By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Ancient Cities

  • Paul visited Thessalonica on his second and third missionary trips.
  • His ministry to them was directed by the Holy Spirit.
  • During his second trip, Paul had intended to travel eastward toward Bithynia, but then the Spirit directed him to continue into Macedonia, crossing the narrow body of water between Troas and Thrace that divided Europe from Asia.
  • Paul would have landed on the eastern end of the Via Egnatia at the port of Neapolis in Philippi. His ministry in Philippi, though successful, was terminated by a flogging and imprisonment.
  • The Via Egnatia (Egnatian Way) was a highway, roughly 20 feet wide, that was built in 148 BCE.
  • Macedonia was a Roman province since 146 BCE.
  • It was strategically important to Rome because it was the link between Rome and the whole eastern Empire.
  • In 167 BCE Macedonia was divided into four districts, and Thessalonica was made the capital of the second district.
  • Thessalonica was approximately 100 miles southwest of Philippi.
  • It had the busiest seaport and was the most populous of all the Macedonian towns.
  • Thessalonica was also the home of the provincial governor.
  • As a Roman colony, its citizens enjoyed Roman rights, followed Roman law, were not required to pay tribute, and modeled their constitution after Rome’s.
  • Along with Judaism, Thessalonians worshiped the Egyptian cult of Serapis and Isis.
  • Paul began his preaching in Thessalonica at the Jewish synagogue.
  • There, they encountered “devout Greeks” as well as Jews.
  • Their first converts were drawn from this group.
  • Among them were some “upper-class” women who probably became patrons of the church. Even though they were women of influence, their societal standing was limited; but within the house church they could gain high standing. (No doubt this contributed to their decision to join the church.)
  • Such conversions aroused the “jealousy” of the Jews.
  • This resulted in their going to the marketplace to find “rabble rousers,” people who were “idle” and willing to engage in mischief.
  • The riot that ensued quickly got out of hand.
  • The rioters ended up at Jason’s house, who was probably Paul’s local host.
  • “Jason” was a common Greek name, but it has also been found among inscriptions of Hellenized Jews.
  • Since Paul and his companions were not found, the rioters brought Jason before the “politarchs.”
  • Politarchs were given a free hand in running the city, but also had to profess their loyalty to Rome.
  • Their primary function was to maintain law and order, which was essential for keeping their jobs and the Roman army at bay.
  • The charge against Jason was treason against the Emperor.
  • This was based on Christians’ proclamation of Jesus as Messiah (another king).
  • Paul’s preaching of Jesus’ “second coming” (with authority and power) could have been viewed as predicting the demise of the Emperor.
  • Such predictions were not allowed according to imperial decree.
  • Jesus’ death on the cross (typical for a criminal) only served to intensify the charge.
  • It was the duty of every citizen to report signs of disloyalty.
  • Ultimately, the charges against Jason were dropped, but he was required to post a bond essentially making him responsible for their actions.
  • This was appropriate since Paul and his companions were considered to be members of his household.
  • No doubt this lenient “punishment” was because of Jason’s reputation in the city; had Paul been standing before the politarchs, the outcome might have been quite different.
  • As it was, Paul and his companions left the city after dark that same day.
  • From the moment he left, Paul was worried about how the Thessalonians would hold up against continuing harassment by the Jews and other Gentiles. (They were so new in their faith, and they were without strong leadership.)
  • Paul tried hard to get right back to them, but “Satan barred his way.”
  • Sending Timothy was a poor substitute, but his only option. \
  • He probably wrote 1 Thessalonians as soon as Timothy returned, possibly only a few months (or weeks) after they had left.
  • According to Timothy, the Thessalonians had persevered despite persecution, whether by Jews (Acts) or their own countrymen (Paul).
  • Much of 1 Thessalonians is “thanksgiving for their work of faith, and labor of love, and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
  • Though this letter is considered to be light on doctrine, it is a wonderful example of Paul’s pastoral concern for one of his newly formed congregations.


Barclay, William. "The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians." Daily Study Bible. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press. 1975.

Bruce, FF. "1 and 2 Thessalonians." Word Biblical Commentary. New York: Thomas Nelson Publishers. 1982.

Duling, Dennis and Norman Perrin. The New Testament. Proclamation and Parenesis, Myth and History. Philadelphia, PA: Harcourt Brace College Publishers. 1994.

Gaebelein, Frank. "I Thessalonians." Expositor's Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 1985.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1993.

Williams, David. "1 and 2 Thessalonians." New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson. 1999.

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