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. Its port, once a naval base and now a stockyard, was a major center for trade. 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; temples to Roman gods, a Jewish synagogue and oriental cults all jostled 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 Gospel was received by a wide spectrum of people there 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 non-believing Jews who stirred up a crowd 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- a crime akin to blasphemy in Old Testament times- and in order to secure their release from prison, Jason (whom we presume to be a well-known leader in the synagogue) and the others must made 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 had 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 had moved on to Corinth (and it appears he is unable to return for the time being, 1 Thes. 2:17-18) he has taken up a correspondence course to continue his teaching. In the first letter he commends the Thessalonians for persevering in the midst of persecution (1 Thes. 1:3-7; 3:3-5), gives instruction on several aspects of living for Christ (1 Thes. 4:1-12; 5:12-24), and offers assurance concerning the future of believers who die before Christ returns (1 Thes. 4:13-18; 5:9-11). In 2 Thessalonians Paul continues to encourage the persecuted believers (2 Thes. 1:4-11), corrects a misunderstanding concerning the Lord’s return (2 Thes. 2:1-12) and exhorts the believers to be steadfast and to work for a living (2 Thes. 2:13-3:15).
When I look at the picture I took of the ancient agora in modern Thessalonica I tried 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 hard for me to imagine the love between the two parts of this relationship since I’ve experienced it myself. It strikes me as to how important those letters were since Paul’s physical ministry in Thessalonica lasted only three weeks (as opposed to Dr. Shelly’s class which was a single semester). I rather doubt those early believers would have any inkling that the encouraging letter Paul wrote to them would encourage other believers thousands of years later but I’m thankful that 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 it 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.
Week of 7/23/2017