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The Gospel Comes to Thessalonica


"The Gospel Comes to Thessalonica"

July 7, 2012


The Gospel Comes to Thessalonica
Thessalonica was the second European city where Paul and Silas preached the gospel. The first city in Europe was Philippi where they had been severally beaten by order of the city authorities and then placed in prison from which they were supernaturally delivered (Acts 16:23-28).  As a result of their beatings the gospel was brought to Thessalonica by bruised and injured soldiers of the cross of Christ.

While preaching the gospel in Thessalonica Paul supported himself by manual labor. (1 Thess 2:9; 2 Thess 3:7-10). Funds were also sent to him by the believers in Philippi (Phil 4:15-16). The message proclaimed in power by Paul and Silas, to the Thessalonians, was about the necessity of Christ having been crucified and then raised from the dead. Paul emphasized, specifically, the necessity of the sufferings of Christ (Acts 17:2-3). Luke, who wrote the book of Acts, also placed on record the words of Jesus Himself regarding the necessity of His suffering: “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Lk 24:46–47). Jesus could not escape the necessity of suffering for us. The message Paul took to Thessalonica was an echo of Christ’s words.

In the book of Romans Paul wrote of this necessity of Christ in suffering in our behalf. While we were condemned and ungodly sinners Christ suffered and died for us (Rom 5:6-10). In Romans 4:25 (see NKJV) Paul wrote in parallel literary form that Jesus:
         was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.[1]
Here we learn of the necessity of both Christ’s death and His resurrection. He died “because of our offenses.” He “was raised because of our justification.” This justification took place in the death of Christ, “by His blood” (Rom 5:9). His resurrection from the grave demonstrated that we were justified on Calvary. This justification is the legal aspect of acquittal from condemnation and when believed is experienced by faith in Christ alone. This was the gospel message Paul took to Thessalonica (Acts 17:3).

The result of that message preached by Paul and Silas resulted in persuading some of the Jews “and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women” (Acts 17:4). This, of course, caused an uproar among those who refused to believe the gospel. To the Jews the good news of the necessity of Christ’s death was a stumbling block and to the unbelieving Gentiles it was absolute nonsense. To them it was the height of foolishness (1 Cor 1:23). And for what reasons?

In the thinking of unbelieving Jews and Gentiles Jesus was executed because He was a common criminal. To the Gentile mind, the cross was the utmost in shame and defeat. To them it was unthinkable to accept a dead Christ as their Savior. Since most of them believed in the natural immortality of the soul there was no need of a resurrection from the dead. To them, the death and resurrection of Christ was not within the range of possibility.

The thinking of Gentiles concerning the crucifixion of Christ is depicted in a very crude piece of graffiti, scratched into a piece of plaster in a guardroom on the Palatine Hill in Rome. Some people date this graffiti to about the time of Paul while others date it later. Regardless of the date, this non-art from depicted the thinking of most Gentiles. This crude depiction of Christ is known as the Alexamenos graffiti

The graffiti shows a Christian man, named Alexamenos, standing with one of his hands raised in adoration before the figure of a person hanging on a cross. The man on the cross has the head of a donkey. The caption scrawled into the graffiti reads, “Alexamenos worships his god.” This terrible description of Christ crucified illustrates the foolishness of the Gentile psychoactive mindset.

To the unbelieving Jew the Messiah was to deliver them from all oppressors. The notion that the Messiah had to die was unthinkable. They had proof texts from their Jewish Scripture showing that Messiah was to be a mighty and conquering general who would lay the glory of the Gentile world in the dust and who would exalt the Jews to the highest rank and power in the world.

Some of the proof texts the Jews would have used are found in Jer 23:5-8; Isa 9:1-7; and Zech 9:9-16. But Jesus said that His kingdom is not of this world and that He must first suffer before He would enter into His glory (see Luke 24:26, NIV). Peter, after Pentecost, saw the two aspects of Christ’s experiences. He mirrored the teaching of Jesus about “the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Peter 1:11, NKJV).

Not only did Paul and Silas take the gospel to the Thessalonians after being severely beaten in Philippi (and still hurting), but those in Thessalonica who accepted that same gospel suffered must anguish while at the same time they experienced the “joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess 1:5-6; cf Acts 17:5-9).

What about today? Is not the “everlasting gospel” ridiculed and opposed by those who will not believe? And was not this the case in Minneapolis about one hundred twenty-five years ago? Mrs White wrote of the manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit in the presentation of the message at that time and of the ridicule of those who refused to belief. Listen to her words:
“I shall never, I think, be called to stand under the direction of the Holy Spirit as I stood at Minneapolis. The presence of Jesus   was with me. All assembled in that meeting had an opportunity to place themselves on the side of truth by receiving the Holy Spirit, which was sent by God in such a rich current of love and mercy. But in the rooms occupied by some of our people was heard ridicule, criticism, jeering, laughter…. The same spirit that actuated the rejecters of Christ rankles in their hearts, and had they lived in the days of Christ, they would have acted toward him in a manner similar to that of the godless and unbelieving Jews.” (1888 Materials, 1565).
Then comes a sobering message: “He who rejects the light and evidence God has been liberally bestowing upon us, rejects Christ; and for him there is no other Saviour” (Ibid.).
When the message of justification by the faith of Jesus comes to us as it came to Thessalonica and to Minneapolis let us experience it by faith in Christ alone, along with the “joy of the Holy Spirit.” We may suffer for a little while because being placed in a furnace of fiery afflictions caused by the enemy of all righteousness who is at war with the good news of Christ crucified. This enemy plus all other enemies are no match for the power of Christ crucified. The devil may afflict but he cannot defeat us so long as we abide in Christ, who of necessity suffered and died for us. Praise His Holy Name!

-Jerry Finneman


[1] The word translated “because of” (NKJV) is dia (διά) with the grammatical accusative case meaning that the cause of Christ’s resurrection was because justification had already occurred. His resurrection was not the means of justification. It was because we were justified on the cross, in Christ, when He died as us and for us. Christ’s resurrection is God’s evidence that we were legally justified in the death of Christ. Paul reiterated this in Rom 5:9.