Read Acts 17:5-9. According to this passage, what was the primary motivation for the opposition to Paul’s message? What statements did his opponents make to get the city authorities interested in the case? How did those authorities respond?
When someone preaches new teachings and people get excited, the leaders and teachers of other religious groups may become jealous. Attention that was once placed upon themselves is now directed to others. As a result, they may behave in irrational ways in order to try to reduce the influence of the new teacher.
According to the Roman historian Suetonius, shortly before the events described in Acts 17, conflict arose among the Jews of Rome over a man Suetonius calls “Chrestus.” This term probably reflects a Roman misunderstanding of the Jewish concept of the Messiah, or, in Greek,“the Christ.” Apparently someone’s preaching of the gospel had just split the Jewish community of Rome.
To Roman officials, debate over the Messiah sounded like preparation for the installation of a new king on the throne of Rome (see Acts 17:7). Probably for that reason, the emperor expelled all Jews from his capital city (Acts 18:2). Some of these exiles settled in or passed through Thessalonica, bringing knowledge of these events to the city. Because the gospel had turned the world of Rome’s Jews upside down, religious leaders in Thessalonica were determined to prevent something similar from happening there.
Thessalonica itself was ruled by a city council of perhaps five or six “mayors” who made decisions as a group. This arrangement allowed for a considerable amount of independence from Rome, which they would be loath to give up. So, the behavior of the city officials in this matter was quite impressive under the circumstances. The similarity to recent events in Rome could have led to severe physical punishment for the new Christians. Instead, the city leaders responded even-handedly (contrast Acts 16:22-40). They took a significant amount of money from the new Christians as security so that they would not be the cause of further disturbances. Then the leaders let everyone go.
Jealousy and envy can destroy us. What can we learn from the life and teachings of Jesus that can help us gain victory over these deadly sentiments?