Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Acts 17:1-9 - The gospel comes to Thessalonica

Paul, Silas and Timothy moved on from Philippi. Luke does not say if they did anything in Amphipolis or Apollonia, although it would have been unusual if they had not. But he does tell us what happened in Thessalonica, perhaps because he was  aware when he wrote Acts that Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians had been available for several years and people would want to know how the church there began.

Luke focuses on what occurred when Paul preached to the Jews in Thessalonica. Because they were familiar with what the Old Testament said about the Messiah, Paul explained to them how Jesus fulfilled all those details. His message did not bypass the minds of his listeners. Instead he spoke in such a manner that compelled some of his listeners to think carefully about what he said. Today, sometimes it is imagined that appealing to a listener’s mind smacks of academia and intellectualism. No doubt that can happen. Yet it is safe to assume that listeners can think, so when speaking about Jesus we should ensure our words are coherent and our account is credible.

As far as Luke’s account of gospel success in Thessalonica is concerned, the converts are described as the persuaded. This means that they weighed what they heard and came to a convinced conclusion that compelled them to trust in Jesus. Of course, we know that the Holy Spirit enlightened them, but it is interesting that a reasoned message produced convinced converts.

The converts are divided into three groups, perhaps according to how they were sitting in the synagogue. The smallest group seems to be the Jewish converts and the largest group came from the Gentile attenders, with the group of leading women in-between. Maybe there is a hint here that the gospel brought together three groups that the synagogue kept separate as far as privileges were concerned. But in the church they had the same access to all spiritual blessings.

In contrast to the union that the gospel achieved, Luke records an ugly example of antagonism that brought together parties that usually were not connected. The Jews, presumably the leaders of that community, recruited some of the local hooligans and initiated a civil riot, designed to stop the message about Jesus from spreading.

It is striking how their accusation against Paul and his companions tells us how effective their spreading of the gospel was. The description that they turned the world upside down is an illustration that describes the gospel as producing spiritual earthquakes wherever it was taken. We need to ask ourselves if that is how people regard us.

Moreover, the Jews realised that all Christians believe Jesus is the sovereign Lord. Of course, the accusation of the Jews concerning this detail is hypocritical because they believed that their Messiah, when he came, would overthrow all earthly powers. The problem was that they did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Yet their accusation affected those who were afraid of Caesar’s power and the visiting preachers were no longer welcome. Just as the Pharisees and the Herodians had joined forces against Jesus, so the Jews and the local authorities in Thessalonica wanted the ambassadors of Jesus to leave. Their opposition, however, did not prevent a church appearing in the city. Jesus once again was active from heaven in extending his kingdom, and no one could stop him.

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