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First Thessalonians: Introduction-Place of Origin and Destination Lesson # 3

First Thessalonians  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  1:19:49
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First Thessalonians: Introduction-Place of Origin and Destination

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Acts 17 and 18 present evidence which indicates that Paul wrote First Thessalonians from the city of Corinth between 49-52 A.D. and sometime after planting the church in Thessalonica.
This is indicated by the fact that Paul mentions Timothy rejoining him at Corinth from Thessalonica (1 Thess. 3:1-2, 6; cf. Acts 17:13-15; 18:1, 5).
While in Corinth, Paul appeared before the proconsul Gallio (Acts 18:1-7) whose reign as proconsul was between 51-52 or 52-53 A.D.
As we noted, the recipients of this epistle were Christians located in the city of Thessalonica which belonged to the Roman province of Macedonia, which lay on the Balkan peninsula north of Greece, south of Illyria and Thrace, and East of Epirus.
Its territory included Haliacmon and Axius rivers and their tributaries, which flow southeast to the Thermaic Gulf of the Aegean Sea.
Most of the country is mountainous, cut by great river valleys, and remote from the sea.
Unlike peninsular Greece, its climate is much more eastern European than Mediterranean, with summer and winter rains, severe winters, and very hot summers.
This makes it suitable for most horses, cattle, sheep, cereals, and European fruits, but not for olives or figs.
It is very important that we understand the background of the city of Thessalonica in order to understand this city’s inhabitants.
As we noted, it was located in Macedonia and was the largest and most important city in the Roman province of Macedonia, which was divided in four regions with Thessalonica was the capital city of this region.
It was also located along the Via Egnatia and as a port city on the Aegean Sea, which thus made it strategic for trade.
During the first century A.D., Thessalonica was inhabited by Greeks, Romans, Jews and a Christian population which was growing (Acts 17:4-5).
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Ben Witherington writes “The city’s location was excellent, at the head of the Thermaic Gulf,[1] which provided one of the best harbors in the Aegean Sea. The city was also on a major trade route running north to south and so was of military as well as commercial importance. ‘It was the key to the whole of Macedonia.’[2] It is not a surprise that the poet Antipater in the first century b.c. called the city ‘the mother of all Macedonia’ (Anthologia Palatina 4.428). Cicero was impressed enough by his time in Thessalonike to say that the city’s inhabitants were ‘lying in the lap of the Roman Empire’ (De Provinciis Consularibus 2).”[3]
Jeffrey Weima writes “Thessalonica enjoyed a favored relationship with Rome—a relationship that it deliberately fostered in the hopes of political and financial gain. After the fall of Macedonia as an independent kingdom in the battle at Pydna in 168 BC, the victorious Romans followed the strategy of divide and conquer, splitting the region into four ‘districts’ (μερίδες, merides; see Acts 16:12), with Thessalonica as the capital of the second district (Livy 44.32; 45.29.9; Diodorus Siculus 31.8.6–9; Strabo, Geogr. 7 frg. 47). The following years of Roman rule witnessed sporadic rebellions, finally suppressed in 146 BC, at which time the Romans expanded the boundaries of the region and reorganized Macedonia as a province, with Thessalonica alone elevated to the privileged status of capital city and as the home base of Rome’s representative, the governor.
Rome’s choice of Thessalonica as provincial capital was based not solely on the city’s size and wealth but also on its loyalty to the Roman Empire rather than to local leaders heading up the rebellions.
The close relationship between Thessalonica and Rome can also be seen in the key role that the city played in the empire’s civil wars, even though all too often this role involved initially backing the losing side.
The city supported Pompey in his quest for power against Julius Caesar.
Before his inglorious defeat at Pharsalus in 48 BC, Pompey prepared for battle by gathering in Thessalonica with the two consuls and over two hundred senators, turning the city into a kind of second Rome, where the “true” Senate was now held.[4]
Some six years later Thessalonica was again at the center of the Roman internal wars, when the armies of Brutus and Cassius, the two leaders responsible for the assassination of Julius Caesar, faced off in battle on the plains of nearby Philippi against the armies of Marc Antony and Octavian (who later became Caesar Augustus), the two avengers of Caesar’s murder.
Thessalonica initially supported Brutus and Cassius but, between the two battles on the Philippian plains, switched their allegiance to Marc Antony and Octavian, causing Brutus to promise his soldiers the right to plunder Thessalonica following their anticipated victory.[5]
Fortunately for Thessalonica, that victory never came: both Brutus and Cassius went down to defeat at the hands of Marc Antony and, to a lesser extent, Octavian.
A triumphal arch celebrating the two victors was built at the Vardar Gate, one of the major gates of the city wall, and commemorative medals were circulated with the inscription “for the freedom of the people of Thessaloniki”.[6]
The city and the province came under the control of Marc Antony, who in 42 BC rewarded its citizens for their support by granting Thessalonica the status of a ‘free city’ (civitas libera; Pliny the Elder, Nat. 4.17 [10]).[7]
This favored classification meant that the inhabitants enjoyed a measure of autonomy over local affairs, the right to mint their own coins, freedom from military occupation within the city walls, and certain tax concessions.
Nine years later the city found itself again backing the losing side in Rome’s internal wars as Marc Antony fell at the hands of Octavian in the battle at Actium in 31 BC.
Nevertheless, the city quickly either erased the name of Antony from inscriptions honoring the defeated general (a standard way of effecting damnatio memoriae—erasing the memory of someone formally esteemed who was now dishonored) or replaced his name with Octavian (IT 6, 83, 109), thereby ensuring good relations with Rome and maintaining their favored status as a free city.
The city of Thessalonica served as the junction of major land and sea trade routes which included Via Egnatia, which was one of the Roman Empire’s major east-west highways.
The city still remains an important port in Greece.
Thomas Constable writes “The city of Thessalonica flourished for hundreds of years, partly because of its ideal location. It was situated on the banks of a hospitable harbor in the Thermaic Gulf near the northwest corner of the Aegean Sea. In the Apostle Paul’s day it was the chief seaport of the Roman province of Macedonia. Thessalonica ranked with Corinth and Ephesus, the main ports of the provinces of Achaia and Asia, as a great shipping center. Thessalonica also enjoyed another advantage. The Egnatian Way, the main Roman road from Rome to the Orient via Byzantium (modern Istanbul), passed through the city. This put Thessalonica in direct contact with many other important cities by land as well as by sea. It was one of the most important centers of population in Paul’s day, occupying a strategic location both governmentally and militarily.”[8]
In New Testament times the population of Thessalonica has been estimated to be as much as 200,000.[9]
Most of the people were native Greeks but also many Romans lived there as well. Orientals and Jews lived in the city.
Warren Wiersbe writes “You can visit Thessalonica today, only the travel guide will call it Thessaloniki. (It used to be known as Salonika.) It is an important industrial and commercial city in modern Greece and is second to Athens in population. It served as an important Allied base during World War I. In World War II it was captured by the German army, and the Jewish population of about 60,000 persons was deported and exterminated. It is an ancient city, originally named Therma from the many hot springs adjacent to it. In 315 b.c. it was renamed Thessalonica after the half sister of Alexander the Great. When Rome conquered Macedonia in 168 b.c., the city was made capital of that entire province. In Paul’s day 200,000 people lived there, most of them Greeks, but also many Romans and a strong Jewish minority. Today it has a population of 300,000, and is one of the few cities that has survived from the New Testament era of apostolic ministry.”[10]
Modern Thessaloniki
An ancient theater of Thessalonica with buildings of modern Thessaloniki in the background
Ruined Market Place of Ancient Thessalonica
Ruined Shops of Ancient Thessalonica
Thessalonica Theater
[1] Pliny, Natural History 4.10.17 describes it as in the middle of the bend of the Thermaic Gulf. Xerxes chose its natural harbor as the place to station his fleet (Herodotus 7.121). Livy mentions its busy dockyards (44.10).
[2] J. B. Lightfoot, Biblical Essays (Grand Rapids: Baker, reprint), p. 254.
[3] Witherington, B., III. (2006). 1 and 2 Thessalonians: a socio-rhetorical commentary (p. 2). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
BC before Christ
Livy Livy (Titus Livius), History of Rome
Diodorus Siculus Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History
Geogr. Strabo, Geography
frg. fragment
BC before Christ
BC before Christ
[4] Dio Cassius 41.18.4–6; 41.43.1–5
[5] Appian, Civil Wars 4.118; Plutarch, Brutus 46.1
[6] Papagiannopoulos 1982: 39
BC before Christ
Nat. Pliny the Elder, Natural History
[7] Evidence of Thessalonica’s “freedom” is found in one inscription (IT 6) and in a series of coins issued by the city inscribed ΘΕΣΣΑΛΟΝΙΚΕΩΝ ΕΛΕΥΘΕΡΙΑΣ (Freedom of the Thessalonians).
BC before Christ
IT Inscriptiones graecae, vol. 10: Inscriptiones Thessalonicae et viciniae, edited by C. Edson (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1972)
[8] Constable, T. L. (1985). 1 Thessalonians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 687). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
[9] Everett F. Harrison, Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964, p. 245
[10] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 156). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
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