Following the famous Egnatian Way, Paul and Silas went to Thessalonica, a predominantly Greek city and the capitol city of Macedonia, best known as an important commercial city with a port.
The Romans were superb road builders. Major routes were graded and paved, making travel and commerce easier than ever before. The road’s purpose was to enable Rome to move its armies in a more timely fashion. The bonus was that it also provided a way for everyone else to do so as well.
The Via Egnatia was built by a Roman senator named Gnaeus Egnatius, who served as praetor with the powers of proconsul in the newly conquered province of Macedonia in the late 140s BC.
The Egnatian Way was the main land route across northern Greece and extended from the Adriatic Sea on the western shore of Greece to the straits at Byzantium (later called Constantinople or Istanbul) to the east. The road was a major link between Italy and Asia.
Once in Macedonia, Paul had followed this road from Neapolis to Philippi and now to Thessalonica:
When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue.
As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead.
“This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said.
Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.Acts 17:1-4 (NIV)
There are four words to take special note of:
Reason – Paul dialogued with them, question and answer style.
Explain – He opened the scriptures and showed how God’s word spoke of Jesus.
Prove – Paul gave irrefutable evidence by his own experience, and the eye-witness accounts of Jesus’ miracles, teaching, death and resurrection.
Proclaim – He gave the clear presentation of the gospel.
God added the power of His Holy Spirit to Paul’s words, opening the hearts of many to receive what Paul said.
But most of the Jews were vehemently opposed to Paul’s message, considering it sacrilege to pose Jesus as God’s Son, blasphemy to suggest God had raised Jesus to eternal life as God, and heresy to call Gentiles into the faith as full members of the family of God.
They became jealous of his success in the city, in particular because so many God-fearing Greeks were turning to the Lord in saving faith, thereby leaving the synagogue to form to the church. To the Jews, this was salt in the wound, after their careful proselytizing of these prominent members of the city. They raised up a riot looking for Paul and Silas, went to Jason’s house, hauled Jason out instead, and accused Paul of turning the world upside down and defying Caesar. Jason posted a peace bond, which earned his release and that night Paul and Silas slipped away.
Knowing their story adds depth to the reading of Paul’s letters to the believers in Thessalonica:
We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.1 Thessalonians 1:2-6 (NIV)
We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.2 Thessalonians 1:3-4
The believers in Thessalonica held a special place in Paul’s affections
- Paul’s love for them was so deep he felt orphaned when separated. (1 Thessalonians 2:17)
- He longed intensely to be with them, and made every effort to do so. (1 Thessalonians 2:17)
- He saw them as his glory and his joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:20)
- Paul sent his beloved Timothy to them, at great cost to himself, to strengthen and encourage them in their faith. (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2)
- Paul also felt great concern for them because of the extremity of their persecution, and Satan’s temptations. (1 Thessalonians 3:5)
- Paul was greatly encouraged by Timothy’s report of their faithfulness. (1 Thessalonians 3:6-7)
Determined to do all he could to care for this young church, Paul
- Strengthened and encouraged them by sending them Timothy. (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2)
- Wrote them at least two letters.
- Lived with them for a time to teach them, empower them, and build them up in the faith.
In writing about the Thessalonian believers, perhaps Luke was reminded of Jesus’ words recorded in his gospel.
If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.Jesus, as quoted in Luke 9:23
Jesus made several points about the cross for a believer:
The cross is necessary, not optional, for every believer.
Yet no one is compelled to take up the cross. A person must take up their cross willingly, because of a love for Jesus and a desire to share in His life. That is what Jesus’ followers were prepared to do as they received Him in faith.
The cross is personal. No one can pick it up and carry it for you.
The cross is meant to kill all selfish desires or ambition. You and I must die to self here on earth if we want to bear eternal fruit. The cross is choosing God’s will even if it will mean suffering. And the suffering that may come will be a direct result of following God’s will, just as Paul and his team were run out of town, just as the Thessalonian believers immediately began experiencing intense persecution from those who had previously claimed to love them.
Jesus also said The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves Him. That doesn’t necessarily mean earthly honor and rewards, even though sometimes it does. For the Thessalonian believers, a long and protracted time of suffering lay before them, but God would first honor those who had already died under this siege of opposition, and the rest would rise up to meet their Lord and Savior, “in the clouds,” in great victory and glory.
[Catacomb sanctuary in Thessaloniki| Image courtesy Pixabay]