Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Greece Trip (12): Thessalonica: Why Did the Jews Form A Mob? - Part 2

Paul and his companions travelled to Thessalonica (modern day Thessaloniki) after being beaten and imprisoned in Philippi. Their route took them through Amphipolis and Apollonia, a journey of 154km (95 miles) that would have taken them several days.

When Paul arrived Thessalonica, "there was a Jewish synagogue. As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ," he said." (Acts 17:1-3)

It is impossible to determine the length of Paul's stay in Thessalonica. According to above passage in Acts, Paul preached on three Sabbaths in the synagogue. But this should not be taken to mean that the extent of Paul's stay was merely 3-4 weeks.

From his letters to the Thessalonians, we learn that Paul worked "night and day" (1 Thess 2:9) to support himself and his companions. The newly established church in Philippi contributed financial assistance more than once to Paul (Phil 4:6). Together, these scriptures seem to suggest that Paul would have remained in Thessalonica for at least several weeks, if not months.

Paul's ministry in Thessalonica appears to be promising, according to Acts 17:4: "Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women." Again, as in earlier accounts (e.g., the conversion of Lydia in Philippi), the author of Acts places special emphasis on the conversion of several "prominent women."

Perhaps the initial success of Paul's ministry stirred up the anger of the Jewish community. But more importantly, the Jewish community also feared the respite from the authorities concerning the propagation of loyalty to another king that might jeopardise their favoured status in this city.

Thessalonica enjoyed the status of a free city, and this means that Romans did not occupy the local offices and government, although a Roman procurator was stationed in the city. Instead, the local rulers known as politarchs were in charge. The politarchs are names that are peculiar in Macedonia and found by archaeologists on the Vartar Gate. In fact, this word, πολιτάρχης, is the same word that is used in Acts 17:6 & 8 and is usually translated "city officials" (NIV, NET); "city council" (NLT); "rulers of the city" (NKJV); or "city authorities" (ESV, NASB , NRSV). It appears nowhere else in the NT. As such, the local Jewish community was understandably agitated at any suggestion that their favoured status might be jeopardised.

With this background information, we can better understand what transpired in the narrative of Acts 17:5-9:

"But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason's house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting: "These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus." When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go."

I often wonder whether our present day church politics bear some resemblance to what the above passage described. As ministers of the gospel or church leaders, do we sometimes view guarding our favoured position more important than the progress of the gospel? Could our unstoppable craze and unsatisfiable hunger for power and privileged status be a significant contributing factor that may have impeded the growth of the church? Do we rather worship King Caesar instead of King Jesus so that our favoured position is not jeopardised?

Kyrie Eleison, Kyrie Eleison, Kyrie Eleison.


chils said...

Whoaa.. love your last para! why no comments! It is so provoking, real and BRAVE..

Kar Yong said...

Hi Chils,
Thanks for dropping by.....not sure why no other comments... :-)