We begin in verse 1 where we see God advancing his gospel using messengers.
Acts 17:1 AV 1873
1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews:
A Brief Overview of Luke-Acts
Now, we’re just jumping right into the book of Acts in the 17th chapter. But as you know there is a lot of material that preceded this moment.
Gospel of Luke
The book of Acts is the second book penned by Luke. And Luke starts this book by addressing a man named Theophilus. He mentions a “former treatise” – a previous writing – that he wrote to this man in which he told him “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). And that former treatise, of course, is the book that we know as the Gospel of Luke.
The Church in Jerusalem
And so, the book of Acts picks right up where the Gospel of Luke left off. And the first 7 chapters of Acts are centered in the city of Jerusalem.
After that, Peter and the other apostles in Jerusalem proclaim the gospel in that city.
The Church Scattered
Then in Acts 7 Stephen suffers a martyr’s death and as a result the church is scattered from Jerusalem to all sorts of geographical locations. It’s also at Stephen’s martyrdom that we meet this man named Saul who is agreeing to the persecution (Acts 8:1).
Saul’s Conversion & First Missionary Journey
Eventually Saul ends up in the church in Antioch. And it’s from there that he and Barnabas are sent on what we call their First Missionary Journey starting in Acts 13.
The Second Missionary Journey
That journey ends and so then Paul starts his Second Missionary Journey toward the end of Acts 15. It’s on that second journey of his where he receives what we call the Macedonian Vision (Acts 16:9) where during the night a man from Macedonia appears to him and tells him to come and help them. And so, Paul and his crew decide to go there and proclaim the gospel in Macedonia – which is in modern-day Greece.
Well, the first stop of Paul and his company is in the Macedonian city of Philippi. It’s there that Paul and Silas see some success of the gospel. Some people trust Christ as a result of their ministry.
But then there’s an uproar in the city after Paul casts a demon out of a slave girl (Acts 16:18). Her owners then bring Paul and Silas to be beaten by the city officials and thrown into jail (Acts 16:19–24).
But later that night, the Lord miraculously causes all the doors to open in that prison and all the chains to fall off of the prisoners (Acts 16:26). That results in the conversion of the Philippian jailer and his family (Acts 16:27–34).
At the end of that episode, Paul and Silas are set free and urged by the local government to leave (Acts 16:35–40).
And that’s where we come to our text in Acts 17:1-9.
Amphipolis and Apollonia
So far then, we have the ancient city of Philippi in our minds in terms of where Paul and Silas have been up to this point.
But now in Acts 17:1 we’re introduced in passing to these two cities named Amphipolis and Apollonia. And of course ultimately Paul and Silas are on their way to Thessalonica.
So, we have these three cities to consider. So, I’d like us to get a visual of the geography and the layout of the area under discussion. So, let’s start out with a wide view of the area we’re talking about.
You can see Italy on the west and Turkey on the east. And then modern-day Greece is right in the center. Athens is to the south of the area we’re dealing with.
Now, let’s zoom in. Philippi – which is spelled a little differently these days – is on the northeast side of the map. And Thessalonica is on the southwest – labeled as “Ancient Agora Square” in this map. And in between those two cities you have Amfipoli (Amphipolis) and Apollonia. You can see that Thessalonica is on what is called the Thermaic Gulf.
And just kind of as a funny side note, you can see the city of “Drama” to the north of Philippi. And of course, the Apostle Paul and his crew experienced a lot of drama in this area of the world.
Distance and Travel
But more closely related to this message, it’s also interesting that Google Maps suggests it should take under two and a half hours to traverse from Philippi to Thessalonica. Because in Paul’s day it would have taken days to get from one city to the other on foot. But we’ll talk about the time potentially involved later in this message.
Now, the journey between these two cities would have been shorter on horseback. And that’s
the mode of transportation that some people think that Paul and Silas would have used because of their weak physical condition after being beaten in Philippi.
But whatever the case, it would have been a much longer journey for Paul than it would be for someone today with a motorized vehicle.
One thing that would have been true of Paul’s day is still true today concerning travel in this area. And that is that Paul and Silas would have used a road to get from one city to another. And that’s because there was a Roman Road called the Via Egnatia that connected these four cities and beyond.
Well, Paul and Silas eventually make their way from Philippi through Amphipolis through Apollonia and to Thessalonica.
A Synagogue of the Jews
And unlike Philippi, in Thessalonica they find a Jewish synagogue.
They say that at least 10 Jewish men would have been needed in order to start a synagogue in a city. The idea there is that each man is giving ten percent of his income in order to support the ministry.
A synagogue would be the equivalent of our church building. These gathering spots are mentioned numerous times in the New Testament gospels. But after that, we really don’t hear much about them – with just one mention in James and two references in the book of Revelation. In this book of Acts there are 19 mentions of this type of building.
Now, you can probably recall that there was no Jewish synagogue in Philippi. Paul and Silas had to find the few religious folks in that city by the river where they were praying (Acts 16:13).
Amphipolis and Apollonia – I suppose – could have had a synagogue. But we hear nothing about it.
But now in Thessalonica there is a synagogue, which would indicate a relatively sizeable Jewish presence (at least 10 Jewish men). The strength of their opposition to Paul later on in this text also would argue for a decent amount of Jews in this city.
Back to Acts 17 Commentary Verses 1-3.