Vol. 5, No. 11
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In the first 15 verses of Acts 17, Paul visited two cities, Thessalonica and Berea. "...Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures..." (Acts 17:2). It was Paul's practice at this time in his missionary journeys to visit the synagogue in the city he was visiting and preach the Gospel of Christ. He did this in both cities (Acts 17: 1-2, 10). The Gospel was originally a message for the Jews, who should have been prepared to receive Christ once he came (Romans 1:16). Paul did not preach just to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles. The majority of the Gentile population was not looking for the Christ to come, because they did not have the same information that the Jews had. The Jews had the writings of Moses and the other prophets long before Paul preached that Christ had fulfilled these prophesies. The Law and prophets pointed to Christ's coming as a King, Prophet and Savior. Moses spoke of Christ in Deuteronomy 18:15 and Isaiah wrote many prophesies about the Christ who would come. The Jews, having this information, were looking for a Savior. When Christ came, and was not the kind of Savior and earthly king they wanted, they rejected him and killed him. However, not all Jews rejected Christ. The first 15 verses of Acts 15 depict the two ways Jews reacted to the Gospel.
Paul spent three weeks with the Jews in Thessalonica. "...[S]ome of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few. But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people" (Acts 17:4-5). It is important to note that not all of the Thessalonian Jews rejected Paul's preaching of the Gospel, but some did. Why did they reject it? The text answers they were "moved with envy" (Acts 17:5). The word envy used in this verse "denotes 'to be zealous, moved with jealousy'" (Vine 204). Jealousy is a self-seeking, earthly emotion. Therefore, when the answer is simplified, the reason some of the Jews in Thessalonica rejected the teaching of Christ was that they focused on earthly things rather than spiritual things.
The Jews stirred up enough trouble in Thessalonica that Paul and Silas had to escape from the city. The Jews made up a false accusation against those who were converting to Christianity. This accusation was one of committing treason, because they said that Christians were giving allegiance to another king, they were no longer paying allegiance to Caesar. This accusation was false. It is possible for one to be a citizen of the kingdom of God and an earthly kingdom at the same time, but since Christianity was a new doctrine, this accusation was dangerous because some of those who held power were ignorant of the truth. This illegal act of the Jews shows how envy, or jealousy, can control the actions of the ones who struggle with this emotion.
Paul and Silas escaped to the city of Berea. It is possible that Berea was not the planned destination of Paul, "... but, as events proved, it was in the plan of God" (Bruce 327). Paul and Silas arrived by night in the city, and their first destination was the synagogue (Acts 17:10). Once at the synagogue, they started to teach the Gospel. "Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few" (Acts 17:12). The Bereans were more ready to accept the Gospel of Christ. The Jews of Thessalonica discovered that Paul went to Berea and taught them the Gospel, and again their envy controlled their actions. The Jews "stirred up the people" and Paul was sent away from the city (Acts 17:13-14).
A special designation was given to the Bereans in verse 10. They are described as "more noble than those in Thessalonica" (Acts 17: 10). "Noble," as used in this verse, means, "well born, of good birth" (Young 698). The term is used to compare the Jews of the two cities (Vine 433). The Jews of Berea were described as more noble because they "received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so" (Acts 17: 11b).
The Bereans were ready to receive the Gospel. All Jews had access to the Law and prophets, which foretold the coming of the Messiah. The Jews, upon studying these materials, looked for the Messiah to come. How would they know when the Messiah came? They had to be ready like the Bereans. The Berean Jews described here are a great example to people of the world today who are searching for the truth. To find the truth, people must, "[s]tudy to shew thyself approved unto God..." (2 Timothy 2:15a). The Bereans are an example to modern man showing him that he must study the Word of God so he can find the truth about God. The Berean Jews were ready to receive the Gospel because they had studied.
The narrative of the Bereans does not end with them just finding out the Gospel, but continues to another point. The Bereans "...searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so" (Acts 17: 11b). How many Christians go home after a Bible lesson and read the text of the Bible that was discussed? How many Christians study what is taught to make sure it is the truth? These questions cannot be answered by one man, but belong to every Christian individually. One must discipline himself to study the Word of God to make sure the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is being taught, just as when a testimony is given in court. If it is not being taught, or something is being taught incorrectly, the Christian has a responsibility to correct it. The Bereans did not just blindly accept what Paul said, but they confirmed his words with the facts they already had.
After his visit to Thessalonica, Paul wrote two inspired letters to the Thessalonians about problems in the church. Modern man has these letters in the canon of the New Testament. Modern man does not have any letters written to the Bereans by Paul. One can speculate that the reason there is no letter to the Bereans is that "[t]hese were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so" (Acts 17:11).
Bruce, F.F. The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988.
Vine, W.E., Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr. Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville: Nelson, 1996.
Young, Robert. Young's Analytical Concordance to the Bible. Nashville: Nelson, 1982.