Now having passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica. A Jewish synagogue was there which Paul attended, as was his custom. And then, for three [successive] Sabbaths he engaged in [a series of] exegetical studies by which he opened the scriptures, in terms they could grasp, that Christ had to suffer and had to rise again from the grave. He said, "This Jesus, who I am proclaiming to you [in my discussion of these scriptural texts], is the Christ [the Anointed of God]." And some were persuaded, joining Paul and Silas along with a great many devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews [who did not believe in that place] were intensely jealous, and taking some scoundrels from among the market's labour exchange, they proceeded to unsettle the city, focusing their attack upon the house of Jason in order to have them brought out face-to-face with the mob. But when they could not be found, Jason and some of the brothers were dragged before the magistrates with this shouted accusation: "These are the men who have turned the entire civilised world upside down and have now come here, with Jason here welcoming them; they are all acting in breech of the decrees of the Emperor, by saying that there is another king, Jesus." When they heard this, the people and the city authorities were disturbed. But when bail had been taken from Jason and the rest, they let them go. - Acts 17:1-9/transliteration by Bruce C Wearne

Thessalonica

The ancient agora or marketplace in Thessalonica today. PICTURE: Paul Pela/licenced under CC BY 2.0 

"Unlike his other pastoral epistles, these two letters focus upon Paul’s commendation of the church of the Thessalonians. News of their faithfulness and integrity had resounded throughout the region. The Thessalonian Christian confession confronted Paul and Silas and Timothy as they took up their work in neighbouring centres. Believers and others had heard about the way this church had received and proclaimed the Good News about Jesus Christ. This was welcome news for Paul. It was of great encouragement."

Luke tells us of the city-wide campaign that focused upon the house of Jason where Paul and Silas had resided. But by the time a vigilante mob arrived at Jason’s house, Paul and Silas had departed. Instead, Jason was dragged before the civil magistrate. And so, for his troubles, he was required to raise bail for what were completely spurious and trumped up charges.

There were those who were persuaded by the Good News brought by Paul and Silas. Opposed to them there were those who not only wanted to be free of this message and its messengers, but to suppress it and wipe it out. The second half of the statement reads as an appeal to the authorities to clamp down hard on the movement.

The only other reference to Jason is in Paul's greetings at the close of his letter to the Romans. There he is mentioned along with Timothy (16:21). Jason was one of those at Thessalonica who gladly received the Good News. We do not know for sure that he was not Jewish; from his Greek mythological name we can conclude he had some relation to the many devout Greeks who believed.

But no sooner had he believed than he was called upon to cover for his fellow believers, Paul and Silas, who had evaded the mob. But it meant more. He had to put up bail, a cash security payment, that seems to suggest that Thessalonian believers were still under suspicion. This then was a church begun under such an unjust accusation, of persecution and of the threat of violence. Jason was made to pay for his faith out of his own pocket. The cold hard cash was testimony to his faith.

In Paul’s second letter it is worth noting that he warns the Thessalonian church of the dangers that arise when members look at their membership as a means for gaining some advantage, as a means of avoiding work. Paul and Silas remind them that this was certainly not their modus operandi (PARADOSIN) and that they worked in order to earn their own keep since this is indeed a condition given to us in our creaturely and redeemed status by God Himself.

And Luke has told us that wealthy Greek women were also part of that confessional community. The wealth of some members of the church is no grounds for indulging those who would use their membership as a basis for a free-wheeling avoidance of employment.

Unlike his other pastoral epistles, these two letters focus upon Paul’s commendation of the church of the Thessalonians. News of their faithfulness and integrity had resounded throughout the region. The Thessalonian Christian confession confronted Paul and Silas and Timothy as they took up their work in neighbouring centres. Believers and others had heard about the way this church had received and proclaimed the Good News about Jesus Christ. This was welcome news for Paul. It was of great encouragement.

There is a persistent strain of reciprocity in these two letters. Paul is writing as one who is encouraged by those to whom he writes. Their impact upon him has been profound.

The Letter to the Romans is a letter that has the appearance of a full curriculum of teaching. The two Corinthian letters are about growing congregations in the context of their asylum-seeking migrations after the Jewish community was expelled from Rome by Imperial edict. They are also Paul’s attempt to explain and apply the precepts of the apostles’ Jerusalem declaration (Acts 15). The Letter to the Galatians is motivated by Paul’s desire to explain the unity that prevails between himself and Peter. As with the Letters to the Ephesians, Colossians and Philippians, Paul is aware of the need to explain how the redeemed of the Lord should form their various responsibilities as part and parcel of their “Kingdom duties”, their membership in God’s own family.

It is not clear to me why the letters of Paul are listed as they have been on the conventional New Testament ordering. If we follow Luke’s understanding of the sequence of Paul’s ministry it would seem that these two letters were written in the midst of the work described in Acts 17-18. The second letter might conceivably have been written after Paul’s arrest and before going on to Rome (Acts 25ff.). However, when read together they seem to have been written in the same “foundational years” of Thessalonica’s Christian church.