From Philippi to Thessalonica
"And when it was day, the magistrates sent the officers, saying, 'Let those men go.' So the keeper of the prison reported these words to Paul, saying, 'The magistrates have sent to let you go. Now therefore depart, and go in peace.' But Paul said to them, 'They have beaten us openly, uncondemned Romans, and have thrown us into prison. And now do they put us out secretly? No indeed! Let them come themselves and get us out.' And the officers told these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans. Then they came and pleaded with them and brought them out, and asked them to depart from the city. So they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they encouraged them and departed" (Acts 16:35-40).

It is unknown how much sleep Paul and Silas may have gotten after the excitement of the previous day (i.e., the beating, the imprisonment, the earthquake, and the conversion of the jailer and his family in the early hours of the morning), but when daylight came a message was delivered from the magistrates authorizing the release of Paul and Silas. This indicates the motive behind the beating on the prior day. The authorities had no intention of bringing prosecution against Paul and Silas, but they wanted to exert their power and teach them a lesson by beating and imprisoning them. Surprisingly, Paul resists the release! Why would he do this? Could it be because being released "secretly" like this may have left the impression with the people that Paul and Silas were guilty as charged? Paul and Silas wanted it known publicly that they were not guilty, so they demanded that the magistrates come and release them personally. It seems only proper that the release be as public as the beating was.

Paul immediately worried the officers, causing them to be afraid, when he declared that he and Silas were Roman citizens. In that era, to be a Roman citizen meant you had special privileges and rights. A Roman citizen could not be beaten publicly, and he had to be given an opportunity to defend himself. Yet the magistrates had beaten and imprisoned these brothers in Christ who were uncondemned! The officers relayed Paul's message back to the magistrates. The magistrates, realizing their mistake and the potential problem these men could cause them if they reported the unlawful beating to a higher authority, came to them personally and pleaded with them (probably very kindly and apologetically) to leave. Before departing Philippi, Paul and Silas made contact with Lydia and the brethren in order to encourage them.

We can learn from this situation that a Christian may use the law for his protection (presuming it does not violate God's law in some way). It is difficult for us to know why Paul did not make his citizenship known immediately before the beating began and spare himself some pain. Of course, had he done so, he and Silas may not have had the same opportunity to influence and teach the jailer. Additionally, I do not believe that Paul's demand for the magistrates to escort them out of jail was a matter of pride. Rather, it was likely for the benefit of the new congregation in Philippi that they would soon leave behind as they continued their evangelistic journey. New Christians would need every help they could get, and having civil authorities who followed the law faithfully would help.

The pronouns change again as Acts 17 begins, indicating that Luke remained with the new congregation in Philippi while Paul, Silas, and apparently Timothy moved on. New Testament chronologists estimate Luke stayed in Philippi for some five years.

"Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, 'This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.' And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas" (Acts 17:1-4).

Paul and Silas continued traveling through Macedonia and stayed at Thessalonica for some time. Thessalonica was a large city with a population estimated at 200,000 in that day. There was a synagogue there and Paul was able to teach the gospel in it for three weeks to those who gathered (it was Paul's habit to begin teaching in a city's synagogue, if one existed). Paul used the Old Testament Scriptures to explain and demonstrate that it was predicted that the Messiah would suffer, die, and rise from the dead. He then introduced facts relative to the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth that proved He was the Messiah! He preached and some were persuaded to believe and obey the gospel, including a large number of devout Greeks and many leading women of the city. The wording seems clear that most of these new converts were Gentiles. Preachers today would be wise to follow Paul's example here: Reason from Scripture (which emphasizes God as the authority) in order to explain and demonstrate the truth! This must be the foundation of all gospel preaching.

After the church was established in Thessalonica, it would appear that Paul stopped teaching in the synagogue but then worked directly with the believers to strengthen them. The concern of Paul and Silas was for the brethren, not for themselves, and this is made clear by I Thessalonians 2:9. There we learn that these evangelists worked "night and day" (probably as tent makers) in order to prevent being a burden physically on these new converts.

Gareth Reese has a particular helpful comment on this passage in his commentary on Acts from page 612:

We may learn from Paul's methods some methods for evangelism in our own day. The evangelist, whether at home or abroad, will have or develop a prospect list, indicating what people are nearest ready to accept the gospel. He will approach these first, using their present level of understanding to build Christian teaching and commitment. He will seldom win all of them, and in the process he will probably win some whom he did not expect to be receptive. Somewhere in the process he will probably reach a point where responsiveness becomes negligible and opposition sets in. The wisest worker will then shift his approach to take advantage of greater responsiveness in others, and will go on to reap and glean the greatest possible harvest. (Reese, 612)
"But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, 'These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king--Jesus.' And they troubled the crowd and the rulers of the city when they heard these things. So when they had taken security from Jason and the rest they let them go" (Acts 17:5-9).

Sadly, the unbelieving Jews do here what they seem to be best at--stirring up problems for Christians! Due to envy (probably over Paul and Silas severely damaging the synagogue financially), the Jews who were not persuaded by Paul's teaching assembled a group of worthless people (knowing they needed assistance to achieve their goal), incited a mob, and caused an uproar throughout the city. They attacked the house of Jason, mistakenly thinking Paul and Silas were there. Since they did not find them, they instead "dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city." Although the text does not say, it is implied that Jason is a Christian also since he had been showing hospitality to some brethren (or perhaps the church had been assembling in his home). The specific complaint against Paul and Silas is that they were of the group who had "turned the world upside down" and that they had now come to Thessalonica to act contrary to Roman law and proclaim another king besides Caesar! It is certainly true that the early church had turned the world upside down in a good way with the gospel message that had spread like wild fire (though this is not what the Jews meant; they weren't complimenting the Christians but accusing them of causing trouble everywhere they went). In truth, it was the rebellious Jews who were causing all the trouble and the Christians were having a radical impact on the world for good (may we today pray for strength and courage to again turn the world upside down with the truth of the gospel)! No doubt the disobedient Jews had leveled this specific charge in an effort to pack a stronger "punch" against the church by portraying the brethren as disturbers of the entire empire and not just their city.

The other accusations were also not accurate as presented. Neither the church nor the gospel of Christ were a threat to the Roman government or its laws. The emphasis of the church and its King were spiritual! In fact, faithful Christians were among the best citizens. Sadly, these persecutors, like many who are driven by envy, do not let the facts of the situation interfere with what they want to do! Since they are unable to locate Paul and Silas, they take some sort of security (or deposit) from Jason and the other Christians, and then release them. Details are not provided about that which was taken from the brethren though some speculate it may have something to do with Paul being hindered from coming back to that region in the future (cf. I Thess. 2:18). Perhaps it was a money pledge designed to guarantee that Paul and Silas would create no further disturbance there.

Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.