A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 17: 1-9. The mission in Thessalonica.
In spite of having ‘suffered and been insulted in Philippi’, Paul and Silas received strength from God to preach the gospel in Thessalonica. That is what they wrote in their first Thessalonican letter (1 Thess. 2:2). Calvin referred to Paul’s ‘unconquerable mental courage and indefatigable endurance of the cross’. It was a one-hundred-mile journey from Philippi to Thessalonica, following the *Via Egnatia* all the way in a south-westerly direction. They *passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia* (1a), not stopping in either town except perhaps to rest for the night, for their destination was *Thessalonica*, the capital of the province of Macedonia. It was a harbour town, situated at the head of the Thermaic Gulf. Commanding trade by sea across the Aegean and by land along the east-west *Via Egnatia*, it was a flourishing commercial centre, and was proud of having been made a free city in 42 BC. Here too *there was a Jewish synagogue* (1b). So Paul followed *his custom* (even after deciding to ‘turn to the Gentiles’, 13:46), *and went into the synagogue first, where on three Sabbath days* running he preached the gospel (2a).
Although Paul and his friends must have stayed in Thessalonica for several months, as is clear from his two Thessalonian letters, and although most of the converts must have been Gentiles, even pagan idolaters (1 Thess. 1:9-10), Luke concentrates on his Jewish mission, which lasted only three weeks, and tells us how his argument developed.
First, Paul *reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ* (i.e. the expected Messiah) *had to suffer and rise from the dead* (2b-3a). This was the standard Christian apologetic towards Jewish people. The precedent for it was set by Jesus, as Luke himself has recorded. During his public ministry he kept predicting that the Son of Man must suffer, die and be raised (E.g. Lk. 9:22). Then after his resurrection he first rebuked his Emmaus disciples for their slowness to believe the prophetic witness, which he traced through ‘all the Scriptures’, that the Christ had to suffer before entering his glory (Lk. 24:25-27), and secondly he re-emphasized the teaching of the Old Testament and of his earlier ministry that the Christ must suffer and rise (Lk. 24:44-46). Naturally, therefore, this became the heart of the apostolic *kerygma*, which Peter had unfolded already on the Day of Pentecost (2:22ff) and which Paul summarized later (13:26ff; cf.1 Cor. 15:3-4). There can be little doubt that in the Thessalonica synagogue the Scriptures to which Paul turned were those already quoted by the apostle’ earlier sermons, especially Psalms 2:1-7; 16:8-11; 110:1; 118:22; Isaiah 52-53, and probably also Deuteronomy 21:22-23.
Secondly Paul engaged in *proclaiming…Jesus* (3b). That is to say, he told the story of Jesus of Nazareth: his birth, life and ministry, his death and resurrection, his exaltation and gift of the Spirit, his present reign and future return, his offer of salvation and warning of judgement. There is no reason to doubt that Paul gave a through account of the saving career of Jesus from beginning to end.
Thirdly, he identified the Jesus of history with the Christ of Scripture, boldly declaring: ‘*This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ*’ (3b). It was a typical ‘pesher’ or ‘this is that’ use of the Old Testament, like Peter’s on the Day of Pentecost (2:16). It is worth noting that the Greek verb for *proving* near the beginning of verse 3 is *paratithemi*. Since it means literally to ‘place beside’, it may refer to Paul’s argument in ‘setting the fulfilment alongside the predictions’. At all events, the identification of history with Scripture, Jesus with Christ, was essential to Paul’s apologetic. It remains an indispensable part of Christian testimony in our day in which some theologians are attempting to drive a wedge between the historical Jesus of the gospels and a mythical Christ of Christian theology and experience.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts: Becoming a Christian. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.