Thessalonica was the capitol of the Macedonian province and had a population of more than 200,000 people. It was situated on one of the most prominent Roman highways, the Via Egnatia, linking the Adriatic Sea to the Middle East. Luke links it to two other prominent cities in the region, Amphipolis and Apollonia. While the mention of these names seem of no consequence to us, Luke is actually covering a three-day's journey in one brief sentence! Unlike several other Macedonian cities on the Via Egnatia which were military towns, Thessalonica was a freed city, a privilege granted to them in 42 B. C. Among its large Roman and Jewish population, one could find numerous religions represented by temples to Roman gods, a Jewish synagogue, and oriental cults all jostling for devotees and their offerings.
Paul came to Thessalonica after a successful ministry in Philippi and as it was his custom he headed to the synagogue to share the Good News (Acts 17:1-9). For three weeks Paul engaged in evangelism and taught at the synagogue. The words Luke uses to describe this activity are those of the highest form of Greek rhetoric. Paul was no light-weight when it came to expository evangelism. The Scriptures were always central to his arguments that Jesus was the Messiah. The Gospel was received by a wide spectrum of people in Thessalonica as it was in Philippi- Jews, God-fearing Gentiles and some of the city's prominent women (vv. 2-4). But jealousy reared its ugly head among some of the non-believing Jews who stirred up a crowd of reprobates in the market place and attacked the home of a man named Jason in search of Paul and Silas. The believers were accused of treason (much like Jesus was in Lk. 23:3-4 and Jn. 19:12, 15) and to secure that there would be no further trouble, Jason (whom we presume to be a well-known leader in the synagogue) and the others are ordered to make a pledge (that is a financial contribution to the town coffers!) to keep peace (vv.5-9). Paul is then whisked away under the cover of night and his ministry in Thessalonica comes quickly to an end (Acts 17:10).
It is obvious that Paul developed a great deal of affection for the church he established in Thessalonica (1 Thes. 2:7-8). From a ministry standpoint his stay there had been too short and his desire was to further instruct these new converts concerning godly living in a culture that was at best antagonistic toward their faith, and at worst violently opposed to it. Since Paul moved on to Corinth (and it appears he is unable to return for the time being according to 1 Thes. 2:17-18), he took up a correspondence course to continue his teaching with them which is now available to us in the Bible books of 1st and 2nd Thessalonians.
When I look at the picture I took of the ancient agora in modern Thessalonica I try to imagine what it must have felt like for those early believers to receive those letters from their teacher Paul. My trip to Greece was the result of one dedicated Greek teacher, Dr. Shelly, so it's not really that hard for me to imagine the love between Paul and the Thessalonians since I've experienced it myself. That relationship with Dr. Shelly underscored how important those letters were since Paul's physical ministry in Thessalonica lasted only three weeks (as opposed to Dr. Shelly's class which lasted for a semester and resulted in the Footsteps of Paul trip). I rather doubt those early believers would have had any inkling that the encouraging letters Paul wrote to them would encourage other believers thousands of years later but I'm thankful they have. It reminds me that I can do the same- and so can you. Send an encouraging word this week to someone you know who needs it. And when you do, why not close that note with some of Paul's words to the Thessalonians, "May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it (1 Thes. 5:23-24).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
https://www.annhlefevre.com; Olivetreeann@mail.com; https://linkedin.com/in/annhlefevre; https://www.facebook.com/ann_h_lefevre