When we survey the growth of the Christian faith in the book of Acts, it is apparent that we are really looking at the growth of the gospel into, and out of, cities. In our series Christ into the City we are considering the effect of the gospel when it reaches the cities of Paul’s Second Missionary journey (Acts 16-18), particularly the cities of Greece.
The Bereans are called “noble” by the author, Luke. This nobleness has to do with having an open mind and a welcoming attitude towards the Word of God when Paul shared it with them–in the synagogue. Particularly, the Bereans are noted for the open-mindedness and intellectual honestly in contrast to the Jewish leaders of Thessalonica, just 40 miles to the east of there. It is key that we understand both the response of the Thessalonians (vv1-9) and the Bereans (vv10-15). In considering these two groups and their different responses to the gospel, we can understand the differences between a city rejecting the gospel and a city receiving it.
The Thessalonians’ rejection of the gospel, and subsequent persecution of Paul and his associates, and the new Christians of Thessalonica, was rooted in jealousy (v5). We are jealous when we feel we are threatened with the loss of gaining something we want, or keeping something we value. The Jewish leaders of Thessalonica valued the influence they had with the wealthier men and women of their city, the power they had in their own synagogue, and the relatively safe and protected relationship they had with the local government and the national government in Rome. Paul’s message, and its acceptance by synagogue attenders who attacked themselves to Paul, having believed in his gospel–threatened the Jewish leaders, leading them to provoke, threaten, misrepresent, and seize Jason, a new convert. Ultimately, Paul and his company were forced to leave the city, fleeing by night to Berea. When the gospel is clearly preached and believed people who do not believe and value it are sometimes threatened, and respond with hostility to those who have chosen to believe. That’s what happened in Thessalonica, and it may happen today when a person’s choice to believe in the gospel is interpreted as loss to those in his/her world.
The Bereans, on the other hand, were open-minded, and enthusiastically explored “daily” the teaching that Paul brought to them–pouring over their own Scriptures to see if Paul’s assertion that this Jesus he spoke of was actually the promised Messiah. Their open-mindedness and humility, their willingness to follow the truth, no matter where it led–led them right to a God who loved them so much He sent His Son to the earth to die for sinners! They eagerly studied the Scriptures, believed, and then became courageous Christians–protecting Paul from the same Jews who had chased him out of Thessalonica, and then come to Berea to do the same to him there! The Berean brothers saw that Paul was safely taken away from danger, escorting him to the safety of Athens, 300 miles away. This took courage on their part, in the face of their angry and hostile fellow Jews of Thessalonica. Also, they became members of a new community–the church of Berea. They joined themselves into a new family–the church, identifying with the people of the Messiah over and above all social, gender, and class distinction.