Lesson 4: Introduction to FIRST THESSALONIANS
Acts 17:1-15, 18:1-5, I Thessalonians 1:5, 2:5,9
This is Lesson #4. Welcome to Lesson #4, and please turn to I Thessalonians. You may need to keep a book marker at Acts chapter 17, as well. To Paul, the city of Thessalonica must have been a frustrating experience. On Paul's second missionary journey, as he and Silas re-visited the churches that Paul and Barnabas had established in Galatia, Luke said in Acts 16:5, "so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily." Things must have been looking good about that time and I sense that Paul undoubtedly wanted to go in the direction of Ephesus, which was in the province of Asia in the western part of the same country of Asia Minor. Paul eventually went to Ephesus, you'll remember, but, not then. It didn't work out that way. The next verse (Acts 16:6) said "they... were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia." Don't forget, Paul was directed by the Holy Ghost (Acts 13:2,3,4). So, they wound up in the city of Troas, City #23 on your map. There, you'll remember, Paul received a vision inviting them over into Macedonia (Acts 16:9). When I say THEY, that was Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke joined them in Troas — it would appear. Shortly, they were in that European city of Philippi, in the territory of Macedonia. I trust you remember the meeting place by the riverside. Lydia, the seller of purple, was baptized, the damsel possessed with the spirit of divination, the jail where Paul and Silas had their hands and feet put in stocks and sang hymns in the darkness, with their backs bleeding. At midnight there was an earthquake. The Philippian jailer and his household were baptized the same night before daylight. Then in Acts 16.39, it says the Philippian city officials "desired them to depart out of the city." Now, let me ask you, "What would that do for YOUR morale?" Luke said in the last verse of the chapter, "when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them and departed." Because Luke used "THEY" instead of "US" in that sentence, I infer that means Luke and Timothy stayed in Philippi to work with the infant church established there. Apparently, the city officials did not insist on Luke and Timothy leaving. Then, in the first verse of chapter 17, it says, "when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they, i. e. Paul and Silas, came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews." Philippi was the capital city of one district in Macedonia. Thessalonica was the capital of another district in the same country, Macedonia. It's my understanding the Romans had built a road or highway between these two capital cities, Philippi and Thessalonica, which were separated by about 100 miles distance. Thessalonica was a seaport town located at the very northwest tip of the Agean Sea. Today, the same city is called Salonike, Greece, and is still an important seaport town with over a quarter million population. The city of Thessalonica had been named by Cassander of Macedonia, he had named it Thessalonica in honor of his wife. Some place near that city, were a number of hot springs - that probably gave it its resort attraction.
Did you catch the last phrase in V. 1 — "where was a synagogue of the Jews." Paul spent three Sabbaths in that synagogue at Thessalonica, according to v. 2. Paul preached "this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ" (end of v. 3). Some believed, we find in v. 4. That's a description of the response to Paul and Silas' preaching, and that was the nucleus of the Thessalonian church. The total time Paul and Silas spent at Thessalonica is not clear from these verses. Paul preached three Sabbaths in the synagogue, but, I would tend to think, it may have been another week or two, at least, before they were driven from the city. The reference to Paul's manner in v. 2 means that it was their custom (as we have observed before) to go into the synagogue first. So, in Thessalonica Paul and Silas followed their usual procedure.
After the Jews hardened their hearts and refused to accept Jesus as the Christ, they left the synagogue. That process took at least two weeks., i.e. three Saturdays with two weeks tucked in between. At the end of three Sabbaths, they were forced to leave the synagogue and to find another meeting place where they continued to teach the new Jewish converts; and, of course, they began to work with the Gentiles as well.. Get in mind now, we learned this in Acts 17:4, that most of the converts at Thessalonica were devout Greeks. Luke said "a great multitude." Thus, the congregation at Thessalonica were predominantly Gentile people, i.e. non-Jews, that had been proselytized to the Jewish religion. Those that were Jews by race were in the minority. I'm not sure what a chief woman was (v. 4), but, at least we know there were both men and women that obeyed the gospel at Thessalonica. As Paul and Silas began to work with the converts separate and apart from the synagogue, that's probably what fired up the Jews in the synagogue to bring on the persecution that resulted in firing up the whole population to the point the brethren were forced to send Paul and Silas to Berea by night, as v. 10 indicates. The Jews used that same old trite pitch that had been used for years, i. e. that Jesus was a king that was usurping authority that rightly belonged to Caesar. That's in v. 7.
Jason is the only person mentioned by name. Because he tried to assist Paul and Silas, by providing them a lodging place, he got in trouble with the law. Did you notice in reading I Thessalonians, Paul said to the brethren at Thessalonica, "ye remember, brethren, our labor and travail, for laboring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God." Paul said "we." That means simply, that Paul and Silas would not accept charity from the Thessalonian brethren. They worked every day to make their own way and buy their own bread. Can you visualize that? Paul said they worked "night and day," — did you catch that? That' I Thess. 2:9. And, then they were chased out of town. Isn't it amazing how dumb the people of this world are, with all their alcohol, drugs, and sophisticated ideas? It's an age old story, how good, honest, God-fearing people suffer at the expense of the ignorant and the indifferent and the apathetic.
Lest that someone should go so far as to conclude from this incident that missionaries are not to be supported, I hasten to add that Paul and Silas probably worked and made their way, so as to assure the Jews and the new converts that they were not just there to get their money. The apostle, more or less, called this to their attention at a later time. Paul said in I Thess. 2:5, "neither at any time used we...a cloak of covetousness; God is witness." So, I think that is the idea. What else did Paul and Silas teach in the few weeks they were at Thessalonica? What would you teach? How much COULD YOU teach? Of course, these babes in Christ were taught to assemble. They were taught to take the Lord's Supper each Lord's day. Agree? They were taught to sing and pray, and lay by in store, i. e. give of their means. What had Paul and Silas taught at Philippi? The same thing! They had, also, undoubtedly, left the Philippians two young preachers, named Timothy and Luke, to teach and help the Philippians get grounded in these things. It's interesting, that in later years, Paul wrote a letter back to the Philippian church, known to us as the book of Philippians (the 11th book in the New Testament.) In Philippians 4:14, the apostle Paul commended the Philippian brethren for assisting him, i. e. Paul financially. Then, in the next verse, Paul added, "Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving but ye only. For [Now, are you listening! FOR!] even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity..." So, we learn SOMETHING that Paul taught the brethren at Philippi. And, we learn, also, that Lydia and the Philipian jailer and the other converts at Philippi that made up that infant church, sent money or some kind of goods to assist Paul across that 100 mile Roman highway connecting Philippi and Thessalonica, that we talked about before, even during those few weeks while Paul was still at Thessalonica. So, even though Paul and Silas worked night and day so as NOT to be chargeable to the new Christians at Thessalonica, Paul and Silas must have, at the same time, been teaching the Thessalonian brethren to support missionaries, as they had undoubtedly taught the brethren at Philippi, you see. And, ladies, if I may deviate a moment to say this, you are important, super important to the work of the church. We know of only one man, the Philippian jailer, that obeyed at Philippi. We know of only one man, Jason, who must have been converted at Thessalonica. Other men, of course, were converted; but, we don't have any names. I'm talking about at the beginning. However, in that book that Paul wrote, in later years, back to Philippi, Paul said (4:3) "help those women which labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellow laborers, whose names are in the book of life." So, even though Paul may have been referring to some later time in that text, you see, the ladies at Philippi labored with Paul in the gospel. Of course, I realize they stayed in their proper place, but they worked. That is super important! Much depends upon the ladies in any congregation. And, even though women are not mentioned in either I or II Thessalonians, I'm sure women were important workers at Thessalonica as well.
Another aspect of the work at Thessalonica during those few weeks Paul and Silas was there, that you should not over look, is the supernatural aspect that accompanied Paul, as well as the other apostles, where ever they went Luke put a good bit of emphasis upon this earlier in the book of Acts. First, there was the miraculous manifestation that come on the apostles on Pentecost. The lame man at the beautiful gate of the temple that was healed by Peter and John (Acts 3). The man Paul healed at Lystra, Acts 14:10, to mention only a few; but, wonder what happened at Thessalonica? Well, of course, we don't know. Are we to conclude that nothing happened? Baptism wasn't mentioned either, we said. Did you notice, as you read the book of I Thessalonians, Paul said in v. 5 of the first chapter, "our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance..." Now, I don't know exactly what happened; but, you need to understand that some miraculous things happened at Thessalonica, as well, although, it is not mentioned in Luke's account in Acts chapter 17. So, we see the same pattern every where Paul went.
Now, try to get a mental image of the big trouble making swell that finally took place at Thessalonica. Acts 17:5 says, "the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set the entire city on an uproar..." Picket lines, sit-in and rioters always amaze me how provocative some are at getting what they want by force. Luke's pen is really sharp. I can feel it in my bones, "certain lewd fellows of the baser sort." Got the picture? The town was in an uproar! Something like you might expect on a 20th century TV screen. The brethren must have smuggled Paul and Silas out by the underground. It was night, v. 20. Where did they go? To the synagogue of the Jews in Berea —did you see that? Paul and Silas wound up in a city with a synagogue 30 or 40 miles to the west; and, guess what? They were ready to do it all over again. And this time, believe it or not, they found more noble and more receptive people; but, unfortunately the Jews of Thessalonica came to Berea and started trouble. No rest for the weary! Did you notice this time, only Paul was forced out? Verse 14 says, "Silas and Timothy abode there still." Thus, Timothy had caught up with Paul and Silas at Berea. Where was Luke? No doubt, back at Philippi or Thessalonica, one or the other, teaching the brethren on the sly. Paul was conducted to Athens, according to v. 15; that is City #30 on your map. And, Athens sure didn't do anything for Paul's morale. We won't get into that story here; but, notice in v. 15 that Paul sent a message from Athens for Silas and Timothy, instructing them to come to Paul with all speed. Eventually, Paul left Athens before Silas and Timothy caught up with him and ventured on to Corinth, according to the first verse in Acts chapter 18 — that's City #31 on your map. And, of course, you recognize this is the city where Paul met Aquila and Priscilla and spent 18 months at the end of the second missionary tour. Take a good close look at v. 4 in chapter 18; "he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks." Sound familiar, as the manner of Paul was (Acts 17:2)? Remember now, no telephones and no street cars; but, Silas and Timothy finally showed up at Corinth. Let's see now, the officials at Philippi had "desired them to depart out of the city" (Acts 16:39); at Thessalonica "the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night..." (Acts 17:10); from Berea (v. 14), Paul was sent away again. At Athens, Paul had witnessed the very height of conceit and bigotry. All this was taking its toll on Paul. Notice in the statement in Acts 18:5, after Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, it says, "Paul was pressed in the spirit. They had left behind a church at Philippi, a church at Thessalonica, and a church at Berea, and the soil of Corinth was being prepared. Paul testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ.
Can you visualize the day that Silas and Timothy showed up. Paul must have been making tents with his friends, Aquila and Priscilla, and, no doubt, working night and day — just like he had worked at Thessalonica. I can imagine the candle burning late that night. Paul wanted to know every detail about the brethren at Berea, and Thessalonica, and Philippi. Where was Luke, and what about Jason? How much had they been able to teach the brethren at Berea? Were any of the brethren still being persecuted? As these two tired brethren filled in Paul on any new developments and answered his many questions, it must have been during that discussion that Paul decided that he must write a letter to the brethren at Thessalonica, answer their questions, and give them a little boost hi morale. The need was clear! It must have been about the next day Paul obtained a blank scroll at the market place and sat down to the task of communicating, in writing, with his brethren back at Thessalonica. You guessed it! That letter eventually became what you and I call I Thessalonians (or the First Thessalonians Letter).
Are you ready to analyze that letter? We've spent four lessons getting to this point; but, come back to Lesson #5 with your detective badge all shined up, and we'll see what we can do. Have a good day!