In Matthew 16:13-18 we read these words: “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”
Yes, Jesus kept His promise, and the church was established on the first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Someone wrote, “The Church’s preoccupation must be Christ. Jesus did not say, I will build your church, or you will build My church. He said I will build My church.” (anon) (NASV-1977)
Yes the church of Christ belongs to Him. She is a blood bought divine institution.
Who comprises the church that was established on the day of Pentecost? We want to cite a few definitions as set forth by various sources..
- In the class The Church, at Cincinnati Bible College (now Cincinnati Christian University), Tom Thurman gave us this definition: “Saved people serving in the Divine pattern.”
- Thomas Campbell, writing in the Declaration and Address, wrote these words: ” That the Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct, and of none else; as none else can be truly and properly called Christians.”
- The mystical body of Christ of which he is the Head (Eph. 1:22-23)
The quotes above define the church in its universal sense. We want to center our attention on the church in the local sense. We will be discussing the Church at Thessalonica.
First of all let’s consider some background material. What is the history of Thessalonica? It was called in ancient time Therma. The name Thessalonica came from the wife of the builder, Cassander. When the Romans took over what remained of the Greek Empire, they divided Macedonia into four parts, Thessalonica being one of them.
The geographic location of Thessalonica was very important in the ancient world. We know the Romans had a practice of building great roads. One of these, the Via Egnatia, came right through Thessalonica. The road stretched to the regions north of the Aegean Sea.
In Acts 17:1, Luke writes that there was a Jewish Synagogue in Thessalonica. This was important because J. W. Mcgarvey, in his commentary on Acts wrote these words, “It was doubtless the synagogue in this city that drew the apostles on without stopping to preach in Amphipolis or Apollonia, for a synagogue in a city indicated the presence of a considerable Jewish population, with a nucleus of Gentile proselytes abut it, and furnished an open avenue for the introduction of the Gospel.”
How and by whom was the church of Christ established in this great metropolis? The church there was founded by Paul on his second missionary journey. Paul’s visit to Thesslonica is mentioned in the following passages: Acts 17:1-4; Acts 20:1-3; and in 1 Thessalonians 1:9
Were there any problems that arose in the church there? Merrill F. Unger, in Unger’s Bible Dictionary, lists three problems that arose. They were:
“1. Carelessness about their daily work, evidently under the impression that the second coming would shortly take place.
2. A concern among them lest their Christian friends who died would suffer loss at the coming of Christ for His own.
3. Friction between church officers and those who possessed miraculous spiritual endowments.”
We know that Paul dealt with these issues and problems when he wrote the two epistles to the church.
In closing, how can we today benefit form a study of the Church at Thessalonica? I believe it would be fitting to close with the words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:13: “And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the Word of God’s message you accepted it nit as the word of men, but for what it really is, the Word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.” (NASV 1977)
Note: This article was prepared for a class at Cincinnati Bible College. It appeared in the January 1978 Word and Work.