‘Now when they passed through Amphipolis and Appollonia, they came to Thessalonica’, Acts 17. 1.
In the days of the Apostle Paul, the city of Thessalonica (present day Salonica) was a famous commercial seaport of Macedonia (Northern Greece) situated on the Thermaic Gulf. The city was named Thessalonica by Cassander in honour of his wife, Thessalonike, a step-sister of Alexander the Great. On becoming a Roman province, Macedonia was divided into four districts and, according to Livy, Thessalonica became the capital of the second division. The Romans used Thessalonica for military purposes, as the city was strategically positioned on the via Egnatia, i.e., at the junction of the main land route from Italy to the East. During the second Roman civil war, the city sided with Antony and Octavius, and, as a reward, Octavius conferred on Thessalonica the honour of being a free city. The citizens of Thessalonica had the right to elect their own counsels and magistrates, and Luke correctly refers to the magistrates as politarch?s in Acts chapter 17 verse 6. The accuracy of this historical account has been vindicated by the later discovery of a number of ancient inscriptions unearthed in the city, one of which is now located in the British Museum. It was to this empire stronghold, then, that Paul and his faithful band came to present a message of true freedom, a message more dynamic than that of all the legions of Caesar. In fact, Paul and his companions were accused of turning the habitable world upside down, Acts 17. 6, a feat never accomplished by even the mighty Roman empire! The city was populated by various groups, with the Jewish contingent having a synagogue in the city to which many devout Gentiles or proselytes had attached themselves, because of the immoral and idolatrous atmosphere of the city, and their rejection of paganism. From 1 Timothy chapter 4 verse 10, it is not difficult to realize the attractiveness of this city, even for those who professed faith in Christ. After their traumatic experience at Philippi, Acts 16, Paul and Silas travelled next to Thessalonica. On arrival in the city, Paul immediately went into the synagogue and preached from the Old Testament arguing that Jesus was the Christ. It must have been a very cogent and comprehensive exposition of scripture as the recorder of the incident tells us that Paul not only completely opened up the scriptures but gave proof of the claim being made. How very much like that other exposition of scripture given on the road to Emmaus, Luke 24. 25-27. Paul’s custom was always to present the gospel to the Jews first, Rom. 1. 16, but the majority of his converts in Thessalonica were evidently Gentiles, as 1 Thessalonians chapter 1 verse 9 and chapter 2 verse 14 emphasize. This is particularly evident in both his letters to the Thessalonians, where there is a lack of any direct quotations from the Old Testament. Acts chapter 17 records a very mixed reaction to Paul’s preaching in the city, and he is forced to leave, rather prematurely it seems, having possibly only stayed in the city some 2 to 3 weeks. Nevertheless, whatever time Paul actually spent in the city of Thessalonica, it proved to be for the glory of God, as the fruit of his labour was large, and those who were converted became a model New Testament church, 1 Thess. 1. 7. It is good to know that even today the power of God is still actively changing lives, and model New Testament churches can still be a reality.
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