Israel/Greece Day 13
We started our day in Thessaloniki (Thessalonica) in northeastern Greece. Today Thessaloniki is a large, important town in northern Greece just as it was in the first century. As a harbor town on the Aegean Sea, Thessaloniki had natural prominence as a trading post and connection point with Asia Minor.
In Acts 17 Paul visited Thessalonica with his companions to spread the gospel. In the first century Thessalonica had a large Jewish population, so Paul began his time there by teaching and preaching in the synagogue:
As usual, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and rise from the dead: “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah.”Acts 17:2-3
The response was favorable—Jews and Greeks responded, including leading women of the community. That favorable response was quickly followed by jealousy from some unbelieving Jews. They brought some of those first converts to the agora to face accusations. Their charges were both false and true—they accused them of disturbing the city which they had not done. They also accused them of saying there is another king—Jesus. That part was certainly true. Most of ancient Thessalonica lies under the modern city, but a portion of agora is visible today.
Due to the tension in the city, the new believers in Thessalonica sent Paul and Silas away in the dark of night to Berea which wasn’t far to the west. The Bereans were notable because of their response to Paul’s preaching:
The people here were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, since they received the word with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.Acts 17:11
Many Jews and Greeks once again believed, but persecution found them in Berea. Silas and Timothy stayed behind to help the infant church while Paul sailed to Athens. There are no 1st century remains excavated today at Berea, but it was still sweet to be in another place where the gospel spread so many years ago.
Not far from Berea is the town of Vergina, famous for being the burial ground of Macedonian royalty in the 4th century BC. It is the resting place of Macedonian king Phillip II, the father of Alexander the Great. While this stop didn’t have direct biblical relevance, it was a good reminder of some of the ways God prepared the world to receive the gospel through the spreading of Greek culture and the Greek language. The tomb of Phillip was found undisturbed which makes him a Greek king Tut of sorts. None of his treasures made it to the afterlife with him.