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This text has one thing united both experiences at each place, Thessalonica and Berea. This one thing is the Word of God or the Scriptures received and tested. We see that it is by the doctrine of Christ up against the dogma of Caesar that the world is apparently usurped.

In the first place we are taken to Thessalonica. The other places mentioned are in passing, but Thessalonica may have been chosen because it was declared a free city in 42 BC. It may have been a place where it was supposed that they could carry out the preaching of the gospel freely, but what happened there was quite the opposite. Nevertheless, the apostle comes and exercises what is called his custom. He would on three Sabbath days (at that time and place Saturdays in the Jewish use) in a synagogue (constituted by ten Jewish males) teach and proclaim the Scriptures. He does this logically. His first premise is that it was necessary for Christ to suffer and rise. The second premise (implied) is that Jesus suffered and rose. The conclusion was therefore Jesus is the Christ! Far from the Thessalonians being an unreasonable uneducated group, we see here Paul speaking to them quite intelligently with the rules of logic. Their persuasion to the faith (assumedly by the sovereign election of God) was indeed part of why they received Christ. But it is only the grace of God that made such reasoning from the Scriptures effective! It was not here effective on many of the Jews there, but it was received by many God-fearing Greeks and leading women there. The Jews are noted as resisting this logic. They could not accept the logical argument for Jesus being the Christ because of their hard hearts. Chesterton says, “Every man who will not have softening of the heart must at last have softening of the brain.” So, we see here “jealousy” in v.5 is the cause. Jealousy and its counterpart envy is found to be the cause of wars and fightings at every level (James 4:1–2 ff). This was not a war against the state, nor a war against religion. It was a war against the kingdom of God. In truth there should be no conflict at all between the state and the church if both understand the Kingdom of God never sets them at odds. They are both expressions of the Kingdom of God that is internal and that is not of this world working within all spheres of governance. Yet, jealousy destroys the unity which men are to have with God. How is this destruction brought about? Here it is brought about by illogical and religious people who are jealous of true religion appealing to the dogma of Caesar to control or limit the Kingdom of God. It is said that they have “turned the world upside down” which is a perjurious lie in one sense. They were not putting the world in revolt, but they were putting the world right by the gospel. In another sense it was true in that they were indeed conquering the world with the gospel. Martin Luther the protestant reformer of the 16th century stated that if he did not see tumults he should say that the Word of God was not in the world; but in that he sees them, he rejoices from his heart, and fears them not! Well, the whole matter is according to Christ’s prophecy in Matthew 24:14 that the gospel would go to the whole Roman world and then the end would come. Luther was referring to Matthew 24:6 as to why the apostles need not be alarmed here because the end is not yet! The book of Acts is testifying to something greater than this first century incident however. The book of Acts is testifying that what God did in the first century in overturning the Roman world he would do in the whole world to the end of time. What is the hangup as to why people are rejecting the Lord in this world at all times? It is that they cannot understand how there could be two kings at once (v.7). This is what they oppose. It is the thing that we read in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia where Miraz seeks to put down the truth about Narnia, and especially the truth that there is another King named Aslan. He asks that question: “How could there be two kings at the same time?” The answer to this in respect to our text is that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. It is not derived from this world. It is spiritual and within man. And it is not operating like worldly kingdoms do. It is not opposed to worldly governments, but is author of them. With this we must understand the way the world is changed will not be through the dogma of a government (neither civil nor ecclesiastical), which is defined in decrees (as translated here) which means external precepts, or indoctrination of a people; that is acceptance of doctrine by a people without any logic critical investigation. The word “decree” in v.7 is used in Daniel 2:13; 3:10; 6:8, 13, 15 LXX to speak of the method of the kings of Babylon in governing a people by indoctrination. This is the complete opposite of how God’s kingdom prevails. And that is what we see here mainly, Christ is conquering the world not by indoctrination but by doctrine. It is further enforced in the movement forward in the text…

We see in the second place the way which Luke is teaching us the Kingdom of God will advance throughout the world. They are in Berea now, close enough to Thessalonica, but a fair distance to allow progress in the eyes of the brothers. They get a quite different result among the Jews there, as these noblemen are found to judicially examine the Scriptures, even daily to see if what the apostle was saying was so. And as they saw it to be so, they believed. Again, sovereign election is assumed behind all of this, but practically speaking God blesses the logic in Thessalonica and the judicial testing by the noblemen in Berea. This results in their belief along with many Greek women and men. The Jews from Thessalonica are not resting at the matter and even travel here to oppose, but nothing can destroy it ultimately once the Kingdom came there in power like it did. This kingdom comes in a lasting way not by indoctrination, but by the unified message of Christian doctrine in every place. Now, some take the two events as making comparison between the Thessalonians and Bereans, but that is not the point. The point is that all Christians in all times must exercise and make use of logic and of testing in regards to the Christian faith. Where the Scripture is not the touchstone of our beliefs, those beliefs are not worthy of trust. It is both something that we must use our minds to reasonably receive and take it further so as to examine what is said daily in our lives, to see if what is being proclaimed is that of the Christian faith or no. Certainly a warning is set in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to test everything, and hold fast to what is good! But this is not to make different classes in the church between those who are one sort of Christian and those of another sort. No, the lesson that Luke is laying here for us is that there is one singular way the gospel advances in the world, and that is by Christian doctrine received as children and tested as adults; and depending on your Christian growth you may be close to one than the other, but all Christians in time must be responsible to do both reasonably and with reliance on the Word of God as the authority of their lives under Christ.

So, you see that we cannot take on the methods of totalitarian government that does not wish its people to think to advance God’s kingdom. We cannot expect God to bless a gospel message that does not reason with logic and does not commend the study of the Word of God so as to having a lasting and true effect in this world. The Kingdom of God is not derived from this world, and as such, it cannot be like the world naturally acts to control people. It must come in the power of Christ’s love and grace, according to God’s Word, and calling people to use their minds and hearts as they discover what is being taught is from that supreme authority over both church and state, for the peace of both. Amen.

shallow focus photography of person's hand
Photo by Youssef Aboutaleb on Unsplash

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