What does Acts 17:1-3 tell us about the where, the when, and the how of Paul’s preaching strategy in Thessalonica?
Although 1 Thessalonians was among Paul’s earliest letters, both his theology and missionary strategy were well developed by the time he arrived in Thessalonica.
The first step in Paul’s missionary strategy was to attend the local synagogue on the Sabbath. This was natural because the Sabbath was a good time to reach Jews in large numbers. However, more than just a missionary strategy was at work here. Paul would have taken time for prayer and worship on the Sabbath even if no Jews or no synagogue was available (see Acts 16:13).
It was not uncommon in those days for Jews to invite synagogue visitors to speak, especially if they had lived in Jerusalem, as Paul and Silas had. The congregation would have been eager to hear news of Jewish life in other places. They also would also have been interested in any new ideas the visitors had discovered from their study of the Scriptures. So, Paul’s strategy was a natural fit with the synagogue environment.
The second step in Paul’s strategy was to preach directly from their common Scriptures, the Old Testament. He also began with a topic of great interest to the Jews of the time, the Messiah (“the Christ” is the Greek equivalent of “the Messiah” in the Hebrew; see Acts 17:3). Using texts from the Old Testament, Paul demonstrated that the Messiah would first have to suffer before He would obtain the glory with which the Jews were familiar. In other words, the popular, glorious version of the Messiah’s mission was only part of the picture. When the Messiah would first appear, He would be a suffering servant rather than a royal conqueror.
Third, having established a fresh picture of the Messiah in their minds, Paul went on to tell the story of Jesus. He explained how Jesus’ life conformed to the pattern of the Bible prophecy that he had just shared with them. No doubt he added stories about his own previous doubts and opposition and also spoke of the convincing power of his personal encounter with the exalted Christ. According to Luke (Luke 24:25-27, 44-46), Paul’s preaching strategy in Thessalonica followed the same pattern that Jesus had used with His disciples after the resurrection.
Notice that Paul sought to reach people where they were, using that with which they were familiar. Why is this strategy so important? Think about those whom you want to reach. How can you learn to start where they are and not where you are?