Paul's journey to Thessalonica

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Leaving their first Macedonian converts in Philippi to the care of Timothy and Luke, aided by the co-operation of godly men and women raised up among the Philippians themselves, Paul and Silas set forth on their journey to Thessalonica. They are in the middle of what is referred to as Paul's second missionary journey.

Part of Apostle Paul's path between Philippi and Berea lay across the neck of this peninsula. The whole of his route was over historical ground. At Philippi he was close to the confines of Thracian barbarism, and on the spot where the last battle was fought in defense of the Republic. At Berea, Paul came near the mountains, beyond which is the region of Classical Greece, and close to the spot where the battle was fought which reduced Macedonia to a province. Between both areas lies Thessalonica.

The intermediate stages mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles are Amphipolis and Apollonia. The distances laid down in the Itineraries are Philippi to Amphipolis, thirty-three miles, Amphipolis to Apollonia, thirty miles, Apollonia to Thessalonica, thirty-seven miles. These distances are evidently such as might have been traversed each in one day. The journey was rapid for Paul and Silas as they rested one night at each of the intermediate places.

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The city which we now refer to as Thessalonica was known in the earliest periods of its history under various names. Under that of Therma it is associated with some interesting recollections. It was the resting-place of Xerxes on his march. It is not unmentioned in the Peloponnesian war and it was a frequent subject of debate in the last independent assemblies of Athens.


Saint Paul by Theophanes the Cretan
Saint Paul
Theophanes the Cretan, 1546

When the Macedonian power began to overshadow all the countries where Greek was spoken, this city received its new name, and began a new and more distinguished period of its history. A sister of Alexander the Great was called Thessalonica, and her name was given to the city of Therma, when rebuilt and embellished by her husband, Cassander the son of Antipater.

If Thessalonica can boast of a series of Christian annals, unbroken since the day of Apostle Paul's arrival, its relations with the Jewish people have continued for a still longer period. There are materials for tracing similar settlements of the same scattered and persecuted people in this city, at intervals, during the Middle Ages and even before the destruction of Jerusalem. Here was the chief colony of those Jews of Macedonia of whom Philo speaks. While Amphipolis and Apollonia had no Israelite communities to detain Paul, the synagogue of the neighborhood was at Thessalonica.


Paul and Silas arrive

The first scene to which we are introduced in this city is entirely Jewish. It is not a small meeting of proselyte women by the riverside, but a crowded assembly of Jews, intent on their religious worship, among whom Paul and Silas now make their appearance. If the traces of their recent hardships were manifest in their very aspect, and if they related to their Israelitish brethren how they had "suffered and had been insulted at Philippi" (1Thessalonians 2:2), their entrance in among them must have created a strong impression of indignation and sympathy, which explains the allusion in Apostle Paul's Epistle.

Paul spoke, however, to the Jews in Thessalonia with the earnestness of a man who has no time to lose and no thought to waste on his own sufferings. He preached, not himself, but Christ crucified. The Jewish Scriptures were the ground of his argument. He recurred to the same subject again and again. On three successive Bible Sabbaths (Acts 17:2) he argued with them and the whole body of Jews resident in Thessalonica were interested and excited with the new doctrine.

The three points on which Paul taught those in Thessalonia were the following. He who was foretold in prophecy was to be a suffering Messiah, after death He was to rise again, and that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Messiah who was to come (Acts 17:3).

That Apostle Paul did speak of Messiah's glorious kingdom, the kingdom foretold in the Prophetic Scriptures themselves, may be gathered by comparing together the Acts and the Epistles to the Thessalonians. The accusation brought against him (Acts 17:7) was that he was proclaiming another king and virtually rebelling against the emperor. And in strict conformity to this the Thessalonians are reminded of the exhortations and entreaties he gave them, when among them, that they would "walk worthily of the God who had called them to His kingdom and glory" (1Thessalonians 2:12), and they are addressed as those who had "suffered affliction for the sake of that kingdom" (2Thessalonians 1:5).

If we were asked for the distinguishing characteristic of the first Christians of Thessalonica, we should point to their overwhelming sense of the nearness of the second advent, accompanied with melancholy thoughts concerning those who might die before it, and with gloomy and unpractical views of the shortness of life and the vanity of the world. Each chapter in the first Epistle to the Thessalonians ends with an allusion to this subject and it was evidently the topic of frequent conversations, when the Apostle was in Macedonia.

But Apostle Paul never spoke or wrote of the future as though the present was to be forgotten. When the Thessalonians were admonished of Christ's advent, he told them also of other coming events, full of practical warning to all ages, though to our eyes still they are shrouded in mystery. Paul told them, in the words of Christ himself, that "the times and the seasons" of the coming revelations were known only to God and he warned them, as the first disciples had been warned in Judea, that the great day would come suddenly on men unprepared.

The whole demeanor of Apostle Paul among the Thessalonians may be traced, by means of these Epistles, with singular minuteness. We see there, not only what success he had on his first entrance among them, not only how the Gospel came "with power and with full conviction of its truth," (1Thessalonians 1:5) but also "what manner of man he was among them for their sakes." We see him proclaiming the truth with unflinching courage, endeavoring to win no converts by flattering words, but warning his hearers of all the danger of the sins and pollution to which they were tempted.

We see Paul rebuking and admonishing his converts with all the faithfulness of a father to his children, and cherishing them with all the affection of a mother for the infant of her bosom. We see in this Apostle at Thessalonica all the devotion of a friend who is ready to devote his life for those whom he loves, all the watchfulness of the faithful pastor, to whom "each one" of his flock is the separate object of individual care.

Paul was enabled to maintain an independent position inThessalonica partly by the liberality of his friends at Philippi, who once and again, on this first visit to Macedonia, sent relief to his necessities (Philippians 4:15 - 16).

Apostle Paul speaks of his work at Thessalonica as having been encompassed with afflictions (1Thessalonians 1:6) and of the Gospel as having advanced by a painful struggle (1Thessalonians 2:2). What these afflictions and struggles were, we can gather from the slight notices of events which are contained in the Acts. Paul's success among the Gentiles roused the enmity of his own countrymen. Even in the Synagogue the Proselytes attached themselves to him more readily than the Jews. But he did not merely obtain an influence over the Gentile mind by the indirect means of his disputations on the Sabbath in the Synagogue, and through the medium of the Proselytes but on the intermediate days he was doubtless in frequent and direct communication with the Heathen.

We need not be surprised at the results, even if his stay was limited to the period corresponding to three Sabbaths. No one can say what effects might follow from three weeks of an Apostle's teaching. But we are by no means forced to adopt the supposition that the time was limited to three weeks. It is highly probable that Apostle Paul remained at Thessalonica for a longer period. At other cities when he was repelled by the Jews, he became the evangelist of the Gentiles, and remained till he was compelled to depart.

The Thessalonian letters throw great light on the rupture which certainly took place with the Jews on this occasion, and which is implied in that one word in the Acts which speaks of their jealousy (Acts 17:5) against the Gentiles. The whole aspect of the letters shows that the main body of the Church at Thessalonica was not Jewish but Gentile. The Jews are spoken of as an extraneous body, as the enemies of Christianity and of all men, not as the elements out of which the Church was composed. The ancient Jewish Scriptures are not once quoted in either of these Epistles. The converts are addressed as those who had turned, not from Hebrew fables and traditions, but from the practices of Heathen idolatry (1Thessalonians 1:9).


City turns against the gospel

When the Jews saw Proselytes and Gentiles, and many of the leading women (Acts 17:4) of the city, convinced by Apostle Paul's teaching, they must have felt that his influence was silently undermining theirs. In proportion to his success in spreading Christianity, their power of spreading Judaism declined. Their sensitiveness would be increased in consequence of the peculiar dislike with which they were viewed at this time by the Roman power. Thus they adopted the tactics which had been used with some success before at Iconium and Lystra, and turned against Apostle Paul and his companions those weapons which are the readiest instruments of vulgar bigotry.

They excited the mob of Thessalonica, gathering together a multitude of those worthless idlers about the markets and landing-places which abound in every such city, and are always ready for any evil work. With this multitude they assaulted the house of Jason, with whom Paul and Silas seem to have been lodging. Their wish was to bring Paul and Silas out to the assembly of the people. But they were absent from the house and Jason and some other Christians were dragged before the city magistrates. The accusation vociferously brought against them was the following.

Those who have set the whole world in confusion have come here also, whom Jason has received; and these all do what is contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus (Acts 17:6 - 7).

There is no mention of the rights and privileges of Roman citizenship (compare Acts 16:21) but we are presented with the spectacle of a mixed mob of Greeks and Jews, who are anxious to show themselves to be "Caesar's friends." Nothing is said of religious ceremonies (Acts 16:21) which the citizens, "being Romans," may not lawfully adopt. All the anxiety, both of people and magistrates, is turned to the one point of showing their loyalty to the Emperor (Acts 17:7). And those magistrates by whom the question at issue is ultimately decided are not Roman but Greek politarchs.

It is evident that the magistrates were excited and unsettled as well as the multitude. No doubt they were anxious to stand well with the Roman government, and not to compromise themselves or the privileges of their city by a wrong decision in this dispute between the Christians and the Jews. The course they adopted was to "take security" from Jason and his companions (Acts 17:9). By this expression it is most probably meant that a sum of money was deposited with the magistrates and that peace should be maintained in Thessalonica itself. By these means the disturbance was allayed.

But though the magistrates had secured quiet in the city for the present, the position of Paul and Silas was very precarious. The lower classes were still excited. The Jews were in a state of fanatical displeasure. It is evident that Paul could not appear in public as before, without endangering their own safety, and compromising their fellow Christians who were security for their good behavior. The alternatives before them were either silence in Thessalonica or departure to some other place. They choose, under the watchful care of the brethren, to journey to Berea (Acts 17:10).

We observe that nothing is said of the departure of Timothy. If he was at Thessalonica at all, he stays there now, as Luke had stayed at Philippi. We can trace in all these arrangements Paul's deliberate care and policy for the well-being of the new churches, even in the midst of the sudden movements caused by the outbreak of persecution.

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