Read John 11:48-50. How were the political and religious decisions regarding the ministry of Jesus impacted by the arrival of the Romans in first-century Palestine and Jerusalem? Think through the logic expressed here. In what frightening ways does it make sense?
In the context of a civil war among the Greek city-states, the Thessalonians invited the Romans to take over their city and protect it from local enemies around 168 b.c. The Romans rewarded Thessalonica for being on the “right side” of the civil war by largely allowing the city to govern itself. It became a free city within the empire, which meant that it could largely control its own internal issues and destiny. As a result, the wealthier and more powerful classes in the city were allowed to continue life much as they had before. They were, therefore, pro-Rome and pro-emperor in Paul’s day. But life was not nearly so pleasant for the common people, especially the working classes.
There were three major negative aspects to Roman rule in Thessalonica. First, the arrival of the Romans brought economic dislocation. The usual markets were disrupted by war and changing governments, both locally and regionally. These disruptions hit the poorer classes harder than they did the more wealthy. Over time, this negative aspect became less significant.
Second, although Thessalonica remained largely self-governing, there was still a sense of political powerlessness. Some local leaders were replaced by strangers whose loyalties were to a city far away (Rome), rather than to Thessalonica. No matter how benign, foreign occupation is not popular for long.
Third, there was the inevitable colonial exploitation that accompanies occupation. The Romans required a certain amount of tax exportation. Percentages of crops, minerals, and other local products would be siphoned off and sent to Rome to support the larger needs of the empire.
So, while Thessalonica was quite a bit better off than Jerusalem, for example, Roman rule and occupation inevitably created significant stresses in local communities. In Thessalonica, those stresses were particularly hard on the poor and the working classes. As decades passed, these Thessalonians became increasingly frustrated and longed for a change in the situation.
How does the current political situation in your community affect the work of the church? What kinds of things can, or should, your church do to improve its place and standing in the larger community?