Pastor David B. Curtis


Preaching In Thessalonica

Acts 17:1-10

Delivered 10/11/2009

We have been looking at the Apostle Paul's 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.

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 traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. (Acts 17:1 NASB)

Notice that 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.

Bill and Trish, listen up, this is for you: Paul and Silas had just been severely beaten--I don't think they could walk 100 miles in three days. Walking shortly after a brutal beating would have been very painful. Even if they were in great shape, this journey on foot would have taken much longer than three day, which makes me think that maybe, just maybe, they traveled on horseback. So maybe in Acts 9 when God struck Paul to the ground, he fell off a horse, maybe.

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 200,000 people, at least. 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 came through Thessalonica. It was populated by Greeks, Roman citizens, Jews and Orientals. Notice that the Jewish religious influence was having an effect among the population; 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 recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. (1 Thessalonians 2:9 NASB)
For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, 8 nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we might not be a burden to any of you; (2 Thessalonians 3:7-8 NASB)

Paul makes clear in his letter how he was careful not to be a financial burden on anyone. There were many traveling philosophers, who had a reputation for selfishness, making the rounds in that first century day. The apostle did not want to be included among that group. So he made tents all through 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 (Philippians 4:15-16).

And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, (Acts 17:2 NASB)

Paul always started his ministry in the synagogue, this was his practice wherever he went. We saw 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 10 Jewish males. No less than seven men would be called upon to read portions of the Law and theProphets. Then the Ruler of the Synagogue could and would call on any competent distinguished visitor to speak. Jesus 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, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you may excel still more. (1 Thessalonians 4:1 NASB)

This seems like much more than a three week task. The expression "Three Sabbaths"

could have been using "three" to indicate a complete ministry. In common use "two" could mean a few, "three" 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 responsiveness on the part of individuals. Questions would be thrown out, like Plato and Socrates did, and then the answers were field, and 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, an interchange there.

The text goes on to tell us that Paul was:

explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ." (Acts 17:3 NASB)

"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. "Giving evidence" literally means: "to place before or alongside." It was the taking of what we know as Messianic promises and then putting along side of them the events of the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus, 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: Jesus Christ forgave men's sins.
Conclusion: Jesus Christ is God.

Alright, back to our text,

explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ." (Acts 17:3 NASB)
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 Jesus being the Messiah? The fact that He died. They couldn't conceive of a dead Messiah. Paul says in:

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

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: "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.

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

And He took the twelve aside and said to them, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. (Luke 18:31 NASB)

Paul is preaching the same thing that Jesus taught, the Scripture taught that Messiah must suffer and die:

"For He will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, 33 and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again." (Luke 18:32-33 NASB)

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

And they understood none of these things, and this saying was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said. (Luke 18:34 NASB)

The disciples had no idea what Jesus 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:

Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. 3 He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. 6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. 7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. 8 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, For the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due? 9 His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. 10 But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. 11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53 NASB)

They also knew of the Smitten Shepherd in Zedhariah:

"Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, And against the man, My Associate," Declares the LORD of hosts. "Strike the Shepherd that the sheep may be scattered; And I will turn My hand against the little ones. (Zechariah 13:7 NASB)

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

The suffering and death of Messiah were a must--a divine necessity, spoken of throughout the Law and the Prophets, so was His resurrection:

"Come, let us return to the LORD. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. 2 "He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day That we may live before Him. (Hosea 6:1-2 NASB)

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: Jesus 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: Jesus is the Christ.

The most convincing arguments for the truth of who Jesus Christ 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 your First Testament and show a person that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead, and demonstrate that Jesus is the Christ?

Referring to this Jesus, Peter declared 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 that has been given among men, by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12 NASB)

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 the Roman philosophy, nor in the two thousand mystery religions prevalent in that day. Salvation was to be found only in Jesus Christ, 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, along with a great multitude of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women. (Acts 17:4 NASB)

Who is the "them" here? It is the Jews of verse 1. Some of the Jews were persuaded that Jesus was the Christ. They believed Paul's words and put their faith in Jesus. Not only Jews believed Paul's message, but so did a "great multitude of the God-fearing Greeks." God-fearing 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 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.

"A number of 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 they listened to Paul and Silas explain the Hebrew prophecies concerning Jesus the Messiah, the hearts of these women were opened to the Lord.

Why did these Jews, God-fearing 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 should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:13 NASB)

The word "beginning" is the Greek word arche, which is the same word used in:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1 NASB)

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, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and coming upon the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people. (Acts 17:5 NASB)

It seems every time Paul finished his teaching in a synagogue, the next verse opens with the words, "But the Jews..."--we have seen this over and over:

And the next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of God. 44 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy, and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming. (Acts 13:44-45 NASB)

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 avoid the Jews and the synagogue, especially since he has to still be hurting from the beating he got in Philippi. But not Paul, this is a courageous man.

"Taking along some wicked men from the market place"--this is not a very good translation. Adam Clark writes, "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 did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, "These men who have upset the world have come here also; 7 and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus." (Acts 17:6-7 NASB)

The Greek word that is translated here as "authorities" is the word politarchs, (pol-it-ar'-khace), which 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 upset the world 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 "upsetting the world." And the rumor has drifted all the way to Thessalonica, which is over a hundred miles away.

Believers, we need to be upsetting the world, because without Christ it is a mess.

The ACLU and the U.S. Supreme Court reflect a world in rebellion against God. They

have made it legally acceptable to dance nude as an expression of free speech, but not to pray at high school football games! They have made it legal to kill babies in the womb right up to the moment of birth, but if you kill a dog, or even have dogs fight, you are 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. We don't need to change legislation, we need to change men's hearts with the Gospel.

Most Christians today have absolutely no effect on anything. But here were two people of whom the world said, "They have upset the world."

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 Jesus 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):"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. Well, what they're doing when they do that, of course, is to deny their own theocratic nation. And, in denying themselves, they denied the Hebrew Scriptures, they denied 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 they stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things. 9 And when they had received a pledge from Jason and the others, they released them. 10 And the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea; and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. (Acts 17:8-10 NASB)

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, and that king is Jesus. A judgement was made, and a bond was paid by Jason, presumably as a bond against any further trouble, and they let them go, possibly suggesting, or even specifically requiring, that it would be a good idea to get Paul and Silas out of town.

So 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, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, 15 who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, (1 Thessalonians 2:14-15 NASB)

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

so that no man may be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. 4 For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know. (1 Thessalonians 3:3-4 NASB)

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

For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. (1 Thessalonians 1:8 NASB)

In many countries throughout the world, men and women who have dedicated their lives in the service of Jesus 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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