Acts 17:1

Monday, 22 May 2023

Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Acts 17:1

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As Acts 16 ended, Paul and Silas were noted as having departed from Philippi. It may be that Timothy or others accompanied them, but this is unstated. With their departure, Acts 17 now begins, saying, “Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia.”

Of these two cities, Albert Barnes notes the following –

Amphipolis – This was the capital of the eastern province of Macedonia. It was originally a colony of the Athenians, but under the Romans it was made the capital of that part of Macedonia. It was near to Thrace, and was situated not far from the mouth of the river Strymon, which flowed around the city, and thus occasioned its name, around the city. … The position of Amphipolis is one of the most important in Greece. It stands in a pass which Traverses the mountains bordering the Strymonic Gulf, and it commands the only easy communication from the coast of that gulf into the great Macedonian plains, which extend, for 60 miles, from beyond Meleniko to Philippi. The ancient name of the place was ‘Nine Ways,’ from the great number of Thracian and Macedonian roads which met at this point. The Athenians saw the importance of the position, and established a colony there, which they called Amphipolis, because the river surrounded it.

Apollonia – This city was situated between Amphipolis and Thessalonica, and was formerly much celebrated for its trade.

After having passed through these two cities, it next says that “they came to Thessalonica.” Again, Albert Barnes provides a description for us to consider –

“This was a seaport of the second part of Macedonia. It is situated at the head of the Bay Thermaicus. It was made the capital of the second division of Macedonia by Aemilius Paulus, when he divided the country into four districts. It was formerly called Therma, but afterward received the name of Thessalonica, either from Cassander, in honor of his wife Thessalonica, the daughter of Philip, or in honor of a victory which Philip obtained over the armies of Thessaly. It was inhabited by Greeks, Romans, and Jews. It is now called Saloniki, and, from its situation, must always be a place of commercial importance. It is situated on the inner bend of the Thermaic Gulf, halfway between the Adriatic and the Hellespont, on the sea margin of a vast plain, watered by several rivers, and was evidently designed for a commercial emporium.”

Of Thessalonica, it says, “where there was a synagogue of the Jews.” The account doesn’t say why the two passed through the other two cities without stopping, but it could be that there was no synagogue. This even seems likely because, in the text used by the NKJV, there is an article before the word synagogue, thus it is “the synagogue.” Thus, it would explain why they simply passed through the other two cities.

However, it may be that the two arrived in Thessalonica on a Friday and decided to attend the synagogue on a Saturday. Without knowing why this city was chosen, only speculation can be made.

As for the distances between the cities, it was about 33 miles from Philippi to Amphipolis. It was then about 30 miles from Amphipolis to Apollonia. From there, it was about 37 miles from Apollonia to Thessalonica. Each is about one day’s journey, and so it could be that this is how they went, arriving at Thessalonica late on the third day. It is only speculation, but the distances make this a possibility. If so, the journey was in three parts and so it is recorded as such.

Life application: The difficulties and trials of Philippi are behind the missionaries. They may have wondered why things happened as they did, but later understanding came to them. Paul explains this in his first letter to those at Thessalonica –

“For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain. But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict.” 1 Thessalonians 2:1, 2

Those in Thessalonica had been evangelized because Paul and Silas had been treated shamefully at Philippi. What was certainly considered evil to them turned out for good for those at Thessalonica. And Paul would certainly not trade a single stripe on his back once he realized how things turned out. Each new convert was seen to be worth the troubles they had faced. And with a church up and running at Philippi, things were moving forward for them as well.

Trust that God’s plan is unfolding as it should. Despite the enormous trials we may face, He is not unaware of them, nor is He not caring about them. Our patience and trust will be rewarded someday. God will not leave anything unremembered. So, stand fast in Him and in the surety that you are just where He wants you.

Lord God, how good it is to know that You have it all under control. For sure, we can trust this and be confident that what You have purposed will come about. As glory is said to be ahead of us, why should we be overwhelmed with the troubles of today. Help us to keep an eternal perspective as we live out our lives. Amen.