincing arguments for the truth of who Yeshua is is the absolute and total fulfillment of prophecy. Over 1,000 prophecies were fulfilled in Christ's first coming.

Let me ask you something. Could you take the Tanakh and show a person that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead and demonstrate that Yeshua is the Christ?

Referring to this Yeshua, Peter declared the following some 20 years earlier in the presence of the Jewish Supreme Court in Jerusalem.

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."  Acts 4:12 ESV

As he preached in the synagogue at Thessalonica, Paul would declare to the Jews that there was no salvation in Judaism, nor was salvation possible by means of Roman philosophy or in the two thousand mystery religions prevalent in that day. Salvation was to be found only in Yeshua, the Messiah of God, whom the Jews had rejected while He was on earth.

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. Acts 17:4 ESV

Who is the "them" here? It is the Jews of verse 1. Some of the Jews were persuaded that Yeshua was the Christ. They believed Paul's words and put their faith in Yeshua. Not only Jews believed Paul's message but so did a "great many of the devout Greeks." "Devout" points to that class of monotheistic Gentiles who worshiped the God of Israel as the one God and respected the Old Covenant and the moral teaching of the Jews, attended synagogue, observed the Sabbath, and practiced the main requirements of Jewish piety.

Preaching in the synagogues was an effective means of reaching Gentiles. In nearly every synagogue there were devout or God-fearing Gentiles. These Gentiles had already come to the point of looking for salvation from a Jewish Messiah, and they also had some knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures.

"And not a few of the leading women"women in the ancient culture were little better than slaves. But in Macedonia and parts of Asia Minor, prominent women had a freedom not known in most places elsewhere. They would be wives of important officials and residents, and wealthy widows of status. They were held in high esteem and given great respect and position in the social, civil, and religious affairs of the cities of Philippi and Thessalonica. As these women listened to Paul and Silas explain the Hebrew prophecies concerning Yeshua the Messiah, their hearts were opened to the Lord.

Why did these Jews, devout Gentiles, and women turn to Christ? Was it Paul's persuasive speech, or maybe their wisdom that caused them to believe? No. They believed because they had been chosen by God.

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 2 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV

There is a textual variant here. Some early manuscripts read "from the beginning" while others read "firstfruits." If "from the beginning" is the original reading (I lean this way), it parallels Ephesians 1:4, where Paul states

even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. Ephesians 1:4 ESV

If "firstfruits" is the original, then Paul was saying that the Thessalonians were some of the first converts to the gospel in their region in the Gentile world. But, either way, Paul’s point is that God chose the Thessalonians for salvation. God didn’t look down through history and see that the Thessalonians would choose to believe, so He put them on His list. The Scriptures are uniformly clear that our salvation is rooted in God’s sovereign choice of us before the foundation of the world. We choose to believe because God first chose us.

The word "beginning" here is the Greek word arche which is the same word used in John 1.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1 ESV

As long as God existed, which is forever, He had chosen us to be His children. He chose us in eternity past and will never change His mind. That is security, and that is something to rejoice in.

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. Acts 17:5 ESV

It seems every time Paul finished his teaching in a synagogue, the next verse opens with the words, "But the Jews…"  We see this over and over in Acts.

The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. Acts 13:44-45 ESV

It happened in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium (Acts 14:2, 5), and Lystra (Acts 14:19) on the first missionary journey, and here again Paul is opposed by a mob incited by envious people among the Jews.

These Jews, like Jonah of old, like the people of Nazareth (Luke 4:16ff.), and like the Jews of Jerusalem later on (Acts 22:21-22) were greatly angered that a "salvation of the Jews" was being offered to the Gentiles and that many were placing their trust in Him, following Paul and the others.

You would think that Paul would have avoided the Jews and the synagogue, especially since he had to still be hurting from the beating he got in Philippi. But not Paul; he was a courageous man.

"Taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob"this is not a very good translation. Adam Clark writes that they are "Those who transact business in courts of justice. The same word is used by the Jews in Hebrew letters to signify judges of the Gentiles. These were probably a low kind of lawyers, what we would call pettifoggers, or attorneys without principle, who gave advice for a trifle, and fomented disputes and litigations among the people."

So, this mob assaulted the house of Jason where the apostles and others were supposed to be staying, and they sought to bring them out to the people.

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, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Yeshua." Acts 17:6-7 ESV

The Greek word that is translated here as "authorities" is the word politarchs. It means "a town-officer, i.e. magistrate, ruler of the city." This term "politarchs" was unknown outside of Macedonia. Since the term was unknown elsewhere, the critics of Luke once dismissed it as a mark of ignorance. But now sixteen epigraphical examples exist in modern Salonica, and one is located in the British Museum on a stone that once formed part of an archway. It was evidently the Macedonian term. Luke is a very accurate historian.

"These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also." They've only been to one town, Philippi in Europe, and already through the events of a few days in one town, these men are convinced that they are "turning the world upside down." And the rumor has drifted all the way to Thessalonica over a hundred miles away.

Believers, we need to be upsetting the world because without Christ, it is a mess. The wicked have made it legal to kill babies in the womb right up to the moment of birth, but if anyone kills a dog, or even has dogs fight, he is going to jail. A world that is so complacent in its brazen sin and rebellion against God needs to be upset. And only the Gospel can do it.

Most Christians today have absolutely no effect on anything. But here were two people of whom the world said, "These men who have turned the world upside down." Notice that when they got Jason before the magistrates, they didn't say, "These people are preaching that the Messiah must suffer, and that He must be raised from the dead, and that Yeshua is the Messiah." No, what they said is, "These fellows are doing things that are contrary to the decrees of Caesar." So, the Jews in Thessalonica began to persecute the missionaries, but they did it in such a way that the local authorities would see it as a political, rather than a religious issue.

The Jews in this instance were doing what the Jews had done before Pilate (John 19:15) when they said "We have no king but Caesar." They were renouncing their hope for a Messianic King. To the Jews, Claudius was king. Declaring that there was another king was treason, they charged. But by so doing, they were, of course, denying their own theocratic nation. And in denying themselves, they denied the Hebrew Scriptures and their doctrine and lost their position as the nation of God.

Not finding Paul and Silas, they turned on Jason and some fellow-believers and hauled them before the city rulers.

And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go. Acts 17:8-9 ESV

Paul created riots everywhere he preached. Jason and the other new Christians were dragged to the court by the mob and placed under a lot of pressure. The accusation was that Jason had entertained those who violated Roman law by claiming there is another king besides Caesar, Yeshua. A judgment was made and a bond was paid by Jason, presumably as a bond against any further trouble. Consequently, the authorities let them go, possibly suggesting or even specifically requiring that it would be a good idea to get Paul and Silas out of town.

What happened once Paul, Silas, and Timothy left town? Did the church live in peace and material prosperity for the rest of their days? Do we know what happened to this church after Paul left? Yes, we do. This was not the end of problems for Jason and his fellow-believers.

For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Yeshua that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Yeshua and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15 ESV

Those in Thessalonica were suffering for their faith. But Paul had taught them, before he was forced to leave town, that as believers, they were destined for affliction.

that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4 ESV

They were suffering, but they, like their teacher, Paul, continued to press on in the midst of the persecution. They continued to spread the Word of God in spite of their trials.

For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 1 Thessalonians 1:8 ESV

In many countries throughout the world, men and women who have dedicated their lives in the service of Yeshua the Christ still face all kinds of persecution for their faith. By contrast, we who live in the United States are free to talk about our faith and free to congregate together and worship. It is hard for us to imagine any other kind of life, especially one of physical persecution.

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