Acts Lesson Thirty-five: Paul in Thessalonica and Berea – Acts 17:1-15

Then they traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia and came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As usual, Paul went to the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and showing that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead: “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah.” Then some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, including a great number of God-fearing Greeks, as well as a number of the leading women. 

But the Jews became jealous, and they brought together some scoundrels from the marketplace, formed a mob, and started a riot in the city. Attacking Jason’s house, they searched for them to bring them out to the public assembly. When they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city officials, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here too, and Jason has received them as guests! They are all acting contrary to Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king—Jesus!” The Jews stirred up the crowd and the city officials who heard these things. So taking a security bond from Jason and the others, they released them. 

10 As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas off to Berea. On arrival, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 The people here were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, since they welcomed the message with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Consequently, many of them believed, including a number of the prominent Greek women as well as men. 13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica found out that God’s message had been proclaimed by Paul at Berea, they came there too, agitating and disturbing the crowds. 14 Then the brothers immediately sent Paul away to go to the sea, but Silas and Timothy stayed on there. 15 Those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving instructions for Silas and Timothy to come to him as quickly as possible, they departed. (HCSB)

As Paul continues his second missionary journey, I’ll divide this lesson into three parts.

  • Paul’s arrival in Thessalonica – verses 1-4.
  • Jealousy of the Thessalonican Jews – verses 5-9.
  • Paul’s visit to the Bereans – verses 10-15.

Paul’s Arrival in Thessalonica

As Paul and the team left Philippi, they traveled on the Egnatian Way. Their journey from Philippi was approximately 100 miles as they traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia. If they traveled by horse, the cities were approximately one day’s journey apart. If they traveled by foot, the journey would take much longer. We also have to remember that Paul and Silas were recovering from the beating they received in Philippi. Either mode of travel would have been painful but walking would have been a significant burden. From the context of the passage, the team either wasn’t involved in evangelism in the cities they passed through, or Paul expected the believers in Philippi to evangelize the area around their city. Although not explicitly stated, it is highly likely that Timothy remained behind in Philippi as he is not mentioned again until Acts 17:14 in the city of Berea. Let’s look at some information about Thessalonica.

  • Thessalonica was a strategically important city, the capital of Macedonia.
  • It was the largest city in Greece, with a population of about 200,000.
  • It was also an important center for business, with only Corinth as a rival.
  • It was located on several important trade routes and had an excellent harbor.
  • The population was predominately Greek, although controlled by Rome.
  • It was a free city, meaning that it elected a citizen’s assembly, minted their own coins, and there was no Roman garrison within the city walls.

Once they arrived there, we know that Paul was involved in his tent-making trade as referenced in 2 Thessalonians 3:7-10. However, instead of focusing on that, let’s look at Paul’s methodology as he evangelized the city.

  • Paul followed his established of going to the local synagogue. He knew he would find two target groups if he went there.
    • Devout Jews.
    • Gentiles – God-seekers and proselytes.
  • The text explicitly states that Paul evangelized in the synagogue for three successive Sabbaths, but from cross-references, it is clear that Paul was there much longer, long enough to receive financial aid several times from the church in Philippi and for their ministry to impact the region.
    • Philippians 4:15-16.
    • 1 Thessalonians 1.
  • From Acts 17:2-3, we see four points in how Paul evangelized in the synagogue.
    • He reasoned with them – he engaged them in dialogue in a question and answer format.
    • He explained – through the use of Scripture, Paul supported what he told them.
    • He showed – Paul proved through his use of Scripture that the Messiah would be killed and resurrected.
    • He proclaimed – Paul proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah that Scripture prophesied.
  • His evangelism efforts proved successful.
    • We shouldn’t focus on the phrase “some of them,” but on the phrase “great number.” The same Greek word is used in Acts 17:12. It’s Luke’s way of saying, “it was a big crowd.”
      • Jews were converted.
      • Greek proselytes were converted.
        • These included Aristarchus and Secundus.
        • Acts 20:4.
      • Influential women were converted. This is important as Macedonian women exerted considerable social and civic influence.
  • We see Silas being mentioned once again. Most likely, this is a reminder that the Jerusalem church endorsed the evangelism of Gentiles without placing the burden of Jewish rituals and restrictions on them.
  • As a consequence of their success, we will now see opposition to their efforts.

Jealousy of the Thessalonican Jews

We now see the pattern from previous locations repeated in Thessalonica. Paul evangelizes a town or city, either in or outside the synagogue, depending on whether one existed in the city or not. A sizable number of those attending the synagogue converted to Christianity. The Jews who don’t convert become jealous and attack the missionary team in some manner. Let’s look at the details of this section.

  • The Jews were jealous of the success of Paul. They lost members of the synagogue in three areas.
    • Jews who converted.
    • Gentile men.
    • Influential Gentile women.
  • Paul had hoped that salvation of the Gentiles would spur the Jews into a deeper study of Scripture and find the truth of Jesus as the Messiah. Instead, it led the Jews to persecute the new believers and their church.
  • The jealous Jews then brought together a mob consisting of “scoundrels” from the marketplace. The scoundrels were likely a form of a gang who hung out in the marketplace extorting from the merchants and those passing through the city.
  • This mob then started a riot in the city.
  • They proceeded to Jason’s house. 
    • We know nothing about Jason except for what’s contained in this section.
    • He was most likely a believer or at least someone who was curious about the faith.
    • He was probably a Jew as Jason was a common name taken by Diaspora Jews.
    • He may have been a fellow tentmaker with Paul since we know that Paul stayed with fellow tentmakers in Acts 18:3, Aquila and Priscilla.
    • We can infer from the context that Paul and Silas were lodging with him.
    • The mob thought they could find Paul and Silas there, but Paul and Silas, likely becoming aware that the mob had moved to another location.
  • Unable to find the target of their anger, Paul and Silas, they proceeded to forcibly take Jason and some other believers before the city officials.
  • The mob leveled three charges against the believers.
    • The first charge was against Paul and Silas – they were troublemakers who had turned the world upside down. 
    • The second was against Jason – he was playing host to the troublemakers.
    • The third was against Paul, Silas, and Jason – they were all acting against Caesar’s decrees.
      • This was the most dangerous charge.
      • In essence, they were being charged with rebelling against the decrees of Caesar.
      • They were declaring there was another “king,” and it wasn’t Caesar.
      • Since Roman law required allegiance to Caesar, this was a charge the magistrates had to address.
  • In their defense, the city officials did demonstrate discretion and restraint in how they handled the situation.
    • It’s clear they didn’t believe the charge of rebellion; otherwise, their response would have been harsher.
    • However, they were aware of the disturbance that was occurring within the city, and they were responsible for keeping order.
    • They approached the solution in a similar manner as the officials in Philippi.
      • They decided to ban the “troublemakers” from the city.
      • In addition, they required Jason to pay a bond that would be forfeit if there was any further disturbance in the city.
      • This required Paul and Silas to leave Thessalonica.
      • Paul may have been referring to this in 2 Thessalonians 2:18 when he referred to “Satan hindered us” from returning to Thessalonica.
    • Paul and Silas were released, and the believers in Thessalonica sent them safely out of the city.

Paul’s Visit to the Bereans

Once darkness has fallen, the believers in Thessalonica sent Paul and Silas out of the city to Berea. The distance between the two cities was approximately forty-five to fifty miles. The journey on foot would take about three days. Let’s look at some information regarding the city of Berea.

  • The city was on the eastern slopes of Mt. Vermion in the Olympian mountain range.
  • The region was somewhat remote.
  • Although located in a remote area, the city was the most significant one in the region.
  • At one point, it was the capital of one of the four sections of Macedonia from 167-148 b.c.
  • It had a relatively sizable population.
  • There were enough Jews in the city to have a synagogue.

Once Paul and Silas were settled, the normal pattern of evangelism began. Their first visit was to the local synagogue. Let’s consider the characteristics of those who attended the synagogue in Berea.

  • The Jews in Berea were different than those in Thessalonica.
    • Luke used the Greek word that translated to “open-minded.”
    • The Bereans were open to the message that Paul preached to them.
  • Then, they investigated what Scripture said and compared it to the message Paul preached.
    • Their investigation was not a cursory one.
    • They eagerly examined what Scripture had to say about the Messiah.
    • They didn’t meet occasionally; they met daily until they came to a conclusion regarding Paul’s message.
  • The result was that many from the Berean synagogue became believers.
    • Many Jews became believers.
    • Many Greeks, including prominent women, became believers.

However, amidst the success of Paul’s efforts, the enemy appears once again in opposition. The news of Paul’s efforts made its way back to Thessalonica, and those that opposed him journeyed to Berea to stir up attacks on Paul. Let’s consider the details surrounding the attack. 

  • The Thessalonica “gang” stirred up both the Jews who rejected Paul’s message as well as the general Gentile population of Berea.
  • The attack was directed at Paul since he was the primary preacher, as shown in verse thirteen.
  • Although the text doesn’t provide the details, it’s safe to infer from preceding sections that Paul’s life was in danger, and it was time to move on once again.
  • At this point, the team splits up.
    • Paul traveled to Athens.
    • There is some debate as to how Paul got to Athens.
      • There is one group who believe he traveled to the coast (sea) and then followed the coastal road to Athens.
      • Another group believes that he traveled by boat to Athens.
      • In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Paul arrived in Athens.
    • Silas and Timothy remained in Berea.
      • The group of believers who traveled with Paul to Athens were sent back with a message for Silas and Timothy to go to Athens and join Paul there.
      • We also know that at some point, Paul sent both Silas and Timothy out from Athens.
        • Timothy was sent to Thessalonica as found in 1 Thessalonians 3:1.
        • Silas was sent to an unknown location.
        • Silas and Timothy rejoined Paul in Corinth, as found in Acts 18:5.

Applications

  • We see once again that God is a sending God. Evangelism isn’t a passive activity; come and hear the message, it is active in nature, take the message to those that need to hear it. In the same way, we need to be active in our endeavors to share the Gospel. This is especially true in the world we live in today. Relative truth and skepticism are rampant. The lost won’t likely come to church. We need to be the feet and mouth of Jesus to take the truth of the Gospel to the world.
  • Our message must be based upon Scripture. If we try and base it on our ideas or thoughts, it will fail. We see this in Paul’s evangelism to the Bereans. Although they were open to hearing the message, they also were diligent in searching Scripture to see if Paul’s message was true. After confirming the truth of Paul’s message, they became believers. For us to be able to do that, we need to read and understand Scripture. We need to immerse ourselves in God’s Word.
  • When doors close, we need to understand that and move on to the next harvest field. We see this repeatedly demonstrated by Paul. He would go to a city, evangelize it, teach the people, and then move on once he was no longer welcome by the pagans in the city. The mission field works in much the same manner. Outsiders can be successful in bringing the Gospel to an unreached location. However, once locals are converted, they will have better success in continuing the work. We need to “pass the baton” and realize that the converts are not because of us; they’re because of God. We are only a conduit through which the Holy Spirit works.
  • We need to assist our brothers and sisters when the need arises. We repeatedly see where the local believers helped Paul and the team when the situation became difficult. In the same way, we should help out those who are doing God’s work when they run into difficulties.

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