Today’s reading will add two more towns to the list of those from which Paul is expelled. Both of these – Thessalonica and Berea – are places from which strategic advances for the gospel could go forward once a strong church was planted in each.
Thessalonica was about 90 miles to the southwest of Philippi. With a stronger Jewish presence in this city (as evidenced by a synagogue) Paul followed his normal custom of beginning there with the Jews on the Sabbath day. And he surely used other days to connect with Gentiles in varied ways and places.
Paul used the Jewish Scriptures – the Old Testament – to prove that Jesus was the long-promised Messiah. Though there were certainly more than a few converts from the Jews, it is rather apparent that it did not comprise a majority; but the numbers were sufficient to create jealousy and subsequent conflict. It appears the number of Gentiles and “prominent women” who believed were actually more in number than the Jews who chose to follow Christ.
It was not really Paul who caused a riot, but using the tactics maybe more common to another Saul – Saul Alinsky and Rules for Radicals – the Jews incite a mob scene by engaging the ubiquitous townie trouble-makers, and blame it upon the missionary team. Not finding Paul and Silas, they rather drag their host – a man named Jason – before the authorities with a variety of increasingly common trumped-up charges. The result is that Jason and some of the other believers had to post a bond – giving money that would only be returned upon conditions being met. Those conditions likely included that there be no public upsets coming from this, and that Paul and Silas be sent on their way.
So Paul and Silas do leave and travel about another 50 miles to a place named Berea. Again Paul goes to the synagogue to carry on an evangelistic appeal through the Jewish Scriptures. The response in Berea was much more positive for the gospel message – as the folks here were spoken of in the passage as more “noble” … meaning they were genuine in their desire for truth and worked hard with the Scriptures to verify the accuracy of Paul’s teaching. Many did believe and follow, along with a good number of Gentiles. But before long, the bad element from Thessalonica had heard of Paul now preaching in Berea … followed him there, and made sufficient trouble for Paul to need to hit the road again. This time the journey would take him to no less than Athens.
There are two types of Jews presented in today’s reading. There was the group comprising the majority of the Thessalonica synagogue – those we may term as spiritually numb to truth and change. They liked things the way they were more than they liked researching to know the depth of God’s word. The second group comprised those who were seen by so many in Berea. They were open to change and truth, but not so open as to not weigh what was said and taught against that which was written in the Scriptures. They were spiritually noble in this regard.
So are you “numb” or “noble” spiritually speaking? It is easy to be numb; you don’t have to do anything but hold onto your traditional notions without growth or examination. Or are you noble in the sense of holding firm to convictions, while also looking to grow and examine everything against the truth of God’s Word? The Scriptures are pretty clear about what God prefers.
In Thessalonica – Acts 17:1-9
17 When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 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. 4 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.
5 But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. 6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, 7 and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” 8 When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. 9 Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.
In Berea – Acts 17:10-15
10 As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12 As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.
13 But when the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, some of them went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. 14 The believers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea. 15 Those who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.