Paul and Silas left Antioch in Syria for Paul’s second missionary journey. In chapter 16, they had spent time in Philippi where they met a lady named Lydia who, along with her household, gave their life to Christ. And he met a jailer who did the same – he and his household. They left Philippi of their own will to continue their journey. Their mission is to take the word of the Lord – the message of salvation – to the Gentiles but it has been Paul’s practice to begin wherever he found a Jewish Synagogue.
- 1-4 Believers in Thessalonica
- 5-9 Jealousy in Thessalonica
- 10-12 Studying the scriptures in Berea
- 13-17 Stirring the crowd in Berea
1-4 Believers in Thessalonica
“…As was his custom…” Paul’s strategy has been consistant in his missions. Any time that he came to a town where there was a Jewish Synagogue, he began his ministry at that place. When there was no Synagogue, he looked for a place of worship. The Synagogues gave him a starting point to reason with the Jewish community to teach them what the Scriptures say about the Messiah. He is a man who is dependant on the Spirit and goes when he is called and follows opportunities as they arise but who had a plan and a system to follow. Rather than waiting for things to happen, he put his plans to work. Whether the plan was fruitful or not, well, that is a different issue. Paul knew that the Jews had already received the word of God and should have first opportunity to respond to the gospel. If they receive it, then they also provide a base to work out from.
“…he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving…” We live in a world overwhelmed with short pithy phrases that are supposed to set our hearts at ease. “Dance like there’s nobody watching – Love like you’ve never been hurt – Sing like nobody’s listening – Live like it’s heaven on earth.” There’s one example of what I mean. And there you go. Life’s problems have been solved right there! Do you think that Jesus and the Scriptures are often boiled down so simplistically that they are no more profound than that? God is love. Jesus teaches us to do unto others… But life is complex – not simple. God is love and yet he has prepared hell for those who reject Jesus. The Scriptures are neither a child’s book nor a list of Twitter feeds. The bible is a grown up book to be read like a grown up. In them, you can find eternal life. In them, you can discuss the complex issue of suffering and how to find joy in every situation – really. Paul had his brain switched on and expected his hearers to be attentive and think while he reasoned with them, explaining and proving from the Scriptures that Jesus is Lord. God has not given us a child’s book but a sophisticated story which unpacks the issues of life and death and everything in between.
“…that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead…” Thinking as a first century Jew, the concept of the Messiah was for God to raise up a king for Israel who will gather his people and rule again. This is a concept that comes from reading the Old Testament (or just the Scriptures as Paul would refer to them). What Paul wanted to convince the Thessalonian Jews of was this: that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. The disciples found it hard to digest that Jesus was preparing to die and rise to life again because that was not part of the Messiah description they were used to. Paul thought like this right up until his conversion on the Damascus road. After that, he saw clearly that the Messiah is God’s chosen king to rule over his people but it involved him suffering the cross and rising to life again. That this is supported and proven through the reading of the Scriptures means that God always had this planned – although unclear. The proof is scattered throughout Scripture in many and various ways. The clearest passage to go to is Isaiah 52-53. Knowing that the Messiah must suffer and rise again actually sheds light on passages to give them clarity. God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts and taught at our church helps in this learning.
“…Some of the Jews were persuaded and … prominent women…” Not an overwhelming response from the Jews in Thessalonica. It’s not easy to know what Luke meant by “prominent women” or why he adds this. Luke draws attention to women in his story from time to time (1:14; 5:14; 8:12; 13:50; 16:13; 17:12). Although only a small response came from the Jews in the positive sense, a larger following was gathered from the Greeks and prominent women.
5-9 Jealousy in Thessalonica
“…But other Jews were jealous…” Perhaps they were jealous that high standing Greeks and women were moving their attention to the gospel. Their perceived power was being taken from them and they became jealous – an immature response which exists outside the gospel and must be removed as soon as possible for any convert (1 Corinthians 3:3). Their actions were worse than their motives since they drummed up a mob from the marketplace full of bad characters. Their response was not simply disbelief but vengeance and hate. They accuse Paul of causing trouble all over the place but Paul is not the one gathering up vigilantes and shouting before the city officials.
“…saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” The fact is that if someone else appeared claiming to be the Messiah and seeking to raise an army of Jews to overthrow Rome, then these Jews would most likely be on the side of that king. But since Jesus is a so-called king who gives them no power, he is rejected as their king and they speak hypocrisy for their own sakes.
10-12 Studying the scriptures in Berea
“…the Berean Jews were of more noble character…” A funny translation for the NIV. Literally the phrase is “noble-minded” or “open-minded”. We are not being told that because the Bereans were more upper class that they listened like educated folk but that they had a mind to listen to alternate perspectives. Since they gave more time and attention to what the apostle had to say, they were described as open-minded.
“…examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true…” The Bereans responded to the message of Paul with equal interest and vigor to learn. They approached the subject with sincerity and purpose to know and understand. They were not won over by short, sharp propaganda. When they believed, it was with a depth of understanding. They applied their confidence in the Scriptures to test the truth about Jesus. Yet again, the story of Acts is about the truth that Jesus is Lord in connection to the ancient faith of the Jews. He is the fulfillment to the unfolding story of salvation through the promises of God to Israel. The gospel does not require that we throw away, abandon or move on from the Old Testament. On the contrary, the good news is that Jesus is the Messiah of the Old Testament – the Lord.
13-17 Stirring the crowd in Berea
“…Jews in Thessalonica…agitating the crowds and stirring them up.” It’s truly amazing the extent that haters of Jesus will go to. Paul was as convicted against the uprising Christian church that he once travelled abroad to take them down. It’s such an extreme reaction to a message which brings hope and peace and life and truth.
“Those who escorted Paul brought him…and then left with instructions…” Paul travels on from Berea but not with his missionary companions. This time he is escorted for his own safety by a band who do not engage or remain with him for the mission. When he arrived in Athens, probably seeing the potential there, he sent instructions with the same men to have Silas and Timothy join him again on mission.
The gospel demands a thorough investigation. It is a message grounded by…
- an ancient text predicting its fulfillment in Jesus and
- in an historic event where a man suffered and rose to life again having shown himself to be the Messiah.
To disprove Christianity, there are two clear places to attack: the ancient texts and the historic event. A fool who does not wish to believe can then attack the believers out of jealousy and hate. The wise man, however, will search the evidence thoroughly and come to see that Jesus is Messiah and Lord.
- How thoroughly do you search the scriptures? Is your beliefs and convictions driven more by surface feelings and thought or are they grounded in deep understanding and study? Talk about how you study the scriptures or how you could learn to study them better.
- What is the gospel? Can you sum it up in one word? Can you sum it up in a sentence? A paragraph? A page? What things are important in the gospel message and what things are of secondary importance? Where does the cross and resurrection fit in your answer?
- Do you have anybody that you should or could disciple? Discuss how that is going and what you need to do to improve in the area of discipling others. (If you are a parent then you clearly have some people that you need to disciple.)